When the Cowboy Junkies released its seminal sophomore album The Trinity Session in 1988, the Canadian family-based band stunned critics with its quiet marriage of classic country, psychedelic rock and gentle, ghostly folk.
Twenty-five years and 13 studio albums later, the group (composed of the Timmins siblings and bassist Alan Anton) is re-creating that album live for its current tour, which hits McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square Thursday. They will also play songs from their latest album, The Wilderness the final folky chapter in its Nomad Series.
The Observer recently spoke to songwriter/guitarist Michael Timmins about both records, and the advantages of being an independent band with a major-label past.
Q. Is there any comparison between The Wilderness and Trinity?
The Wilderness of all our records in some conscious ways reflects back on Trinity. When we were making The Wilderness, we were concentrating on harkening back to our roots quieter, still and focusing on songwriting and singing. Yet theyre very different experiences. Trinity (which was recorded in one day in a Toronto church using only one microphone) was unique and could only happen once.
Q. What were your expectations of Trinity?
We wanted to make the record and fund the next record and keep us on the road.
Q. I dont remember anything quite like it. Do you hear that from fans?
There are those that find it an interesting record, a doorway into a whole other set of music and a whole other style, and an introduction to country music.
Q. What made it work?
The studio is the trickiest part of being a young band. We were smart enough to know we didnt know anything about it. Back then, it was very expensive if you didnt go in with the right guidance. Youre basically deconstructing what youre doing live, and re-creating it on the other side of the glass. We were fortunate.
Q. Today you do it all yourselves?
For years now, weve had our own studio. Its something Ive grown to love, too, being the engineer, producer and mixer.
Q. The band released four albums between 2010 and 2012. Obviously, a major label wouldnt have done that. How does the road youre taking now compare?
Thats the other thing you learn as you go through the system. We were an independent band and signed to a major label and got lost in the system and made our way out of it, and re-created how we wanted to do the business. Part of it was regaining complete control not just over the music, which we never really lost but how were viewed, when we release records. Certainly becoming more experienced in the studio and building up our own studio, we dont have that financial consideration. We were fortunate with timing because we were in the major label system for 10 years, before the Internet had any relevance. We were able to use their distribution and promotion system. We were able to do a lot of touring. We left them around 2000 and thats when the Internet was becoming relevant for bands and for music. We worked hard at our website. It helped a lot that we had an established audience. The only thing was finding them online.
Q. Is it easier to make money now?
Back when we were with the majors, we were selling a lot more records and there were steady advances. The major label is a nice big no-interest bank and they can shut that tap off at their will. I guess its more stable. Being a musician is economically not a very stable job in any event. As long as we work (hard), we tend to make money.
Q. Tell me about the Nomad Series and this last album.
We did an experimental album, a covers record, and Sing in My Meadow, which was more reflective of our live show, electric and psychedelic. And theres the fourth side of the personality, which is the more folky, acoustic side (of The Wilderness).
Q. Whats next?
Its called The Kennedy Suite, and its written by somebody else from Toronto and involves other musicians from Canada. Its about the Kennedy assassination. Its like a rock opera with some fictional characters. We fell in love with it many years ago, and since its the 50th anniversary of the assassination (the timing seems right). Im doing a lot of production on it, but its not the band. Well present it as the Cowboy Junkies presents.