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Joey Burns of Calexico: ‘Write to your friends, your loved ones, your favorite artists’

Joey Burns performs at The Current with Calexico, 2018. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
Joey Burns performs at The Current with Calexico, 2018. (Nate Ryan/MPR)

by Caleb Brennan

March 28, 2020

Jill Riley continues to check in with musicians across the country on The Morning Show. She caught up with Joey Burns of Calexico to talk about the music he’s making with his daughters during social distancing, his tour with Iron and Wine, and writing a cathartic letter to Elton John on Instagram.

Jill Riley: So you're in Tucson, Arizona. What are things like there right now?

We were a little slow to get to this point where most everyone is staying indoors and only essential shopping is allowed. We have beautiful weather right now. And so there are some people that are on trails and whatnot, but they've closed some of the more popular trails. We're just calling each other up or sending each other messages. I just signed up for Zoom — not only for me and all my musician friends around the world but also for my daughters, twin daughters who are eight. And so right now they are online with Zoom going to school.

I'll be honest, I mean I hit a wall yesterday, it was really tough. And a lot of emotions were coming out and my wife and I got into it and it was tough. But I think eventually it's going to be really good for everyone to kind of deal with these things. I read a tweet from one of the guys from the New Pornographers, which really kind of was a good reminder: hey, it's okay not to be productive today. You know, and just like really clear the slate and just be where you are, and enjoy as many of the moments as you can. And of course, we have music, which is really helpful. So I've been getting creative with my daughters and we've written a couple songs and recorded them and sent them to some family and friends and that really helps out as well.

On Twitter you posted a video with a special appearance from one of your daughters called "Flatten the Curve.”

It's sort of my way of embracing the moment, answering somebody's request, doing something creative with my daughter and trying to stay positive.

So the new record from Calexico and Iron and Wine is called Yours to Burn. Now, was your tour done? Were you actually on a break or did you guys have to cut anything short? What was the status of that when, you know, tours were being canceled and venues were closing?

Right. We had finished our tour, which was which stretched over the course of a year. So we started last year in 2019. And then it just ended, I think a day after we saw you in St. Paul and Minneapolis. We agreed to do a tour together in June with Andrew Bird and Iron and Wine, Calexico and several other guests along the way like Neko Case, but we're not sure what's going to happen with that. It might be postponed. We're kind of waiting to see like everyone else. So it's far enough away. I think this week, hopefully, gives us a better picture of what's going to happen in the coming months.

I know Calexico backed up Jackson Browne at one time, and I just read in Rolling Stone that he announced he had tested positive for COVID-19. But he said that he has really mild symptoms, so he was sharing that news. We're just hearing about more and more musicians being affected by this, not just tours on hold or whole tours — basically everybody involved with things that go into putting on a tour out of work right now, but just more and more musicians coming forward and saying, “Hey, this is affecting me too.” I don't think they're doing it to scare anyone, but maybe to give people a more human side of this whole thing?

Without a doubt. And I know that there's a stimulus package that has been agreed upon. And that's great. And definitely, everyone's going to really need it. I'm not sure if artists are included in that list or a lot of the small businesses, but most certainly everyone, including us, is really going to need some help. I've asked myself a lot of questions, all those what-ifs or what's going to happen? And I gotta be honest with you, I started crying yesterday. At the end of the day, it was a really tough day. And earlier in the day, I wrote a letter to Elton John. I don't know why I did, but I needed to reach out to somebody and I heard his music in the morning. And I was really sort of touched by his voice and his songs, and I just wrote him on Instagram. I don't know where it'll go, but it just felt good doing that.

I encourage everyone to write to your friends, your loved ones, your favorite artists. I know that I've done a lot of writing back and keeping in touch with people I've met through Instagram. And it helps you know that we're all here for each other.

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.