Calexico have been going strong since 1996. And when you consider their immense talent and the fact that they operate within their own proprietary genre -- affectionately dubbed desert noir -- their enduring success is no surprise. Lead members Joey Burns and John Convertino write evocative, fun and unique music enjoyable for the casual listener and the music nerd alike.
Baeble recently caught up with Joey to get some insight into the creation of Calexicos latest album, Edge Of The Sun. Check out our exclusive interview below.
Youve said that your new album, Edge Of The Sun, was influenced heavily by experiences that you had and locals that you met while you were recording in Mexico City. Would you share one such experience and how it contributed to the album?
Joey Burns: While we were down there, a mutual friend took us to a studio that hed been working at under the direction of the artist Pedro Reyes. Theyd been working on a project called 'Disarm, through which they acquired destroyed weapons with the permission of the Mexican government and turned them into shovels, planting a tree for each shovel. And more recently, hes been having artists create musical instruments out of the broken weapons that are then used to perform inspirational music. The whole point being to take something thats overwhelmingly negative and make it positive. The idea inspired a number of songs, one of those being Cumbia De Donde. a song that features the wonderful Spanish singer Amparo Sanchez. Im not from here/Im not from there/Where am I going?/Should I care? The choruses are in Spanish and Im singing in English. I wanted to incorporate different cultures and viewpoints to emphasize that people around the world are more similar than they are different. And its all good, and I think thats the way that things should be in the world.
And I think the hypnotizing rhythm of that song also makes it easier for people of all different backgrounds to latch onto.
Right. And those basic elements of rhythm are indeed what gets people connected. And people can tell whats happening at times regardless if they understand the text from the tone alone, and I think thats really important.
When I listen to your music, its very easy to imagine specific cinematic scenes, such as a man on a horse riding off into the sunset. Do you ever write music with visuals in mind as a driving inspiration?
Ive never thought of someone riding a horse off into the sunset, even when I was thinking about "All the Pretty Horses," which is an old lullaby from South Carolina. But I have *laughs* acted out somebody riding a horse into the sunset for a music video for a song just as a joke, taking the piss out of myself. But no, Im working more on feel and mood; its never super precise.
Do you have a go-to method for your songwriting? For instance, do you start by sitting down with a guitar?
The majority of it is me sitting behind a nylon string guitar and John sitting behind his drumset. Im really fortunate to have a friend and colleague like John whos such a great and imaginative drummer. If you can imagine, when Im just strumming a chord or humming the ghost of a melody, and it might turn into something more complex, John just gets my style and Im really grateful for that. And thats why hes such an integral part of the songwriting process. It also helps to be in a good comfortable environment, and we certainly have that here in Tucson at WAVE RAT Studios. Its great because you can walk out the door and grab a really great plate of enchiladas.
While were on the topic of great food; when you were finishing the portion of the album that was recorded in Mexico, did you have a favorite food or go-to snack?
Wowww. We were really spoiled. *laughs* We planned in advance, knowing that there would be crazy hours and that wed probably miss normal restaurant hours of operation. So we asked a friend to ask around and find someones mom or somebody that would cook for us, so thats what we did. And since we were at our friends house with a great kitchen, we had lunch and dinner catered to us. We went out occasionally, the fresh fruit juices were amazing, watermelon, cantaloupe, and other things that you dont normally drink in North America.
"Cayoacan Theme..." that being an instrumental track, I googled Cayoacan, and found out that its a borough, and I read that on the weekend, it gets pretty lively there. And the track itself, being festive and lively...
That song in particular captures more of an impression, on the folklore feel of Mexico. And it being instrumental, we thought wed pay homage to the town in which we were staying. And its just a fun track, especially to play live.
The collaborative aspect of this album, was that challenging? Incorporating so many different musicians from so many different places?
A little bit. Fortunately we werent in so much of a time crunch. There were a few guests that we had hoped for a contribution from in time and it didnt happen, but I think any time you ask a wide variety of people to help out, you know that certain people wont be able to make it. But it was a lot of fun, especially with Sergio Mendoza, our keyboardist; he and I would be in the studio for a day and just think of people to get for collaborations. So it almost became a fun way of passing the time and making the whole process more special.
And who are you listening to right now?
Im listening to a Mexican singer named Natalia Lafourcade. Shes by far one of my favorite singer/songwriters out of Mexico and somebody that wed been listening to in the beginning and during the process of making this record.