“The band is getting better because musically we’ve put in our 30,000 hours,” Cowboy Junkies singer Margot Timmins said in an interview earlier this month. “Now we breathe together.”
The Cowboy Junkies released their first album almost four decades ago, but all the original members remain – three Timmins siblings and a good friend.
In June, Cowboy Junkies released their latest album, “Such Ferocious Beauty,” and this week they’ll be playing at the Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield. I got on the phone with singer Margot Timmins and we talked about the upcoming performance; her brother, guitarist/songwriter Michael Timmins; the impact of the band’s 1988 album The Trinity Sessions; and what her life looks like now.
The other two band members are drummer Peter Timmins and friend Alan Anton on bass.
Many fans, myself included, discovered The Cowboy Junkies through ‘The Trinity Sessions’, home of a cover of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Sweet Jane’. Since then, I’ve seen Cowboy Junkies several times and followed along with most of their discography, which now stands at around 25 albums.
Margot’s heavenly vocals against an alternative country tapestry of Michael’s deeply intimate yet relatable lyrics shine as brightly as ever on “Such Ferocious Beauty.” Some of the songs, including “What I Lost” and “Shadows 2,” deal with the loss of their father, who had dementia and died last year.
Michael, who is 18 months older than Margot, has been bringing her songs for many years and she said she is still often impressed by his insight and wisdom. “This happens to me all the time. There are songs, especially on this album, that are so personal.”
It helps that the siblings’ lives followed similar trajectories, with Michael and Margot getting married and having children around the same time. “We’re always overshadowing each other, so I find that these songs express exactly where I’m at,” Margo said.
Then sometimes Michael comes up with a song like Circe and Penelope, about two famous figures from Greek mythology, Odysseus’ faithful wife Penelope and the goddess Circe, who become friends. The lyrics, in part, “And I don’t know what you’ve got, but I’ve got a bag full of heartache and yarn/I think about them almost every day, pulling the stitches and keeping them at bay.”
“It’s one of those songs where I don’t know how he understands what these women are thinking,” she said. “Mike is a great songwriter, and certainly as a singer, to be a good or great singer, you have to have a great song.”
Margo believes that Michael is able to share personal, intimate thoughts in his songs because he is not the one to sing them. “He writes it down and gives it to me, and I think that helps him not feel so exposed. It made our singing and songwriting team that much stronger.
Growing up, the siblings listened to albums by artists such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Margot often sang backup vocals while recording, and also had major roles in summer camp and school musicals. But once she reached high school, she lost interest in being on stage.
Eventually, as Michael and Peter continued to create their sound, they realized they needed a singer. Conveniently, they also realized they had a talented sister, with just the kind of vocals Michael knew was the missing ingredient. The brothers asked Margot to join them. Despite her initial hesitation, she said yes.
Michael knew that Margot’s voice would change everything. He was right.
Just where does that name come from? Margo said the band came up with the name under duress and her memories of who did it are fuzzy. The band, then nameless, had already booked their first gig. The club owner insisted on a name so he could advertise the performance in the local paper. During rehearsal, the band members threw out name after name. As far back as Margo can remember, Anton was the one who hit the Cowboy Junkies.
When RCA Records released The Trinity Sessions in 1988, Sweet Jane was a single with an accompanying video.
The Cowboy Junkies were big fans of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, and the song’s “heavenly wine and roses seem to whisper to me when you smile” bridge secured its place on the Trinity Sessions. The album received critical acclaim.
“When we recorded ‘Trinity Session’ we knew we had done something special. Whether the world would see it, hear it or understand it, we didn’t know,” Margot said. “It was a journey, our whole adventure. It still is.”
Now 60 years old, Margot still loves to play live despite her time away from home. “It’s really quite magical, at least for us anyway.” She loves the release of performing and likens it to an addiction.
“I’m a lot older, but I feel beautiful on stage,” she said, making it clear she didn’t mean physically. “I feel in control and I feel strong,” she explained.
“That we can still do this at our age, that people still come back and that we can play beautiful places like Stone Mountain. No one is complaining.”
And certainly no one will be when they hear Margo walk up to the microphone and start singing.
8:00 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Stone Mountain Arts Center, 295 Dugway Road, Brownfield, $100. stonemountainartscenter.com.
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