Joey Burns would be the first to admit it was a tangent, but he tried explaining how his viewing the documentary “The Cove” and Tilda Swinton’s Italy-bound “I Am Love” precisely conveys the unique position his band Calexico is in. The word “possibilities” was bandied about. So was “imagination” and the concept of “paying it” or “moving it” forward as the rest of the industry – even the country – moves backward.
Swinton’s character in “Love,” for instance, undergoes “impossible reinvention. She had all these contradictions and expectations from her family, but all of a sudden there’s another existence that comes into view,” he says, adding a “you know what I mean? Once you do music for a while, you wanna see some growth. You recreate a sense of your own identity, that you can just take yourself out of the picture and say, ‘Where am I actually supposed to be right now?’”
Well, to put it in concrete terms, Calexico right now
is finishing up opening for No. 1 album artists Arcade Fire on tour. The Tucson-based band is eyeing a Fall 2011 release for their next studio album. They’re currently giving away a live record
– recorded in Nuremberg, Germany in 2009 – for free via CASH Music. Burns has produced and contributed songwriting to the new album “Nubes de Papel” from Depedro, the project of Calexico collaborator Jairo Zavala, out Oct. 26. He and the band have done the same for Spanish singer
Amparo Sanchez, whose “Tuscon Habana” is out overseas “now-ish.”
[More after the jump...]
It’s a blistering time of reinvention for Burns, who feels after more than a dozen years with Calexico, there’s a fire burning under the band and all’s starting to boil. His “helping out” on Zavala and Sanchez’ records come a year-and-a-half after the windows were shuttered at Touch & Go/ Quarterstick, the distributor and label that has long licensed and released the Southwestern rockers’ efforts, including their last "Carried to Dust" (2008). Calexico is always shaking up its touring band lineup, setlist and performance -- for instance, recently playing a cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" or the horns players jumping on stage with Arcade Fire as they tackle "Ocean of Noise."
All the while, the band continues to produce music for their own label in the constantly changing industry.
“We’re in the eye of the cycle, where we’re coming up with all these experiments and new ideas and new people to work with,” Burns continued, talking about the band’s reasons for releasing “Calexico: Live in Nuremberg.” “We just wanted to release something new right and we had this live album. Being independent… you can put out music more often, try these experiments. We can constantly morph our own identity, or make an identity more in-depth, behind an album or series.”
The current “experiment” in release schedule is free because, “let’s face it. Before you release anything, it will be out there for free. As an artist, you have to let go of it at an earlier stage. Fifteen years ago it was different. Today, if you think things are moving at a normal pace, you’re just kind of pretending.”
Burns cites other crossover acts that have managed to work outside of the “normal” record release cycle -- from Neko Case and Devotchka to Balkan Beat Box and Gotan Project – who, like Calexico, have earned a larger swatch of fans through various arms on the internet. Niche sounds gone global. Calexico has long mingled Latin influences with its particular brand of indie rock, Americana and country , which has been a choice not just in sonics but in sincerity.
“All those bands have distinctive purposes and crowds,” he says, “but it’s also allowing yourself and your music to be constantly available, and being honestly and sincerely contributing to a larger culture. Music fans know when you’re not and when you are.”
Just as is the moral in “I Am Love,” perhaps, Burns feels like he and the band’s acquired wisdom and love requires them to pay it forward, by evolving.
Calexico plays two more shows with Arcade Fire in Mexico on Oct. 10 and 12 and will play a trio of headlining shows in November.