The music made by Chicago’s Red Red Meat in the 1990s is every bit as beguiling and surreal as it was at the time. Though there were traces of Americana in the songs that they wrote, there were also moments that eluded easy classification–a quality they share with singer/guitarist Tim Rutili’s current project Califone. The Portland label Jealous Butcher is now in the process of doing deluxe LP versions of Red Red Meat’s discography. I checked in with Rutili via email to learn more about the reissue project, the state of Califone, and more.
You’re in the process of reissuing all of the Red Red Meat albums on vinyl though Jealous Butcher–how did that come about?
In 2009, we did a deluxe reissue of Bunny Gets Paid with Sub Pop. We were all pretty happy with the way that turned out, but we wanted to do vinyl. At that point, Sub Pop didn’t want to do vinyl for that, because I think they thought it was going to cost too much money, and all that stuff. We were working with Rob at Jealous Butcher on a few other Califone things, and Loftus, and Boxhead Ensemble. We really like working with him, and we talked to Sub Pop and decided to repackage and remaster and load up all of these old Red Red Meat records and make them available as records, because people can’t get those any more.
I have the Loftus reissue that Jealous Butcher did a few years ago–how did that relationship begin?
Rob’s a friend. We were up in Portland, and we talked about doing vinyl–at first it was Loftus and Sometimes Good Weather Follows Bad People, the first Califone record. We talked about that, and it worked out really well.
You have different artists reinterpreting the cover art of the Red Red Meat albums–when did you first get that idea?
It seemed to make a lot of sense to reframe those old records, you know? Have some fun with the packaging. We have so many friends who are amazing artists, and it’s been really great, with There’s A Star Above the Manger, to give all that stuff to John Herndon and have him do his version of it. We just thought it was a really cool, interesting thing to do. The packaging on these is really important.
As you’ve been going through the Red Red Meat albums for the process of doing these reissues, are there things that you’re noticing that didn’t stand out as much when you first made the records?
The thing that got me was recording before computers. It just sounds different, and better. The things that we did on a studio, in a tape machine–it’s amazing. I never really thought that we ever really did anything that different than what we did back then. But, really, bringing a computer into what we do, and having smaller budgets and working at home… It struck me–”How did we get those sounds?” A lot of it is, I used to play guitar through a really big speaker cabinet and turn up all the way, and would sometimes do that without hitting the guitar very hard at all, or barely hitting it. The quality of that sound in a big room hitting tape is so much different than a small amp in my basement hitting a hard drive.
Has that had any effect on your plans to record new music?
It’s already had an effect on the newer Califone stuff that I’ve been working on. I went to Chicago and I got some of the old equipment that I used to use, that I still have, and I brought it back to California. I’ve been screwing around with different sounds. It’s a different world right now, especially in terms of resources to make records. A lot of going back and listening to those and remastering those records was thinking, “These sounds are really amazing, and it doesn’t happen that way any more.” We have different ways of doing things, and I don’t know if it’s better or worse. The availability of computer recording stuff–I don’t know if it’s made music better overall. In a way, I think it maybe made it worse. Working at home on a cassette four-track, the problem solving, how to get those ideas across, and the things you had to do, brought out different ideas than the infinite possibilities and the infinite tracks available that you would have to overdub at home. I don’t know.
One other thing is that I realized, listening to those old records, that I’ve gotten better. The ideas–I could try to write a song like that, and it would be so much better now.
You did a living room tour last year–was that your first time doing that?
Right before Stitches came out was the first time I did that. It was interesting. I kind of loved it. It was perfect for that batch of songs.
I feel like that’s a very distinct record in your body of work.
Those songs worked really well in a really small space, without a lot of tricks.
Have you started working on the next Califone album?
Yeah, but what I’ve been doing is mostly collecting sounds and words, and working on little ideas, and writing little chunks of things.
Is that generally how you work, or is this a break from the norm for you?
I think this one’s going to be a little different, and it’s probably going to be more open-ended.
Have you been doing any more film work?
I just finished a job where I was the music supervisor on a movie, and that’s going to be coming out pretty soon. And I just worked for a composer on a TV show–I just go in and play guitar with him sometimes. I’ve been doing stuff like that. There’s another film that I want to make, but I don’t know when I’m going to have a chance to do that. Probably sometimes later this year.
Is that going to be a feature, a short…
It’ll be a feature.
Do you find any give and take between songwriting and filmmaking, in terms of structure or pacing or emotional payoffs?
They feed each other. Right now, chipping away at a script for a film and chipping away at little pieces of lyrics of songs, it’s all going into the same pot, and I’m pulling things from each. I think the film is going to have a record with it as well, but I’m not sure. I’m talking to my friend Craig Ross in Austin about some stuff. The two of us might make a record to go with the film. But I don’t think it’ll be a Califone record.
How do you see it being different from Califone’s work and sound?
The basic palette will be very different, and the way we approach the songs will be much more–almost girl-group. We’re probably going to get different singers, too. We’re working on ideas that are more like The Ronettes, that kind of stuff.
In terms of the series with Jealous Butcher, do you have a sense of when the next one will be out, following Bunny Gets Paid?
Probably in late spring or early summer. We have Bunny Gets Paid ready to go, and we’re then going to do Jimmywine Majestic. We found all of these extra things from that time, and all of this live stuff. We’re sifting through that and figuring out what’s okay to release and what’s not. After that, we’re going to try to hit the first self-titled record. A lot of this stuff is like revisiting your teenage poetry, you know? It’s a mixed bag of emotions for me. I’ll be thinking, Okay, I remember that being really fun; I don’t know about this now, except that I have to do new stuff. I’m not crazy about the past. I’m not nostalgic at all. A lot of it’s making me really excited to do some new ideas. And it’s going to be great to have everything available and in one spot.
I really liked the Bunny Gets Paid reissue that Sub Pop did, and I’m looking forward to seeing it in vinyl form.
I think they did a great job with it. It’s really cool. We’ll have a couple of things that we didn’t put out with that, but–I loved what they did. But it’s going to be amazing to have it as a record. It seems like it’s not real unless it’s an actual record.
Photo: Marty Perez