By Hans Morgenstern
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"America is run by corporations and has this homogenous kind of formulaic approach to everything," he says. "It seems like it's just overrun by the corporations and then it goes downward from there.... Fuck the corporations -- they suck. They don't know what they're doing; they're clueless."
Burns isn't so much bitter as adamant. Calexico has a nice deal with Quarterstick, and his Giant Sand bandmate Gelb recently moved to Thrill Jockey after a disappointing stint with V2, a subsidiary of Virgin. Burns respects bands that spurn the major labels in favor of independents that allow them more creative control, even if the advances aren't as huge. "With the [major labels], the employees are kind of cold and superficial and don't really know where you're coming from, so it's kind of this awkward feeling. They have to hurry off and jump on a cell phone and do their business. They'll put you up in a nice hotel, and you just find yourself all alone but kind of silenced in comfort and glued to the television. With smaller labels, there might be two or three people working in the office. You might be staying at their house, have a nice home-cooked meal, maybe sleep on their couch or something, but you're engaged with good conversation, intelligent discussion."
As much as Tucson inspires Calexico, giving the band a base on which to ground its inventive sonic forays, it's this vagabond existence that stimulates the members of Calexico to evolve beyond the Tex-Mex influences of their home. Whereas more financially successful bands are forced to narrow their sound until it conforms to the rigid dicta of media conglomerates, Calexico stays afloat by staying on the move, traversing the globe in search of open-minded audiences, new perspectives and creative opportunities.
Though Calexico has played in St. Louis several times, the band members have never been to Off Broadway, where they'll be performing Saturday as a six-piece. Burns asks what the place is like, and, when told that the Handsome Family's Rennie Sparks admiringly compared it to the Ponderosa (the legendary TV ranch, not the chain restaurant), he seems genuinely excited. "We'll have to do our Bonanza set, then," he says.