Cowboy Junkies excited to bring Nomad on the road

BMS talks to bassist Alan Anton about the band's tour and new series of albums

, Contributing Writer

After touring across their homeland of Canada, folk/alt-country veterans Cowboy Junkies find themselves a little bit further south, with a tour of the Northeast of the United States set to run through August.

The band, who have been together for over 25 years, are touring in support of The Nomad Series, a collection of four albums produced and released over the last two years. With Asian influences on one, 70s sounds on another, and an entire cd of  Vic Chesnutt covers, the boxset features something for all fans of the band’s electric style. The last album in the collection, Wilderness, was released in May.

On the upcoming tour, Cowboy Junkies will make several stops in New England. On Saturday, you catch the band perform at the Newport Yachting Center in Rhode Island as part of the Newport Sunset Music Series. Along with a stop at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts on August 9, the group will make stops in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maine and Vermont.

With all that in mind, we recently caught up with bassist Alan Anton to discuss the Nomad series, the current tour and how they approach their live performances.

Boston Music Spotlight (BMS): How has the tour been going so far?

Alan Anton (AA): It’s good. It’s been long. And we just did across the coast Canadian tour, which is pretty grueling because the distances are insane. But we survived that. We had a couple weeks off and we’re ready to go again.

BMS: How was touring with John Mellencamp?

AA: It was actually great. They treated us really well and are fans of us and our music and we’re fans of their music. So things were happy for a long time. It was great.

BMS: What’s the difference between playing shows in your homeland of Canada and here in America?

AA: Americans and American audiences know our music and who we are. It’s kind of weird. We’ve actually never done that well in Canada before even though we’re from there. So we don’t spend a lot of time playing in Canada. We spend most of our tour time in New York actually.

BMS: You’re on the road to support your recent four release set, The Nomad Series. Where did the idea for the series come from?

AA: When we sat down to do whatever the next record was going to be, that didn’t really work. One idea for one record was not working. We had too many ideas. So we thought we’d do two, a double album that we could do pretty quickly. And then around the same time our good friend Vic Chesnutt passed away and we thought we wanted to do a record of his songs. So it just expanded into three and then into four for whatever reason. It was more to challenge ourselves. We said “Hey let’s do four records in two years.” So that’s how it came about.

BMS: Each of the four albums has a theme to it. Was that planned or more on a whim?

AA: It was a bit nebulous when we started. There were differences in the songs we had so we’d save some of them for certain volumes in the series. We didn’t really know about the third one, Sing in My Meadow, which is basically off the floor psychedelic stuff. We didn’t know we were going to do that before we did. It’s always, you have your sketches and things change over time.

BMS: Did you find that was a good way to counter having a ton of ideas and trying to service them all?

AA: Yea it was. Once we got into it, we just kept thinking about songs and kept recording all the time, which is not a way you really work on a record. You’re usually really focused for a couple of months and then not anymore. We focused for a really long time, like 18 months, which we’ve never done before. We got to try things we never otherwise would have gotten to and had ideas and things came up that probably would’ve never come up if we hadn’t been that focused.

BMS: What are some of the things you tried that you don’t think you wouldn’t under different circumstances?

AA: On the first one, Renmin Park, we tried electronic sounds we had never used before, like analog synths. There’s a lot of recorders and sounds from China. A lot of high functioning sounds that we made loops around and built songs around. That was a brand new idea for us to get involved with.

BMS: Do you think there’s a connecting element to all four volumes, like hints of your signature sound?

AA: There’s probably that. The main connection for us is that it was all done in a very short period so there’s a lot of things you hear on one record, you’ll hear on another, sound wise. Just because it happened so fast.

BMS: You obviously named it The Nomad Series for a reason. Is it important that you capture that touring and adventurous spirit in your music?

AA: It’s always been a big thing for us, playing live. We can’t live without it really. The actual title came from a friend of ours who’s a painter who contributed his art work for the covers. And his series of work was called the Nomad Series. So we asked him if we could use it.

BMS: Did you have the name and artwork before you started recording?

AA: Yea, it was before. We saw his paintings before that and got inspired. And the fact that he had four paintings in his series was kind of how we tied in four CDs of our own.

BMS: Are you working on any new material right now?

AA: No. We don’t want to see the inside of the studio for a while. We want to be on the road as much as possible. Normally when you go out on tour, you have one new record to play and we have four. We really want to play as much of it as possible.

BMS: Having those four albums to service, has it changed how your live shows sound or function?

AA: Yea, we have gone to doing two sets. The first set is all new things. We just make a setlist for the first set with songs from the new series and then we take a break and come back and do older stuff.

BMS: Do you plan on doing that in your upcoming New England shows?

AA: Yea. It works for the band to focus on playing all the new songs in a row and it also works for the audience I think because we can announce it in advance on stage what we’re doing so they don’t get bored and then we can do things they know.

BMS: You cover a lot of landmarks and travel stops on your tour blog. Do you plan on hitting up any local New England areas?

AA: We don’t really plan ahead that way. We like to stumble across those things. It’s kind of more fun that way. We report to each other if we’ve found anything cool. There are a few times we will get out the guide books and look online to see what’s in the area. But it’s fun to just walk around.

BMS: What are some of those cool things you’ve stumbled upon since starting the blog?

AA: Well, there’s always cool, weird, odd things all over the world. I can’t think of a favorite off hand. You know, there’s a lot of great things.

BMS: How did the blog come about and how has it enhanced your touring experience?

AA: It was another element we were looking for to have on the website. It was something we could use daily as a check in experience. That’s how it came about and we’ve been doing it for a long time. It seems to connect with fans. We talk to people all over the place who are always reading it when we’re on the road. People can talk about shows that they weren’t at but it makes them feel like they were at, which is great. It’s really fun. It’s a great way to check back every day and gets them interested in our website through that.

BMS: What can fans expect from these upcoming New England shows?

AA: Like I said, lots of new stuff with that two set thing. And for the people that know us, they know we have a range of sound on stage from really quiet to really loud and for those who don’t, that’s what we do. We go from really quiet to really loud. We enjoy that.

Cowboy Junkies will perform at the Newport Yachting Center in Rhode Island as part of the Newport Sunset Music Series on Saturday, August 4. Tickets for the show can be purchased in advance through the venue’s website for $22 and $42. Or for a chance to win a free pair of tickets from Boston Music Spotlight, go here.

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