Cowboy Junkies: Still ambitious after almost 30 years

With their 30th anniversary as a band coming up in 2015, it is no mere coincidence that Toronto roots-rock band Cowboy Junkies is in an ambitious phase of their career.

But before we get into the present day, let’s take a look back to where this dynamic band came from.

Formed in 1985, Cowboy Junkies released their debut record Whites Off Earth Now! in 1986. Approximately two years later, the group released Trinity Session, an album that the group reportedly recorded in a Toronto church in the span of one evening using only one microphone. Despite the somewhat unconventional recording technique, the sparse, intimate feeling of singles Misguided Angel and their cover of The Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane would help the record become the group’s biggest selling effort to date in Canada, moving more than 200,000 units.

Now this isn’t to say the Junkies have been unable to live up to making quality music since their landmark Trinity Session. Four of the group’s records since then have attained at least Gold status in Canada and few other Canadian bands have been as consistent with their output as the Cowboy Junkies.

Speaking from the band’s tour bus at a stop in Abbotsford, British Columbia a couple of weeks ago, Cowboy Junkies bassist Alan Anton admits that the group’s upcoming shows in Atlantic Canada will be the first time that the group has performed on the East Coast in what he estimates is 20 years.

‘These are definitely going to be our first shows in Atlantic Canada for quite some time,’ Anton says.

‘These days, we are playing an average of 50 to 60 shows a year so when that gets factored in, it doesn’t always leave us time to play everywhere that we might want to play.’ The group’s pace of concerts each year is a good one, Anton says.

He says that by keeping this schedule, it affords each of them the opportunity to balance the call of the road with familial commitments.

‘We are very lucky that at this point in our career, we are able to choose the markets and venues we play with a little more freedom.

We could definitely be busier if we wanted to be but we all want to be sure we are spending time with our families and so we are never on the road for more than two or three weeks at a time. The days of us being on the road for two or three months at a time are long behind us. Fortunately, we have been able to keep our audience over the years.’ Over the course of the last two years, the Junkies have released an astounding four studio records as a part of a series called The Nomad Series. The first of these records, Renmin Park, was released in June 2010 and was inspired by a three-month long trip to China that Cowboy Junkies songwriter Michael Timmins embarked upon with his family. Despite the Junkies practically having an album’s worth of material written prior to Timmins’ trip, his experiences in China proved to be too inspirational to ignore.

‘When Michael returned from China, we were basically set to begin working on our next record; we had a bunch of songs pretty much ready to go,’ Anton shares.

‘That trip had altered our course slightly and we basically had to come up with a plan on what to do with this music.’ Volume two of the Cowboy Junkies Nomad Series served as a tribute to their friend Vic Chestnutt, an acclaimed singer-songwriter who passed away at the end of 2009. The third volume of the Nomad Series, Sing In My Meadow, was released in October 2011 while the fourth and final volume, The Wilder ness, was released this past March.

Undertaking such an ambitious project of four separate records of music is not typically something that a group together for 27 years would take on.

‘I think there was an overall feeling that we really wanted to push ourselves,’ Anton says. ‘I think we achieved that.’

Article published in July 2, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript