Calexico, Special guest Joe Pug - 6/3
at City Winery Chicago
- 6:00 pm
- 8:00 pm
93XRT Welcomes Calexico:
They call New Orleans a melting pot. When one thinks about it like that, it’s hardly surprising that this is where Calexico reconvened to record their seventh full-length album, Algiers. Joey Burns and John Convertino have long called upon an extended range of musical influences, blending them together so distinctly that the results have almost become a genre of their own. Nonetheless, the choice of New Orleans may still come as a surprise to many. Calexico are, after all, associated with a style that their name – borrowed from a small town of less than 40,000 inhabitants on the border between the US and Mexico – has always defined with an unusual precision. Their work has spoken of dusty deserts and the loners that inhabit them, mixing America’s country music heritage with that of a Latin persuasion. In other words, it isn’t obviously affiliated with the sounds that have made New Orleans one of the premiere tourist destinations in the US. What’s emerged as a result of this decision, however, is arguably the most exciting and accessible record Calexico have made. It’s a fact emphasized by the band’s decision to name the album in tribute to the neighbourhood where they worked: Algiers.
The feel of Algiers is recognizably classic Calexico, but their style been revitalized and reborn by the experience of recording in the city. Its influence isn't necessarily sonically evident, but there’s a strange, powerful connection to the sounds that have always coloured their own, influences Burns has previously identified as including “Portugese fado, 50’s jazz, gypsy or romani music and its offshoots, 60’s surf and twang from Link Wray to country’s Duane Eddy, the spaghetti western epics of Ennio Morricone and dark indie rock singer songwriters.”
The choice of New Orleans was largely down to long time collaborator, producer Craig Schumacher. “We were talking about wanting to go to Europe and record,” Burns says, “but we never get our shit together in time to make plans that far in advance. So where do you go that is nearby and has a European feel? New Orleans. The place is strong and bold, soulful to the core, but surrounded by a sea of darkness. There is a heaviness there that I like, and in some way Tucson shares a similar vibe. There's something creepy and old on the edge of town and written throughout the town's histories. Those kinds of aesthetics help with the writing and chipping away at the abstract shapes and colours.”So, some 22 years since they first met, Joey Burns and John Convertino – joined as ever by a cast of musicians from across the globe – add yet another successful musical adventure to their list. You might think that, after six studio albums and a suitcase of tour CDs, collaborations with the likes of Victoria Williams, Iron & Wine, Willie Nelson, Roger McGuinn and Nancy Sinatra, and soundtrack work to boot, there wasn’t much more they could achieve. But you’d be wrong. New Orleans clearly inspired them to make an album that sees them stretch out more effortlessly than ever but, while you can take the men out of Calexico, but you can’t take Calexico out of the men.
About Joe Pug
It’s been 4 years since Joe Pug quit his day job as a carpenter, but his remarkable rise in the music world has been driven by the same hard-worn work ethic. His path has been an unusual one, which has often challenged the traditional rulebook of the music industry, but even now as he prepares to release his second album The Great Despiser, it has always been characterized by one prevailing idea: Find a way.
After dropping out of college the day before he was to start his senior year, he moved to Chicago and picked up the guitar he hadn’t played since his teenage years. The songs that he wrote would eventually become the Nation of Heat EP, a self-released gem that has gone on to sell over 20,000 copies. It was in those heady early days that the idea was born for a unique promotional strategy that would launch Pug into the national consciousness. In an increasingly fragmented and disorganized music industry, it was harder and harder for a new artist to break through the white noise. With no publicist and no access to radio, Pug decided to recruit his fans to help spread the word. He took his most popular songs, printed up CDs, and offered to send them free of charge to anyone who wanted to share his music with their friends. And share they did. “People requested 2 copies, 5 copies, 10 copies, 20 copies. We’d send them all. We even covered the postage,” he remembers. The impact was immediate and undeniable. “Suddenly we’d be rolling into towns that we’d never been before and there would be crowds there who knew the songs. Our fans essentially became like a radio station for us, and they still are. ” While skyrocketing demand eventually forced a switch over to a digital version, the offer remains to this day at joepugmusic.com, and has been downloaded over 30,000 times.
The momentum attracted the attention of Nashville indie label Lightning Rod Records, who signed Pug and released his full-length debut Messenger in 2010. The album was met with critical acclaim, with Paste Magazine saying “Unless your surname is Dylan, Waits, Ritter or Prine, you could face-palm yourself to death trying to pen songs half as inspired as the 10 tracks on Joe Pug’s debut full-length.” It featured plenty of the literate acoustic tracks that he was best known for, but an electric remake of “Speak Plainly Diana”, which was done acoustically on his first EP, provided some foreshadowing of direction he would later head. He toured incessantly behind the album, which included appearances at Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and the Newport Folk Fest as well as tours with Josh Ritter and Levon Helm. A higher profile did nothing to dull his independent streak, though. He experimented extensively with ticketing his shows directly with very low service fees, and often none at all. “Our guiding principle has always been: if we take care of the fans, they’ll take care of us.”
In 2011 Pug was lured to Austin, Texas by its storied songwriting tradition. “Chicago is a very difficult place to leave, especially when it has supported my music to the level that it has. But I found myself enamored with the contributions that Texas has made to the American songbook and I had to go see where it was born.” The first album that he wrote there, ironically, would be recorded in Chicago at Engine Recording Studio with producer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine, Califone, etc). In addition to Pug, The Great Despiser features various acclaimed musicians, including Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter, Langhorne Slim) on piano, organ and marimba, Califone’s Jim Becker on slide guitar, banjo and violin, as well as backing vocals from The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn on the album’s title track. “With this album, we finally created arrangements that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the lyrics. It was a real privilege to work with musicians who were able to further the songs’ narratives with their instruments. The songs were written in the same way but were realized with sharper color.”