Festival season is now upon us, and with it comes a steady stream of incredible international visitors to serenade and entertain us.

One such band of entertainers returning to play WOMAdelaide this year are Arizona indie Calexico-widerock band Calexico, who are no strangers to the four-day festival in March.

Speaking to us from his home in Tucson, founding member Joey Burns takes a moment away from cooking a Spanish stew to chat with us about what he’s looking forward to about coming back to Adelaide.

“I’m looking forward to seeing other musicians play and having a chance to speak to them, if time permits. That is the best thing about WOMAD for me. I love it. We’ve done WOMAD once or twice before, it’s a good festival; I’m very honoured to be part of it again,” he says.

“I usually try to get out and about. Last time, we visited Penfolds Winery, which was great. We’ve also been to the animal reserves where you can see some wallabies and other animals indigenous to Australia, which, for me, is very exciting because Arizona is very similar to the vibe of Australia.”

Although he’s familiar with the festival, Joey hadn’t realised Violent Femmes were on the bill this year, and it’s safe to say he was very pleased.

“The Violent Femmes are playing? That’s incredible! I saw them play back in the mid eighties in Long Beach California, and it was one of my favourite concerts around that time. They mean a lot to me,” he says.

“I’m sure they do for a lot of people, but they have their own identity. They really stood out. They made it ok to be a bit quirky, rather than be more punk or be more indie rock. It was about non-conformity. And certainly the sounds and songs were really unique, and still are.”

Calexico are similarly quirky, with a big, diverse sound and plenty of energy, which is a style Joey says grew naturally over time.

“It was all about growing and evolving naturally; following your own voice and following your own heart. It’s funny, when we look at other artists, bands or music, you think oh wow, they must have been woodshedding for a while to decide what they’d do, and there is a fair amount of woodshedding, and probably more than is perceived on the outside, but it’s about surrounding yourself with aesthetics and listening back to what you’re doing and deciding whether certain things work with the ensemble,” he says.

“Having played music for a while, there are things we were into 20 years ago which wasn’t really being done and now 12 or 15 years later, there’s more of that being done so I’m always looking for more inspiration and new directions. That’s why I’m a musician; I don’t want to repeat myself.”

And the direction they’re going at the moment has led to last year’s release of their album Edge of the Sun, which Joey says they wrote in an historical part of Mexico City.

“With the record before this one, Algiers, we went to New Orleans to do some writing and recording. We tend to do that at the same time: write and record in the studio. But, on this album, I found myself having a hard time concentrating and focusing, so my family was kind enough to say, ‘You’re going to go for 12 days to Mexico City. Good luck,’” he laughs.

“John Convertino our drummer, and our keyboardist Sergio Mendoza, who’s been to Mexico City many times, arranged for us to go to his friend’s place and record. It was fantastic. We were staying in one of the older neighbourhoods of Mexico City. The place oozes story, beauty and inspiration. I loved it. Then we went back to Tucson and did most of the recording and mixing, so it was a locally created venture, inspired by travels.”

Their eighth studio album, Edge of the Sun has received some rave reviews and is indicative of Joey’s claim the band continues to grow and evolve, and he says their live show is even better.

“It’s even more fun than the recordings. That’s generally the feedback we get from people who come to the shows. We like to celebrate. We like to party. We have some songs that are a little more melancholic but for the most part, there’s a lot of great soloists. There’s two trumpet players, which is always just extraordinary to hear live because it makes the music soar. There’s a fantastic guitar player from Madrid, Spain who helps in many ways; he’s helped me write many of the songs, especially those with Spanish in them,” he says.

“His father is from Peru, his mother is from Spain, his grandmother lived in Africa so he’s got a wonderful mix. He’s been getting into music from Mali, and even gone there recently and did some work with musicians there. We have a lot of great musicians, mainly from The States on this run. It differs from tour to tour, that’s the beauty. We’ve had a really busy year. It’s been a good year for the band. We’ve mainly been touring America and Europe and played to great crowds, which has been amazing, especially at this time in the music industry. It’s challenging for a band our size. I’m really grateful.”

There are seven members heading to WOMADelaide and Joey says that comes with its own set of joys and challenges.

“It’s a bit like touring with a soccer team. There’s never a dull moment. There’s always some kind of episode that’s occurring. In regards to travelling overseas with extra gear, it can be a bit nightmarish because people are looking at you like, ‘You’re really going to put that on the plane? What is that?’ or ‘What’s in the case, sir?’, ‘Oh it’s just a guitar, an instrument of peace,’” he laughs.

WOMADelaide is on from March 11 – 16 and tickets are available from the website.

By Libby Parker


Libby Parker
Libby Parker is a journalist, teacher and life enthusiast.
You can follow her on Twitter at @upsidenews_lib