Download: Calexico “Two Silver Trees”
This interview by Kevin Ferguson.
You went to UCI?
Joey Burns (guitar/vocals): I did! And survived! I wound up studying German, but I can speak a little Spanish. I need to learn—I gotta speak Spanish! My friend Jacob Valenzuela—who sings the song ‘Inspiración’ on the new record—he comes up with these kind of colloquialisms when he speaks. I love that aspect.
Why did you go to UCI?
I applied for UCLA—I applied undeclared—and oddly enough had I applied to the music school with the honors that I had in music, I probably would’ve got in! It’s ironic that I wound up doing what I’m doing now, which is kind of somewhat ethno-musically minded. But I followed my heart. Now I’m here in Tucson recording a track for a Hollywood movie called Love Ranch. It stars Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci. It’s about a couple that ran a healthy and legal bordello just outside of the Reno city limits. I’ve been watching Helen make out with this—
Are you sure you want us to publish spoilers?
Good point! I don’t want to ruin the movie.
How would Calexico have scored No Country For Old Men?
We’d take our cue from the director and the theme of the movie. I wouldn’t want to play it necessarily so Southwestern. I like the soundtrack to There Will Be Blood because has that sense of organic instrumentation. The harmonies and everything tap more into this deeper theme, rather than like a superficial surface connection. That’s what I think I would’ve wanted to do with that. There’s really some dark dialogue and themes. I wouldn’t necessarily come out blazing with this huge Morricone style. That’s not really what we’re into doing anyways. But for a movie, it becomes more about what the director wants. This movie that we’re being asked to do, we’re being asked for all the right reasons—which makes it the more enjoyable to want to do. I would really want to take it to some dark places—more treated sounds, prepared guitar, mix things like that in. More effects and more textures. Something that you would expect to hear from an earlier Calexico album: producing sounds and tones through combinations of instruments to give it more depth.
Why did you decide to cover ‘One More Cup of Coffee’ for the Dylan movie soundtrack?
It was in the script. We read the script and loved it and noticed that they had that song mentioned. I heard that they were thinking about trying to get Roger McGuinn to do that song. We have a connection to Roger through his family here in Tucson. We said to ourselves, ‘Let’s make a version and see if they like it.’ Again—a great script and a great read!
Did you ever get to meet Nancy Sinatra? What was she like?
She was really cool! Very down to earth. We met her after we recorded our part of the project. She was very, very approachable. No attitude—very funny. Her daughter was there, so we saw the mother-daughter connection—we think Nancy is still very much the daughter! It was a very monumental meeting, like when I met Willie Nelson and Mickey Raphael, his harmonica player. He told us his ambition is to come and record and write a record with us. We were like, ‘You know a lot of people…’ and he said, ‘Yeah! Tell me who you need!’
Why does your heart forever belong to Arizona?
I was born in Montreal, Canada. My parents moved to L.A. in ‘67. I moved in 1993. Why have I stayed here since ‘93? I think it’s very easy for a musician to stay here. Low overhead! It’s relatively cheap to live here. Rent is pretty low and the downtown scene is pretty exciting. It’s close enough to the coast where I can still see friends. Lots of artists live here or move here temporarily—it’s got this strange transient vibe here. There are a lot of stories—a lot of strange stories. You can see people on the street and you can imagine some of the strange stories too. I like the fact that here are a lot of different cultures living here, it’s not just about this Western mentality. There’s a mass of immigrants from Mexico, the native and indigenous cultures…
Is it suffering like Phoenix is? Californian retirees polluting it with McMansions?
That definitely happened for a while. I think now—of course—things are slowing down. We had a lot of people coming into town buying up houses, just like everywhere else. Maybe Phoenix is just philosophically aligned more with the idea of McMansions. With Tucson there is still a really great sense of character and history of architecture.
How are you handling the city tearing down Magic Carpet Golf?
It’s not an easy situation to deal with. I’ve gone and photographed it. A lot of the main attractions and larger than life figures and sculptures that make up the beauty and mystery are gonna be moved to this other location—I think it’s gonna be the Valley of the Moon? It’s up near the Fort Lowell and Campbell area. So there is hope. They’re not gonna throw those statues away. That’s how I’m handling it. I’m handling it today. I actually went there today to take photos of it.
What was the first album you bought at Toxic Ranch Records?
Oh God! The first record I ever bought there? That’s a good question! I probably bought one of the Bloat Records releases. Probably Doo Rag. It was probably in some kind of strange cardboard package.
What is the most spiritual experience you had at the Desert Museum?
The most spiritual experience was actually walking away from all the crowds of people and walking up to the wash that’s across the street. It was a while ago. A friend and I were checking out all of the wildflowers—we were kind of away from the main trail—and we saw a group of tourists talking about what might have happened thousands and thousands of years ago. I think there was water there at one point. That’s when I kind of felt connected to this time and place—like to what life might have been like years ago, and that was right across from the Desert Museum. [A train goes by, whistle blaring.] There goes the train!
Is that the same train on ‘Throws Daggers’?
Did you plan on having it in the song?
It was totally accidental! We were just recording it a block away from where I’m standing in Solar Culture Gallery. It’s right on the train tracks—that’s what makes this place so exciting. It’s on a lot of the old songs on Calexico albums. They were all unintentional. We tried lots of times to record in between train crossings.
What is the most potentially psychedelic site in Tucson?
I think the most psychedelic site for me is if you keep going past Old Tucson studios—past the Arizona Desert Museum—if you keep going to this place called Signal Hill. I mention it on the old record. It’s this Indian hill with some beautiful petroglyphs on the top of the hill. It kind of overlooks the valley. I think that just being there—sober or not—and looking at these petroglyphs as the sun is going down—it’s conducive for many a psychedelic trip.
CALEXICO WITH THE CAVE SINGERS ON MON., SEPT. 29, AT THE HENRY FONDA THEATRE, 6126 HOLLYWOOD BLVD., HOLLYWOOD. 8 PM / $18 / ALL AGES. GOLDENVOICE.COM. CALEXICO’S CARRIED TO DUST IS OUT NOW ON QUARTERSTICK. VISIT CALEXICO AT CASADECALEXICO.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/CASADECALEXICO.