Caleixco erases borders with music

By Garth Paulson

Joey Burns is a modern day renaissance man. Not only does he front Calexico he has also spent time as a member of Giant Sand, Friends of Dean Martinez, and OP8. Aside from these projects he has also contributed to records by Richard Bunker, Jon Rauhouse, Victoria Williams, Shannon Wright and Canadian alt-country sweetheart Neko Case, to name but a few.

Considering this impressive resume it can be understood why Burns still refers to Calexico, arguably his most successful venture, as a side project. "It has always been intended as a side project," Burns remarks. "That way it doesn’t have as much pressure, it feels more natural we have the liberty to decide what will work and won’t work."

Calexico was formed in 1996 when Burns and his long time collaborator John Convertino began a project truly their own, resulting in a musical juggernaut that quickly grew from a two piece to its six piece incarnation of today.

Hailing from Tucson Arizona, Calexico has established a niche for itself as a band that cannot be classified, a feat which Burns acknowledges yet underplays.

"We try to keep ourselves open and free in regards to what can be done. Often we’ll begin with one thing and it ends up sounding like something completely different. I’m really into the orchestral aspect of music, combining sounds, seeing what you can come up with."

Though the band touches on just about every style imaginable, their music contains an obvious connection with their geographic location. In fact, the name Calexico is taken from another Arizona city that lies right next to the Mexican-American border. The use of Mariachi trumpets, accordion and pedal steel guitar in many of their songs inevitably helps paint a vivid picture of dusty Arizonian life complete with the importance of the invisible line separating first world from third.

"I’m intrigued by different people’s reactions [to the border situation]. Lots of Europeans see Mexican cities and are just appalled by the differences in the way people are living. Our music embodies those feelings of what can be done about this issue," states Burns.

The song "Across the Wire" from their 2003 critical smash Feast of Wire deals with the border specifically, juxtaposing an upbeat Mariachi sound with often morose lyrics about being "so far yet so near" to a better life.

"It’s that whole contrast," exclaims Burns. "Compare San Diego with Tijuana emotionally and spiritually. What Tijuana lacks materially they make up for in those terms. People there have a great sense of humour, they know how to live and to celebrate life. The song mirrors the border itself, the music on one side the lyrics on another, they’re together but at the same time coming from a different place."

Calexico will be in Calgary as part of the already strong lineup offered by the TD Canada Trust Jazz festival. Though hardly a jazz band in the traditional sense, Calexico makes a perfect addition to the already eclectic Jazz Fest and they plan to perform a more jazz oriented set than the one heard on their last visit to Calgary in September.

"For me the whole thing about jazz is its spontaneity. A lot of music is based on that ability to communicate freely. That’s kind of what we draw upon, being in the moment, allowing expressions to traverse all kinds of styles."

As usual Burns is keeping himself busy before his Calgary appearance. The band has recently released a six song EP entitled Convict Pool, and then there are all of his other projects.

"I recorded some new songs with Neko Case as well as some work with John Rauhouse. There is some talk of doing a project with Samuel Beam of Iron and Wine, I spent a week in Europe and did some recording with a French artist, and of course it would be great to do some new Calexico songs too."

Calexico plays Mac Hall on Sat., June 26 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 at Ticketmaster.

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