Words by Art Jipson
This past February, Jealous Butcher Records released the first new album from Califone since 2013’s Stitches. The album is called Echo Mine and it is the score to a dance performance of the same name created by dance artist Robyn Mineko Williams. The music in this work compliments both the hidden beauty of movement and the aesthetic of dance.
Off Shelf: It has been about seven years since Stitches, what led to creating Echo Mine in that time between?
Tim Rutili: Songwriting, music making and playing shows with Califone have never fully stopped. We take breaks but there’s always something to do. After Stitches I made two collaborative albums with Craig Ross, an instrumental record, Guitars Tuned To Air Conditioners and an album of songs, 10 Seconds to Collapse, along with a solo ambient record, (arroyo) Abstractions. Plus some film scoring and writing work here and there, and making art as much as possible. I was working on new songs and easing into making another Califone record when we started working with Robyn.
OS: What led to the collaboration with Robyn Mineko Williams?
TR: Robyn and I have some mutual friends and first worked together a few years ago making some short films of her dance pieces when she was in LA. She’s the real deal. An incredible artist. I have no understanding of dance but I immediately had an emotional reaction to her work. When she started working with a mentor of hers, Claire Bataille on a new piece she asked me to send some music. I sent a few simple ideas and loops and it grew from there.
OS: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music? Given the unique and creative collaboration with Robyn Mineko Williams, have those inspirations changed over time?
TR: Maybe everywhere? I don’t know. Maybe inspirations change as we grow older? I think I’m a little quieter in my brain than I was when I started making music. Some things are definitely inspired by external influences. Doing commercial or film work is like that. You react to what you see and it triggers ideas. Usually songs feel like they are more internal and very personal. Echo Mine was definitely a mix of both internal and external elements influencing what we made. Some of the process felt like working with a director and scoring a film. Some of it felt like making a very personal and intimate album.
OS: How would you describe the music that you create? How has that process evolved for Califone especially with the unique nature of Echo Mine?
TR: I don’t know. I’m not so good at describing music. I’m working on songs now. I think the next Califone record might be a song-y one. Sometimes things begin with a sound or a group improvisation or a loop – for now I’m just working on solid and specific songwriting. Songs that can work on solo piano or guitar as well as with a noisy band. There is always a natural evolution in the work itself. Not sure I can track it… pretty sure I don’t like to think about it and I never figured out how to talk about it.
OS: Did the collaboration shape the nature of the music you wrote at the beginning of the project – you mentioned that the music intersected with the dance and choreography – how did the movement and dance shape the music?
TR: Robyn sent me videos of rehearsals and talks with Claire, that triggered some ideas for music and loops. We went back and forth that way for a while. Claire got sick and kept working through chemotherapy. My dad got sick, and I was spending a lot of time in with my family in Chicago.
I brought in Brian Deck and Ben Massarella. We’ve worked together since we were kids in Red Red Meat and on several Califone records. Working with them feels like home and we always discover some new territory.
We camped out at Brian’s studio and started sculpting the ideas and coming up with a lot more music. Ben and Brian had some drum pieces that we built up and the whole thing started coming together. They were integral to the whole thing. I felt like in some ways I handed the music off to them and they made it all feel complete.
Robyn spent a fair bit of time in the studio with us. Her direction really helped us to make some moves we would never made for a record and treat it more like a film score.
OS: What musicians, dancers, and visual artists would Califone most like to collaborate with on future music?
TR: [laughs] Maybe David Lynch? Lana DelRey? Christian Fennesz? …more realistically — There’s a band I really love called Bloodiest. They’re from Chicago and make some heavy music. I started collaborating with them a bit and hope to make a record with them sometime soon. They cover the Lynchian kinda territory and add some early Black Sabbath vibes to the mix. I’d like to work with some different singers too. I like human voices. Maybe a choir?
OS: What is one message Califone would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of Echo Mine?
TR: While we were making this, Claire Bataille passed away and then my dad passed away the following summer. This work became therapeutic for all of us. Their strength and grace inspired this project. Hopefully people will feel some inspiration, hope and strength to continue to live and stay receptive in the face of bewildering loss and the jarring changes that seem to come at us at all times.
OS: In addition to the video for ‘Snow Angel’, have you performed this album with the dancers you collaborated? How did that experience work for the band?
TR: The first performance of Echo Mine happened with our recorded music at the Harris theater in Chicago in December. Deborah Johnson [Candy Stations] made some incredible video from archival film of Claire throughout her career. I felt really lucky to be there and witness it. It was a truly beautiful and emotional night.
OS: What do you like to do outside of music that contributes to you musicality? In essence, what is something you turn to in order to rejuvenate your creativity?
TR: Overeating mostly. sleeping and dreaming. I like to paint sometimes. Watch movies. Read books. Arguing with loved ones. Driving a car. Eavesdropping. Sometimes listening to music.
OS: What is next for you? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after Echo Mine?
TR: I’m in the process of writing songs now. My thought process mostly involves trying not to think too much and just trying to get the ideas down in an instinctual way.