City Slang
promo interview

Could you please introduce yourselves briefly?

Joey Burns: I’m Joey Burns of Calexico. I play guitar, live in Tucson, Arizona...
John Convertino: ...and I’m John Convertino from Calexico. Play the drums.

How do you feel just having finished another Calexico album?

Burns: Feels good. Yeah, we kind of took our time making “Feast Of Wire”. We didn’t really want to rush ourselves, we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to explore new ideas or just allow ideas sit and to have perspective on them over time. Without just going to the studio and putting something on tape and then releasing it.

In a way the perception of the band might have changed a bit after “Hot Rail” proved to be that successful. Did you feel any pressure this time?

Convertino: Well, for me the pressure kinda got relieved when we decided to give ourselves more time. There was, ehm...a record’s gonna be what it is. So you just kinda have to go with your instincts and believe if you’re enjoying the music that’s being recorded, you know, hopefully other people will, too...and...try not to rely too much on what you’ve done in the past but try to do something new.

Burns: Yeah, that’s very important to allow yourself the...all the possibilities that you know you’re either have going into the studio or you have while being in the studio during the making of the record. And there was [a] lot of that and there was lot of breaks. We did some recording spread out over a whole year and so it allowed for a lot of different ideas to be developed - away from the studio as well as after having just been in the studio. And that definitely helped the idea of there being any kinda pressure know, I think for us, we deal with an independent label in the States that licenses albums over here in Europe and that in itself, the way it is set up, people that we deal with, know, of course they are excited and there’s high expectations but really there’s no major pressure.

But did you in any way expect “Hot Rail” to be that popular?

Burns: No.

Convertino: Yeah, I didn’t either. I mean, even with “The Black Light” it was surprising, you know. Or “Spoke” even, I mean the very first thing we did was basic and done at home know...very low expectations. To see it grow from just being a vinyl only put out by ‚House Music‘ to being released in the was feeling [like a] very natural progression with each record. So this next one, you know, feels like a good progression from “Hot Rail”.

So was it rather a strange feeling or a reward when you did all that without strong aid from Radio or MTV?

Burns: I guess it’s always kind of hard to determine exactly just how successful anything is from our standpoint because...well, first of all we don’t live here in Europe. Sure there’s people at the shows that are coming and enjoy the music. I guess the concerts are picking up somewhat, but still it’s all relative - it’s not like a huge, you know, leap or anything. It’s all very small steps and it’’s all been very consistently. Just kind of going in a very gradual progression. It feels very natural as John just said.

Convertino: It’s a good feeling to know that...I think what you’re asking, you know, that...yeah, it wasn’t a strange feeling, it was a good feeling. I feel like we’ve done a lot of work, you know, and...and it has been a progression and it’s been a good reward as well, I mean we’re able to make a living off this, so... You never know, I mean you could do the same amount of hard work and still not be able to sell enough records to make a living. It’s just...I feel like the combination of what we’re doing musically and ‚Labels‘, the way they’re working the records...has been enabling us (laughs) to make a living. So that’s good.

So you weren’t able to make a living while working with Giant Sand?

Convertino: Well, not as much. There was definitely lean times with Giant Sand where it was like - you know, you had to supplement your income and...and that’s not a bad thing either, you know, that’s... It was fun to be able to still, you know, work with other people for money, doing other projects as well as just...

Burns: ...different jobs in town...

Convertino: ...different jobs, yeah. (laughs)

Burns: And then in some ways that’s...that’s also equally as rewarding, just doing something completely different than music. And I think that’s one of the important things to keep in mind for any kind of line of work or way of life - having variety. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve taken...there’s been such a gap between the releases, so that we can tour in a a relaxed fashion and also allow time for other projects or just being at home with family or friends.

I personally think that new-gained confidence is audible as well in your singing, Joey...

Burns: Yeah, I think after having played many live shows and just using my voice’s getting more comfortable with it and it’ know, there’s a lot of homerecordings I do into my walkman recorder and I always liked the way those sounded a lot of times. I’m just experimenting, you know, with different kinds of ranges and style of vocal[s].

What happened after the last tour? What else did you work on?

Convertino: Yeah, there was some recording, some people had been coming through Tucson to do recordings. There was...just one record that just popped in my head just now is John Rahaus. He’s a steel player and a banjo player, very great, from Phoenix and ahm... He did an instrumental - well, it’s not all instrumental, but he did a record of...of...kind would you describe it? It’s kinda like...

Burns: It’’s...

Convertino: Kinda Santo&Johnny-like... But it was kinda done in a 50‘s-style of acoustic bass and brushed drums and...there were some swing elements to it. It was a lot of fun.

Burns: Some hawaiian elements. We worked with Franklin Bruno and Jenny Toomey - Jenny Toomey being the singer...she’s from Tsunami, a Washington D.C. band of the ‚Simple Machines‘ label - and she covered all of Franklin Bruno’s songs [on a record called “Tempting”]. He’s a kind of singer/songwriter and he and I used to play in a band together called Nothing Painted Blue and they still perform as Nothing Painted Blue. We also recorded Neko Case and... I think that was basically it.

Convertino: No, I did the Giant Sand record, too. The covers...

Burns: Oh...oh since we did that, okay. I thought since the last tour.

Before we started this interview you told me something about a project together with some local writer...

Burns: I was mentioning the fact that John and I had worked with a writer named Laurence Clark Powell who is passed away now since a couple of years, but he was...he lived to be in his nineties...and he lived in Lyon in France during the 30‘s...?

Convertino: He was...yeah, 30‘s. Late 20‘s.

Burns: His main job was the...he was the head librarian at the UCLA library in Los Angeles, California. And then when he retired he retired to Tucson, Arizona, where he continued to write his own works and he worked also at the University of Arizona and... That’s where he met one of John’s...ahm...ex-in-loves...

Convertino: ...yeah...(laughs)...exactly.

Burns: You wanna talk about Win? The ranch and the connection there?

Convertino: Sure. It’s’s a bookstore...a bookstore out on a ranch near this town called Benson in Arizona. It’s’s about 40 minutes from Tucson and ahm...she spezializes in books about the Southwest as well as, you know, literary classics. And she’s a great lady, she...I guess we had this...actually she would have these parties where writers would come out and read and people would browse through the bookstore. And a friend of mine was out there and he actually heard Laurence Clark Powell give a reading and he thought... he just had this idea that he thought it’d be great if I had a recording of his reading and play drums over it just drums and someone reading. Kinda like a Jack Kerouac kinda thing. I think I forget...was it Charlie Parker who did that with Kerouac? So I talked to Win about it and she was real protective of Larry and saying “I don’t know. I don’t know if we can do that or not.” But I guess she must have mentioned it to him because he actually called me directly and said: “I like the idea of recording me reading. It’d be great for you boys to put some music to it.” So we wound up doing that - we would go to his appartment, set up a mike and he would just read. And then we’d go back in the studio and put some music to it. Man, it was was a really great experience, it was great hearing him interpret his own works and he had a lot of fire in his voice. They’re for sale. They’re on CD and tape. It’s through this bookstore, “Singing Wind Book Store”.

As we all know you guys are exceptionally busy doing all those different projects like Calexico, Giant Sand, Friends Of Dean Martinez or OP8, to name a few. Don’t you get mixed up a little sometimes?

Burns: Actually we’re not playing in The Friends Of Dean Martinez anymore. We did the first two records. And OP8 is kind of...

Convertino:’s open, yeah. It’s a project.

Burns: I enjoy all the variety of the different projects and working with different people. It’s...I think it inspires not only ourselves but the people that we work with - whether it’s the engineers in the studio at ‚Wavelab‘, the studio in Tucson with Craig Schumacher and Nick Luca or, you know, the artists. I think we kind of bounce ideas off each other and...I think it helps. Convertino: Yeah, it’s great to, like Joey was sayin‘, have the variety. The only problem I ever have with it is that, you get close to these people in the recordings and enjoy recording them and fumble with the songs and you wanna go on tour, you wanna go play with them. You can’t always do that ‘cause there’s not enough time. But, you know, working with Richard Buckner - we got to tour with him. And Barbara Manning - we got to tour with her. But some of these other artists that we’ve worked with, it’s just like “Ah! Don’t have the time to do it.” To tour with Jenny or Neko, so...

What about your first solo-7” “Sack Of Cement”, John? What is it like compared to what you do with Calexico?

Convertino: Oh it’’s something I did, you know, totally by myself, just in the studio. And Joey came in at the end of the b-side and put bass on. But it was more, you know, just a approach from myself not bouncing ideas really off of Joey or Howe. Mostly coming from our bass player Volker Zander. He has his own 7”-label ‚Sommerweg‘ and he asked me to do one, so I felt like “Okay, I’m on a rise to decasion (?) and do it”, you know? And it was a great excuse to use this picture that afriend of mine took of myself. I mean I’m not too keen on pictures of myself. But my friend Rainer, Rainer Ptacek, saw this picture and he was like: “If you ever do something on your own - you have to use this picture.” It was a lot of fun, it was, know, like constructing songs. It wasn’t really writing songs like starting with just a drum track and layering things on top of it.

So how do you write songs with Calexico? Is there something like a general procedure or does it differ every time? In your music there’s so much sonic diversity...

Convertino: Yeah, I think there is a lot of different ways they come about, but kinda just going from what I was talking about one method is Joey and I going in there by ourselves, just the two of us, and then layering parts on top of that, you know, with each part kind of inspiring the next part. If there’s...if there‘s a vibe part put on, then: “Hey maybe I...I’m hearing this kind of jangly guitar that could go with that vibe.” So they kind of inspire the next piece of music to go on there. And then there’s sometimes Joey’ll have something completely done that he’s done at his four-track. Or he’s done it alone in the studio with the engineer...and then I’ll come in and just throw drums on it, you know? Just like a live drum track. [It] adds a certain flavour to it.

It must be great to have two equally talented songwriters in one band sharing ideas...

Burns: Yeah, it’s great and... You know, everyone’s got their own way of writing songs know, a lot I think we’re kind of different in the fact know, when I go in[to] the studio - especially when we started which was August of 2001 - [I] just had some sketches of guitar-based songs. And some I kind of have a general feeling, like: “Okay, this is gonna be a song with lyrics.” But I don’t have the lyrics necessarily written and it’s just kinda going in there and getting a feel, and then based on that feel record it with John on drums and myself on guitar and no one else. You know, from there I can get a sense of maybe where the song is coming from or where it’s going, what it might be about, the mood...and all those ideas kind of help shape some of those songs. Then there’s other songs that know, that maybe John feels like “There, you know, that might sound better instrumental” or, you know, “Let’s try editing this” or...or...”John, what do you think about these words? Can you live with these overdubs?” or... You know, it is a lot of bouncing of ideas not only off of John but also of Craig Schumacher who’s been there with us for many years. And the first time, I think, on this record now he’s...I feel like he’s...properly due the producing credit and...‘Cause we’ve talked about “Hey, what about working with a producer like J.D. Foster?” who we worked with on Richard Buckner’s albums, and he’s a great musician and great producer as well as engineer and mixer. It just kind of we liked to keep it in the camp not imploying more people into the decision making or recording process there’s less pressure as well. And so I liked that idea of just kind of keeping it within camp.

Convertino: Especially since Craig has worked with us for so many years he’s...kinda understands the unspoken word, you know, goes a lot quicker. Like he’ll know when he hears what I would think is a good take. Or he gets a sense of “Okay, these guys are onto something now...this is something we gonna really sink our teeth into”. And when it’s not, you know, he’ll kinda like: “Okay, let’s move on” know, and that...that really helps have that third voice in there well as with this new record we had the input of...of some of the musicians that play with us live, like Martin Wenk and Volker Zander and...and our soundman, too, Jelle Kuiper. They were all there for some of the recording sessions and it was great to have their input and have their...have them play some of the parts, you know.

Burns: Yeah, and for example Paul Niehaus had given me a tape of just pedal-steel licks and I love the instrument, I love his playing of the ideas on the CD just kept on kind of haunting me. It was a very simple three note melody, like two played notes and one...the last one was bent down. And that turned into the theme for the last song, “No Doze”, and so...we were all in the studio and I said “Hey, what about that one idea, Paul - what is that?” and he was “Oh yeah!” And I...Ithink I brought the CD in, he remembered it, played it and from that it inspired this whole new song. That was really rewarding. It was nice to have that ability to go from just having a very intimate setting in the studio with John and I which I really enjoy having that kind of quiet, almost meditative aspect in the studio to the full-on swirl of a whole band and friends coming in and out and offering ideas...from the live band.

You once said this band‘s most important quality would be the knowledge of listening. I think you were talking about a certain amount of open-mindedness...

Convertino: Yeah, I think it’s important to...I mean for me - probably [being] the more close-minded one of the bunch ‘cause I always shy away from technology, you know. I really know, I’ll come in and Craig might have some kind of effect on Joey’s voice or something, and I’m like “Oh no, no, no, that’s gotta go!”. [I’m] really into the pure sounds, kind of a purist and kind of like the old aesthetic of...I mean my favourite recordings that I listen to are from the 50‘s and it’s not like they didn’t do things back then, they did: They used reverb and stuff but it’s a real natural sound that I really like. Basically setting up mikes and letting the musicians play dynamically towards the microphone and capturing the real feeling of what’s going on. But, you know, Joey experiments more with synthesizers and the second engineer Nick Luca is really...has a great ear for that as well and...and I think they do amazing things within those realms of technology, making real music with those instruments. That’s opened up my mind a lot.

Where did you record your new album?

Burns: Wavelab Studio in Tucson. Yeah, it’s an old phone-building, AT&T is the company. So inside of this old building (which is very similar to the building we’re in right now - your GDR radio-building) it’s now been constructed on the interior to have many different rehearsal rooms. So we have a room there that we...basically to store a lot of our gear and luggage that we don’t need at the house, and...and then it’s also very close to Wavelab Studios in the same building. Craig Schumacher is the owner and proprietor and the main engineer and Nick Luca, who also has his own musical group - the Nick Luca Trio -, is the second engineer.

Was it a fun experience to record this time around or rather a tough one?

Burns: It was fun, I mean we did a bunch of different sessions and interspersed them know, we recorded a Link Wray song for a compilation and we got the whole band in on that and even our soundman, our live-soundman came in and did this incredible like repetitive...that beautifully kind of like hypnotic guitar line and vocal line. Those kind of things like just breaking up the sessions in times and periods over the course of the whole year...and also we mixed out in California at a similar warehouse/studio called The Destillery. Craig Schumacher met us out there and brought most of his outboard gear and we mixed out there and onto a really beautiful board from the seventies by Flickinger and... There’s very few of those, they don’t exist (...) these days. One is in France at a studio called the Black Box I think. I know that Steve Albini really likes that studio a lot. They have one of the more unusual Flickinger boards there, I think they have Sly Stone’s which is inlayed with flourescent paint. So if you turn on the black light it glows and everything is lit.

Convertino: Yeah, and I think, too, that was a...something that was very different, going somewhere else to mix...getting out of town, getting out of Tucson and going to California really helped us focussing on the mixing which was something different then that we hadn’t done before.

Burns: And a lot of...some of the vocals on the songs were just recorded right before mixing and finished being written right before being mixed - which was kind of exciting and aggravating for some. But nonetheless it was a good result and everybody was happy.

Was there any song that proved to be exceptionally problematic?

Convertino: Hm...there was: I think “Across The Wire”. It was a song we really liked yet initially the basic tracks, there were some problems with them. We never really figured out what it was, whether it was a faulty mike chord or something, but something happened with the drumsounds and the guitar, the basic track was troubled and we’re having some trouble getting it to sound right. We actually went in and re-recorded it, kind of did a different version of it. So then that turned into “Well, which version do you like?” So that was a troubled one. But I think it wound up being...being okay.

Burns: Yeah, I mean both versions are really unique and stand on their own but...yeah, we kind of went back and forth on that one and even asked the record company “Say: Which version do you like better - and why?” and asked the performing, you know, band as well “What do you guys think?”

What about “Black Heart”? That must have been a bitch as well...

Burns: That was hard to mix. It was a lot of fun to record. It was kind of just written right there on the spot and ahm... You know that’s one of those songs just has a different feel - it’s got more kind of a dirge-feel, kind of a lower grind to it. It was inspired by John’s drums and he came up with this melody line on the marimba. And from there it inspired some sort of a chord progression and some great parts by Volker Zander on bass and Paul Niehaus on the pedal steel.

Convertino: Yeah, it kinda came together with the whole band in the studio which is different. It was real (...) recorded live, so there was a lot of drums going into the guitar mike and it was kina...kind of a mess, really. So it did take took the mix, the mixing process, it was a little painful. At one point I remeber Craig trying to go down his usual route of getting drumsounds and then guitarsounds and then bass, you know. And it wasn’t working. I mean the sounds just weren’t happening. And I was just like: “Craig, I think maybe...maybe you should just start with the guitar. Get the guitarsound first ‚‘cause there’s so many drums going through there.” And, you know, he just kind of ripped up all the know, kinda pulled his hair out and [went]: “Okay!” and started from there, and then it kind of really did...the whole mix kind of collapsed in on itself and it started to turn into this like big cement mixer underneath. I mean the rhythm...the drums are really low yet they’re played really hard so you get this feeling of the energy under there and it’s like grinding under there. And then Joey and Nick put these...these like symphonic strings on there and it just...the contrast really worked well and worked well for the mood of the song. So it was exciting to see how that came together.

Burns: I remeber calling you up on the phone and saying “So, we got the strings coming in to record on ‚Close Behind‘. What do you think about violins on ‚Black Heart‘ - just [a] real simple melody line?” And because in theory it was gonna be a real simple session with the strings on “Black Heart” we kind of opened the door. I said: “It might kinda turn into some kind of Led Zeppelin ‚Kashmir‘-moment but, you know, we can always fix it in the mix, right?” And...then once we got in the studio I thought for the end of the song, since it kinda just carries on out: “Let’s just experiment.” So I came up with some ideas - and one idea was: There’s four string players that came into the studio from the local symphony orchestra in Tucson. I said: “Why not half of you guys play this descending line and the other half: you wait one quarter note behind.” And...they thought: “That’s a pretty good idea - but what if we do it in fourths?” So that it’s not just the distance of a being an intervall of a second but of a perfect fourth. I thought that sounds great, too. And then we just kept on bouncing ideas off each other with the strings. It was a lot of fun, it was really enjoyable because it reminded me of working in the university’s orchestra in the Orchestra in California and...where I went to school in Irvine. I could see doing more of that kind of work, experimenting with kind of this combination between a rock band and maybe some kind of chamber ensemble with experimental electronics.

Have you got any favourite tracks at the moment?

Burns: I like “The Book And The Canal”, I’ve been really enjoying that and... My friend, my next door neighbour just wanted me to tell John just how important that track is to her - and she has listened to the recording now for a couple of weeks. Just that really that moment is kinda crucial and pivotal I think. It’s also recorded at home in John’s house and...on a four-track and then he brought it in. I added a cello and a bowed bass line. It kind of connects those worlds of the homerecording, the LoFi, and the sound of the piano and then also some of these moments where there’s strings from either the members of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra or there’s Fernando Valencia from Mariachi Luz de Luna.

Convertino: I apprechiate your neighbour saying that, it’s really nice. But I...for me right now I’m thinking about “No Doze”. I really liked that one, too, and...

Burns: ...and there’s “Crumble”. Another kind of experimental orchestration - which almost didn’t make it on the record. There was, you know, people like especially from our label kind of scratching their heads on that one and... They’d heard that song and like: “Okay, so...

Convertino: “How does this fit in?”

Burns: ...yeah...explain to me Calexico and Gil Evans and Charles Mingus.”

By the way: That piano sounds like if it wasn’t tuned for ages. Anything to tell about that?

Convertino: Well it’s an old piano. It’s the piano in my house. It’s made 1922 and it’s been tuned - but it’’s actually tuned a step down so that... But I think what you’re hearing is kind of know the LoFi-quality aspect which I kinda like because it kind of has something. It kind of sounds like a pool or something. Something’s kind of liquid about it and i just... It was one of those moments where I was literally walking past the piano just...and I saw... I just sat down, the four-track was there and I pressed record and play...and just... It was one sitting, you know, so it was one of was really just a one-taker, so to speak. Yeah, just a moment. And then I shut the tape recorder off and, you know, walked out of the house. That was the end of it. And then I’d forgotten about it and Joey said: “Have you gotten anything on your four-track?” I said: “I don’t know. I haven’t listened in a while.” And then I played it back and heard that and thought that would be great with some cello and...that it could be a nice moment on the record.

By the way: Is it really true that your very first songs have been recorded on a crappy answering machine?

Burns: No, that’s true. John and I... John first moved to Tucson as well as Howe Gelb moved to Tucson about eight, nine years ago, it might be nine years ago? Ten years ago? And when I first went out there to move there I was looking for a place and so (...) I stayed at John’s adobe appartment in the backroom and we had the upright bass there and a guitar and his drums set up, pushed the answering machine record button and...

Convertino: ...really liked the...the way the old answering machines were actual cassettes and you could... They had nice condenser mikes on them and so...I mean we’d always be leaving little musical messages. A lot of times Howe would call me up because he just wanted to get an idea down and just to do it on the phone, because he knew I’d had one of those cassette phone machines and it would sound good. It would be a good representation of the idea that he had for the moment.

Burns: Yeah, I did that for us, for me, too.

Convertino: Yeah, and Joey would do it and then... I love the way the drums sound on it. So sometimes Joey’d come over I’d be like: “Hey Joey, I wanna change my message machine.” And that song “Windjammer” was actually on my message machine for a long time, because I just...I loved the way the drums sounded with the guitar.

Burns: And it’s great because it breaks down one idea or one cell or one thought - and then from there it just kind of opens the door to all the possibilities.

Convertino: Again, I think it’’s capturing a moment that(‘s) could be in sync with whatever you’re feeling. And that’s why you...that’s... There’s something there that makes you wanna go back and listen to it again and again.

Burns: And similarly on this new album there’s this track three: Your “Stucco” is my cellphone message which now I really have to change. But it’s written with this instrument, a cuatro, venezuelan cuatro - a four-string kind of a ukulele-guitar with nylon strings. I was thinking about just some kind of repetitive arpeggio inspired by the instrument itself and Richard Buckner’s fascinations with small stringed instruments.

I personally think about this new album as being your most emotional and beautiful piece so far. Would you agree on that?

Burns: Maybe so. I mean it’s hard for us to tell...or it’s hard for me to tell at this point, because we’re so close to it and... I mean for me there’s always gonna be some kind of emotional attachements to other works or those periods of our lives. But yeah, there’s definitely some moments there that I feel stand out and I feel proud of.

Was there something you consciously strived to alter or refine as compared to its predecessor? A general goal, sort of?

Burns: Just to give ourselves the opportunity to experiment more and try some different directions - and not pidgeon-hole ourselves in doing a similar sound or similar type of recording or style of recording. Just to go off...

Convertino: ...and to include, you know, members of the touring band. I think that was really important to both of us, that we include them because they’ve been playing with us and supporting us, you know, for so long and not... You know, because they live in Germany and different parts of the US it’s harder for everyone to get together. So it was really great to have their inspiration come in.

I have the feeling as if you tried things out on “Hot Rail” and now were able to concentrate more on the song-side of it...

Burns: That is true. I mean there is...and there’s more of a concentration of, you know, the songwriting - especially up towards the front of the album. And whereas before I think there’s gonna be a little bit more...especially towards the introduction of the album we usually kind of start off with an instrumental and kind of gradually bring the listener in. So I think upon listening to “Feast Of Wire” you‘re kind of hit with that difference right away that there’s a song, lyrics and another and then there’s a short little window which we call “Stucco” and then you’re going off into “Black Heart”. And it’s good, I mean I like the fact that it’s different and yet there is this combination on the record still of instrumentals and songwriting.

How important is the track listing you chose?

Convertino: It’s interesting you picked up on that, because that was something that took a lot of thought and a lot of going over and we gave ourselves time to live with a lot of recordings and a lot of different sequences...and a lot of time programming track. (laughs)

Burns: And we also went in to re-master a couple of song...ah, well: “Black Heart”...

Convertino: Yeah, mastering was also quite a[n] arguous process as well. You know, we wound was for me, my first time ever going to a mastering session. So I’d never seen that process happen before. JJ Golden who did the mastering was incredible - he had an amount of focus. He’d start at ten in the morning and literally would...I think he took like a 20 minute break, you know, and then he’d finish at like eleven at night. It was just like constantly focussed on the sounds and some of the things were very subtle and other treatments that he did were like literally taking earplugs out of your ears. It really made a big difference.

Would you agree that - speaking about tone and vibe - this is your black, your spooky album? Convertino: I think it could have been a lot darker, actually even. I think there’s other songs...there was a version of the record that was really long and with more kind of spookier, darkier kind of ambient songs on it. And over period of time we started trimming it and making it shorter, more concise which helped it a lot.

Burns: So this is the light version.

Once again using many different rooms, the interaction between closeness and distance seems to be a major aspect of your music...

Burns: Dynamics are key. Contrasts. Crucial. And, you know, the sense of going through different rooms - whether (...) orally or lyrically or, you know, in regards to orchestrations and arrangements - that’s important to have that...those feelings of going somewhere, you know, I think that happens by way of just that, by having songs like “Not Even Stevie Nicks...” which is basically just guitar and drums or sometimes just guitar and voice and then going to a song like “Close Behind” which has got everything inside the mix - including the kitchen sink.

You are known for enjoying overall thematical concepts, like on “The Black Light”. Is there something that binds it all together this time - any idea or even a story?

Burns: I think just it’s reflective of our lives a photo album it’s got plenty of snapshots in there, whether or not we realize it now or not. It’s reflective of life around us. And not so much...for me it doesn’t feel so much disclude into the Southwest or any kind of influence from that area. There are influences there, but maybe more just in a[n] esotheric way maybe, just kind of from the fact that there’s a lot of space there and... But on songs like “Stevie Nicks...” I’m thinking about the coast, I’m thinking about the California coast or a coast like it, maybe in Portugal where there’s cliffs. Or just going more into an emotional area which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with geography. “The Black Light” was more reflective of kind of, you know, reading a lot of the work of Cormac McCarthy and his border trilogies and just, you know, first being turned on to the possibilities of combining influences from a cultural and musical perspective from Tucson, like Mariachi horns being in the same studio with them and having heard their recordings and then going home and writing something like “Minas de Cobre”. Or then expanding on those ideas like on the “Hot Rail”-album where we kind of said: “Alright, we started that, now let’s try to see where we can go with it.” This album is more about just going in different directions, you know, like bringing in strings from the Tucson Simphony Orchestra. Working more with synthesizers. Bringing in John’s piano piece from home and... Yeah, I guess it’s more of a kind of a more inward feeling, this album.

At least it’s a sad record. Could one say that it is centered around the theme of unfulfilled hopes and shattered dreams to some extent?

Burns: That could be, yeah, for sure.

Convertino: Yeah, I think so, too. I mean I don’t... You know, there are personal things that have their way of making themselves known as you’re playing. I’ve always felt like if your emotions are in sync with your...or your heart’s in sync with your hands while you’re playing you’re gonna actually get a feeling from notes, you know. Not necessarily even words. And I think the way that we record and with the long standing relationship with the engineers we feel comfortable enough where that happens sometimes and we allow that to happen. So maybe you’re getting a feeling [of] certain things from the actual, you know, air that’s happening as we’re playing that’s reflective of sadness and troubles that are going on - personally and just world wide. You know, I mean it’s been a rough couple of years.

Burns: I think everything is in response to the last presidential election - I just started thinking about that or just getting older thinking about what’s been taught, what’s been learned, now what’s been realized or just, you know, looking outward as well as inward as well. What’s going on with one’s self and that relation with the world around. Things are changing.

What’s the significance of the title of the record, “Feast Of Wire”, then?

Burns: The title of the album is inspired by a book written by Harry Cruise (?) called “Feast Of Snakes” and that also kind of eludes to his sense of, yeah, border...connection to this reptilian state of mind that one at times can feel - like [a] connection to living in Tucson, Arizona or the Sonora desert or the importance of that animal in the world and in the universe and in the spirit world as well as the Mexican flag and its symbolic nature, where it comes from in regards to our work. And then there’s the idea of this technology, this constant development of the world, of the universe, of our abilities as human beings through the wire...or the abilities that we are able to communicate or go forward yet there’s something else around that wire or within that wire. And the wire could be anything - from a cellphone line to like a guitar cable to a barbed wire to a brick wall or a steering wheel. And then just it being a “Feast Of Wire” meaning everything from there being something on the table to being nothing on the table...and where is it going and where is it coming from. And where is it at?

In what way is the Sonora desert of Arizona a melancholic place to be? I suppose there must be a special vibe to it...

Convertino: Well, I think there’s definitely the wide open space and there’s definitely the quiet. And there’s the stillness, you know, there’s a...I think many days of the year it’s very still and if you chose to go out into the desert and be alone you’re gonna experience a very quiet time, a very still time. And depending on where you are when you’re there, you know, it could be, yeah, very relaxing and tranquil or it could totally kick you in the ass. I mean it could really confront some things that, you know, you don’t wanna see or feel and send you running back to 7-Eleven for your sixpack, you know. But it’s... I think the spacial aspect is something that really influences the music and the slower pace.

Maybe “No Doze” would be the song that captures all that best...

Burns: There’s a big room-sound on the actual recording. John’s playing on the drums is so lose and so at times (...) - it’s on that fine line of, you know, it’s just feels so laid back that it’ makes perfect sense. It’s capturing that moment so beautifully which was just, you know, freshly penned and then written, right in the studio. I think a lot of people are going to - especially from the “Black Light”-album and the “Hot Rail”-album - are gonna attach first and foremost to a cliché or perhaps...hear the combination of like spaghetti-western with maybe Mariachi influences. Those elements that stand out most sonically always kind of trigger the first door that opens. But if you look around you’ll see that there is a lot of space there that’s influencial and inspirational.

Let’s get down to lyrics for a while. The opening track for instance, “Sunken Waltz”, tells the story of “carpenter Mike”...

Burns: Yeah, I’m thinking’s kinda based on two brothers of a family that I know back where I grew up in southern California. One of them is a carpenter and at times I heard that he’s just kind of gone off into the wilderness and his family just didn’t know where he went. He came back, he got married and he’s a carpenter still. His other brother who is my age, John, he...I think he went to school and then dropped out of school and just hung out in nature and lives in a tree somewhere in central California. And my friend Molly told me the story and I know these people and I can only imagine, you know, having grown up in a similar part of California wondering what made them...made that step. And thinking about themes of suburban sprawl and the fact that Los Angeles in itself is a desert and its history of its origin and the continuation of its development and the question of how long can you go before things dry up in that kind of an environment or culture or city.

“Black Heart” on the other hand could be the most surreal and erratic thing you ever did. What is it about thematically?

Burns: I think that’s just about the title itself: Just a black heart and maybe one heart that, you know, just...the frustration of connecting and...perhaps it goes in sync with the idea of - like we were talking about earlier - the dreams and hopes that maybe our fulfilled or feeling sense of connection. It was also co-written with John. And my brother John threw in some ideas lyrically. So for John, I liked the song so much because it is abstract yet it‘s thematic and it‘s...there‘s themes running through it and I don’t get tied down to thinking about one specific point or place or feeling. It’s open. Each time I sing it it enables me to go to a different place. Each time. And that’s so crucial - especially when you play songs more than 30 times.

What about “Quattro” where a person is forced to run. By what force?

Burns: Ah, well, I mean in the song is trying to draw allusions or connections to a sense of occupation or being forced by an actual force, you know. It’s kind of alluding to being under a thumb of an authority - and the running aspect is supposed to be both instinctual, meditational and the only alternative...or questioning that alternative. For me the song was inspired by reading about some of the activity in Mexico in the Sierra Madre occidental mountains and the Tarahumara indian[s] there that are...a lot of them are kind of in contract with - and not always under their terms - with, you know, the drug trade, with... (...).

“Not Even Stevie Nicks” displays a man committing suicide by driving off a cliff. But what has the Fleetwood-Mac-singer to do with that?

Burns: Yeah, that’s the question. Yeah, I mean it’s...we get asked that a lot. She just seems kind of, you know, an image. A person, a persona that kind of appeals to some of those lost and searching for help as kind of this mystical figure in the rock world. The music itself is kind of feeling as if it was inspired by some kind of Fleetwood Mac “Rumours”-era groove. So it’s kind of a play on that aspect as well as kind of diving into “is she a good witch or a bad witch?” But she’s kind of someone that has an aura to her. And a mystique.

Finally we have the reduced, wonderful and breathtakingly sad “Woven Birds”. I’ve never heard you sing so heartbreaking...

Burns: That was an important song for me. I stayed up all night working on that one. The music itself I think was...that was one of those moments where the take that John and I did in the studio was so important to forming that basis of where the lyrics could come from and how deep they could go and where I could take an idea of something that is, you know, whether it’s an actual physical deconstruction or implosion or more like playing with that being the symbolic nature of an emotional implosion.

Is it about a dying village next to the mexican border?

Burns: It could be about that, it could be about - like I just said: It could be more emotionally symbolic. And it could also allude to...of anything. It could allude to feelings of any kind of hope or dream - whether it’s inward or political or social...yeah, worldwide.

What inspired you to an instrumental with the title “Attack El Robot! Attack!”?

Burns: Again, the music came first and it just...after listening to it over and over again... I can’t tell if it’s just a repetition of the process of recording and mixing that is the robot or if it’s just the actual drum sample that’s looped and we kind of, you know, just [were] playing off of that idea that it’s a robot. There’s something kind of intriguing about robots, right? And the idea of, you know, brain...ahm...little microchips being entered into people’s neck and us becoming robots. And who is a robot?

With the exception of “Across The Wire”, “Güero Canelo” and a few other parts, there’s not too much mexican Mariachi stuff on the album. Do you think you overdid that a little?

Burns: We’ve definitely tapped into it - and it’s something that I think could be a reaction on our behalf in that we’re maybe feeling that we’re, you know, being known just for that. But at the same time I mean it’s - just as much as we depart from it - it’s still a part of our lives. It’s still with us. In Tucson especially just hanging out with these guys, they’re friends of mine so I go to see them play and sit in with them a lot and I’m still constantly learning and wanting to dive into more of that world and the world of other kinds of other folk music or cultural influences as well. I’d love to go to Peru and check out the afro-peruvian music, because it’s very similar in that they write a lot of their material based on the rhythmic meter of 6/8. And that’s a feel that is very natural for both John and I - and it’s something that helps open, open up the possibilities of just interpretation of music and this idea where east meets west and where there’s a very regiment 2/4- or 4/4-feeling and then where there’s kind of a more polyrhythmic feeling...and the element of jazz-improvisation and swing as well as just being more space in the music.

It must be fun to be on the road with all that mexican folks from Mariachi Luz De Luna...

Burns: Oh yeah, it‘ great. It’s...especially it’s nice to have a lot of guys with you that are from Tucson and that you don’t... We’re still learning and becoming closer friends and...just finding out what they’re about. I mean those guys have different lives, work different jobs, different backgrounds and so it’s... The connection is growing stronger and as a result the music that we make together becomes similarly stronger.

Convertino: It definitely keeps the sense of humor about things and keeps us from taking things so seriously sometimes.

Burns: That’s for sure.

Just lately, you completed “Scraping”, being a great Live-album - but only sell it at shows as far as I’m informed. Why that?

Burns: It’s important to feel like you can continue to experiment and put out recordings that you might have second thoughts as far as releasing to...through the record stores and the record companies. Plus there’s a lot of material that we have (...) to release - and it’s great just to do that. That’s another way of feeling like we just have as much freedom as we want.

Convertino: And it’s nice to be able to offer something different to people supporting the band by coming to the shows, you know. It’s something special for them and it also helps us with expenses and tour support.

A few months ago you did a remix for Goldfrapp’s “Human”. How did that come about?

Burns: ‚Mute Records‘ e-mailed us and asked if we’d be interested in doing a remix and of course we said “yes”. But knowing that, you know, like Andy Weatherall from Two Lone Swordsmen asked us to remix one of his songs, he was...he was great in that he knew exactly what we do and what we could offer; and he wanted that. And Goldfrapp, I think they were kind of...just kind of curious to see what we would come up with. And I spoke with them on the phone. I said: “Well, what about us just covering the song. We’ll do an instrumental version and maybe we’ll ask one of the Mariachis - John Contreras - to translate the song into spanish and sing it.” And she said: “That sounds fine - as long as he doesn’t sing it too well.” Of course he does, and I think they were all happy.

One similarity could be that their tunes as well as yours share some kind of soundtrack-vibe. There definitely is some Ennio Morricone in the surreal string-arrangement of, let’s say, “Black Heart”...

Burns: I mean, there’s a lot of people that are, I think, tapping into that and...whether they’re all instrumental or combining instrumental songs with lyrics or combining acoustic and electronic music. There‘s a lot... I think people are really getting into the art of recording and [integrating] the elements of DJs and samples has kind of boosted both worlds - the world of musicians being performers and players and the world of, kind of, you know, like samplers and DJs. And then the audience public as well. And the fact that you can do it cheeply and on a computer and share music across the world through the internet - I think everything, all the borders, those kinda borders or limitations are being (...) knocked down. And I would like to get a laptop and do some more electronic and digital experiments.

Is there any contemporary stuff you’ve been influenced by lately?

Burns: Well, [I] love the new Wechsel Garland album. I love Oval, he‘s one of my favourites. I‘m always a big fan of Bill Callahan of Smog and Will Oldham. Vic Chesnutt. Howe Gelb. I heard the new Mùm record and that sounds nice. [The] Flaming Lips album is great, I just listened to that last night. Of course I love Brokeback a lot and some of the Tortoise guys and Isotope 217, combining more of a jazz element with the Chicago Underground Duo or Quartett. I mean, the jazz-thing is important to us and... To make it our own, you know. All these influences: to make it your own. Yeah, like in “Crumble” or like in “Attack El Robot! Attack!”. (But) I do like that idea of just changing and evolving and growing.

If your music was a piece of visual art, let’s say a painting or a photograph - how would it possibly look like?

Burns: Would it look like Victor Gastelum’s artwork? Would it look like photographs? I don’t know. I mean that‘s something I wouldn‘t mind talking about, too: Victor Gastelum who’s done our album covers consistently from “The Black Light” on. And there’s some kind of this idea of hybridism. I like where he’s coming from. It seems both kind of old world or blue collar kind of work ethic, and yet it’s very modern. It’s very simple, very street-like. It’s just airbrush arts, spraypaint. And stencils and... There‘ something very accessible about it, very tangible - and yet it’s also, if you look at it, think about it, it’s very open to interpretation, deep.

Convertino: There’s a lot of reference to religious icons and this art as well which I feel like we’re connected to in a certain way. I know that I was thinking of Martin Scorsese: He always puts these strong catholic images in his movies because he’s raised catholic. And it’s interesting to me how these things get in your system kind of from your childhood - and then they start to come out in your art later on. I kind of see that relating to what we’re doing musically, too, sometimes.