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Random Rules: Joey Burns of Calexico

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The shuffler: Joey Burns, who's played with everyone from Giant Sand to Friends Of Dean Martinez to Los Super Seven, but is best known as the frontman of dusty Arizona outfit Calexico. The band released its latest album, Garden Ruin, in April, but chances are good that the road warriors in Calexico plan on hitting your town again soon.

Thelonious Monk, "I'm Gettin' Sentimental Over You"

Joey Burns: This is from Live At The Jazz Workshop, disc one. I love Thelonious Monk. He's probably one of the most famous musicians who played within the realms of dissonance and harmony. His solos and melodies are very simple in some ways, but complex in others. In Straight, No Chaser, it's great to watch his personality unfold throughout the documentary and see how it affected the music, where he takes these leaps—it may seem like he's doing something very average and normal, but, in fact, he's really going through quite different steps musically than a lot of other musicians—taking those risks and bringing in that dissonance, whether it's bebop or jazz or blues.


The A.V. Club: Do you have a lot of Thelonious Monk in your collection?

JB: I do. I think he's probably the most colorful and inventive of the bebop era—him and Eric Dolphy. If I was to hope for another song in this set, it would be Eric Dolphy's record Out To Lunch and the song "Gazzellioni."


Friends Of Dean Martinez, "I Will Wait For You"

JB: Oh my goodness. I can't have this. This is one of the records from our past: Friends Of Dean Martinez.

AVC: That's okay.

JB: Well, I put this in here so that I could learn some of these old songs. We had a reunion gig. [Laughs.] "I Will Wait For You" is kind of great, because it's another one of those classics. Friends Of Dean Martinez reunited for a celebration of Tucson's Hotel Congress—the Club Congress had a 20th anniversary. That was last summer. That was a good call on the shuffle-play DJ—I'm not on this track, so I feel better about that.


The Sir Douglas Quintet, "Song Of Everything"

JB: Doug Sahm was a psychedelic cowboy who embraced the multicultural aspect of San Antonio and Austin. There's a free-jazz introduction, and then it goes into this R&B, laid-back feel. He wrote the song "Mendocino." Kind of '60s pop, but with country flair. I never met Doug Sahm, but I've heard that he was quite a character. You know, the full-on '60s and '70s epitome of this ultra-cool—and kind of a freak. We covered this song with Los Super Seven, which is why it's in my bag of music here. I think he's got the West Side Horns playing here—they're a group from San Antonio. We actually got to play with them in the studio, and I could imagine what it must have been like for these guys 20, 30 years ago, when they were cutting this track or playing these songs together with Doug Sahm. I think they were all just about feel. We must have gone through five bottles of wine, a couple packs of cigarettes, and some tequila. At the end of the session, we just kept on playing, playing "'Round Midnight" by Thelonious Monk. It's one of my all-time favorite songs.


Scott Walker, "It's Raining Today"

JB: I like Scott Walker. I like the theatrical aspect. He's pretty dark, and you can hear how his vocalisms relate to people like Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds—along the same lines as Lee Hazlewood. You can hear how he's influenced people like Smog and Nick Cave. I think there's something about the music that's ethereal—he's kind of just doing this poetic rant. This is the kind of music I listen to in San Francisco at 3 o'clock in the morning.


Wechsel Garland, "Twoheaded Horse"

JB: One of my favorite German musicians. Our bass player, Volker Zander, who's from Munich, turned me on to this music. I just think it's great—this combination of electronic music and concrete-music samples that he loops. It's basically this one guy in his living room, and his kids are running around. He lives in Hamburg, and I think he's inspired by some of the musicians over there, like Mouse On Mars and Can. There's something very sad about this track. It's all instrumental. He's got some strings and vocal loops. I love this whole album. I think he might have a few friends come over every now and then and play, or help push the record button, but I think it's mainly just him. He's done some of these songs live with a rhythm section. This element of On The Corner-era Miles Davis with this Rhodes keyboard that's effected and manipulated—you can kind of hear some of that going on. It's the more contemporary side of my collection.


AVC: You don't have any skeletons in your iPod closet, do you?

JB: Oh, I do. I guess if I were to have one of those tracks, it would be Paula Abdul's "The Way That You Love Me."


Grupo Cimarrón, "Soy Llanero Pelo Liso"

JB: This is a record I heard when I was doing a radio show in Berkeley at KALX with singer-songwriter Lhasa de Sala. This sounds like it comes from this part of Mexico, the Costa Chica region—because of the vocal style of singing—but it's not from there at all; it's from Venezuela. There's a lot of harp that you can hear in the background, and a lot of different kinds of stringed instruments. It's got the guitar that's called a cuatro. A friend of mine gave me one of these small guitars—four strings like a ukulele—so we did a song with that on Feast Of Wire, "Quattro (World Drifts In)." There's a maraca player and an upright-bass player and a singer. It's just really propelling music. It's very upbeat and fast. His vocals kind of remind me of one of my favorite singers, Manu Chao. It's that kind of high-tenor voice. The songs are beautiful. There's another instrument called the bandola guitar—I love the fact that there are these different instruments that are very unknown in this part of the world.


AVC: When you hear instruments like that, do you try to find a way to get them onto your own records?

JB: Sometimes, yeah, for sure. On Feast Of Wire, especially, there was a song called "Woven Birds." I was thinking of this Chinese violin sound, which is called the erhu—it sounds like a bowed banjo. So that's what I did: I took a banjo and put it into an open minor tuning and started bowing it to evoke that kind of sound. It sounds like a voice from the past, like a ghost coming out of a skin-covered box. Some of these instruments, or even just the rhythmic strumming style and the arrangements and the lyrics, are really beautiful. So it's all had an influence. But on this newest record, it's probably the furthest from the world music and Eastern European music. It's more about America—how we're all fucked-up. [Laughs.]