Joey Burns and Calexico rocked the Regina Folk Festival stage on Saturday night. As one of the biggest fan drawing bands at the 2010 Regina Folk Festival I sat down with Joey Burns of Calexico to get his take on music, festivals and life in general. The following is an excerpt from that interview.
How would you describe Calexico’s music to someone who’s never heard the band before?
Joey Burns(JB): There is a lot of different elements that come from both an international influence and a regional Southwestern United States influence. So with that there is the kind of twang of Link Wray meets Sergio Leone’s motion picture soundtrack, but then there is this Jazz influence inspired by our drummer John Convertino’s love for Art Blakey, Max Roach and these drummers from the 50’s and 60’s and so what he does with the brushes is quite unique. There is that international influence, I say, because there is this kind of Mediterranean, kind of afro-american, Cuban influence based on minor blues. We’re big fans of the minor blues. You mix all those things together with some singer/songwriter stuff, instrumentals and a love to improvise and you’ve got Calexico to some degree.
How does the Regina folk Festival Compare to other festivals you’ve played?
JB: Regina is great. I mean the fact that it is one of these fantastic Canadian folk festivals means it’s more intimate. I was talking with one of the musicians playing with John Prine and he was saying ‘yeah we love these festivals’ because you can really get a sense of the people and your dynamic range can go much greater because you can be quieter and build on that – opposed to a bigger festival when the sound has to travel that much further so that perspective as a musician has to travel just as far, so it’s harder for musicians to connect to fans at in really large places.
How do songs come together for Calexico?
JB: A lot of it comes from just sitting down and playing. Not talking, not thinking, just playing and seeing what feels good and sounds good and then going back and listening and seeing if there is anything that strikes you. Seeing if there is anywhere you could add some more layers or textures or vocals. Or there might be some poem and I might just read from that and make up some music and that will be a song. I’ve been thinking about that because that seems to be the way we’ve made our music and seems to be working this far, but it would be fun to go into the studio with songs already written, already arranged and just knock em out, you know? But for whatever reason we always just kind of go a different route – the scenic route.
What’s the deal with SB 1070, the controversial immigration bill being passed in Arizona? I understand most of the really intense parts of the bill have been blocked by a judge, but with this backlash with The Sound Strike, where various artists have said they refuse to play in Arizona, does that effect you guys? What’s your take on the whole thing?
JB: We are opposed to SB 1070, all the guys in the band and a lot of our friends. The city of Tucson, the city of Flagstaff have filed lawsuits on the issues. A lot of the core issues in SB 1070 have been defeated but still there is more work to do. This is only the tip of the iceberg of issues that need to be addressed. That is securing the border, really re-working and coming up with a comprehensive immigration system. We don’t really have anything like that right now and so it’s not fair to many people of different backgrounds – people from the United States and people not from the United States. We formed a group called Artists for Action our website is www.vivaarizona.org and we’re helping artists that do want to come to Arizona, because we need people to come now more than ever, we need to hear your voice and artists voice to express their opinions and to inspire audiences to represent, register and vote so we are encouraging people to come. We’re on the same team, we’re all artists and we all want to see the States change for the better. We’re just inside Arizona so we are trying to do what we can with the tools that we know best.
Photos by Kim Jay