For more than twenty years, the multifaceted and keenly eclectic Arizona-based group Calexico has seamlessly merged Southern Americana, world rhythms, and controlled grit into a unique blend of hook-driven indie rock. On its ninth full-length album, released on January 26, the group furthers that vision.

Drummer, multi-instrumentalist, and original member John Convertino complements the collective’s brilliant melodies throughout The Thread That Keeps Us by channeling a diverse range of influences. North African–inspired handclaps dance around Convertino’s creative 3/4 groove on “Voices in the Field.”

On “Under the Wheels,” John avoids the hi-hat on backbeats, à la the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts or Tony Thompson of Chic. And the drummer drives home Latin rhythms on the Spanish-sung “Flores y Tamales.”

For Convertino and the other half of Calexico’s core, singer and multi-instrumentalist Joey Burns, recent American political developments spurred the desire to produce this latest effort. “After the presidential election—and after getting over the initial shock—Joey and I decided the best thing to do was to get to work, get a record done, and get out on the road,” Convertino explains. “Music is a positive force, and we want to get that force back out there.”

After demoing, the group shacked up in the Panoramic House, a dual-purpose recording studio/vacation home built just north of San Francisco on the Pacific coast. “It was so good to get out of the Southwest heat,” Convertino says. “It was amazing to be out in nature, by the ocean, and in the mountains. It’s easy to forget how important nature is and how it opens your mind and heart. The song ‘The Town & Miss Lorraine’ was written there, and it opened the gate to the session.”

Although Convertino’s setup—partly composed of a C&C kit, vintage Ludwig and Gretsch drums, and a Zildjian A cymbal he’s owned since he was nine years old—contributed to the record’s warm tones, the drummer explains how his kit’s placement at Panoramic was as vital as the gear itself. “We put the drums in the front of the big room, where the windows are and the highest part of the ceiling is,” Convertino says. “I could watch the sunset, the tide roll in, and the deer walk by. I think we’ve always gone for a nice room sound, and I was inspired by the tone of the drums and the sound of that room.”

Twenty-plus years in, Burns and Convertino maintain a great working relationship. “I think we give each other lots of space,” Convertino says. “Joey’s got lots of ideas, and his songwriting just gets better and better. I’m just trying to stay out of the way and let the song find its way. It’s been a hell of a ride, and I feel very lucky to still be doing it.”


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