In the past, Mapache recording sessions have been pretty laid-back affairs, with friends coming and going, the sessions starting and stopping at the band’s discretion—as relaxed a process as the immaculately sunny vibes that their four albums would suggest. But on their dynamic and ambitious fifth album of cosmic-folk, Swinging Stars, Sam Blasucci and Clay Finch decided to take a trip and hunker down somewhere particularly special.
“It’s a pretty impactful place,” Finch says of the Panoramic House, the artist retreat where Swinging Stars was recorded. “It’s kind of dramatic. It’s a castle-y building on a hill, way up overlooking the Bay.”
Located in Stinson Beach in Marin County, California, the Panoramic House has recently hosted acts like My Morning Jacket, the War on Drugs, and Cate Le Bon, and was the ideal combination of scenic beauty and self-imposed confinement to allow Mapache to settle in for their most cohesive album yet. “That environment yields itself to a higher level of focus because everybody’s together for a week,” says Finch, explaining that the band stayed there during the process, sharing every bit of their time and energy on a shared vision. “We were all captive. No one could escape,” he laughs.
Swinging Stars, an album of calm, second-nature swagger, is the natural result of a band that’s existed in one form or another for its founders’ entire adult lives. Finch and Blasucci first met as students at La Cañada High School, just north of Los Angeles, where they both had a guitar class: “There wasn’t much supervision or anything,” remembers Blasucci. “It was really nice. And we got to just play guitars together.”
The two stayed friends through their college years—Finch went to Chico State and Blasucci spent two years as a missionary in Mexico—and eventually they ended up back in L.A., spending their days playing guitar together once again, just like old times. Working with producer/engineer Dan Horne (Cass McCombs, Allah-Lahs), they recorded four albums —2017’s Mapache, 2020’s From Liberty Street, 2021’s 3, and 2022’s Roscoe’s Dream. Often trading solos, and occasionally switching from English to Spanish, Finch and Blasucci are perfectly in sync together.
But the duo have also been developing their own personal voices in recent years as well—partially the result of the two of them living in separate cities for the first time in years. (Blasucci now lives in Ojai, and Finch in Malibu.) As Finch explains, that means the “meat and potatoes” of the songs were cooked up more on their own than they had been in the past. “What a Summer,” a slow-burn that sounds something like Bob Weir fronting Crazy Horse, is unmistakably Finch, for instance; “French Kiss,” with its Toussaint swing and Parsons shine, is Blasucci all the way. “Swinging Stars was probably the first Mapache record where each of us really leaned into our personal, distinct styles,” Blasucci explains.
Still, many of the songs on Swinging Stars are the result of a significant amount of group work on the road, sharpening and refining them, getting them just so before hitting the studio with their trusted collaborator Horne, who produced the set. Swinging Stars is also notable for its introduction of drummer Steve Didelot as a formal member of the band, with him playing on every track, and contributing an original song as well—“Reflecting Everything,” a cowboy-chord ballad sparkling with Finch and Blasucci’s guitars, and with Horne’s impeccable slide guitar.
There are also two special features: one from the Allah-Lahs’ Spencer Dunham, who plays bass on “French Kiss,” and another from David Rawlings, who graciously took the call to play acoustic guitar on the album’s finale, “Where’d You Go,” recording his part remotely. “He’s someone who Sam and I look up to in a pretty serious way,” Finch says. “So it was cool to have him.”
Mapache is so easygoing that their vibe belies their prolificness at times. Swinging Stars is their fourth album in as many years, and they show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Blasucci chalks it up partly to the fact that, when you have two principal songwriters in a band, “the songs come in quickly and they stack up quickly.” It helps, too, that they’re just in the right place to be making music. “We’re just trying to make hay while the sun shines,” as Finch puts it. “None of us have any babies or anything and we’re all pretty committed to playing as much music as we can. And really focused on making something beautiful.”