Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Calexico interview

For over a decade, Calexico has been a goodwill ambassador of good music, melding indie rock, Americana, latin flavor, movie scores, jazziness and south of the border folklorico into a gumbo that has delighted fans from their home of Tucson, Arizona to Tokyo. Despite massive changes in the music industry, the veteran band is always brave enough to try something new. For example? They are collaborating with the Louisville Orchestra on Saturday, January 30th, at the Kentucky Center's Whitney Hall. New L.A. buzzband The Airborne Toxic Event is also on the bill.
Velocity's resident pop culture guru, Peter Berkowitz, recently had a chance to ask Calexico's singer and guitarist, Joey Burns, a few questions:

Joey, thanks for doing this. I'm a first-time caller but a longtime fan!

Thanks for the opportunity to talk. Looking forward to the show.

How has the collapse of Touch and Go, your longtime label, affected Calexico? Do you know yet how your next record will be distributed?
It hasn't affected Calexico quite yet as we don't have a new release coming out this winter. I just spoke with (label owner) Corey (Rusk) and had a really good conversation about many things, music business stuff included. I think we both agreed to cross that bridge when we get to it. He's such a good friend and I really enjoy our connection. I suppose I am most sad about not having the whole staff at Touch and Go Records there anymore. They are such a great group of people and so helpful to bands like ours. They made it easy to be a self-managed indie rock band. They taught me that it's important to carry that creativity into the business side of releasing music and to always be surrounded by intelligent, like-minded people who have a strong work ethic and sense of humor.

Your music conveys a feeling of the Southwest more than probably anyone since Ennio Morricone was scoring Westerns. Additionally, yours is one of the most post-globally influenced American bands around still. Do you enjoy - or are you frustrated - that Calexico continues to stand out so much in a sea of more conventional, more simplistic and interchangeable rock bands?

We don't mind standing out at all. Our record collections and musical influences continue to get more diverse with each tour that takes us to far corners of the globe. With all of the influences, we strive to make it our own. It's important to make sounds with your voice and choice of aesthetics. We just received our first offer to play Mexico City yesterday at a rock festival called "Vive Latino" with a capacity of 55,000 people. Should be a lot of fun and good to play in unchartered waters, so to speak.

Many major acts, such as Bon Jovi and Hootie, have "gone country" in an attempt to broaden their fan base. As a versatile, roots-based American band, do you think you would ever make a so-called "country" record? It worked for Freddie Fender!
Sounds like you're a music producer. We've worked with Willie Nelson, Jerry Douglas, Joe Ely, and even the late, great Freddie Fender. I guess some of our recordings have touched on the more pure country motif. The song "Slowness" on the new album Carried To Dust definitely conjures up the Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris vibe. The song features singer songwriter Pieta Brown. These influences of genre and style weave in and out of live shows and recordings. The variety is key for us and our own unique vision of how we blend things.

You have collaborated with Louisville's own Jim James (of My Morning Jacket), amongst many collaborations. Do you feel any kinship with The Band, in that you are able to be the star or the supporting band depending on the situation? Or The Roots? Would you consider being the house band on a talk show?
Sure. You a TV producer as well? I'm liking where you're going. Love The Band, The Roots and the Duke Ellington orchestra. Our dream is a massive music hall filled with instruments from around the world and recording gear.

For the January 30th show, you're collaborating with the Louisville Orchestra. How often do you get a chance to do something like this? Are you more excited or afraid of what might happen?
This is the first time for us live. We've done some similar work in the studio, but this is going to be great. We are all so excited. What should we wear? Tuxedos?

Your band's lyrics are more literate than most. Instead of asking for a favorite records list, could you recommend 2 or 3 great books?
You Are Not a Stranger Here by Adam Haslett. Short stories of melancholia. Perfect for long flights.
Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing by Charles Bowden. Good inspiration for late night journal spelunking and Sunday morning walks back into town.
The World That Made New Orleans together with Cuba and Its Music by Ned Sublett. Tracing back to what made Jazz and some of the best music in the world.

c. 2010 Velocity Weekly

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