STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
Offering a hybrid of Americana, Tex-Mex, rock, jazz, folk, psychedelic and Latin music, Tucson, Arizona based “Calexico” is one of the most original bands on the scene today.
Featuring a line-up including Joey Burns (vocals, guitars, bass, cello, piano, keyboards, accordion, percussion, vibraphone), John Convertino (drums, percussion, piano, keyboards, vibraphone, marimba, accordion), Paul Niehaus (steel guitar, guitars), Jacob Valenzuela (trumpet, keyboards, vibraphone, vocals), Martin Wenk (trumpet, guitar, keyboards, accordion, glockenspiel, vibraphone, theremin) and Volker Zander (standup bass, electric bass), Calexico has released its latest album, “Edge of the Sun” (2015), a follow-up to 2012’s acclaimed “Algiers.”
In preparation for the album, and at the suggestion of keyboardist, fellow musician and songwriter Sergio Mendoza, Burns and Convertino embarked on a songwriter retreat in Mexico, where the trio flourished creatively in a setting that more than fueled their efforts.
“Sergio was instrumental and responsible for suggesting that John, he and I go to Mexico City for ten days to do some writing, recording and just hanging out,” says Joey Burns from his Tucson, Arizona home. “It proved to be very fruitful. We had a lot of fun. We got to meet some cool people and do some sightseeing. We got to stay in a very historic neighborhood called Coyoacán. It was pretty amazing being there.”
“Going to another city to jumpstart the creative writing process helped us to know what this record is about and where we are as a band – like an open canvas with few ties to normal routines when recording and writing,” adds Burns. “Of course, we have been influenced by Mexican music and culture since the beginning, and you would imagine that a trip to Mexico City would have happened on past projects, but it hadn’t. So going to the center of Mexico and seeing an artistic community with such an impressive history as well as notable current musicians really inspired us.”
Working with Mexican collaborators for the first time, the band enlisted a diverse group of guest musicians, including Neko Case, Gaby Moreno, Sam Beam, Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell, Devotchka’s Nick Urata and members of the Greek ensemble Takim.
The result — Edge of the Sun — offers fans a collection of fresh, well-crafted and beautifully written songs symbolic of the diverse talents of a band continuing to push the creative envelope. Standout songs include, “Falling from the Sky,” “Bullets & Rocks,” “Tapping on the Line,” “Miles from the Sea,” ”Coyoactn” and “Follow the River.”
“We maintain this sort of traditional side to being a musician, honing your craft and working with your instrument,” says Burns. “Finding like-minded people that are doing things not from just a monetary aspect, but doing this for the right reasons. We’ve always gravitated toward that kind of aesthetics in the band and with other musicians.”
“When I step back from this record, I see the spirit of collaboration,” adds Burns. “As we began working on it, we started inviting people, and it was a natural thing. We’ve always welcomed guests; it’s in our DNA. John and I are really good at playing with people and improvising, but we’re also sensitive to what artists need.”
“We’re very pleased for sure, especially in a day where the music business is challenged on many levels,” says Burns. “I’m really happy to have some consistency in getting albums released and in being able to record albums with a label that’s supportive.”
Formed in Tucson, Arizona, Calexico, named after a town on the border of California and Mexico, released its debut album, “Spoke” (Quarterstick Records), in 1997.
Co-founders Joey Burns and John Convertino met in 1990, while Burns was a music student at the University of California (Irvine) and Convertino was playing drums with the band “Giant Sand.”
Their 2005 EP “In the Reins,” recorded with Iron & Wine, made the Billboard 200 album charts. The “Feast of Wine” (2003), “Garden Ruin” (2006), “Carried to Dust” (2008) and “Algiers” (2012) all charted in the U.S. and abroad.
More than two decades in, and armed with an impressive collection of studio and live albums, film soundtracks and collaborative efforts to their credit, “Calexico” is thriving as a concert draw.
“There’s a lot of diversity on the stage — the song selection, languages,” says Burns. “There are a lot of influences in what we do, and there has always been over the years. It’s a wonderful sensation to be on the edge playing with a group of musicians in front of an audience, and nobody knows where the moment is going to go.”
“I tend to try to incorporate that into the show every night,” adds Burns. “There’s some element of surprise and spontaneity for everyone involved, including the audience. This is why we do this. If it were predictable, I would probably change gears and do something else.”
“We really enjoy what we do and we take a very serious approach,” says Burns. ”We love our job. There’s a lot of passion involved and hopefully it shows in the music and the writing and the whole package – the trajectory of what we’ve done now for years. It’s great seeing creativity continue to flow, and that’s super important for anyone, especially for us.”
IF YOU GO: Calexico, with special guest Gaby Moreno, performs at the Union Transfer, located at 1026 Spring Garden Street Philadelphia, Saturday June 6, 2015 at 8 P.M. For further information, call 215-232-2100 or visit www.utphilly.com. To stay up to date with Calexico visit www.casadecalexico.com