A Review and Chat with Tony Califano of Rusticator

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ALBANY — The latest single, “Perfect Day Past/Meet Me in the Middle,” released by Rusticator on August 2nd, featured some great pieces of Americana music. The first song, “Perfect Day Past,” consisted of a solid driving groove. On top of this, the chromatic chord changes sprinkled throughout the tune helped push the song to new sections. With vocals that were nice, upfront, and clean in the mix, everything had its place positioned perfectly in the song. The organ solo, performed by Tony Califano – who also handled the duties of guitar, bass, and vocals – was another great addition to the song.

“Meet Me in the Middle” was a very short, and tastefully jaunty song. The fiddle work, performed by Joe Gumpper, floated seamlessly above and below the overall acoustic instrumentation. Oftentimes, the lyrics of a song help move it along, and this is definitely the case with this tune. The lyric in the chorus featured the narrator saying to his love interest that, “our path is a crooked line.” This oxymoron grabbed my ear and illustrated the subtle humor that Tony was able to inject into the music. Rounding out and providing the beat for both tunes, Derek Dobson’s drumming was the perfect last ingredient in making these songs infectious. A job well done, it was my pleasure to get a chance to sit down with Tony Califano of Rusticator and discuss the latest release.

Rusticator, from left-to-right: Roger Noyes, Joe Gumpper, Derek Dobson, Tony Califano, and Jordan White.

Lucas Garrett: Hey, Tony! Thanks for sitting down with me today to discuss your newest single. How did these songs come to exist?

Tony Califano: The goal with the virtual 45s was to release music when we couldn’t be gigging and try to maintain some sort of profile online. It’s very easy for a band to collapse without something to be working toward. So, for us, that had typically been gigs, but with gigs off the table, I was excited to focus more on recording. Some of the songs were very old but just hadn’t been recorded yet. Others were new tunes that we were excited to get recorded. Our initial goal was to learn songs together at band practice and then record them but COVID kinda messed that all up last winter. So, for a lot of these songs, Derek and I would get the drums recorded at his house and then Joe and Jordan would send me their parts on their own and I’d record my stuff at home, and we kind of assembled them that way. This was cool because I didn’t get to micro-manage the parts people played as much as I might have if we were in the room together so we ended up with some things that were different than what I might’ve originally had in mind.

LG: Since the pandemic started, I’ve noticed lots of artists and bands being quite active with their releases. Rusticator is no different! New songs from you guys are coming out quite regularly! Do you have plans for a full-length album?

TC: The album plan at least in my mind – we haven’t discussed yet – is to compile some of the virtual 45s releases together with some other new material to hopefully create a release that works together as a coherent musical statement. The album process is really tough for me on the production side because I’ve gotta get 10 or so songs ready at one time and have them all sound good, and fit together and it’s very labor intensive, and your mind is in so many places at once. I’ve really enjoyed the down-and-dirty process of just getting two songs together and done quickly and sounding as good as they can. And, I’m excited to maybe just go back and polish them up a little, make a few tweaks and have an album that way.

Rusticator, from left-to-right: Jordan White, Joe Gumpper, Derek Dobson, and Tony Califano

LG: As a listener, I’m noting some definite influences from certain bands, but what are some of your creative influences?

TC: I’d separate my influences into aspirational influences – people I wish I sounded like – and then actually tangible influences that I think you can hear in our music. So, I’d love to write songs or create recordings that sound like Joni Mitchell or Fleet Foxes, for example, but I don’t think what I make comes out sounding that way necessarily. The tangible influences that I think come out in our sound are groups that I absorbed as a teenager. Primarily, The Grateful Dead, The Band, and Van Morrison. But, then, of course, all four of us have different backgrounds and in some cases very different formative influences, so I think when we blend it all together we end up with something pretty unique.

LG: Tony, I think it’s very admirable when making a record to have one person handling a lot of the instrumentation. On the other hand, it does affect the live show. Unless you know a trick I don’t, you can’t possibly handle playing the guitar, bass, and keyboard at the same time. How does this affect your live show?

TC: Regarding Instrumentation on recordings versus gigs, our live show is always fiddle, guitar, bass and drums. Sometimes we have friends like Roger Noyes sit in on pedal steel and electric guitar. But, basically, if it’s on the record and not one of those four things it’s not there live. Most of our songs start from guitar and vocal. So, if they stand on their own in that format, then everything else is just extra. For example, on most of our releases, I tend to use keyboards like sweeteners, so we can strip the tune back without them and it will still work live. Lately, I’ve been playing more electric guitar at live shows to try to catch a little more of that sound. And some of these releases, like “Glittering Good” we haven’t played live yet because we haven’t been able to put them together as a four-piece yet.

LG: Thanks again for sitting down with me, and I. look forward to hearing more from you guys!

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Relevant link:

https://rusticator.bandcamp.com/album/perfect-day-past-meet-me-in-the-middle

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