Calexico, on Bringing Desert Music to the Forest
Tuscon-based band Calexico formed in the ‘90s, and its latin-themed indie sound has been on the who’s who list of the underground pretty much ever since.
The band will be performing at Britt on Tue., July 14, opening for The Decemberists. The Messenger caught up with frontman Joey Burns to discuss what they have in store for Southern Oregon.
RVM: Your music has been described as desert noir, and your 2008 album, The Black Light, was a concept album about the southwestern desert. How important is the desert to your sound, and how does it affect it?
JB: Living in the Sonoran Desert since the mid-1990’s has had some good influences on making music, and most important is the element of space. The Black Light which came out in 1998 was an accumulation of recordings stemming from influences as wide as west coast surf rock, garage world folk rock, a bit of Portuguese Fado, inspiration from some Mexican folk instrumentation and a whole bunch of atmospheric instrumentals that proved to be thematic to the feel of traveling around the globe and back to Tucson. I had a collection of very different sounding songs style wise, but somehow they all made sense together. Having read a bunch of Cormac McCarthy books at the time, I decided to link all of the music through a cohesive story. It helped in writing the lyrics and giving the whole album a thread to follow through all of the music that was all over the map.
Music has always been the window to explore the world and so I see our band as an extension of that imagination that we all felt growing up when listening to old record or the radio. I suppose that living in Tucson has offered an openness and yet at the same time there is a rich musical and cultural heritage which continues to inspire.
RVM: Southern Oregon is pretty deep forest. Does desert music translate?
JB: Yes. Over the years playing around the world in different locations or different themed festivals whether they be folk, rock, jazz or world music based our music translates because it is descriptive and story-based. The characters and themes—although they may seem to be region-specific—tap into universal themes. Not only that, our band is made up of fantastic musicians from different countries. Martin Wenk is from Berlin Germany, Jairo Zavala is from Madrid Spain and the rest of us are from the Southwest. Other times on tour we sometimes collaborate with local musicians and singers which helps connect with the local language.
RVM: What do you look for when you are writing a song?
JB: I look for an open window, a tiny space where the dust can settle. I usually prefer empty rooms with just a guitar and John Convertino on drums. We prefer writing and recording at the same time usually at Wavelab Recording Studio in downtown Tucson. After I drop off the kids at preschool is a good time or late at night when everyone is asleep is another time that I can write. I look to books, film, art, life around me or the news for inspiration. It sometimes finds me at times when I am running out the door or ready to call it a night.
RVM: Has that changed over the band’s 20 plus years? If so, how? If not, why not?
JB: The songwriting process has mostly been the same over the years. John and I with instruments and a tape machine. I really like the simplicity and dialogue between us both and our instruments. After we map out some music sketches and create moods, I then figure out lyrics. However we have also done things differently as well from time to time, involving other musicians in the recording of basic tracks and also with the writing of lyrics.
RVM: What is on the radar for the band?
JB: We have a year of touring slated for Calexico in support of Edge of The Sun. At some point I would like to do some recording with just John as a two piece and release an EP in hopes of touring as a duo live for some shows in between Calexico full length albums and full band tours. There is a documentary film about the migration of Monarch butterflies that we are scheduled to work on next year, and there are several recording projects that have requested John and I to help out with.
Calexico, with The Decemberists
6pm, Tue., July 14
Britt Pavilion, 350 First St., Jacksonville