By Julie Lawrence Special to Published May 16, 2007 at 5:28 AM

The members of indie folk rock band Califone are in a van somewhere nearing the outskirts of Eugene, Oregon, and they are late for soundcheck.

Earlier in day they'd discovered a volcanic cave and after a mile-long journey deep into its dark corridor, a dead end forced them into full retreat, pushing them an hour or so behind schedule.

From the calm tone of frontman Tim Rutili's voice, he doesn't appear to be too concerned about it.

"It's OK. I mean, we're in Eugene -- it's kind of like a hippy town. They're loose here, it'll be fine," he says.

The band is about one-third of the way through its "Roots & Crowns" (Thrill Jockey) tour -- one that began with three April gigs in Scotland and is now weaving through the States, landing Rutili and crew -- Brian Deck, Tim Hurley and Ben Massarella -- here in Milwaukee on Saturday, May 19 at the Pabst Theater.

Even via telephone Rutili is a reserved conversationalist, which is not at all surprising given the introspective, non-aggressive nature of his music. Even when he gets to chatting about the band's latest -- and, in his opinion, greatest -- release, "Roots & Crowns," he manages to talk it up without loosing his inherent sense of self-deprecation and modesty.

"It feels like all the things that we've been doing over the years are now refining themselves," he says of the album that was released in October '06. "A lot of the experiments are making more sense. It feels like we're finally getting good at this."

Though many would say that Califone's at least sounded like it knew what it was doing since it started recording under the name in the late '90s -- and others still might suggest Rutili and Massarella had it figured out in their Red Red Meat Days -- it's hard to argue against Rutili's conviction for "Roots."

A moving album full of sophisticated arrangements and savvy idealism, the band's fourth full-length release is both experimental and charmingly melodic. The mood here is decidedly Americana, but with just a twinge of modernity, we're left with songs that swell with surprises rather than lead us down a trodden path of dust.

Rutili is a Midwestern boy at heart, born and raised in Chicago, and although he's done some time in L.A. where he worked on soundtrack and music for film -- you can catch some of his work in John Hyams' IFC bull-riding documentary, "Rank" -- he's considering returning home after tour to "reassess."

He also claims an endearing level of affinity toward Milwaukee.

"Milwaukee's nice. We love playing there. We used to go play the Cactus Club all the time -- it was fun and it was really easy."

Califone plans on taking a bit of a breather following the end of this tour -- and no, Rutili has no solid plans to participate in another Ugly Cassanova project in his down time (we asked) -- but that's not to say we won't be hearing from them. First-time filmmakers Joshua Marie Wilkinson and Solan Jensen have been working with the band on a tour documentary called "Made a Machine by Describing the Landscape," and are in the process of editing down 250 hours of footage shot during U.S. and European tours in 2004. Rutili's not sure as to the film's release date, but is sure to update the Califone Web site with any and all further details.

In the mean time, see Califone play the Pabst on Saturday, May 19 with Milwaukee's own Decibully and Celebrated Workingman.




Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”