Cowboy Junkies Shed Light on 'The Wilderness,' Talk Future Projects

Cowboy Junkies Shed Light on 'The Wilderness,' Talk Future Projects
On Tuesday (March 27), Toronto roots music veterans Cowboy Junkies release The Wilderness, the final instalment of their four-album project The Nomad Series, out on their own label Latent Recordings. The first three albums -- Renmin Park, Demons and Sing in My Meadow -- have all been well-received, but The Wilderness is the one that most closely adheres to the melancholy and sedate sound considered the Cowboy Junkies signature, something chief songwriter Michael Timmins tells Exclaim! was quite deliberate.

"When we came around to the fourth volume and had these songs sitting there, and I listened to them from a perspective of two years later and after we'd completed the first three volumes, it became obvious that these were very much of a style we had done in the past," Timmins says. "We were determined to keep them in that style, not push them out of that comfort zone. We just thought it'd be a nice touch to the whole series to have something a little more folk-oriented, and which people who followed the band earlier in its career could relate to. It was a definite nod to the past."

Most of the songs on The Wilderness were written in late 2007 and early 2008, before the conception of The Nomad Series, Timmins explains.

"There were maybe three songs off the record that we were performing before we even had the idea for the series. We were heading towards making our next record. I'd been writing some songs and we'd been touring a lot, so we were working those songs into the live show. When we came up with the idea for the series, one of the decisions upfront was to put those songs away for a fourth album. We knew that album would take on a character of its own as we got closer to it."

These songs were in fact written in the wilderness, primarily at a friend's old crumbling cottage near Creemore in the Niagara Escarpment area outside of Toronto.

"Whenever I write I need to go somewhere isolated, just so I can get away from the day-to-day activity," says Timmins. "I have three kids as well, so my life is pretty full. To write, I have to sit and reflect and focus strictly on writing. I have always done that. That process definitely influences what I write and how I write, but the tone of the record is really influenced when I bring it back and the band gets together. We sit around and start working on it, and that is when the tone is set. For this record, certainly the lyrics were influenced by that process."

Coming up with four albums in 18 months is a feat few artists have attempted, but it was a challenge Cowboy Junkies embraced.

"There is relief we completed it," says Timmins. "It was something we set ourselves to do. We didn't really have all those records sketched out. We knew what the first one would be and we had a direction for the fourth one, but we really didn't know what the second and third would be. There was a little stress involved in trying to come up with the ideas around that. But it all went very smoothly, it wasn't a huge stress for the band. We were off the road for most of last year too, so it gave us something to focus our attention on. The biggest thing is 'what do you do now?' We have a little bit of leeway before that happens, but we move onto our next thing pretty fast."

Timmins explains there are two remaining components to The Nomad Series.

"We've packed the four discs plus a fifth disc that has bonus tracks, as we recorded a lot more than we used on the four discs. Some have been available as digital EPs off our site. So it'll be a five-disc box set, plus a booklet included with lyrics and photos. I think this should be available by the end of March.

"A bigger project is being produced by our friend Enrique Martinez Celaya, who did all the artwork. He also produced a book on the band for us back for our 20th anniversary. He is a painter who also has a small publishing house that puts out, for lack of a better word, art or coffee table books. It is his aesthetic, and he's doing that around The Nomad Series.

"It's just a different way of looking at the music and the creative process. That may take another two months to come out. It'll be large, like vinyl size and 140 pages, plus we're packing up the four CDs with it as a limited edition. I've seen the galleys and it looks beautiful. We are pretty proud of that. It's not exactly a big money maker, but it is great to access that creativity."

UPDATE: Cowboy Junkies have announced a series of Canadian dates with John Mellencamp. You can see them all below.

Tour dates:

6/14 Penticton, BC - South Okanagan Event Centre
6/16 Dawson Creek, BC - EnCana Events Centre
6/17 Prince George, BC - CN Centre
6/19 Abbotsford, BC - Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre
6/21 Calgary, AB - Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
6/22 Calgary, AB - Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
6/24 Moose Jaw, SK - Mosaic Place
6/26 Thunder Bay, ON - Fort William Gardens
6/27 Sudbury, ON - Sudbury Arena
6/30 Summerside, PEI - Credit Union Place
7/3 Moncton, NB - Moncton Coliseum
7/4 Sydney, NS - Centre 200
7/7 St John's, NL - Mile One Centre
7/9 Dartmouth, NS - Dartmouth Sportsplex
7/13 Sarnia, ON - Sarnia Bayfest Festival
7/15 Oshawa, ON - General Motors Centre