Toronto-based alternative country, blues, and folk rockers, Cowboy Junkies, creates a melancholic feeling that’s combined with a mixture of genres and a collection of rock originals, cover tunes, and traditional songs. The band is best known for its critically acclaimed record, The Trinity Session, but has released more than a dozen albums over its three-decade history, and is heading to the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton on Sunday, April 8, at 7 p.m.
Valley Advocate staff writer Chris Goudreau spoke with Cowboy Junkies lead vocalist Margo Timmins about the secret to the band’s longevity, plans for a new record, memorable past gigs in Northampton, and her favorite songs to sing live.
Chris Goudreau: What do you think is the secret to your band’s longevity and what do you love about being part of Cowboy Junkies.
Margo Timmins: The main thing is the music. I love playing. I mostly like playing in front of an audience. I love that connection … And the other part of Cowboy Junkies that I love is that it keeps me attached to my brothers. We’re all in our 50s and we all hang out together, which is very unusual at this point in people’s lives. When you get to our age, you see each other at Christmas and other people’s funerals. You don’t really hang out and live together and work together and have adventures together. We’ve been doing it for 30 years and we still really enjoy doing it. I think that, to me, is quite amazing.
Chris: What are your thoughts on the legacy of The Trinity Session?
Margo: Trinity Session is an album that we recorded in a day and has provided so much for us. I’m very grateful for the Trinity Session. It changed my life. As to how or why it happened, I have no idea [laughs]. I’m certainly thankful it did.
Chris: Do you have any new projects or records that you’re working on?
Margo: We just finished an album and it should be out, we’re hoping. Right now, it’s in the world of politics and record distributors and signing contracts. It’s in the business side of things, so that’s always a big drag. But, we’re hoping everything should be figured out by the end of spring; probably the end of May.
Chris: Could you tell me more about the material that’s on the record?
Margo: It’ll be another Cowboy Junkie record, so I can’t say it’s all happiness and joy, but it’s a continuation of what we’ve always done. Mike [Timmins] tends to write about where he is in his life and at what point he is at. We’re in a really interesting point in our lives. I think we’re in that late 50s age. You’re not old, but you’re certainly not young. It’s just a time of real reflection in your lives. The kids are grown up and gone. Your parents are either dead or dying and they’re really old. I think it’s a time when people have their nervous breakdowns or middle life crisis or whatever … I think before you face your really old age, you have to answer a lot of questions. You don’t want to waste more time. So, that’s what the album is kind of about. It’s called “All That Reckoning.”
Chris: I know that Cowboy Junkies have played in Northampton in the past. Are there any memories or stories that you might be able to share about playing gigs in Northampton?
Margo: Oh, gosh. Northampton has been a huge spot on our radar. We’ve played for years and always enjoyed it. Going to the Iron Horse was one of those, ‘Yay! Here we come! We’re going to play the Iron Horse.’ They always treated us really well. Even when we got to the level where we were playing larger concerts, we always went back there anyways. It was a real place of pleasure for us. And the town was always friendly.
Chris: Do you have any favorite Cowboy Junkies that you like to play live?
Margo: I think my favorite song is a song called “Bea’s Song” that comes from the Lay It Down album. I don’t know why. After you’ve played them a long time, you get tired of them. You’ve got to put [songs] away before they become dead. But, “Bea’s Song,” I’ve never grown tired of. I think it’s a full band slow song, which I love. Mostly, I like the message, which is a bit of a downer message, but I like it. I think it’s something that everyone should hear. It’s about a woman who’s not happy in her situation; her husband or partner. He’s not noticing that she’s down and I think that’s very common in our life. You’re not happy and the people around you are not seeing you that way.
Chris: Are there any vocalists who inspired you when you got your start?
Margo: Oh, yeah. Before you’re in a band, you’re a fan. So, I have a lot of musicians that I love. Your voice comes naturally. You’re born with a voice or without a voice. But, the part to learn is how to phrase; how to approach a song. I listen to a lot of Neil Young because I think his phrasing is amazing. He doesn’t have a very nice voice, but he’s a great singer because he knows how to place the words. I listen to a lot of Emmylou Harris, and I listen to a lot of Bob Dylan.
And Emmylou, she just has a beautiful voice. For me it’s the way she uses her voice. She never strains it. She sings really naturally and that was something I wanted to learn — not to make it happen, but to let it happen.
Chris: What’s a typical band practice like for Cowboy Junkies?
Margo: Well, in the old days we practiced all the time. Every single night we would get together. Those days, we’d have tea and have dinner and hangout. It was more of a social thing. Nowadays, if we don’t have a new tour coming up and have some new songs to put together, we’ll get together like we did before the last one. Everyone knows what they’re supposed to do and is prepared. We just sort of do it and we all go home. It’s much more functional now as opposed to social as it was in the old days, but there’s usually a lot of catching up and a lot of laughter. We still really enjoy each other’s company. We don’t practice that much because a lot of time we can practice during soundcheck. After 30 years, you kind of know how to do it and it comes together pretty easily.