Interview: Cowboy Junkies

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“We haven’t been to Nashville in a while; our first Nashville show, we played a little club in 1989, we were drawing a crowd because we were the buzz band at the moment. All the press was there, and we’d been warned that they were pretty critical. We were so nervous,” recalls Alan Anton, bassist for iconic alt-country outfit Cowboy Junkies, whose current tour brings the band to City Winery on November 3rd. “It might’ve been The Bluebird, I can’t remember, but there was no bathroom in the dressing room, you had to use the public restroom out in the front. I was standing there at the toilet, and a guy comes in and says ‘Hey, how ya doing?’—I look up and it’s Steve Earle. I was like ‘Oh God, Steve Earle is here’. It was so nerve-wracking.”

Of course, Cowboy Junkies survived that first Nashville show, and have been going strong for the last 30 years; in 2015, they released a box set called Notes Falling Slow which included re-mastered versions of the three studio recordings that the band released in the 2000’s: Open (2001), One Soul Now (2004), and At The End Of Paths Taken (2007), plus a fourth disc consisting of songs that were written during the making of the three studio albums, but never completed or released. The box set brims with Cowboy Junkies’ trademark folk-inspired psychedelic-tinged grooves and Margo Timmins’ effortlessly haunting vocals.

The Toronto-based band was originally influenced by the likes of Dwight Yoakum and Lyle Lovett; “We thought what they were doing was really cool, they had one foot in the tradition and one foot in the independent music world, which is where we were,” recalls Anton. “We had fallen in love with American blues and folk music; our music just happened to have a more psychedelic approach.”

“At the time, there wasn’t a name or a category for it, ‘alt-country’ was coined a few years after we started, and ‘Americana’ came a while after that,” he continues. “We were at the beginning of the ‘thing’, doing our own take on it. Whatever you want to call us now—we were called ‘alt-country’ for 10 years—being called ‘Americana’ is fine too.”

Their shows have been consisting of two sets, the first featuring new music, with old favorites dominating the second. “We wonder that ourselves sometimes,” laughs Anton when asked how the band keeps their work relevantly fresh and inspired. “I think it’s because we’ve aways been music fans first, and we get excited about hearing new music and discovering old music. We talk about it all the time like we’re still teenagers. It translates into our ability to keep coming up with new stuff. Three out of four band members are siblings, it makes it easier for us to stay close and connected. I’m the only unrelated member, but I feel as close, in a way, because I’ve known Mike since kindergarten. I won’t tell you how many years that’s been, it’s a lot,” he adds with a laugh. “We just really enjoy each other.”

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