Excited about the new Calexico
album due out tomorrow? Joey Burns compiled a track by track discussion, detailing how each song came together:
01. Falling From The Sky
- (with Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses) Joey: written when landing in NewZealand as a side note as well as having read the children's book "The House in the Night" which has a similar phrasing as the chorus in this song. The song could be about not knowing where life is heading sometimes and with the first and second verses there is nostalgia and an attempt at to convey the importance of mystery and magic in our lives. Our instincts tell us to take giant leaps all the while our minds remind us to be more cautious. When we find ourselves truly alone or at our biggest challenges, it is then that we are most in tune with our true selves and the world around us, or in this case amongst the universe and stars above.
02. Bullets & Rocks
(with Sam Beam from Iron & Wine). Joey: While striving for something different in the studio set up, I was thinking a guitar driven African riff but when the vocals started taking shape and I started doubling them, I immediately thought of inviting Sam Beam of Iron & Wine. Lyrically I kept gravitating towards the theme of separation and desperation of families risking everything in order to make a better life for their children. Immigration is a global issue. I see it everywhere I go when traveling the world. This song could take place in any part of the world where there is a distinct difference of economies and that difference is growing everyday. I wanted to touch on what it might feel like personally for a family or individual going through something as difficult as this. The instrumentation is interesting here as well. Jairo Zavala from Madrid Spain brings the African electric guitar flourishes, his family lived in Africa in the 1950's and Adrian Perez plays from El Paso plays a Jalisco style harp but in a different way on this track than what you might normally hear that instrument play. I like combining these different voices and bringing them under one roof to help tell a more universal story.
John Burns: screamed palestine to me, but I think you stuck to a more local border mostly. lost in all the fear of the foreign is how brave it is for someone to leave a horrible but known station and wander through barbed wire and 'bumba' towards an unknown. Shout out to some long-forgotten Burns/Burke Irishmen.
03. When The Angels Played
- (Pieta Brown co write and backing vocals and Greg Leisz on pedal steel) I love the use of this phrase "looking for silver, looking for gold" in some way when I was in Mexico City and surrounded by so much history and culture, I kept thinking about the quote from Cortez to the native people "we suffer from an affliction of the heart that can only be cured by receiving gold." I guess I have this connection to Aztec and the sun. There is the historic symbol of the Calendar stone. Oddly enough when I went to mexico to write I was not intending to write songs like this or Falling From The Sky, but they were there buried with everything else that was trying to make its way to be heard. The song When The Angels Played is a sad song about leaving and one who never wakes up when up even when angels play. It is a beautiful picture and one that has relevance for me in some ways.
04. Tapping on the Line
- (Neko Case on backing vocals) Joey: I love the vintage old Casio white plastic synth and drum machine. Late night musings alone in the studio sometimes lead to moments like these. Hearing so much about wire tapping in the news, it was only a matter of time before a song like this showed evidence of their influence.
John Burns: The Neu rhythms speak of mechanics, and your opening line
about the machines with no rust, pointed towards science as mystery (black art)
A lot of weapon research has scientists working in a maze
Whether or not Robert Oppenheimer has regrets about the A-bomb, I do
but also Project Iceworm did somehow come to my mind during this song
and that ol' John Oliver story I shared about nuclear woopsies including
some warheads left out on the tarmac all fit in.
05. Cumbia de Donde -
(Amparo Sanchez vocals from Barcelona) This is the song I was wanting to come away with from working in Mexico. Synths, percussion, electronics etc. But it was the result of digesting and distilling time spent there and time spent loving electronica and cumbias. John Convertino couldn't make the first day of studio time in Tucson at Wavelab. So I figured Sergio, Ryan and I would record a few cumbia snippets to intersperse throughout the album as a thread or wandering theme. This tune was too much fun to leave as an instrumental snippet, it grew on us after each listening, and so we added more parts, layers, vocals with distortion. We sent it to Amparo Sanchez for grammar, and she sent back some amazing vocals herself. "Where are you from? and Where are you going?" I love the simplicity of call and response, but I kept doubting myself and so I wanted to make it deeper with more story. In the end, simplicity won, and well....a few lines of verse rather than just city names.....
to all the towns
i've never been
a thousand songs
all the paths
across a blue desert
could lead me to you
and to nowhere
06. Miles from the Sea
(Gaby Moreno on backing vocals from Los Angeles via Guatemala)
Joey: This song was a surprise. It came out of nowhere and I tried my best not to ask too many questions. It is draped in unconsciousness for me. Having grown up by the sea and now living in the desert I am often thinking about what water means to me. It is scarce and it can be fierce. It can be the gateway or can be a prison. I used to wonder if I could swim back to shore if I was out on the sea in a capsized boat. Now in this song the character is dreaming about swimming, and digging for fossils of old dinosaur bones.
John Burns: Took that first step you took to the hillside and I wandered back to the hills of our undeveloped youth (in Souhtern California) where you could find fossils as a kid and the whole idea that it was all submerged under water was a twist at 10 years. These days the idea that the sahara was submerged is even more insane and then that story about the whale bones in chile just seemed so sad to me plus the idea that someone might mistake them as cyclops bones. Here's that breadcrumb : http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-26343894
(instrumental with Adrian Perez on Jalisco harp from El Paso TX) - documenting the time spent in Mexico City, one of the oldest neighborhoods, where Cortez set up camp before heading into way against Montezuma and the Aztecs. The old church in this neighborhood like many religious sites is built on top of an old ancient temple. Having read Buddy Levy's book "Conquistador" about Hernán Cortés conquering the Aztec Empire and defeating Montezuma was stunning, and I really wanted to check out the old historic sites of not only Teotihuacan but also those in Coyoacán. This song is light on its feet, it keeps you moving, it is sustenance and it is in 6/8. I love the spirit on this track. There is something definitely said for doing recordings without much thought or preparation. Being in the moment can be a hard thing to do when your mind is telling you that you are mortal and have imperfections, all the while the heart is singing guiding the way soulfully. It definitely was a gift to be in Coyoacán and recording amidst so much inspiration culturally and spiritually.
08. Beneath the City of Dreams
- (Gaby Moreno vocals in Spanish. She's from LA via Guatemala). One of the more upbeat numbers that came from the writing session in Coyoacán. It took a while to find its feet but musically it fits somewhere in the record shelves with The Clash, Mano Negra and Dylan's "Infidels". The theme of false layers in every life, every town, and every sense of truth are touched on in this song. We are looking for a way out and wondering what lies beneath the surface. Ciudad del Sueño looms for some. Others wait for opportunities that arise from the chaos and misfortune of others. It is all part of the story.
John Burns: Cities beneath cities, specifically Las Vegas from the vice episode. people living in sewer tunnels and other places, true underground citizens. not CHUD, lost humans, but then also wealth in vaults underground as well. Looking online from Vegas which I had heard about led to
so gambling and drug addiction had their streams crossed
09. Woodshed Waltz
(featuring Greg Leisz on electric guitar)
Joey: Holding on to old way has its consequences. This is a portrait of one who carries on without checking in with his heart.
John Burns: sure went through a lot of changes, but the idea of a guy not changing his refrain and the box of letters in the rain sort of framed it all, the leaves of paper and someone hiding their tracks with leaves in a forest fit.
10. Moon Never Rises
- (featuring Carla Morrison vocals from Mexico City) it seems like there are a lot of dedications or motifs on natural elements. I know this is a common thread in the past, but here the song titles and lyrics have their own calendar like character or perhaps the elements to make a map. Utter darkness and no sense of direction is what happens when the moon never rises and stars never shine. Torn from love and wandering thru the aftermath. "Sin amor la luna no brilla en mi" the moon doesn't shine in me. I wouldn't mind hearing a remix of this song where the drums and bass are more distorted and the low end given more prominence. We are very fortunate to have one of Mexico's most popular new singer/songwriters, Carla Morrison, make a guest appearance on this recording.
11. World Undone
- (two members of the Greek traditional band Takim play on this track) After listening to a new Bill Callahan album, I began writing a minor blues figure on a 5 stringed open tuned nylon strung guitar. The melody unfolded around a drone in Gm and the words were found in an old notebook. The original version was over 6 minutes long but we decided to shorten it for the album. "Can't trust in this anymore still waiting on the fence, so many times before, what keeps you here anymore?...now your world's coming undone." I guess for me this is a little more straight forward writing wrapped with a little pastoral painting "Red Bird on the Branch, Cactus Wren in the Thorns" that frames us in Sonoran settings. Throughout this whole year, the word 'tenderness' kept coming to mind. I was waiting for it and was hoping I could demonstrate it to my loved ones.
12. Follow The River
- (Nick Urata from Devotchka backing vocals) "Man goes where water flows" - Lawrence Clark Powell. Here the theme of resolve and searching for a path or stream that is lost is the main ingredient. Sometimes we find a source, a river or an arroyo whether there is water there or not, as is the case in many rivers and streams around us in the Sonoran Desert, doesn't matter but it is finding a natural path through times of hardship. This song's character is "swallowed by ambition with a heart full of lies". I am sure a lot of people can relate in these selfish times when there is more focus on competition and advancing personally with all the fixings and trimmings that come with success. At what point do we stop and take notice at where the quality of life is at? This song delves to the depth of an aftermath and comes out with an offering of "Not giving up". This is key and this has been my motto.