Road Atlas: Joey Burns (Part 2)
We resume our conversation with Calexico’s Joey Burns on the band’s European tour as they play the sold-out Teatro Kapital in Madrid, Spain tonight.
Words: Joey Burns, Illustration: Craig Carry
Tell me about your day in Madrid today please?
JOEY: I was up till 2am this morning with a combined jet lag and home cooked meal buzz over at Jairo Zavala’s place in the village of Becceril de la Sierra Madrid. This is the mountainous area north of the city. I must have woken up several times throughout the night in that wonderful jet lag daze and fumbling for the faucet for some water to bring myself back to life. Jairo picked me up and we stopped off at a cafe in his village for coffee and croissants. He is my brother and so we spent some time catching up with one another’s lives. I am so happy to be here at his home and visit with his sweet family, especially to meet the newest addition, Diego who is 8 months old.
We spent the rest of the day picking up band and crew; John Convertino, Valerie Deerin, Ryan Alfred and Jacob Valenzuela. We ate lunch at a great tapas restaurant nearby in Barajas. I had a great glass of red wine, 12 Lunas from Somantano D.O. region. I love the food and wine from Spain and this one of the most exciting aspects of touring here.
All of us happily fed and noursihed crammed into Jairo’s family van and settled into the village. Some took naps while others checked emails. Outside the fog was laying low over the mountains. Somewhere out there in the invisible landscape is Europe’s biggest rock says Jairo. I take his word and take a walk through the streets watered fresh from the rain. It feels good to breathe the fresh air.
Later that night when Jairo’s family came home from school and soccer (futbol) we all ate dinner together and hung out with he and his wife’s handsome boys. These are the kinds of nurturing moments before or during a tour that I look forward to the most.
Jairo spoke with a friend, David “El Indio” Garcia the drummer of the group Vetusta Morla who will sit in with us tomorrow on percussion. Sergio Mendoza has been hanging out with him in the city checking out the lay of the land. This is Sergio’s first time in Spain. He is really happy to be here. Sometimes bringing new faces to the tours can inspire the rest of the touring party. Seeing the same places through fresh eyes revitalizes the soul.
Describe how the band dynamic evolves as a result of three weeks on tour?
JOEY: We usually start off super excited and maintain a high energy throughout the whole tour. We all love what we do and working/ hanging out together. This is the last tour for a while and the last tour with Jairo, so we are going to enjoy every possible moment. I am hoping that we can film and record some of the shows with this line up as it’s been a really good one.
Share your thoughts on the unspoken connection between the musicians of the current Calexico line-up?
JOEY: I think you have to see this happen live onstage. We all enjoy playing with one another. You can see it on our faces and hear it in the playing. It’s funny, sometimes there are a million thoughts racing through my head when I am performing. This is why I close my eyes sometimes. I want to focus on the heart of the band playing and breathing together. If I look around I can get easily distracted. One thing is for sure is that after playing continually for three weeks or so, the band’s musical communication gets better and better with each show. I love this and wish we could tour in the USA more on two week runs instead of one offs for the weekend festivals.
What are the older songs from the Calexico songbook you think will be revisited upon this tour?
JOEY: We started playing ‘All Systems Red’ the last week of the USA tour leading up to the elections. It felt good to play this song and have three electric guitars making a wall of noise. The set needs that from time to time. Other songs that we might play are ‘The Ride Pt. 2’ and ‘Service and Repair’ and ‘Sonic Wind’. Ryan Alfred the bass player is always a fan of playing ‘Woven Birds’ and if the audience is in the mood for more of the contemplative songs we will bring it out and see where it goes. I love that song. There are also some unfinished songs from the ‘Algiers’ album session that I would like to complete and perform. One of them is a co write with Jairo. It’s working title is ‘Cemetary Gates (Nada te Queda). I may work on it after this blog entry. It’s in 6/8 time and has some sweeping accordion parts ala The Pogues answered with some regal sounding trumpet parts. The song is all about building. Hopefully it will work out live. I may rewrite some of the chords in the chorus. The last time we worked on it in the studio we were changing the chorus sections already. But listening back, I kind of like the original version. Let’s see what happens. There are a couple of other songs too that I am listening to now while I write that might be fun to work on and play live on this tour.
With traveling and experiencing different people and places, inspiration must come from everywhere for you. Much in the spirit of street photographers, (like Alex Webb, Joel Meyerowitz or Klavdij Sluban) where characters can combine with their environment so powerfully (for a fraction of a second). Of course, Calexico songs are often character-based (‘Gilbert’, ‘Across The Wire’, ‘Sinner In The Sea’), so do you see the spark of inspiration for such characters in the very streets you wander when on tour? Any examples?
JOEY: ‘Gilbert’ is a fun song to play thanks for the reminder. Sometimes it helps to see or feel the character of a person or place to get into the mood behind a song. Other times it is important to do the opposite of that. Contrast is key. The best way to explain the making for a good show or inventing a new song on the spot is by being lost in the moment and there is no better way to do this than by leaving the club or venue and wandering around. There is inspiration all around us. We could walk across the street and find a whole world of ideas and impulses to want to write and play music. It starts from the minute we walk into the airport and say goodbye to loved ones back home. I met some really interesting people on the flight from Chicago to New York. On my left was a CEO for a marketing company for fantasy sports. She had the blues and I tried to cheer her up. On my right was a college student from Prague returning home after studying and interning for international business in Manhattan, Kansas for the past 10 months. She was happy to be going back home and missed her mother’s cooking. She was optimistic but not sure what kind of direction or work she wanted to focus on. Both ladies had something really unique to say about where they were at in their lives even though they were at different cross roads and 20 years apart. That kind of setting can be the catalyst to a song or mood in the music. It happens all of the time.
Calexico’s ‘Algiers’ is out now on City Slang (Europe) and Anti (USA). For a full list of tour dates, please see: www.casadecalexico.com/tours