(Both Published Groove Guide March 2010)
Shopping for the Soul
From Tuscon to New Plymouth, Alt Country outfit, Calexico are always on the look out for a bargain at the next cerebral swap meet. As they prepare to head south for WOMAD and the International Festival of the Arts in Wellington, Joey Burns looks up from his packing to take a call from Groove Guide.
There’s a great story about US journalist, Erin Broadley physically retracing the back story to their latest, Carried to Dust. The songs, which like the pages of a cherished travel diary, are told in barbershops by gravel voiced old men living at desert homesteads. They weave the loose tale of a writer who follows the Santa Ana wind east into the desert, ultimately arriving at a car boot sale at drive held at a run-down drive-in. Finding an old road map with a route already inked out he takes to the open highway to chance his luck. And it was this very trip that Broadley makes, encountering not only the swap meets but an infinite “layering of people’s obscure histories and mythical dramas.”
Front man and co-founder Joey Burns admits the back story was a little contrived for promotional value but likes the idea of a record documenting a back country road trip through lost America. “One thing for sure – this record is influenced a lot by our travels. That theme of finding oneself through travel is woven into its fabric”.
He particularly treasures events like small town swap meets. “They’re like living museums because you get to meet the person that owned that object before you and there’s an attachment of some kind that we want to find out more about. Traveling and meeting people has an influence on us – maybe not now, maybe later when you’re reflecting, staring at the bottom of the beer bottle or through the windshield at the road ahead of you. There’s a kind of reflection in the music we make. “
Named after the Californian town, Calexico’s particular brand of Americana draws influence from Old Time jazz, tumbleweed ghost towns, Mariachi bands and Mexican Border out posts. It’s also been described as “desert noir” not so much for the cinematic presence but “perhaps it’s a kind of internal landscape. Our influences stem from different places and times.” Burns describes their music as “eclectic and strongly instrumental. We collect a lot of strange and old broken instruments…learn how to play them in this kind of self-swap meet orchestra. Our records are part soundtrack, part instrumental, part story board. There’s a lot of stories and characters. They’re part of what we do.”
Although a fan of epic Westerns, Burns is “more a fan of Cormac McCathy (The Road). I like the internal, emotional landscape that deals with themes that pop up on up on the geographical. For me when I look outside my window (in Tuscon, Arizona). I don’t see Westerns. I see where a starkness where the soul has to make it’s own way.” Calexico songs are about more than Cowboy cliché’s, he says, “It’s more about being stuck on that internal bed of thorns. There’s that play with the metaphor but when you look closer in the nooks and crannies of the music to look at a dissolute place of, say, the Badlands or the bottom of the ocean….I like to get to delve deeper, get into the textures and layers.”
Carried to Dust
Calexico play International Festival of the Arts (Wellington) at the Pacific Blue Festival Club 11/12 MarchWOMAD, Bowl of Brooklyns, New Plymouth 13-14 March
Crisp and Clean – Songs
It’d be too easy to dismiss Australasian outfit Songs’ attention to simplicity as some kind of calculated Flying Nun art-noise project. But when Groove phones up Steve Uren, drummer and 1/4 of Songs, it’s more apparent this is no replica outfit with tight jeans, carrying worn copies of the Clean and Sonic Youth.They are, however, likely nominees for the hardest band to Google. “Yeah, we must get on to that. It’s a little lacking,” says Uren on their web presence. “In retrospect the name might not be the easiest to search. Jeff (Burch) had suggested a singular concept, something that would fit us without creating preconceived ideas.” When pressed, Uren also concedes he likes the idea of a title that essentially defines what they do, like The Band. According to their flyer, the Sydney based Songs is an unexpected collection of ‘professionals and degenerates’.