Photo: Matt Correia
Cosmic Americana Duo Mapache On 'From Liberty Street,' Honoring Neal Casal & (Briefly) Going Electric
From note one, the intrinsic musical connection between Mapache's Sam Blassuci and Clay Finch is eerily apparent and feels all at once fresh, timeless and just right. Anyone lucky enough to see Mapache perform live, they understand why the L.A. folk duo has been turning heads with their weaving acoustic guitars and gorgeous yet earthy harmonized vocals create a psychedelic Americana style that once led Aquarium Drunkard to write, “think a blazed up Everly Brothers.”
While the duo's musical partnership goes way back to high school, they went on to crystalize their chops—and their style—together in Grateful Shred, a slightly looser-than-usual Dead tribute band less focused on fidelity in reproducing classic show setlists or tones and more free to add a dash of flair of their own. This music, and this scene in Los Angeles, turned out to be the perfect breeding ground for Sam and Clay's talents, connection and creativity.
As Mapache, the duo released their debut self-titled album in 2017 followed by their three-song Lonesome LA Cowboy EP in 2019. Their sophomore album arrives today, met by both wild anticipation from its stellar advanced singles and widespread uncertainty of a world in the middle of the global coronavirus pandemic. But for Mapache, music is the only way.
"Since there is so much uncertainty, it makes it all the more certain that we definitely want to get this record out as soon as possible," said Blassucci
"Releasing a record [now] is maybe better timing if everyone's going to be stuck at home anyway, so if you can't come see us play in a club, you can at least listen to some new music," Finch added.
We hopped on the phone with Sam and Clay of Mapache earlier this week to hear about the making of From Liberty Street, their involvement in the upcoming Neal Casal tribute album, and the first time they plugged in for an electric guitar for a Mapache recording…
From Liberty Street is out Friday, March 20. Can you tell us how you recorded it with Dan Horne [Cass McCombs, Allah-Las}? What were those sessions like?
Clay: It was cool because the studio with downstairs from the house we were living at, so it gave us a lot of flexibility. The first album we recorded pretty much in a couple of days at a studio in the Valley. But having the studio at the house we lived in it made for a much more relaxed environment and gave us more time to experiment with stuff. And it also presented a sort of a unique situation where lots of our buddies were just coming through anyway. The house on Liberty Street was sort of a meeting spot, kind of like a house where people would go to hang out anyway. So there was always awesome musicians around and so our circle friends and artists definitely expanded a lot while we were there, and I think that was definitely reflected in the recording process, too. There was a lot more hands on deck and different sounds and instruments being added.
Hearing about the house, it's hard not to think about the Dead house and what was going on 50 years ago in Haight Ashbury. And do you feel like it's a modern incarnation of that same spirit?
Sam: Yeah, I think it is just how it sounds, living in a house and it has that kind of home vibe. It's different than going into a studio built and dedicated for just studio activities. We were making the music where we were also eating and sleeping and living and listening to music and watch television and all that stuff. So it definitely had a much more homey vibe that was maybe similar to any bands that have taken that approach. Like living in a house and having it be that kind of community that's a seal, yeah.
"Life On Fire" is getting a lot of attention, and It was fun to watch the room come alive when you played it at the release show. Can you tell me where that song came from and what it's been like to see it take off so quickly?
Sam: That song actually we wrote several years ago before the first record came up that we put out, came out. So we have had it for a long time. For whatever reason, it wasn't ready or it feel right to put it on the first record. And we sort of just had it as a jam or like a back-pocket thing that we would play sometimes time, and then we decided to record it for this next or the one that's coming out now. And it was just bare. Before we went into recorded, it was so bare-bones, it was just the two guitars. And the singing the way we did it on Thursday night.
And then as soon as we got our friend Austin Beede into play drums on it, that immediately took it to a different feel right away. And then Clay and I had been listening to this one Brazilian record that gave us the idea for the baseline that we were kind of hearing over Austin's drumming, and so we told Dan about that and we kind of worked that in and it just kind of... it was one of the songs that kind of tumbled along in the studio as we were doing it, which is really fun, and it has to be our friend Dusty Ineman came in and played congas on it, which also added a whole 'nother layer that was really unexpected and really nice and it was really fun to watch that one tumble into the song that it became.
Clay: It seemed like there was also a lot of people singing along when we did that one on Thursday, which happens every once in a while, where people sing along. But it was a pretty cool to see people singing along to a song that hasn't been out for very long. That was surprising, exciting.
Oh, definitely. There was a whole group of people in front that seemed like that was the song they came to hear. I also love the guitar solo and the recording. Who played the solo?
Sam: Clay played that solo and it's really, it's funny, I always kind of smile at that solo because it's the first time you've ever used an electric guitar on any recording of a Mapache song, and you can totally tell at least I can totally tell it's him when I listen to it cause it's so delicately played and it just sounds like it's a new element, and I think it's a great solo as well, but it has that kind of vibe.
You also write songs in Spanish always, which I think is unique. It makes me think of Warren Zevon's "Carmelita," your style with that influence. But I've read you both lived in Mexico. What can you tell me about your time living in Mexico and how it influenced the band's music?
Sam: Well, growing up in Southern California, we already were exposed to a lot of Mexican culture that was really important to the music we listened to even before I had gone to live in Mexico, but I did live in Mexico for two years, which obviously was the biggest immersion that I've had into that into Mexican culture and Mexican music. But there always was a little bit of an underlying base of that influenced just having grown up here and having that interest in it, just being here all our lives.
Clay: I think it's interesting, too, that you made that Warren Zevon connection because a lot of people, when they ask us about that influence, sort of seems like it's put together like of from nowhere. But there's sort of a long running tradition of people in our sort of musical world drawing heavily from music from Mexico, too. Like Peter Rowan, too, and yeah, Warren Zevon and even the [Flying] Burrito Brothers, and a whole bunch of artists.
You are on the upcoming Neal Casal tribute album, Highway Butterfly, and I just saw from his posts that you recorded it up at Jim Scott's studio [Plyrz]. Why you picked Neal's son "Wisest of the Wise" what he meant to you as both the musical influence and as a friend.
Sam: Well that song sort of just stuck out to us. It was real simple and had real sweet lyrics and seemed like something that we could play and honor Neal with and do something maybe unique with, too, and make our own spin on it. And it was real cool to go up to that spot in Santa Clarita and mess around in that studio, it's pretty massive and there's a bunch of cool stuff, and a bunch of buddies were hanging out.
As far as Neal, one thing that comes to mind that I think represents well the kind of person he was, I think got really stuck out to me: We opened for Circles Around The Sun for a good handful of shows, and Neal would watch pretty much the entirety of our soundcheck…
Clay: And clap after we finished each song.
Sam: Yeah, which is so rare. I mean especially for a guy like him who tours so extensively. It's almost always, during soundcheck, that's time to take a nap on a couch or at least like sneak out and read a book or look at your phone or something. But it always meant a lot that Neal was just so in love with music that he would even watch our soundcheck. Yeah.
Clay: And that's less of a compliment to our music and more of just a compliment to Neal's feelings about music in general, and his interest, and just sort of like an act of like just showing that he cared. That meant so much to us.
The new album comes out March 20 - how does it feel to be putting out your second album in such complicated times of uncertainty?
Sam: I think it feels like the right thing to do. I think with everything going on, since there is so much uncertainty, it makes it all the more certain that we definitely want to get this record out as soon as possible.
Clay: Going on the road is going to be hard the next couple of months, so releasing a record [now] is maybe better timing if everyone's going to be stuck at home anyway, so if you can't come see us play in a club, you can at least listen to some new music.
As working, touring musicians unable to hit the road now, what are you planning on doing the next couple of months during this time of isolation?
Sam: We're definitely going to do a lot of reading and writing and maybe some recording and playing together. We lived together so we were not too isolated. you know everything we can other than going out into everybody's towns and playing.