The name Cowboy Junkies is very familiar to most of us. That's because they've been around since the group formed in Toronto in 1985. Margo Timmins (vocalist), Michael Timmins (songwriter, guitarist), Peter Timmins (drummer) and Alan Anton (bassist) got together and started making magic. Twenty-seven years later they released The Wilderness, the fourth and last album in the Nomad Series.
The project was completed in March 2012, just in time for them to catch their breath and head out on tour with John Mellencamp.
"Getting the project finished feels real good," said Alan Anton from his home in BC. "There was a lot of stuff going on. It [the series] was released over 18 months and took two years to create over all. It's been a great fun thing for us to do. It's nice to get the box set out and get people to listen to it in its entirety."
The Nomad Series is available as a box set and it even has a bonus disc. Anton explained, "The bonus disc is a few extra songs from each album that just didn't make it on – there are 10 or 12 extra songs. These songs just didn't fit in with the other albums; they were too different. Putting them as a bonus disc works."
There is also a book, put together by artist Enrique Martinez Celaya, that is a compilation of Celaya's artwork and stories about the Cowboy Junkies. His artwork was also used for the Normad series.
They've come a long way since their debut album Whites Off Earth Now!! in 1986. It was recorded using an Ambisonic microphone in the family garage. Their second album, Trinity Session, was released to world in 1988 and recorded live on a single Calrec stereo microphone at the Church of the Holy Trinity in downtown Toronto.
"I don't really miss those early days," says Anton. "After the Trinity Session we recorded in a temple in Toronto and it sounded terrible, so we gave up on redoing that idea. We got really lucky on Trinity Session with the acoustics. We spent the first six hours moving stuff around to make it sound good which only left us a few hours at the end of the day to record. It was luck."
The Cowboy Junkies have spent years honing their own particular sound and Anton likes what it has become. "We've had our own studio in Toronto for the past 10 years now," he said. "Our sound now is even more so closer to the sound we want as the Cowboy Junkies. When you go into someone else's studio you have to reset everything. Now our space is set up for us. The drums are in the right spot; the mikes are in the right spot. We don't have to move things to get the sound we want."
Anton is the only member of the Cowboy Junkies that isn't related, but he's known them all since kindergarten. "Our families are all friends too," he says. "We've been able to stay together this long because it is about wanting to make music. As long as we want to do it – we will. I don't see us stopping, we are all music fans first and players second. We never get bored of listening to or playing music."
And with this upcoming tour they won't be bored at all. Anton doesn't really know how they got the gig, but he's thrilled to be going out on tour with Mellencamp. "We just got asked," he says matter-of-factly. "We are excited for this tour as John Mellencamp was a big influence for us when we did Trinity sessions. He is why we added harmonica, fiddle, accordion and mandolin, after listening to his albums in the '80s."
He points out Mellencamp is much more than the songs played on our favourite radio stations. "Most people think of Mellencamp as a rocker, as those are the songs you hear on the radio. If you listen to his songs over the past few years you will see he has more mellow acoustic stuff and is similar to ours. He has become more of a folk/country artist. Even hits like Jack and Dianne he does acoustic now. They are singer/songwriter kind of songs that work best with voice and acoustic guitar. It reminds me of Elvis Costello when he does songs like Pump it Up on acoustic and it works really well."
There are several stops on the tour where they've never played and Anton is excited about seeing new places and revisiting ones he knows. "We haven't been to the east coast in 15 years. We've never played in Moose Jaw or Penticton before either. It's exciting to be starting the tour in Penticton. I bring my mountain bike everywhere and it will be great to do some wine tastings."