Music brings people together. It creates memories and inspires creativity. It forges bonds.
The last of those strange stimuli is like a coming of age concoction—a heady brew of all the ingredients required to make a friendship special. Moments like smoking pre-rolls together sitting atop a highway overpass, drinking sangria from a jar in Mexico, or picking up guitars and finding your voices together.
That’s what happened to Clay Finch and Sam Blasucci of Mapache, the Southern California folk rock duo that has got people turning their heads everywhere—and for good reason. Mapache’s 2017 self-titled debut album was heralded by The Boston Globe and No Depression and was praised not only for its late-night desert motel aura, but also for its fully-developed character. The group’s second release, From Liberty Street (Yep Roc Records), will be available March 20, and the duo are currently gearing up for an East Coast swing that will see them perform in the intimate settings of Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn on April 15.
Friends since the ninth grade, Finch and Blasucci knew from the beginning that music was in their future. “We had similar musical interests—The Beatles, the Band, and Bob Marley. Right away, we started playing together,” says Finch. But before Mapache could take flight, Finch left L.A. for college in Northern California, and Blasucci traveled to Mexico, where he served as a missionary and dove head-first into the local art and culture there. The two reconnected when they both moved back to L.A. and picked up where they left off playing shows around town.
“More or less, that’s when we started calling ourselves Mapache,” Finch notes.
Prior to that, the pair typically performed without a name. Mapache—the Spanish word for “racoon”—was born out of Finch and Blasucci’s reflections on their own sun-kissed, multi-cultural surroundings in Los Angeles. “The sound of the word drew us to that name,” says Blasucci. “We thought a lot about where we’re from, Southern California, where there’s a lot of Mexican culture, and the Spanish language is very present in our lives.” During his two years in Mexico, Blasucci learned to speak Spanish fluently; Finch speaks it fluently, as well, and several of Mapache’s songs are sung in Spanish, including the most recent single off From Liberty Street, “Me Voy Pa I Pueblo.” All this considered, the idea of using a Spanish word for a band name was enticing to the two friends. And they were drawn to the vibe of the racoon as an animal, too.
“We liked what racoons look like and how they live. They’re these fun, weird animals, and we kind of related to that at the time,” says an almost meditative Blasucci.
The men of Mapache speak in casual tones and are perhaps a little bit stoned, frankly. But one gets the sense that while their star is on the rise, their feet are still on the ground. Questioned about the duo’s history, Finch asks if his recollection of the band’s roots was “too brief.” (It wasn’t.) “I mean, that’s pretty much the story,” he says, calm and relaxed, but sincere in his inquiry. Additionally, a pair of suburban Cheech & Chongs Mapache are definitely not. They are sharp and focused on their craft and bring genuine attention to what they see through their own eyes through their songs. Last year, Mapache released an EP—Lonesome LA Cowboy—featuring a cover of the New Riders of the Purple Sage song of the same name. Two other tracks—“Katie Dear” and “Last Thing On My Mind”—display Mapache’s understanding of true Americana music. But it’s the New Rider’s cover that best articulates where Finch and Blasucci’s head are at both as musicians, and as young men of the West.
A “happy accident,” Blasucci says of the tune, Mapache used to soundcheck with the beloved classic before shows. “Somewhere along the line,” he continues, “one of us suggested that we record it, and just see what happens. Clay and I did a really casual version of it, just thinking it was something we should put out, because it’s a great song, we love it, and there’s a lot of similar elements in terms of what we do in L.A. and what we like about L.A.. It hits home for us in a lot of ways.”
Like the preceding EP and the debut LP, From Liberty Street was produced by Dan Horne of Circles Around the Sun, and Horne is representative of the broader musical community Mapache has fortuitously found themselves a part of. As Finch points out when talking about the album—a mixture of new songs written on the road and old songs that were written prior to the first LP—“Our musical family had somewhat grown, so we had buddies and friends that were able to play on the record. We definitely had a little bit more of a community, so that [brought on] a natural progression of the sound, I think.”
The first single, “Life on Fire,” has a late-seventies Dead vibe, with its shuffling drums and percussion keeping everything loose and groovy, while the pair sound like honey from a jar as they sing “Oooooh, baby, how you make me alive” over the track’s cool bounce. It is no understatement to say that Mapache’s vocal harmonies are astonishing to the ear and fulfilling of the soul. The track peels out with a perfect “doo-da-doo” coda that is the musical equivalent of riding with the top down on a beautiful, sun-shiny day. Blissed out from the get-go, From Liberty Street pulls the listener in and demands attention.
In September 2019, Mapache’s profile only increased further when the pair performed at There’s A Reward: A Celebration of the Life & Music of Neal Casal, the benefit show for the late guitarist at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY. That night they brought down the house with sterling renditions of “The Last Thing on My Mind”—a song Casal taught them, Blasucci told the crowd—and The Stanley Brother’s “Angel Band.” But so much has changed for Mapache of late—a new record deal, notoriety on the scene—that such a night seems almost like an eternity ago. With the new album and this next chapter in their career set to begin, it is clear Mapache are continuing the trend of young Los Angelenos forming very different bands, but all using pop, rock ‘n’ roll, and roots music to their own strengths.
“Geographically, where we’re from plays a big part in the sound of the music we make,” says Blasucci. “First and foremost, just the nature—the ocean that we go to frequently and the sunshine that’s going in and out of our psyches all day is what’s coming out when we write a song. It’s not like we’re studying these different albums that we like from [a certain time] and trying to carbon copy things. We just live in California, and we partake in a lot of the natural beauty here, and I can’t help but give credit to that as the main source of what we’re writing down.” With Mapache’s sound just begging for mass appeal, it’s likely these young LA cowboys won’t be lonesome for much longer.