A Guide to CKCU Trans FM 93.1
April 1989
By Joe Reilly
Transcribed by Cristina Fernandes, Photos by David Gahr

Cowboy Junkies strive for legitimacy

Cerebral and sensual best describe the sound of Toronto's Cowboy Junkies on their first two lp's. The Junkies are quickly becoming the sweethearts of the American music media, topping critics polls in such venerable publications as the LA Times following the RCA release of the moody The Trinity Session south of the border.

The voice of Margo Timmins is an integral part of the Cowboy Junkies' sound. Her thoughts provide interesting insights into one of Canada 's most captivating musical groups

I can't help but see the Junkies as a group that, on the one hand, media and reviewers and people that are into music would be really excited about and really want to tell people about, but then radio programmers, specifically commercial stations, would be like a brick wall.

MT: (Laughter) Funny, you should say that because I was speaking with this guy, a critic at the Boston Globe, and he was saying the exact same thing. I think that is going to happen for a number of reasons. First of all, some of the radio stations will not like our name and the way we record our albums. Certainly, recording wise, it doesn't sort of fit in to the produced sound that radio tends to like. So, I think that might happen and that certainly happens to a lot of bands. They get critical raves but they don't sell that much. I hope it doesn't happen to us but it could. I don't really know what makes people buy records, if it's radio play or critical acclaim or what. I certainly don't really care one way or another. I want to continue to put out good music, and I hope people continue to like it. And I would like to sell records, obviously, 'cause that helps pay the rent. But at this point I really don't know what's happening out there, whether we're selling or not selling. It's all an adventure to us.

TFM: At this stage, is it more the idea of making money from it or the happiness of knowing that more people are at least getting exposed to what you've done.

MT: Well, it's both. I mean, I'd be a liar to say I didn't want to make money off of my music and the best thing in the world would be if we could live off our music. But to know that people are hearing it and liking it is really great as well because when we recorded The Trinity Session and when we heard it ourselves the next day we were just so pleased with it. And when you're that happy with something, you want somebody else to hear what we hear, and they have so I'm really, really happy.

TFM: Many times I talk to artists and I swear it can be a week after the album has been released and they're going, "Well that doesn't really reflect where we are right now " and, ''that's not really what we're about..." and I'm really happy to hear somebody say that they're still happy with their record and were when it came out.

MT: Well, I think that has to do with the way that we record. We just recorded it in one day, so you know we played it and the next morning we had our record. (laughter) It's not this sort of long process that most bands go through where they do the pre-recording and then they record it and then they have to mix it and they've heard their songs hundreds of times over and over and over again until I'm sure they can't stand them anymore. So we've gotten around that problem.

TFM: What is it that drives you to do it that way and did you use overdubbing on The Trinity Session?

MT: No, there's no overdubbing. You can't overdub in this method and you can't mix or edit or anything else. There's a number of reasons we went this way. Obviously this way is a lot cheaper than going into a studio and renting it for several months. I guess the main reason was, the sound we created on stage or in our rehearsal studio is the sound that we wanted to put out on the record and so we just wanted to do it live. This is the music we play and this is the music we want people to hear. We don't want them to hear reverb added or something taken out and something put in. That's not what we do.

TFM: As an independent group, that approach makes a lot of sense, but do you think that you'd change that approach now that you have a major recording contract or would there be any pressure to change that approach?

MT: Well there might be some pressure. Obviously, recording companies want you to sell as many records as possible and to do that you have to sort of fit into the fold which is filled with produced albums in studios because it does generate a certain sound when your produce in a studio. But we want to record the next one this way, live again, for a number of reasons. We'd like to prove that it can be done and it wasn't something we did as an independent band to escape the cost but we did it because we think it's a valid method of recording. But I think eventually we might move into the studio. I certainly would like to get in there someday and try our luck. We have nothing against studios. And there's a lot of things we can't do while recording live. For example, I'd like to someday add some back up vocals to my own vocals. You know, do stuff like that which obviously I can't do live.

TFM: Yeah, I would think artistically, after probably a couple of albums in this mode you'd certainly get the itch to try to do some things differently and you really are sort of limited, I guess, this way.

MT: Yeah, you are. I mean really all you can do when you record this method is to play your music the way it's meant to be played and there's no tricks which you can use or fooling around on the mixing board or anything. And that is intriguing too. I wouldn't mind someday sort of getting in there. I've never been in a studio to record, and I'd like to try it out, you know, just another experience. And someday I think our music will be at the point that we'll want to do it 'cause certain songs might sound better recorded studio wise and others are better live. It depends on the music you're doing.

TFM: I can't help but think that the music is true mood music as well, because it really plays on a very quiet, laid back...but at times still angry and somber kind of mood. Where do the moods come from and especially how do you get them into your voice for these pieces?

MT: Well, really it's a number of things, I mean, it depends on the music that the boys are offering me. IF they're playing the songs with a lot of mood, for example, 'I'm So Lonesome', sometimes they can play it and to me it just sounds so sad and it's so lonesome and if I really tune into them and tune into the words of the sound then it just comes out of me. I mean, I have sadness and loneliness in me as well as I have everything else, you know.

TFM: It's kind of different though after the first two albums to imagine the Cowboy Junkies doing an upbeat, happy-go-lucky kind of pop tune. Is that inside you guys too? To get something like that out eventually?

MT: Yeah, I think so. I think we would like to someday be able to do a really great pop album. It's not an easy thing to do well. But it's a real challenge and I do think that it's in us, and somewhere down the line I think that that'll come out. I mean, we want to explore everything our music give us and we just sort of let it happen. We don't plan it, we don't sort of way well, the next album is going to be a pop album. If we find that we're writing in that direction then that's what we'll do.

TFM: The term 'pop' has bad connotations to some people. But really good pop albums to people who know music are very different things. What would you define as being a good pop album or a good pop artist?

MT: Oh, I think probably the ultimate pop album was Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. I think the songs on that were just amazing pop, and it was amazingly produced which I think has a lot to do with pop music. I think that's where you really want to go into a studio, and use it properly. And I admire that albums as probably one of the greatest pop albums.

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Joe Reilly interviews the people who make music what it is today as the host of CKCU FM's The Guest List heard every Thursday from 5:10 – 6pm

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