In the multi-cultural hustle and bustle of London’s Brick Lane in a hotel bar the Canadian siblings Margo and Michael Timmins better known as late 80’s alternative country rockers The Cowboy Junkies chat about their forthcoming album At The End of Paths Taken and mini acoustic tour. What has been remarkable about The Junkies career is that the line up has remained the same for over 20 years with fellow sibling Peter and friend Alan Anton completing what appears to be a stable unit in a business notorious for exaggerated egos and fame hungry seekers.
“Do you think the growth of the internet has succeeded in keeping bands like yours alive as opposed to the normal media channels?” I ask.
“Well there is a lot more of it out there, a lot of independently produced music, people doing their own thing and getting it out there and occasionally you get to hear it and occasionally it gets to a wider audience, there is a lot more opportunity for that except there is a lot less investment in individual careers which I think is harder to make a living in making music these days which is not necessarily a good thing because people can’t invest all their time in it, so there are positive and negative things” main songwriter Michael Timmins concurs.
“It’s still the same problem trying to get people to listen to you, even when we started over 20 years ago when the big focus was radio play and everyone was fighting to get their single on the radio, it’s just a matter of getting to hear it” Vocalist Margo adds.
“And even back then you would get something that would break on the radio without big promotion behind it, maybe a radio station in L.A. and they would pick it up and this weird grass roots thing would happen like the internet, very rarely then and now.
There’s the opportunity for more bands and artists to get heard, the opportunities there but I don’t know what the reality is.” Michael exclaims.
I ask “Do you think the key to success is longevity”
“Well the key to success for our band and more so in the future will be live touring, to be able to go to a town, to be able to make a living, that’s the key to longevity at this point, the industry as far as selling music goes is so up in the air right now, will we able to sell enough records to make a living out of it, if you can build up enough of a following then that is something that is just yours and can keep you going.” Michael adds.
“Even from the beginning we have been lucky to pick up this very loyal fan base that has been with us for many years” Margo reflects.
“When you made your breakthrough in the late 80’s” I ask “You seemed at odds with what was going on in the music scene at the time, in contrast your band seemed unfussy, quiet dare I say unglamorous”
“Well we liked a lot of the punk bands and we went to a lot of the punk shows but we never had red hair, we liked all forms of music but were never interested in any kind of image” replies Margo.
“Do you think that the music you have made over the years has had an influence on younger bands?”
“I hope so” replies Michael, “if there is anything that you hope for when you’re playing music is that you inspire in the way that we were inspired, you want it to be a continual link, after all this time playing music, we’ve had other artists, painters and writers who have told us that our music has been an influence on them, that’s the ultimate compliment.”
What is apparent and must be a wonderful indictment of Canadian life is how well preserved and polite these musicians are, almost a complete contrast to the usual ravages of the hard nosed music biz, Margo has hardly changed in appearance and the tone of her voice fits comfortably with her onstage persona, Michael too looks the embodiment of healthy living, he does seem however to be a bit weary of having to explain his art and would probably prefer to just get on with the process of making music. The Cowboy Junkies are very much a family orientated line-up and that plays a major part on their forthcoming album At the End of Paths Taken, an album that’s main theme is about the process of family life and its complex relationships.
Michael explains “When we’re writing an album it’s about what’s going on in our lives, it’s about our families and what’s going on in the world around us, the family unit and how it affects us, I have 3 kids and you think about their futures and also about my parents and that’s what shaped my writing.”
It seems that the term quiet is the new loud must have been invented for the Cowboy Junkies.
Interviewed by Tony Bartolo | Pictures by Susan King