Canada’s Cowboy Junkies are on the road in support of their 16th album, “Songs of the Recollection”, which is an intriguing listen and glimpse of a band looking back and recording some of the songs that inspired them to create the group some 36 years ago.
The group was formed in Toronto in 1985 by Margo Timmins, vocals; Michael Timmins, songwriter, guitarist; Peter Timmins, drummer; and Alan Anton, bassist. Their tour will stop at the Music Hall in Portsmouth on Tuesday 12 April.
Seacoastonline caught up with founding member and bassist Alan Anton to discuss the band’s history, the tracks chosen for the new album and what it’s like to be back on the road.
Seacoastonline: Let’s talk about “Songs of Remembrance”. The Cowboy Junkies are used to incorporating a cover into the mix, but here you are with a disc dedicated solely to songs you didn’t write. Tell us about this disc. Why did you feel the need to set it up? What does this mean to you?
Anthony: We were asked to do a Bob Dylan song for a special release and after recording we thought about putting together some of our favorite covers as part of a COVID project. Most of these tracks have been released on various compilations and we liked the idea of highlighting them on a dedicated album and then adding some newly recorded live favorites.
Seacoastonline: The record begins with “Five Years”, which is a track that really took me on my own exploration of music as a teenager (many moons ago). I’ve long felt the timelessness of this tune (and the whole album), but boy, do I really feel it in your delivery at this particular moment. Why did you choose to approach this piece to open the disc?
Anthony: “Ziggy Stardust” opens with this song so we couldn’t resist. We also experienced the power of hearing this song (and this album) as young teenagers, so it’s been with us for a long time, which makes it a bit special for us to play now.
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seacoastonline: How do you approach the art of reconstructing a cover compared to, say, one of your own? Is there (do you feel) more or less weight when you take someone else’s song? A certain sense of responsibility?
Anthony: There is a responsibility to the original and the cover. We try to wrap the feeling and intent of the song in our own sound, sometimes staying close to the original and other times going outside the box to find another way to express it. Cure’s song “Seventeen Seconds” is an example.
The goal was to match Robert Smith’s hypnotic groove and angsty vocal and guitar vibe with a slower, sparser approach while maintaining intensity.
seacoastonline: Let’s trace some roots for a second. How did the Cowboy Junkies initially come together? Why did the Cowboy Junkies get together?
Anthony: Michael and I were exploring a different take on American roots music and Peter and Margo were around and interested. We had all come through the post-punk years as huge fans of The Cure, Joy Division, Public Image, etc. and that was the filter we used to create our version of blues and country music. Our initial idea (on the first album) was to perform blues songs instead of writing our own and this continued through to the second album (Trinity Session) with over half of the songs being covers.
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Seacoastonline: Have you seen things last more than three decades? About the memory, how was the trip?
Anthony: We were lucky to be noticed early, which allowed us to build a fan base and turn our favorite activity into a paid job. With legendary artists like the Stones, Dylan, Neil (Young), and more having careers spanning decades ahead of us, it was easier to think we could keep going for as long as we felt like it. The cycle of making a record and then touring hasn’t changed much over the years – even rock ‘n’ roll has its routine.
seacoastonline: What are the main takeaways? What have you learned throughout your life making music that has surprised you?
Anthony: A lifetime of being able to make music is the biggest surprise. This is what you dream of as a teenage music fan, maybe starting a band one day and connecting with the previous generation of musicians by doing what they did, playing in the same venues, recording in the same studios and sometimes meeting them in person. .
seacoastonline: What inspires you? After accomplishing so much and being in the game for so long, how do you keep things fresh?
Anthony: Listening to music remains the most inspiring thing. Everything from Charlie Parker to Spoon’s new album.
seacoastonline: What are the advantages of being in a group built on a basis of brothers and sisters? Disadvantages ?
Anthony: Trust. Familiarity. Support. We are not allowed to talk about the downsides.
Seacoastonline: In general, why the music? Why are you looking for it? Why are you creating it?
Anthony: I’m sure there’s a deep-rooted evolutionary-psychological explanation, but it feels good.
Seacoastonline: You’ll be making music for us at the Music Hall in Portsmouth on April 12. What excites you about the concert and the return to the road? What can people expect when they come to see you play?
Anthony: We look forward to this electromagnetic experience playing live again, especially after a two-year hiatus.
The set will include tracks from our latest album (“Ghost”) as well as this new and lots of other older stuff. I promise we’ll repeat.
What: Cowboy Junkies in concert
When: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 12
Or: The Music Hall, 28 Chestnut Street, Portsmouth
Admission: $37 to $47, available at themusichall.org
More information: Visit themusichall.org.