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Cowboy Junkies still riding on

By Staff | Feb 24, 2009

The Cowboy Junkies have been a band almost as long as I’ve been alive. Their debut album, “Whites Off Earth,” was released in 1986. I was five-years-old.

So it goes, I was a little nervous in the face of my pending interview with Michael Timmins, the group’s principal songwriter, in advance of the Junkies’ March 29 Mountain Stage appearance in Morgantown.

Not only was this a man who’s been successfully writing music for more than two decades — including the cover “Sweet Jane,” which appeared on “Natural Born Killers” and “The Good Girl” — but someone who’s likely been interviewed by my industry’s best, from Rolling Stone to Spin.

So it goes, Mr. Timmins was as professional in the interview as he appears with his band. This, my friend’s, is a working musician, and despite working on his craft for nearly as long as I’ve been alive, the urgency, freshness and inventiveness that garnered the Junkies their cult-like following is still there. And so it goes …

Graffiti: Tell us what’s going on with the Cowboy Junkies right now?

Timmons: We’re kind of in the middle of, or just starting a new record. We’re always sort of touring. We’re about to head out on these 10-day tours, which we do every month. It keeps us busy and active and working, and allows us to work on our new material, which I’m writing. We’re in the middle of recording our new record now.

We’re also about to launch our new Web site, which is pretty important because it’s not just cowboyjunkies.com, but for our new label latentrecordings.com. It’s not just for the Junkies but (it’s also for) lots of bands I’ve worked for on different levels; some I’ve produced and some that are just friends of ours.

Graffiti: Will fans get to hear new stuff at the Mountain Stage show?

Timmons: Yea, for sure. I think this Mountain Stage show we’ll take advantage of playing one or two new songs for sure because it’s always fun to get new stuff out there before it’s officially recorded.

Graffiti: How have the reactions to the new songs gone?

Timmons: Very positive. It’s hard for audiences to hear a song for the first time but the reactions have been great. We’re always changing it and trying different approaches to a song. Some nights Margaret and I will do it acoustically and then other times the whole band will be there.

It’s one thing to write a song and another to present it, so that’s what we’re working on — how to present the songs.

Graffiti: Now, you’ve played Mountain Stage before, yea? Excited to return?

Timmons: Many times. Yea, we’re excited. The people there are really open they’re very musically inclined and it’s a real music show. I think we’ve done (Mountain Stage) six or seven times. It’s always fun to see who’s on the show too; the other guests are fun to watch.

Graffiti: Is that different for you? Do you get to catch many shows while touring? Or is Mountain Stage more of a treat in that way?

Timmons: It’s different; it’s kind of a nice change for the tour. This way we’re part of a bigger entity. We get to hang out, play a few songs and listen to some other people’s songs.

Graffiti: The band hasn’t had a hit record in the U.S. in a while. And yet you’re still together, still touring, still selling out venues and topping charts in Canada. How do you define success?

Timmons: I guess the way we define it now is longevity (laughs). We don’t really try to define it one way or the other. As long as we enjoy playing live, we love it. As long as I still feel inspired to write music and then make records with the band then that’s really the success; and, of course, you get down to the dollars and sense and you have to make a living out of it. If you’re making a living playing music in this day and age you’re being successful; and then there’s four of us so we’re all making a living; and then there’s the crew. So we have other people relying on us to make a living. Nobody’s rolling in money but it’s a living and it’s a very fulfilling way to make a life for sure.

Graffiti: Your debut album was released 23 years ago. You’ve been a band almost as long as I’ve been alive. How do the dynamics change after all those years?

Timmons: We sort of keep it fresh by always adding new musicians. I think the four of us, obviously we’ve gotten better at communicating as musicians. There’s a sort of thread running through all of our careers and all of our albums; that’s just the way the four of us play together as a band. It’s hard to define but there’s just a distinctive sound there as the Cowboy Junkies. It’s kind of interesting that there’s a real sound to what we do and still it’s a fairly unique sound in the music world.

Graffiti: Do you have any rituals to help keep things fresh, exciting?

Timmons: You try to focus on the show that night and that’s what you do every day. We’ve been doing this long enough that each individual knows what they have to do to get ready for the evening.

Touring is extremely boring outside of the playing, so if you have a crappy show and you realize you had a crappy show because you weren’t mentally prepared then you realize what’s the point of being here if you’re not enjoying yourself. The only way to enjoy yourself is to be really satisfied when you come off stage.

Contact Justin at jmcintosh@graffitiwv.com