Cowboy Junkies Concert
by Jessica Novak - Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
Cowboy Junkies visit Ithaca after more than 20 years on the road

Cowboy Junkies’ songs are beautiful and ethereal, or gritty and dark, with Margo Timmins’ angelic, sometimes haunting vocals floating over the melodies. The Canadian band’s 1988 album, The Trinity Session, also lives on as one of the best of its time. More than 20 years later, however, the group is still searching for new ways to keep the music fresh.

The band, which also includes guitarist Michael Timmins, drummer Peter Timmins and bassist Alan Anton, will perform at Ithaca’s Hangar Theatre on Wednesday, Feb. 26. The concert will combine new songs as well as a complete performance of The Trinity Session. Anton reveals what it’s like to keep going after more than two decades, what it’s like to be in a family band and why not to take advice from anybody.

Tell me about your latest project, The Kennedy Suite:

One of our friends from high school kept in touch with Scott Garbe, a grade school teacher obsessed with the Kennedy assassination his whole life. He was writing them {the songs} for 15 years and put them on a record. He gave the songs to our friend about six years ago and suggested we work on them. We were handed a package of photos and stories above each individual song with the demo of Scott singing and playing guitar. It took us a bit of time to get people in to work on it, as each song is a different perspective and therefore needs a different singer. That’s what took so long. But with the 50th anniversary {of the assassination} we had to do it.

Had you been interested in the Kennedy assassination prior to this?

We’re all of the age that it affected our families for sure and, residually, us. It re-enters the media every few years, so we’ve been dealing our whole lives. These songs were such a fresh approach to the whole thing, a wide-eyed look into possibilities of “what if”.

Tell me about the Nomad series.

We finished that up a few years ago. It’s a four-record set and we’ve been touring that. There’s a lot we wanted to play live. We’re still doing that while promoting the Kennedy thing and we’re working on the next record now. We’re just at different stages of different things. Our live performances are gonna be a scrapbook of where we’re at.

What possessed you to do a four-record set?

I think we went into our next record {Nomad} with what would have been two records, so a double CD. The type of material we had were separable entities. Then our friend {Vic Chesnutt} passed away {Dec. 25, 2009} and we wanted to do a record of his material, a third album of all his songs interpreted by us. That came out of nowhere. So, three records in the works and then we realized we wanted to round up with Wilderness, so a four-record set done in 18 months.

That is a vicious pace.

It is the pace. It just depends what’s going on. Something like Vic passing away just gave us an impetus to do it and we did in a few months. It’s about all the circumstances and how we’re feeling, what music is swirling around. Mike had just gone to China before the Nomad series, so he had ideas for what would become the first record in the set, his experiences in China.

Did you ever think to slow down after 20 years?

It’s funny when you all have families, you think you’ll slow down, relax. But it hasn’t been the case for us. We still really want to play music all the time. No one’s sat back and said, “I want to sit back.” As long as that keeps up we’ll keep going as long as people want to see us.

Twenty years is also a long time to stay with the same band members.

Three of them are family and I’ve been with them since kindergarten, so even when we started we’d known each other a long time. There have never been ego problems, none of those normal band problems. We’ve kept each other in check for years and stayed friends for years. And the family dynamic is a good thing, even though it’s usually bad. Everybody stays on the same path.

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Musically, don’t take any advice from anybody. Do your thing. Do what feels right. And get yourself out there and get noticed. It’s all up to you. The problem I’ve seen with great budding artists is that they have no traction. They don’t have the personality to self-promote. They’re great at what they do musically, but people have to help them and recognize the talent. Some can do it themselves.
Figuring out what tools to use these days is tough. Record companies won’t come knocking on your door anymore. Figuring out the personality you are is crucial, if you can do both: music/creative and business. If you can’t, get some help.

Just the Facts
Cowboy Junkies
Hangar Theatre, 171 E. State St., Cass Park, Ithaca
Wednesday, Feb. 26, 8 p.m.
Tickets are $50, available at dansmallspresents.com, hangartheatre.org or (607) 273-8588

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