Cowboy Junkies get a fix at the Arden
By: By Drew Hoskiw
| Posted: Wednesday, Apr 17, 2013 06:00 am
The Cowboy Junkies are heading west for a tour of the cowboy lands, playing venues they don’t usually get to, like Cochrane, Medicine Hat and Banff. They perform Saturday at the Arden Theatre.
Consisting of three siblings – Margo (vocals), Michael (guitar) and Peter Timmins (drums) – and Alan Anton (bass), the Cowboy Junkies came together 28 years ago in Toronto, where they still reside today. Michael Timmins discussed the coming tour in an interview.
“We thought it’d be a nice opportunity – we’ve played Calgary and Edmonton, but not really done any extensive touring outside of those two cities – it was nice to string together a series of dates,” he said. “We play whatever, little or big, it doesn’t matter. It’s a show.”
In March, the Junkies went on a tour of 14 shows in 16 days – with just one night spent in a hotel and the rest sleeping on a bus – down the eastern coast of the United States.
“It’s not unusual to do a lot of shows – normally we do four or five shows, then have a night off – this one we had the opportunity to throw in some extra shows, so we took it,” said Timmins. “When you’re trying to make a living out there, every time you have a day off, you lose money, so if you have the stamina to put in an extra show you take it.”
While the band has risen to the level of iconic Canadian status, including the release of 16 studio albums since 1985, touring remains their primary income.
“There’s not a lot of money left in the record industry, as far as selling CDs is concerned, so touring is the main way to earn a living,” he explained. “There’s an element of necessity to it, but you couldn’t tour if you didn’t really enjoy it.
“It’s a very gruelling process, moving every day, packing and setting up and playing. And sleeping on a bus isn’t the sort of thing you can do unless you really enjoy touring.”
Having released so much music over the years, the challenge now is deciding what to play at a concert, said Timmins.
“In recent touring, because we do have such an extensive catalogue, and we’ve put out four albums in the last two years, we want to be able to play the new music as well as the old, so we’re breaking the show up into two sets,” he said. “The first set is dedicated completely to the Nomad Series and the second set is a lot of the hits, and we take a lot of requests too.”
That Nomad Series is a collection of four albums released over a two-year period, from 2010 to 2012. The first three albums also had accompanying bonus EPs, and the final box set included another disc of additional unreleased material.
“In 2010, we put a challenge to ourselves to produce four separate albums in 18 months, all linked in some way,” said Timmins. “It took us closer to 20 months to finish it, but it was a real intense recording project.”
While many veteran bands tend to slow down as the years go by, the Cowboy Junkies, if anything, appear to be speeding up.
“We seem to get more inspired as we get older,” he said. “There’s fewer restrictions on what we can and can’t do, and that’s exciting to us. It opens up our world a bit and that’s been inspiring to us.”
The four albums are Renmin Park, Demons, Stand in my Meadow and The Wilderness.
“When we started we didn’t really have an intent, it was kind of vague and that was the challenge,” said Timmins. “We didn’t have a set blueprint for what every record would be. It was very open ended, so what ended up happening was, almost by happenstance, we used the four records to explore different sides of the band’s personality.
“The first was a bit more experimental, the second is all covers of Vic Chesnutt – because cover songs have been a big part of what we do – the third was elements of our live show that don’t get into the studio much, what we call the acid blues side, more psychedelic and loud, and the last is more the folk singer-songwriter of what we do.”
Following the Banff show, the band heads north to Whitehorse, followed by Victoria.
“Someone offered Whitehorse, and it worked out, so we said ‘Let’s do it,’ ” said Timmins, noting the band’s never played there before.
“We enjoy it, we enjoy playing together – it’s still fun and inspiring and so why not? It’s been a great experience, that’s why we’re still together,” he added. “After this we need a bit of a break from the writing.
“We’ll tour this for a while and the next project will slowly show its head, but that’s not in the immediate future.”