Catching Up With…

John Convertino

Two and a half decades in, the Tex-Mex-imbued alt-rock vets of Calexico continue to find magical new ways to mix and match sounds.

by Joe Wong

“Songwriting is more challenging now,” Calexico drummer John Convertino says. “We’ve done it so much; it’s more difficult to find something new.” To Convertino and company’s credit, though, any such concerns don’t come through when listening to Calexico’s ninth album, Edge of the Sun. For the past twenty years, the band’s creative core has comprised Convertino and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Joey Burns. Convertino says the key to the group’s step forward on Edge of the Sun was collaboration on a larger scale than ever before. The album features contributions from guests such as Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses), Nick Urata (DeVotchKa), and Neko Case. Calexico welcomed additional creative input from members of its live band as well.

Keyboardist Sergio Mendoza, who is also credited as a songwriter and coproducer on Edge of the Sun, suggested the band retreat to the Mexico City borough of Coyoacán. “We have a very close affinity to Mexico and its music,” Convertino says. “There are some amazing artists and really great energy down there, so it was an inspiration for us to be able to live there for ten days and just work on music day in and day out.”

The sessions proved fruitful, leaving the band with the difficult task of paring down more than twenty songs to twelve for the album. “My greatest production strength is knowing when to take things away,” Convertino says, “whereas Joey’s great strength is that he has so many ideas.” Longtime fans need not fret, though, as a deluxe, double-LP version of Edge of the Sun features six additional tracks. No doubt those Calexico die-hards will continue to want everything the group releases—and it’s easy to imagine next-generation followers being just as voracious. “Fans who were in their thirties or forties when we started out are still coming to the shows,” Convertino says, “but now they’re in their fifties and sixties and bringing their kids.”

Convertino adds that he’s especially glad that Calexico’s music, which has a heavy Latin influence, is resonating with Latino communities. “If you would have told me when I was rocking out with [the pre-Calexico outfit] Giant Sand twenty-five years ago that people would be salsa dancing to my drumming, I never would have believed it. I look out into the crowd and get goose bumps.”