12A - The Michigan Daily - Monday, April 22, 1996
Canada's Junkies shoot up a stylish sound
Toronto band brings its impressive emotional range to Ann Arbor
By Karl Jones
Daily Weekend Editor
Somewhere between mourning and rejoicing,
between ecstasy and pain, in a place where hard
feelings melt away into peace, lies the essence
of the Cowboy Junkies' sound. The Toronto-
based band has always expressed emotional
dichotomy through vocalist Margo Timmins'
whispers and wails, but on
their latest album, "Lay it
Down," the Junkies have also COWBOY
pulled out some new guns AN
... or should we say "gui- D VIC
tars." Where: Michiga
"With every album we sort When: Tuesday,
ofmake a decision as to what Tickets are sold
we want to do differently
just to keep it interesting for
us, just to experiment a little bit," guitarist
Michael Timmins said in an interview last month
with The Michigan Daily. "With this record, the
conscious side of it was that we wanted to focus
more on the four members of the band and that
dynamic - how we play together as a unit."
The tight, to the point feel of "Lay it Down"
strikes the listener from the very first notes of
"Something More Besides You," a vocally cere-
bral and musically jarring track, featuring the
excellent guitar work of Michael Timmins.
"Something More ..." is the first of many spare
songs on the Junkies' latest album. The lyrics
are not quite as epic and the music not quite as
full as it was on previous albums like 1993's
"Pale Sun, Crescent Moon," but that does not
mean the overall sound has lost any of its emo-
tional intensity. It just means that when the
instruments do kick in, every note counts.
"For the past three records, we've had a lot of
outside musicians come in and we worked with
them," Timmins explained. "It was a lot of fun,
but on this album we wanted to just focus on the
four of us."
Perhaps you've noticed that the name Timmins
pops up a few times in the roll call for "the four
of us." Michael, Margo and drummer Peter are
three of six Timmins siblings, raised by parents
who did not play instruments, but definitely
fostered a deep apprecia-
tion for music in theirchil-
"Everyone is a music
HESTNUT fan in the family," Michael
Theater Timmins explained.
prii 23. "There was always music
ut. playing in the house, you
know. We didn't sit around
and jam or anything, but
there was always an appreciation for music."
When asked how a band from Toronto ac-
quired such a bluesy, country feel to its music,
Timmins insisted that band members did not sit
around pining away for Elvis Presley or Hank
'Williams during their formative years. In fact,
the Cowboy Junkies may have originally sunk
their roots deeper into mainstream America
than they did into the blues / country scene.
"When we were growing up, I think the music
we listened to was much more mainstream - I
mean mainstream as far as rock 'n' roll is con-
cerned," Timmins explained."We listened to Neil
Young, the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed ... you
know, that style of rock music. The blues influ-
ences and the country influences really didn't
come for me until later on as I sort of grew up and
got more interested in music and was introduced to
different styles. Then I began to focus on other
styles, like jazz and blues and country."
For self-taught musician Timmins (all band
members are self-taught), finding a sound he
wanted to stick with was simply the result of
experimentation with different styles.
"The first band I was in was called Hunger
Project, and that was formed in 1979. That was
more reflective of the style of music that was
being played then by bands coming out of En-
gland, sort oflike Siouxsie andthe Banshees-ish
type music and sort of punk related. The second
band was called Germinal and that was very
anti-pop music. It was instrumental and impro-
visational - what I would call a noise band. It
was pretty intense, but very non-commercial.
And then from those bands grew Cowboy Junk-
ies," Timmins said.
When Michael, Peter and childhood friend
Alan Anton (bass) did finally gel into the Cow-
boy Junkies, it was not originally apparent that
Margo was the obvious choice to sing lead. In
fact, Timmins was not sure that his sister had
what it took to be a singer at all.
"I knew she had a voice just from school plays
and things like that.... Whether she could actually
SING, I didn't know because singing and having
a good voice are two different things, as far as I'm
concerned. You know, singing means being able
to express emotion and be able to phrase inteiest-
ingly and being able to sink into the rhythm of
music that is going on around you."
Five albums later, Margo's haunting vocals
have certainly proven her an excellent and emo-
tional "singer" as well as a "good voice." And
the Cowboy Junkies have found some interest-
ing ways to showcase their unique vocal and
musical sound, including two albums recorded
with nothing more than a single microphone and
a two-track recorder. Their debut album "Whites
off Earth Now" and 1988's "The Trinity Ses-
sion" were recorded in this manner- the former
The Cowboy Junkies hit the Michigan Theater in a sold-out show on Tuesday.
in the band's rehearsal space and the latter in a
church in Toronto.
"There was no mixing," Timmins said of "The
Trinity Session." "It's all just two-track recording.
What you hear is what was going on in the church
that day. There's nothing added or taken away."
"The Trinity Session" was home to one of the
Cowboy Junkies' most well-known tunes to date,
a cover of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane"
(featured in Oliver Stone's film "Natural Born
Killers"). While miles away from the song's origi-
nal rock stylings, Timmins said that Lou Reed had
nothing but positive things to say about the cover.
"He really liked it a lot. We've met him a few
times, and he thought it was great," Timmins said.
Through all the musical territory the Cowboy
Junkies have covered in their career, however,
one thing has remained constant: The closenes
between members of the band.
"To us (touring with family) makes it easier,"
Timmins said. "You know, no matter who you're
on tour with, you're going to be close with them in
a physical way because you're just in the same
space all the time. So if you know them and you
understand their personalities, it just makes it that
much easier because you know how to deal with
each other and how to relate to each other."
And with conflicts aside and the focus on
music, the Cowboy Junkies have found it that
much easier to lay it down. a
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Continued from Page iA
may be unforgiving, his indictment of
men is much more prominent and se-
The appeal to Mamet, then, may be
his honesty. Mamet offers what a lot of
theater and cinema seem to ignore with
its melodramatic portrayals of life and
love. The effect of Mamet's down-to-
earth style is refreshing. It is hard to sit
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gaged by his hard visions of how we
As this weekend marks not only the
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sity in Chicago" promises to be a we
come break from studying, with all o
its humor and honesty wrapped in i
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thing? Maybe we ought to rephrase
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