A conversation with Tim Rutili


    We spoke with Tim Rutili about the internal sounds of churches, why imperfection adds humanity, feeling disappointed in himself and letting go of a kite string.

    The sound of a human sincerely trying or striving or even failing or flailing speaks to me. Maybe imperfection adds humanity.


    Morgan Enos

    What do you get from naturalistic music that you don’t get from heavily mapped-out, technologically-leaning music? What about vice versa?

    Tim Rutili

    Probably humanity. I’ve been going to see Jeff Parker (with Josh Johnson, Anna Butterss and Jay Bellerose) play on Monday nights out here in Highland Park. It’s incredibly beautiful to watch these skilled, creative and intuitive musicians throw ideas around and react to each other in an environment with practically no sound system. There are a few amplifiers and the rest is the sound of real instruments in the room and bar chatter on the other side of the room.

    I get hit with deeply emotional reactions to some moments of their music. I’m not sure why it’s happening and I can’t predict when it will come. There are no words attached to the feelings. Sometimes it’s the way chords fall or the beat slips or something that seems accidental suddenly connecting.

    Another naturalistic sound that gets me is that of human voices, footsteps and shuffling bodies echoing in an old church. In church singing, sometimes the out-of-tune voices are the things I like the best. Maybe imperfection adds humanity? The sound of a human sincerely trying or striving or even failing or flailing speaks to me.

    Maybe human music is for the heart and gut? Synthetic music is for the brain? The solid clock of a metronome can give me a physical reaction.

    I don’t listen to much EDM. I love disco and the sound of early sequencers. like Arthur Russell’s work or even Donna Summers’ “I Feel Love.” This always changes. Sometimes synthetic sounds that are badly trying to imitate a real sound can charm me. I like mixing the synthetic and natural together for sure.


    What is the most unpleasant experience you’ve ever had with a computer?

    I’ve had hard drives crash and lost some things that were important to me. That was pretty frustrating. I’ve had panic attacks near the Genius Bar at the Apple Store.

    Sometimes a creative idea and the action of making a thing out of the idea feels like a gift from God or the collective subconscious of humanity delivering a message to your heart.


    Do you see creation as an act of discovery? How so, or not? Have you ever created and created with your best efforts and still reached no lesson, or do all creative attempts at least lend themselves to some lesson learned?

    Sometimes, yes. Making things feels like discovering a thing that was already there, and maybe you didn’t know how to say it or make it become something yet. It is hard to talk about this without sounding like a greeting card. Sometimes it’s jokes or fetishizing a sound or color. Some creativity has nothing to do with expression or emotion; it’s only an assembly of disparate things that catch our interest. Sometimes a creative idea and the action of making a thing out of the idea feels like a gift from God or the collective subconscious of humanity delivering a message to your heart.

    Sometimes you don’t know what you’re making and an idea doesn’t come until you begin making a thing. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes I pray for it and nothing comes and sometimes it won’t stop and I can’t keep up with it. It can be like playing like a child, and you have to put your brain somewhere else for a while or you will talk yourself into doing nothing. Sometimes there is nothing to learn.


    Please try and describe to the detail what goes on in your mind when you try to practice multitasking.

    It waffles between “What do I want to do?” and “What do I need to do?” I try to stay receptive. Sometimes while doing one thing, you get ideas and find solutions for the other thing, then these things all feed each other in some way.


    Do you have a decent knowledge of how to repair instruments? Does it involve great knowledge of math and physics to make a guitar stay in tune or a complicated synthesizer calibrated just so?

    I have no repair skills and usually make it worse when I try. If the instrument is in working order, it just takes an ear to keep it in tune. A guitar tuner is a good thing. A tuned up piano nearby helps. Tuning is relative.

    I let go of the string and watched the kite disappear over the roofs of the factories and into the clouds.


    Why does everything seem the same despite news stories about robotics advances and cures for various diseases? Why haven’t we reached the future that pop culture promised us?

    Are we the same as we were 20,000 years ago? We’re possibly a little taller. Different diet and hygiene and more technology. People are still the same. How much have we evolved?

    With our current government overtly speeding toward becoming a fascist corporate dictatorship, I’m afraid our future is more in line with a Blade Runner or Fahrenheit 451 dystopian nightmare. Most people won’t be able to afford the cures for the diseases. The robots will learn love, jealousy and greed and eventually enslave us.

    Again, this is greeting card talk and not an original idea, but technology has advanced beyond our human souls and brains. All that stuff started with pop culture, right? We should probably break the machines with hatchets, boycott the social networks, kill the algorithms, burn the government and grow our own food. The only hope I have is that people turn inward. We all need to look deeply and honestly at our own selves, working on our own consciousness and self-awareness so the corporate fascists and the robots don’t win.


    Please describe your most recent memory of feeling disappointed.

    An empty ache right in the pit of my being. I was probably disappointed in myself.


    What kind of shirt do you prefer?

    A nice soft and worn T-shirt works for me. I just got a tailored dress shirt recently. Pretty amazing. Fits great. Feels great.


    Finally, please describe your earliest childhood memory in great detail.

    I have trouble with knowing if they were memories or dreams.

    The one that comes to mind is in summer. I’m around four. We had recently moved from the city to the suburbs. Someone gave me a turtle in a box. They had painted a sloppy “Number 1” on the turtle’s shell in white paint. I was in the backyard alone with the turtle. I took him out of the box and let him walk. No matter which direction I pointed him in, he always would change his path, turn and walk in the direction he wanted. Always the same direction.

    I noticed that there were some trees where our backyard ended. Through the trees was a large field. Long grass and weeds. A pond was visible at the far end of the field. Miles and miles away. The longest a distance could be. I had only known living in a city. When we moved to the suburbs, the open expanses of land and fields behind the backyards were mind-blowingly huge.

    I took the turtle out of the box and put him down in the grass, I just let him walk in the direction that he chose, toward the pond until he walked out of sight. it felt like it took hours.

    A few years later, they built an industrial park in that field. Some buildings became operational factories and some remained half finished piles of bricks and mountains of dirt.

    I have a similar memory from a little later of flying a kite back there. Someone else got the kite to fly and handed me the string. They left me alone back there. I let go of the string and watched the kite disappear over the roofs of the factories and into the clouds. Pretty sure I got yelled at for losing the turtle and again for losing the kite, but I can’t remember exact details of the repercussions.

    Thank you.


    Conversation: 201
    Curated by: Morgan Enos
    Conducted by: Email
    Published: June 20, 2018
    Total questions: 9
    Word count: 1284
    Reading time: Four minutes
    Hyperlinks: 1


    Mountain: ∞
    Dirt: ∞
    Brick: ∞
    Roof: ∞
    Chuch: ∞


    About the subject

    Tim Rutili is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist originally from Chicago. He currently resides in Los Angeles.

    About the curator

    Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.

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