Calexico’s last visit to Australia included a slot at the 2010 Golden Plains festival, best remembered for apocalyptic rain and grounds so muddy that the ‘golden plains’ were more like the Somme.
Fortunately, the group have not been deterred by our temperamental weather conditions. Calexico will play a number of shows across the country next month, and co-frontman Joey Burns is looking forward to returning – and sampling some of our local wine.
“We are extremely excited to return to Australia,” exclaims Burns. “Give us rain, mud, heatwave, anything.
“And if anyone is interested in meeting up to introduce us to local wines,” he continues, “well that would be much appreciated.
“Last time we were there I got to meet Peter Gago at Penfold’s winery, which was incredible.”
Before they visit our vineyards, the band have already been able to indulge their penchant for a top drop by imbibing some European vino during their current tour of the continent. A jaunt that has seen them play, “Glastonbury, Roskilde, Sziget in Budapest, and a bunch of other big festivals.”
“The tour is going well,” says Burns. “The band is sounding great and we’re having a good time. Right now My Bloody Valentine is playing in the background – they sound awesome.
“Terraneo Festival on the Croatian coast is one of the best so far. It is situated on the Adriatic coast, so we hung out at the beach all day – couldn’t be nicer.”
The impetus for this expansive European tour is the band’s new record Algiers, which Burns says is receiving a lot of positive feedback from live audiences. Although the title shares its name with the capital of Algeria (“Some Europeans have been a little curious”, Burns admits) Algiers was actually named after the neighbourhood in New Orleans where the album was recorded.
As Burns explains, the decision to record in this historic and musically rich region had a profound impact on the creative process behind their seventh studio album.
“Going to New Orleans in December of 2011 was an important move for John Convertino and I to get out of our comfort zone at home in Tucson, and see what sort of songs we could write from the perspective of such an amazing city that connects northern and southern hemispheres,” Burns reveals.”“Maybe some time down the road we can collaborate with a symphony orchestra in Australia. The opera house seems like it could be a good venue for such a match.
“New Orleans is one of our favourite cities, always has been. We really loved the blend and the beauty that New Orleans has to offer. It’s funky. It’s got soul and lots of inspiration at every corner. In the wintertime it’s slightly cold, misty, and the songwriting has some of the introspective feel.”
To coincide with the European tour, Calexico have also released the Maybe On Monday EP, which features an alternate version of the track from Algiers. When asked if the group initially had a couple of different versions of the song, Burns replies:
“We had a demo version which is included at the end of the EP, but it was the idea of City Slang records, after seeing us play the songs from Algiers live – they thought it would be cool to have a live but in-studio version of “Maybe On Monday” as well.”
The EP also features covers of tracks by The Replacements, The Call, and Elvis Costello. As Burns points out, the opportunity to put their own unique spin on these songs was one of the main attractions for the band.
“We chose ‘80s songs and tunes that we could in some way make our own stamp on,” Burns remarks. “In the case of ‘Walls Came Down’ (by The Call) we completely rewrote the music, which is always a fun thing to do.
“’Shabby Doll’ is from one of my most favourite Elvis Costello albums, Imperial Bedroom,” Burns continues. “The song is in the minor key. So we kinda had to go with this song, plus we dug the piano parts and saw some room for solo trumpet.”
Evidently the group greatly enjoyed the chance to Calexico-fy these tracks, with Burns hinting that even more covers might surface in future.
“There are lots of other artists and songs we wanted to cover, and we even recorded some basic tracks to songs by The Cure, Peter Gabriel and Kraftwerk. Maybe someday they will be finished and we’ll release them,” he divulges.
That Calexico take inspiration from a number of diverse sources is not unexpected, given that the band’s unique sound has often been categorised as a type of ‘desert noir’, shaped by various influences including Portuguese Fado, ‘50s jazz, gypsy music, ‘60s surf, country twang, and spaghetti western epics.
It’s an eclectic mix, and as Burns points out, its origins are difficult to define.
“It’s hard to pinpoint exactly all of the influences. We aren’t one of those bands that sticks to one style or genre,” he explains.
“Some direct inspirations in the past have been the recordings of Amalia Rodrigues, the queen of Fado. You won’t hear that so obviously in our music except for maybe in some of the melodies in the song “Gypsy’s Curse” from The Black Light album.”
Film soundtracks, paintings, and even video clips from the Dominican Republic also form part of Calexico’s idiosyncratic aesthetic.
“Lately I have been listening to Rita Indiana y los Misterios from Dominican Republic. She does the ‘80s synth and merengue mash up really well. You gotta see her video for the song “El Juidero”, Burns enthuses.
“Movies? How about Latcho Drom, a documentary about gypsy music? That’s a good one,” he continues.“We never set out to achieve all of the things we’ve been a part of so far, The more we continue on with Calexico, the more I want to give back to the community.”
“Dead Man has a good use of contrast with the solo guitar of Neil Young. I really enjoyed the soundtrack to There Will Be Blood by Radiohead’s guitarist, Johnny Greenwood. Those sliding string lines were a perfect match to Daniel Day Lewis’ character.
“I [also] dig Neo Rauch’s paintings,” Burns adds. “I like the way he bends his lines and references. We became friends and played his 50th birthday party in Leipzig. He took us on a tour of his paintings at the local museum in his hometown.”
Burns is clearly an arts aficionado and it’s fascinating to learn about the myriad of influences that shape the Calexico sound. It’s not all vintage though – Calexico rock a pretty cool Instagram account (@casadecalexico) – and Burns confesses to being a bit of an Instagram addict.
“I love photography. I am a fan of Gary Winogrand, he’s my favorite. So when Instagram came around, I got hooked,” Burns says.
“I have to stop myself from releasing too many photos,” he admits. “It’s hard to find that balance of keeping friends updated on what you’re up to and wanting to put out really interesting photos. I try to mix it up. Sometimes the details like the handle on a door or a wine label up close can convey more feeling that the whole image.”
Returning then to Calexico’s upcoming Australian tour, Burns is enthusiastic about playing some of Australia’s iconic venues, including the Sydney Opera House.
“This will be our first,” Burns replies when asked if the group have played there before. “Maybe some time down the road we can collaborate with a symphony orchestra in Australia. The opera house seems like it could be a good venue for such a match.”
And do the group get the chance to listen to much Australian music?
“Dirty Three are kings,” exclaims Burns. “Love them!”
Calexico will round out their tour with four shows in California, “and possibly a few in South America before the year’s end”, before taking a well deserved break. One wonders, after seven studio albums, many collaborative projects, and a decade and a half of touring, if there is a sense that the band has accomplished all they set out to achieve?
“We never set out to achieve all of the things we’ve been a part of so far,” Burns admits.
“We feel extremely fortunate and lucky to have been a part of so many interesting projects and experiences. I look forward to getting more involved with collaborations and benefit projects. The more we continue on with Calexico, the more I want to give back to the community.”
Calexico Australian Tour 2013 Dates, Tickets, and Venues
Tuesday, 17 September 2013
Wednesday, 18 September 2013
BRISBANE FESTIVAL The Spiegeltent Brisbane, QLD
Friday, 20 September 2013
BYRON THEATRE Byron Bay, NSW
+ TINY RUINS (NZ)
Saturday, 21 September 2013
MEENIYAN TOWN HALL Meeniyan, VIC
+ TINY RUINS (NZ) + BRIGHTER LATER
Sunday, 22 September 2013
SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE Sydney, NSW
+ TINY RUINS (NZ)
Tix & info: www.sydneyoperahouse.com
Note: Member presales July 2/3. General on sale Jul 5
Tuesday, 24 September 2013
ATHENAEUM THEATRE Melbourne VIC
+ TINY RUINS (NZ)
Wednesday, 25 September 2013
CORNER HOTEL, Melbourne VIC
+ QUARRY MOUNTAIN DEAD RATS (Vic) + DEPEDRO (Spain)
Thursday, 26 September 2013
THE GOV, Adelaide SA
+ QUARRY MOUNTAIN DEAD RATS (Vic) + DEPEDRO (Spain)
Friday, 27 September 2013
ASTOR THEATRE, Perth WA
+ TINY RUINS (NZ) + QUARRY MOUNTAIN DEAD RATS (Vic) + DEPEDRO (Spain)
Saturday, 28 September 2013
WAVE ROCK WEEKENDER, Hyden WA
Tix & info www.soulhighway.com.au