Been doing great, thank you! Super excited about the release of the new CD (July 15th) and the CD release show in San Francisco (Doc’s Lab, July 16th).
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “In My Heart, Dear”?
Sure. I don’t write a lot of relationship-oriented songs, maybe I burned out on hearing about broken hearts or done-me-wrong songs, whether on the open mic circuit or on pop radio. But hey, on the other hand, it’s part of the human experience and integral to so much great song writing as well. Anyway, what pulled me into the story in this song was the ambiguity about the relative emotional strength of the leaver versus the one being left, and where it all stood at the end.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
I was listening to an interview with Nick Lowe in which he described his song writing process as sometimes simply trying to open up to songs that are already out there but you just have to listen for them. Lots of song writers describe this experience, almost like a secret radio frequency that you have to find in your own mind. Anyway, I picked up the guitar afterward and the song came that way, it was as if I was listening through the wall to this couple trying to figure themselves out. That’s why the song ended up with an extra title tag, “In My Hear, Dear (Through the Wall)”, I guess I like song titles with punctuation.
Any plans to release a video for the single?
I would love to. I’ve definitely had a lot of scenes and images in my mind for it, so probably just a matter of when, could be next in the cue.
The song comes off your new album Nothin’ But Now – what’s the story behind the title?
The title reflects the intention to prioritize and focus on what’s available in the present and how this relates to choices we make. In my case, I had been wanting to shift more of my time to making music for several years and, for various reasons, including plenty of good ones for me, personally, I kept it on the side burner while putting lots of energy into other things. But, as Neil Young said, there comes a time. I had to really push myself to dial down the identity and career I’d built up in one domain to create the space for musical exploration and more social and political activism. The title also reflects many of the themes that run throughout the songs around being connected to what you feel, what you want, what you love, and moving with intention toward those things now, rather than tomorrow.
How was the recording and writing process?
While I did set the intention for myself to spend a lot more time on music, I didn’t have a specific goal to do a new album; however, once I was able to slow down, a new song emerged, and then another, and another. I recorded them one by one to capture them while they were happening and then realized they felt like a close family of tunes that wanted to be together. I co-produced the CD with Gawain Mathews and we were fortunate to be able to bring in some incredibly talented artists who added just the right voice and vibe to each track.
What was it like to work with Gawain Mathews and how did that relationship develop?
Gawain is incredibly talented in so many different areas, he blows me away. I did my first CD, Streets of Plenty, with him in 2012 and had an amazing experience. When I decided to start recording the new songs, I had no doubt great things would happen working with him again. He brings so many things to the process: vision, instrumentation, and a particular sonic quality. He also creates a really relaxed space to be with the music and performance in a way that flows naturally and isn’t forced or pressured.
How much did he get to influence the album?
We work very collaboratively and he influences in both subtle and critical ways. If he likes a song you bring in, as is, he tells you that and doesn’t try to change it just to have influence for influence sake. At the same time, he will hold the line and let you know if he thinks something isn’t working at all and needs to go back to the drawing room for a while or if he thinks all it needs is a particular twist or addition. I really appreciate the flexibility of his approach that way. From there, cool things always develop from his musicianship and ability to create the right layers and characters for the song and style, whether that’s a mellow folk song, resonant Americana, or high octane rock and roll.
How will this album showcase a matured side of your music?
I’d say it’s by combining my earliest musical influences with the perspective that comes from a good chunk of living and experience. Another part is looking for the middle path, especially in songs that have a social change or transformation aspect. Whereas earlier I might have been more strident or angry, I’m looking to stay more with feelings, vulnerabilities, and positivity.
Any plans to hit the road?
Yes, later this fall and winter are feeling about right.
What else is happening next in Mike Rufo’s world?
I’ve got some songs in the hopper I want to circle back to and a couple more videos to work on for the Nothin’ But Now tunes. I plan to keep looking for the right places and moments to combine my music with activism as well, which means keeping my eyes and ears open and being flexible and spontaneous with opportunities when they come up in response to what’s going on. I get fired up and inspired by the way music brings people together in community, builds bridges, and transcends those things that are used to keep people apart.