Behind the Beat: Perfect Harmony

The term “pale rider” has a long history, referring both to one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Death), and to the 1985 Clint Eastwood film of the same name, in which Eastwood plays a ghostly preacher possibly sent from heaven (or hell) to aid some struggling miners. However, the history of the Northampton band Pale Cowboy only stretches back to 2004. And the group’s name has a far less sinister origin.

Formed initially as a duo consisting of cousins Karl Helander (vocals, guitar) and Aaron Moon (drums, vocals), Pale Cowboy chose its moniker almost by chance.

“Karl and I were just throwing around names in his living room, and Pale Cowboy seemed to be the one that stuck,” says Moon. “It doesn’t really mean anything, though Karl and I are of Swedish descent and pale complexion, and like cowboy music a lot.”

Now with the addition of Phoebe Berkel (vocals, tambourine), Andy Cass (electric bass) and Max Wareham (guitar, vocals), the band has recorded the EP Life Nature Library and played with the likes of such Valley acts as Rusty Belle, Bright Lines and the Sun Parade.

Moon says, “Karl met Phoebe and Max at Hampshire College in 2009. We met Andy a year ago. He was recording our EP for us and got to know the songs pretty well. He joined in on bass a couple months ago. We’ve had some members come and go but we’ve been playing with this basic instrumentation for about two years.”

During that time the band has cultivated a unique sound based in Americana and classic pop styles, as well indie rock and straight-up rock ’n’ roll. Pale Cowboy songs also feature a lot of harmony singing.

“We have three songwriters in the group,” Wareham says, “and our process of developing a song is generally pretty collaborative. Though our foundation as a band is old rock ’n’ roll and country music, individually we’re coming from very different musical backgrounds, so we try to be true and open to our collective influences. Ultimately we try to produce a sound that’s straightforward and clear, taking cues from classic pop music.”

Next up for the group is more recording, with an EP and LP both in the works.

“We’re finishing up a five-song EP that we’ve been working on for just over a year now,” says Wareham. “It’s been a long process, but we’re really happy with how it’s sounding. It’s going to be released some time in very early 2013. Once that’s done, we’ll begin planning a full-length album. Karl and Aaron have a vast trove of demos of songs they’ve written— mean hundreds of ideas—so we’re going to have fun sifting through those for material for the album.”•

For more information on Pale Cowboy, please visit

Author: Michael Cimaomo

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