It started with a guitar, a blank sheet of paper, and the poetic thoughts of Michael Timmins, songwriter, and guitarist for Canadian band Cowboy Junkies. With three decades of touring and countless recordings to date, The Cowboy Junkies are releasing “All That Reckoning” on July 13.
The Cowboy Junkies have had some significant successes along their journey. Since their first recording in a garage turned recording studio circa 1986, the music industry’s digital shift helps a musician exit the big box record labels and have complete control of every aspect of song curation. Michael gets the opportunity to explore this realm with the Junkies music, “These days I produce most of our material with a lot of input from the band. I enjoy mixing, and I like the songwriting part (me and my guitar and a lot of solitude).”
After the foundation of the lyrics, Michael weaves in the other members’ voices and parts, creating that dreamy Cowboy Junkies sound, evolved with threads of their timelessness. “Alan Anton (bassist) brought in a few elaborate bass lines, which I then took and tried to write some songs around, and then Margo (vocalist) and Pete (drummer) would enter the picture, and together we would fill out the song,” Michael said. “We tried to play as many of these songs live as possible before we did final recordings of them. That always helps the process of editing.”
Some of the changes in the last 30 years are evident, such as the way music is bought and consumed, it is harder to measure the impact of a new album to the world, he said. “It [the music industry] has certainly changed over the years,” Michael said. “When we first started, it was just an amazing thing to have your album in your hands and hold it—a tangible thing with your name on it. When we worked with the major labels, it was a bit more like letting go of your child and watching this big machine take it over and either rise it up to new heights or crush it.”
Music technology alters the distribution of a newly released album. The band continues to tour and promote as before in hopes that the intrinsic value of their songs connect with their fans. “These days, it is sort of like throwing a penny into a wishing well and wondering how deep that well is and wondering if wishing wells work,” Michael said. “But it still feels good to know that one’s songs are going to be seriously listened to, by at least a handful of people and that may be a connection will be made. Touring has always been the same and is the one constant. Technology is pretty broad; it has some good points and some bad points. Streaming is the death of the art of music.”
Michael has an intimate relationship with music. When touring, he doesn’t stray from that connection. “I don’t listen to music on the road,” he said. “To me, music is something that I like to sit down and truly listen to with maybe one other person in the room. I don’t treat it as background noise. There isn’t a lot of solitude on the road, so there isn’t much of a chance to listen.” When he does get the opportunity to sit with an album or digest an artist’s discography, a great appreciation comes. “There are a lot of recordings that inspire me, and the occasional live experience will inspire me,” he said. “Nick Cave and Sufjan Stevens are two artists that come to mind.”
Since he is in a Canadian band, one of the highlights of the tour so far, he said, was playing Massey Hall, “a historic venue in Toronto. It’s about to close for two years for renovation. That was pretty special.” He looks forward to the cool mountain air. “Just being in Colorado is always so exciting and refreshing. It’s been a while since we’ve been out there, so we are excited to get a taste of the mountains.”
Cowboy Junkies perform a sold-out show on Monday, July 9, at the Armory in Fort Collins and an intimate acoustic performance at Twist & Shout Records in Denver at 1 p.m. on July 8, featuring Margo & Michael Timmins, along with Jeff Bird. Twist & Shout is at 2508 E Colfax Ave. Denver. All That Reckoning, out on July 13, is now available for pre-order.