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Music / Calexico

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John Convertino and Joey Burns

Calexico is a band from Tuscon, Arizona. They're named for a real-life city on the California-Mexico border, and the cross-cultural mish-mash implied by that name is exactly what their music sounds like: a mix of Latin and North American musical idioms, drawing from mariachi, conjunto, cumbia, Tejano, country, rock, Post-Rock, Surf Rock, and Jazz. (Usually, people lump them in with either alt-country or Alternative Rock.)

The band's origins go back to 1990, when founding members Joey Burns and John Convertino met. Convertino was playing drums for Giant Sand, and Burns was studying music (and would subsequently join Giant Sand's rhythm section himself). In 1994, they decided to start a band on the side—Friends of Dean Martinez, a westerny-lounge collaboration with Bill Elm (of Naked Prey). Then in 1996, Burns and Convertino parted ways with Elm and began recording by themselves, first under the name Spoke, then renaming themselves Calexico.

On the first few albums, Burns and Convertino were the only band members, but they began accumulating other musicians as permanent members after 2000 or so. About 2004, Howe Gelb kicked Burns and Convertino out of Giant Sand.

In addition to their original soundtrack work, Calexico's instrumental tracks are sometimes used as background music or interstitials on This American Life. Cartoon Network fans may recognize their song "Minas de Cobre" from the Cartoon Network Groovies short "El Kabong Rides Again".

  • Joey Burns: vocals, guitars, bass, cello, keys, accordion, vibes, percussion
  • John Convertino: drums, percussion, vibes, marimba, organ, accordion
  • Paul Niehaus: steel guitar, guitar
  • Jacob Valenzuela: trumpet, keys, vibes, vocals
  • Sergio Mendoza: accordion, guitar, synthesizers, trumpet, vibes
  • Chris Giambelluca: bass


  • Martin Wenk: trumpet, guitar, keys, accordion, glockenspiel, vibes
  • Volker Zander: bass

  • Spoke (first released on an independent German label in 1996; rereleased internationally in 1997)
  • The Black Light (1998)
    • Road Map tour CD (1999)
    • Descamino 12" (2000)
  • Hot Rail (2000)
    • Travelall tour CD (2000)
    • Aerocalexico tour CD (2001)
    • Even My Sure Things Fall Through EP (2001)
    • Scraping tour CD (2002)
  • Feast of Wire (2003)
    • Convict Pool EP (2004)
  • In the Reins (2005) A collaboration with Iron & Wine.
    • The Book and the Canal tour CD (2005)
  • Garden Ruin (2006)
    • iTunes Live Session EP (2006)
    • Toolbox tour CD (2007)
    • Ancienne Belgique: Live in Brussels tour CD (2008)
  • Carried to Dust (2008)
  • Circo soundtrack (2010)
  • The Guard soundtrack (2011)
  • Road Atlas: 1998-2011 (2011) A limited-edition box set of their prior tour CDs on vinyl.
  • Selections from Road Atlas: 1998-2011 (2011) A CD with selected tracks from the Road Atlas box set.
  • Algiers (2012)
    • Spiritoso live album (2013)
    • Ancienne Belgique Vol 2 tour CD (2013)
    • Maybe on Monday EP (2013)
  • Edge of the Sun (2015)
  • The Thread That Keeps Us (2018)
  • Years to Burn (2019) (with Iron and Wine)
  • El Mirador (2022)

Other stuff

  • Friends of Dean Martinez: The Shadow of Your Smile (1995) The one FODM album that Burns and Convertino contributed to.
  • OP8: Slush (1997) A collaboration between Howe Gelb, Lisa Germano, Burns, and Convertino.
  • ABBC: Tête à Tête (2001) A collaboration with the Amor Belhom Duo.
  • Los Super Seven: Heard It on the X (2005) A Latin music supergroup.

Provides examples of:

  • Bilingual Bonus: Snippets of Spanish crop up in their lyrics from time to time. Occasionally an entire song will be sung in Spanish.
  • Breakup Breakout: A weird inversion—Calexico became more famous than Giant Sand, and only then did Howe Gelb kick Burns and Convertino out of Giant Sand.
  • Burn Baby Burn: "Maybe on Monday": "Carved into the bark a final love song / then I carried the words to the fire."
  • The Cameo: Several artists from the indie rock, folk, and Latin music genres have cameoed on Calexico songs over the years. Taking this idea to the extreme, nearly every track on Edge of the Sun brings in a guest vocalist and/or instrumentalist.
    • Iron And Wine deserves a special mention for collaborating on an album and a EP with Calexico, as well as a few of their album tracks.
  • Changed for the Video: "Minas de Cobre" was used for a Cartoon Network Groovies short, "El Kabong Rides Again". Unlike the original version (from the album The Black Light), this version had an extended intro with more acoustic guitars, and omitted the song's bridge entirely.
  • Driven to Suicide: In "Not Even Stevie Nicks..." the protagonist deliberately drives his car off a cliff.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Spoke lacks the Latin strings and trumpets that have featured on the rest of Calexico's albums.
  • Epic Rocking: "Fade". Also, "Stray" and "Crystal Frontier" sometimes get stretched to about 7 minutes at live shows.
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French: In "The Ballad of Cable Hogue", most of Madame's lyrics are French.
  • Femme Fatale: Madame from "The Ballad of Cable Hogue".
  • Hidden Track: The CD version of Feast of Wire has a two-minute instrumental song hidden before the start of the album.
  • Homemade Inventions: "Sunken Waltz" mentions Carpenter Mike, and "Puerto" mentions Rigo, both of who build flying machines in their garages.
  • The Illegal: "Across the Wire" seems to be about two Mexican brothers illegally crossing the border into the US. "Sinner in the Sea" is inspired by stories about Cubans using homemade boats to cross the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: "Güero Canelo".
  • Listing Cities: "Cumbia de Donde", in keeping with its theme of a person not being from any singular place, lists a bunch of cities in Latin America and the southwestern part of the U.S. that the singer identifies as being from or headed to.
  • Love Nostalgia Song: The Iron & Wine collaboration song "Sixteen Maybe Less".
  • Murder Ballad: "Trigger", ending with the blunt lyrics, "And he shot every one."
  • New Sound Album: Feast of Wire leaned more towards shorter, poppier songwriting than previous albums did, and its followup Garden Ruin is the closest the band's come to releasing a straight indie-rock album.
  • Rearrange the Song: "Trigger" (from The Black Light) started as a dark, stripped-down folk song. On Carried to Dust, they rework it as an instrumental (reminiscent of the theme from The Magnificent Seven) and rename it "El Gatillo (Trigger Revisited)".
  • Softer and Slower Cover: Their version of "The Guns of Brixton".
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Jacob Valenzuela takes over lead vocals on the Spanish-language songs "No Te Vayas" and "Inspiración" (the latter being a duet with Amparo Sanchez).
  • Talking to the Dead: "Maybe on Monday" has the speaker trying, and failing, to write to his beloved. The final line implies she's been dead all along. "I'll carry this song with me everyday / 'til I lie down at your side."
  • Un-Installment: The Black Light has "The Ride, Pt II", and no Part I. Hot Rail has "Untitled III" and "Untitled II", and no "Untitled I".
  • With Lyrics: At some live shows, they would perform the instrumental "Frontera" with the lyrics from "Trigger".