I'm sick as a dog today, but when the opportunity came to have a brief Q&A chat with the frontman of one of the most innovative indie rock bands making music these days, I took it. It wasn't the most graceful of phoners, between me hacking up a lung every couple minutes and my interview subject, Tim Rutili of the stellar Chicago post-rock band Califone, racing about town getting ready to leave for a seventeen-date tour, but we got it done. Well, mostly done. We got disconnected with one question left to go (unfortunately my favorite one to ask, the one about whether an artist has any memorable Cleveland stories to share), but by that point I didn't have the lungs to try to carry on.
Still, it was a fun chat, and it has me more geeked that I already was to see the band's performance on Wednesday at the Beachland Ballroom. Speaking of which, you should be pretty geeked about that one, too. Not only is Califone awesome (and their new release, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers proves that they continue to get better with each new release), but the show itself promises to be something new and special. You see, Tim Rutili is a bit of a cineaste and has been known to make a short film or two. Recently, he got inspired and cranked out a full-length film, one that has folks lucky enough to have seen it dropping synonyms for "tremendous" and "wonderful" right and left. And you, dear reader, can be among the select group of synonym droppers, for when the band performs at the Beachland, they'll be screening the full run of the film, as well. The film centers around a fortune teller named Zel (played by respected cult actress Angela Bettis) who lives in an old house crowded with ghosts, including a priest, a bride, a mute child, some washed up vaudvillians and a noisy, sight-impaired group of musicians (Califone), among others.
Think that sounds awesome and perfectly timed? Me too. Guess I'll see you there. In the meantime, check out what the artist responsible for all this has to say.
1) What are your influences on All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, and how did they change from what inspired/shaped you on previous recordings? In particular, I'm interested in sources of inspiration other than other bands/musicians? I mean, is there a certain type of art or artist, idea, spirit, etc.?
Writing down a list of superstitions was pretty much the start of it. Then I started videotaping people talking about superstitions, then started writing songs using some of the imagery, and then had this weird story pop in my head, and started writing songs that fed the story, which then fed into more songs, and so on.
2) Nearly everything I’ve read about your record so far has commented on the perceived turn to pop on this record. I think the songs are more accessible than previous releases, but wonder about the pop label. What inspired this turn for you?
When I was making this record I was really interested in melody, I like a nice melody these days. Our next record will be a drone record, just to cleanse our palette. So this time around I wanted to make sure our songs were really good.
2a) Why melody now?
Old age? I don’t know, man. Why do you get into anything ever? You just kind of get a taste for it. After doing it this way, though, now I want to make a noise record. Who knows what we'll be doing after that.
3) Right now, my favorite track on your new album is "Buñuel." My guess is that the song was inspired by Luis Buñuel. Exactly how, though?
While I was preparing to make my film I was watching a bunch of movies, just a bunch of films by a bunch of different people, and I went through a stretch of his work. Without thinking about it, I just wrote the song. I don’t know if it has anything to do with him. There's also a character in the film, played as a red-haired Irish guy, also named Buñuel, but it has nothing to do with the real filmmaker. The character is always carrying around a camera, but that's about it as far as similarities.
4) One of the things I'm most excited about seeing at your upcoming performance is the accompanying film. In what ways did making that film utilize your same artistic skills that you bring to recording music and in what ways did you have to bring in new things?
Making the film brought with it a lot more details. There were many more people involved, and a lot more precision involved. The biggest difference between making music and making a film is the amount of people you have to work with and the number of things you have to keep an eye on. Music feels natural to me, but making a film was a real challenge. Making this film made making a record feel like a vacation.
5) Do you see the film/album pairing as the last such artifact of Califone or is this artistic hybrid a direction you think the band will continue to go in down the road? Any concrete plans in this vein yet?
I definitely want with Califone to have choices about how we perform as we go forward so we don’t have to do the same show over and over, just playing in a bar, slamming through songs. If we can go forward with different options about how we preform, whether playing with or without a movie, that will make things much more interesting. It has been really exciting to put the performance together, and judging from first couple shows, the way we are doing it is a special experience for the audience, too.
Down the road, I will definitely make more films and more records but maybe not combine them together in the same way as I have here.
6) What's your favorite song to play off the new album?
"Buñuel" was really fun to play the last few days, especially with that ending.
6a) What about the back catalog?
"Michigan Girls," for sure, and some of those older ballads with a lot of space in them, like stuff from the last record (Roots & Crowns)and Quicksand/Cradlesnakes.
Califone as they play tracks from their new album, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers and screen the film of the same name on WEDNESDAY at the Beachland Ballroom. Doors are at 8:30 and tickets are $12, but can be purchased in advance for only $10 at venues like Music Saves on the east side and Visible Voice on the west side.
4 years ago