Califone’s new Echo Mine was brought to life as others were losing theirs, which imbues the album with a resonance Tim Rutili and his collaborators could not have expected when work began on it a couple of years back.
The 10-song set — whose urgent, lushly melodic title track is premiering exclusively below — was commissioned to accompany Robyn Mineko Williams’ dance piece Echo Mine, which premiered this past Dec. 7 in Chicago. During the course of creation, however, principal dancer Claire Bataille passed away at the end of 2018, and Rutili’s father died a few months later. “All of that stuff was in that song (‘Romans’), lyrically,” Rutili tells Billboard. “I was sort of running with the idea of losing someone. That was something that I demoed at my home studio in L.A. with a drum machine, and I sent a very primitive version of it to (Williams) and she and the dancers responded to it. So I fleshed it out with (bandmates) Ben Massarella and Brian Deck and turned it into what you hear now.”
Rutili says that working on Echo Mine — out Feb. 21 and Califone’s first album since Stitches in 2013 — “was more like scoring a novel than making an album,” and a true collaboration with Williams and her company. “Robyn was sending me videos and I was sending her pieces of music over the course of a year and a half. We would watch the videos and react to them and come up with a feel or a rhythm or a change or an accent. Then we’d send it back to them and it would change what they were doing with the dancing and it would go back and forth like that.
“It could be never-ending, but we kind of felt when we were done. The whole process was really enjoyable and interesting — and deeply felt from everybody.”
Rutili attended the Echo Mine premiere and was impressed. “It was gorgeous and beautiful, and it seemed like people were moved by the whole thing,” he says. He’s hoping to create a version of the piece with the band performing, and in the meantime he’s working on more Califone music. “I’m just trying to get some songs down and done and see what’s good and what’s not,” he says. “We’re at the very beginning stages of making a record, but I’m not putting a schedule on us or anything like that.”