It takes three tries to get Tim Rutili on the phone. The first time, the phone rings with no answer. I leave a sloppy message without even giving a number. The second time, voices fumble, and static hums in the background. I hang up. The third time, the smooth voice behind indie rock band Califone picks up. His responses to my questions are immediately reminiscent of the music his band creates, especially on their latest album, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers. He speaks in a detached way, connecting everything back to an image or a single atmospheric feeling, just as each song does. The music of Califone is tonal and smooth, but edged with a rough outer layer. Brass horns sound like distorted guitar, clips of people talking sound melodic, thumb pianos play alongside marimbas, and nothing is as it appears. On record, Rutili’s speak-singing seems to go everywhere as he tells winding stories that leave you a bit dazed.
As Califone is coming to S.B. to play Muddy Waters on August 13, I was curious to hear how Rutili feels about performing. He said it’s an experience of an entirely different artistic medium than recording. He describes recording music as something like painting a picture, where there is space to layer and cover up and even transform what you had originally planned. As the Muddy Waters show will likely prove, when performing, “What happens, happens; you do it and then it disappears into the air.” While, yes, the earthy sounds of Califone will ring out until they are gone, the experience of seeing the band play will surely not disappear so quickly. Maybe a track from All My Friends Are Funeral Singers will become what you hum as you drive to work, a quiet acknowledgement of the power of Califone’s music. And Rutili will appreciate it. “Mostly I make music because I love to do it,” he told me. “But it’s nice to hear when someone says they paint to your music. Or even clean their house to our music.”
Califone plays Muddy Waters Café (508 E. Haley St.) on Saturday, August 13, at 8 p.m. Call 966-9328 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets.