Monday, July 2, 2018

COWBOY JUNKIES: An EXCLUSIVE Q&A with Margo Timmins


Searching For Common Ground:

An Exclusive Q&A 
with
 Margo Timmins

DAVE RAYBURN: Six years have passed since the conclusion of the NOMAD SERIES which saw Cowboy Junkies release four albums of new material in just eighteen months. Was there a reason for the long gap leading up to the release of ALL THAT RECKONING?
MARGO TIMMINS: It’s hard to say. We’ve been busy doing a lot of touring and working on some “alternative” projects like THE KENNEDY SUITE, contributing a song to the Blind Willie Johnson album and releasing our 4-CD package NOTES FALLING SLOW, for which we did a lot of recording for the 4th disc of that collection. About a year ago we looked up and realized that we hadn’t had a “new” album in five years so we got to work.


DAVE: It’s been noted that a good number of songs this time by were formed around intricate bass figures from Alan Anton and that other elements including backward guitar work and borrowed poetry have blended their way into the mix. What else can you share about the songwriting and production process for this project?
MARGO: In some ways, it was pretty standard in that once the songs were written we went in to the studio as a unit and recorded live off the floor and then added finishing touches later. But the songwriting process was a little different for Mike. For about half of the songs he took bass lines and their chords changes that Al had come up with and then wrote the lyrics and melodies around those bass lines. During the process, he might edit the bass lines to fit the lyric or melody and he occasionally would add a section, but this process took him away from his more standard singer/songwriter approach, which is starting with a blank sheet and an acoustic guitar. I think it freed him up a bit to focus strictly on lyrics and melodies for about half of the songs... “Sing Me A Song,” “The Things We Do To Each Other,” “When We Arrive” and “All That Reckoning.” After we recorded the beds and were happy with where they were sitting, Mike and Al did some overdubs and worked with a few outside musicians to add some different flavouring and then Mike did the editing and mixing with direction form Pete and Al.

DAVE: Two different versions of the title track are included on this album. Can you explain the decision to include both and how they differ?
MARGO: It’s not unusual for us to try a song a few different ways when we are working on an album. In this case the two approaches were radically different and we really liked them both and the way that they brought a different perspective to the lyric. Once we decided on the album title we figured that the two different versions of the title track would work well as bookends to the collection.

DAVE: References to “the age of dissolution” and “self-delusion,” as heard in “When We Arrive” seem to underscore the ongoing political friction in the States. With artists like Prophets of Rage, Joe Grushecky, Sheila E and Drive-by Truckers taking to the recording studio to deliver their recent messages of social and political protest, how do you feel, being in a Canadian group, following suit and commenting on the U.S. political cycle from the outside?
MARGO: I don’t hear it as being specific to U.S. politics and I don’t think Mike intended the songs to be read that way. It’s more about a worldwide malaise that has gripped us all. Certainly, what is happening in the U.S. on a social level is feeding in to that malaise, but it’s everywhere and it’s every day and it’s all consuming and exhausting. So, it isn’t surprising that the situation is being commented on by more and more artists. We are living in a bit of an oasis up here in Canada, but it definitely feels like an oasis. We have to engage with the rest of the world to live a meaningful life and we all have children that are just now coming of age when they will be heading out in to it. Mike’s lyrics have always reflected where we are as people and what is going on around us...whether that be on a personal or social level... the two seem to be colliding and becoming one.

DAVE: From “The Things We Do To Each Other” ...
          Fear is not so far from hate, so if you get the folks to fear
          It only takes one small twist to kick it up a gear
An excellent observation on public division, and the reference is quite obvious. Have you had the opportunity to road-test these new songs yet, and if so, how have they been received by audiences based on their tone?
MARGO: We have played quite a few of them live but it’s hard for an audience to take in lyrics to new songs, without first hearing them at home. Although we haven’t played “Things We Do To Each Other” yet. Generally, the reception has been very good.



DAVE: With songs that address the deepening maturity of adulthood including elements of loss, emptiness, long-term commitment, reassessment, and a passing of the torch to the next generation… do you feel that ALL THAT RECKONING is an album that the band was not able to make until now?
MARGO: Absolutely. I don’t think Mike could have written these lyrics five years ago and I certainly wouldn’t have known how to sing them. Mike has said that the line, “Welcome to the Age Of Dissolution” has been in his notebook for almost ten years and he would always return to it but didn’t know what it truly meant or where it should go. This time he used it as the working title for the album while he was writing, the sentiment pervaded the whole project.

DAVE: 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the release of THE TRINITY SESSION. Looking back on it, are you amazed how its simplistic nature resulted in launching the band to mainstream awareness, and how it also afforded you the leverage to plot your course as a band which still operates today?
MARGO: It was and still is a remarkable achievement... even more so now, when I look back on it and listen to it. It was born out of a beautiful blend of innocence, sincerity and a fuck-you-DIY-sensibility. We recognize quite early on that we had created something that gave us an inordinate amount of power when it came to dealing with the biz at large. We not only recorded it without any “help” but we also packaged it and released it originally on our own Latent Recordings label without any “help”. So, when the album started to gather up such interest and was eventually re-released by RCA/BMG and then became so unexpectedly successful on a commercial level, it gave us a huge hammer to swing when everyone came rushing in with their offers of “help”. We never relinquished the hammer, which probably hurt us commercially in the short run, but it allowed us to continue to do our own thing and make our own mistakes and create our own successes.

DAVE: Incidentally, for over three decades Cowboy Junkies have retained the same core band members. Of course, notably, three of those four are siblings. Does the family bond play a key role in the longevity and strengthening of the group, or does an occasional sibling rivalry ever spring up and threaten to stall the band’s progress from time to time?
MARGO: I think the family connection (and Mike’s 50-year friendship with Alan) has played a huge role in our longevity. There is the occasional spat and we all get sick of each other at times, but we try and keep aware of those things and plan around them or configure our touring schedule so that we don’t wear out the goodwill.

DAVE: In the past, you’ve drawn inspiration and material from artists from Robert Johnson and Hank Williams to Mary Margaret O’Hara and Bruce Springsteen. Are there any contemporary acts you can name that help inform the Cowboy Junkies song model today?
MARGO: There are a lot of artists whose work we admire but I can’t say that there is someone who is influencing our work as much as someone like Townes Van Zandt did in the early 90s.

DAVE: In closing, is there a lyric found on the new album that you’d select to serve as either a call-to-action or an offering of solace to listeners as we all peer out onto our common crossroads?
MARGO:
          Everything unsure, everything unstable
          Above all else keep your actions faithful
          But above all else keep your action faithful
          And let’s be holding hands when we arrive.

Special thanks to Margo Timmins and Steve Dixon

COWBOY JUNKIES

ALL THAT RECKONING

7.13.18

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