The Green River Festival returns this weekend with a lineup that combines roots heavy hitters such as Lucinda Williams, the Wood Brothers, and Angelique Kidjo with the opportunity to see bands that are just starting to make their mark.
One group that falls into the latter category takes its name from the Spanish word for “raccoon.” Clay Finch and Sam Blasucci, a pair of Southern Californians who perform as Mapache, have made their way to the East Coast on a couple of occasions as an opening act, but their redolent yet singular sound suggests that good things lie ahead for the boyhood pals. They play at the festival on Sunday.
Now in their mid-20s, Blasucci and Finch grew up in Glendale, Calif., and met in junior high school.
“We ran in the same circles of friends, and skateboarded together a lot around town,” says Blasucci, reached along with his counterpart by phone recently. “Eventually we just started playing acoustic guitars together pretty casually. Then we had a few different bands that kind of came and went, and after a number of years it transformed into what it is now.”
“I think that’s just what people at that age do,” Finch adds. “ ‘I play guitar, oh, you play guitar too, come over to my house and we’ll play a Beatles song or whatever.’ I think we felt like we had a good chemistry together, and so we more or less have been playing together since then.”
Their collaboration has produced a self-titled album and an EP of covers. The music is consistently, intentionally sparse; many of the album’s songs feature nothing but intricate, intertwined acoustic guitar and close harmonies, wedded to simple, plainspoken lyrics that reflect snatches of place and experience. Guest player Dan Horne adds pedal steel guitar to the album’s opening track, “Mountain Song,” and a handful of others. His playing is evocative of classic SoCal country rock (think Jerry Garcia’s work on “Workingman’s Dead” or on the first New Riders of the Purple Sage album). When combined with the Mapache boys’ twin guitars, it intensifies the mournful, stripped-down character of their sound.
Horne, who also produced the record, has played with Los Angeles alternative country outfit Beachwood Sparks, and other members of that band also lent their talents on a couple of the album’s tracks. Finch and Blasucci are vocal in acknowledging the help they’ve received from the band (one of whose members is Finch’s cousin).
“Those guys have taken us under their wing,” Finch says. “I don’t know where we’d be without them.” Blasucci agrees: “They’re a big influence on us. You could say they’re part of the lineage of California country music, and maybe we would like to consider ourselves somewhere in that equation.”
More generally, the two see themselves as channeling the music they’re surrounded by in Southern California. According to Finch, the main thing they’re trying to do is make a connection between all the music of the region — “folk music and Mexican music, and surf music, everything that’s going on. We’d like to take a little bit of it and tie it all together.”
On the album, those influences — in the south-of the-border cover of the classic song “Aquellos Ojos Verdes,” in the touch of psychedelia that “Songs to a Seagull” brings, in the breezy western pop vibe of “Follow You Down — are subtle, but pervasive.
There are extra-regional influences at play, too, particularly in the pair’s harmonizing, which points backward to brother duos such as the Louvins and the Everlys. “We’re hardcore Louvin Brothers fans,” says Finch. “We worship the Louvins. We go on road trips and listen to them for, like, eight hours straight.” As for the Everly Brothers: “When we’re writing songs, and we’re trying to figure out harmonies, I think we lean towards that style of harmonizing.”
Ultimately, what’s key to their sound? “What influences us, more than most of the music we listen to, is just the things that have happened to us and the place that we’re in,” Blasucci says. “The styles of music are definitely influential in a big way. But the root of it all, the core of it is what we’re spending our time doing or seeing or feeling.”
As for the name they play under, that is the subject of some amusement for the duo. A tale about them wearing goggles at the beach and ending up with raccoon eyes has evolved from a couple of interviews, Blasucci relates. “I don’t really know how those stories came to be; I don’t know them as totally true. I guess the general idea was that we wanted to have a Spanish name.” Finch adds that they felt the image of a raccoon “was a fitting image for the way we live our lives and the sound of our music and the way we play it, just the two of us.” But he’s laughing as he says it, especially when Blasucci chimes in with “you know, opposable thumbs, eating trash . . . ”
At the Green River Festival, Greenfield Community College, Greenfield, July 12-14. Tickets $45 and up. 413-341-5995. www.greenriverfestival.com
Stuart Munro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.