The Cowboy Junkies, Country Music Subversives Shooting Up-Relax-the Pop Charts
In an age of fat, high-tech, high-priced music making, the Cowboy Junkies are a lesson in lean. In November 1987, the Canadian quartet repaired to Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity with 11 songs, five sidemen and one microphone. Fourteen hours and $140 in expenses later they emerged with the makings of The Trinity Session, an LP that is a surprise commercial hit and has critics calling them this season's hippest thing on eight legs.
Six of those legs belong to people named Timmins: guitarist Michael, 29; brother Peter, 23, who bangs the drums, usually slowly; and sister Margo, 28, whose soft, haunting vocals lend a distinctive dash of angst to the Junkies' country sound. Bass player Alan Anton, 29, is not a Timmins but has known Michael since kindergarten. Their repertoire veers from Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight" to ultimate urbanist Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane," with many of the tunes reworked and played so slowly that they become "vaguely sinister" (Musician) or at the very least "desolate" (TIME).
To the obvious question, Michael has a ready answer. "No, we are nor depressed," he says. "Or melancholy or any of those things. We don't consider the music sad, just heartfelt. To us, it's very strange when people come up to us and say, 'You must be so depressed.' "
The Junkies are literally a garage band made good and so new to success that they resemble normal people more than rock stars. Michael and Alan formed bands together and worked drudge day jobs in New York City and
London during their late teens and early twenties. In 1985 they returned to Toronto and parked their musical experiments in Peter's garage. Margo, who had been working as a secretary, was invited to sing along. Their first homemade LP, Whites off Earth Now!, sold 4,000 copies, "distributed out of our bedroom," says Michael.
Although Trinity has so far sold half a million copies, the Junkies have yet to see the kind of money that makes wretched excess possible. Michael and Peter still live in the same house and share one record collection; Margo and Alan, who are married, but not to each other, live nearby. But the band realizes that with success come certain obligations—and plans to act accordingly. "Yup," says Peter, "we're all gonna get tattoos."
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