With the Band: Calexico


Photo Credit: Kaiya Kearns

Joey Burns rocking out on Treefort’s Mainstage.

Kaiya Kearns, Social Media Editor

Calexico is a band formed in Tucson, Arizona. Their music has many elements like country, jazz, cumbia, indie rock, and Americana, however they fall under the rock genre. The band’s main members are Joey Burns(guitar) and John Convertino(drums), who met when Burns was at University of California Irvine and Convertino was playing drums for the music group Giant Sand. Joey Burns lives in Boise, Idaho, and he shared what it’s like to be a musician with the Boise Highlights. 


Kaiya: What is the story of how Calexico came to be?

Joey: I began making home recordings with my friend John Convertino in the mid 1990’s. We started out recording on outgoing phone answering machine messages and graduated to reel to reel analog tape. We had been playing as a rhythm section backing up other artists and collected a bunch of instruments. Calexico was our own project where we could feature a lot of these instruments like vibraphone, cello, accordion, mandolin, marimba, and then added other friends and their instruments like trumpet and violin. We gradually grew our mini orchestra. 


Kaiya: Who is your biggest inspiration individually and when collaborating as a band?

Joey: For me my biggest inspiration is Tom Waits. He’s very theatrical and has a lot of different voices and styles of music that he taps into. For John he loves Jazz drummer Elvin Jones. That improvisation spirit is key to our writing, recording and touring sound and feel. As a band we draw from a lot of different artists both past and present. A few of them are; Duke Ellington, Lhasa de Sela.


Kaiya: What obstacles or hard times have you had to overcome as a band, and how has it helped you grow as a musician?

Joey: There will be challenges along the way with any job or artistic endeavor. The main one that sticks out for me has been getting rejection from a European record label. I asked why they were not interested in working with us and when I found out I realized they thought the music I sent was the actual album when it was only demos and ideas. Once I sent the finished album “The Black Light” (1998) City Slang Records has been our European label ever since then. Also being in a band and traveling brings about a lot of personal experiences and differences in lifestyle. So it reinforces the importance of clear and honest communication to talk about personal and group topics. 


Kaiya: What is the most memorable show you have played and why?

Joey:  Our first shows were very exciting as we began our career. There were just two of us onstage and maybe a dozen or so people watching. Selling our first printed album on vinyl exclusively at the shows was super exciting. 


Kaiya: How would you describe the music you make?

Joey: Our music is singer songwriter based but looks to the Southwest and the border between The USA and Mexico as a cultural influence. Through music we can grow and learn from other cultures and languages. I love learning about new music and artists from around the world. That’s why I keep doing what I’m doing.