We are now taking pre-orders for our new album Demons (Volume 2 of The Nomad Series). We will be shipping all pre-orders on January 18th (any vinyl orders will be shipped one week later). All pre-orders, of any format, include a free digital download of the album which will be available to all pre-order customers on January 18th. There are a few pre-order packages to choose from (all of them will save you money) and you can also choose to include the limited edition Demons t-shirt as well as the digital only, seven song bonus track EP. So please check out the pre-order page and choose what is best for you…and thanks, once again, for paying attention.
Our new album Demons and the accompanying seven song bonus track EP are now available for those of you with a Clubhouse Subscription. For those of you without a subscription, we will be starting pre-orders for the album later this week.
If you haven’t looked in to the Clubhouse Subscription, please do so. We think it’s a pretty good deal: in general, it buys you all of the downloadable content on our site including all of the music that we will be adding to the site over the coming year (including all four albums of the Nomad Series) as well as a book (are real book, not an ebook) about The Nomad Series that we will be publishing in early 2012.
Okay…here’s the lowdown. We finished Demons before we headed off to Europe and it’s all set to be unleashed on the world through the website. The good news is that our current partners in North America and Europe are excited about it and want to release it through their distribution systems as well, but the bad news is that they have certain lead times that they need to adhere to and the earliest that they can get it in to their systems is February 15th. They strongly feel that if we release the album through our site three months before they do, it will take away a bit of the momentum that they would like to try and build up before its release. So we are following their wishes.
But we will be releasing the album (digitally and on CD and vinyl) through the site on Jan 15th, one month before the official release, and we will be starting a pre-sale on the album with all sorts of pre-sale incentives (including a seven-song bonus EP) in the next couple of weeks. Also, in the next few days, we will be making the album (and the seven song bonus EP) available, digitally, to our Clubhouse Subscription holders. Yes, we know that this isn’t exactly fair and that it favours those that can afford the subscription fee, but we, like every other band out there, are trying to figure out how to keep afloat in this crumbling business and, for now, the Clubhouse Subscription is a large part of our business model and we are trying to come up with some shameless ways of enticing those on the fence to leap off and buy the subscription. It’s not a perfect plan but we are floundering around in this new digital world just like the rest of you and we trying our best. In the meantime, we will continue to blog about the album and post music from it and hopefully keep you all interested until January 15th….ok, let the recriminations begin…..
The best of Vic’s lyrics takes the listener on a journey filled with unfamiliar signposts, during the ride one is never quite sure where one is. There are puns, fictional characters, real characters, humorous asides, cries of anger, bouts of self loathing, joy, despair and, sometimes, resolution. Vic keeps the listener slightly off balance at all times, but more often than not, there is a moment in the song where it all falls together in a line or two that strikes deep into the heart of the matter, that crystalline moment that makes one pause and say, “now I know where I am, because I’ve been here before”. Sad Peter Pan is such a song. For the first couple of verses you might not be sure of what is being discussed, although you can’t help but smile at a line like, “I’m a reluctant rebel/I just want to be Aaron Neville/with a crown upon my head/and my denim shirt all soaked with sweat”. But when the last verse is delivered: “ I’m just pushing the paint around/on advice from your lying mouth/You touched me and then you ran/and left some Sad Peter Pan/all alone and awkward/but a transformation, I swear it will occur.” That hopeless, empty, lost feeling of The Jilted, the only recourse, the only defence, is that last desperate plea, “I’ll change…”. You look around and you know where you are.
We asked our good friend Henry Kucharzyk to add his sensibility to this track and Henry came up with a clarinet arrangement which dances delicately throughout:
Henry did an arrangement for another song as well, below is the arrangement by itself. Ten points if you can figure out what song it is (no cheating by looking at the song title):
A few weeks after my synchronistic moment in the book store (see previous blog), I had another one in the Toronto airport. We were flying home from one of our many tours of this past year when a man came up to me while I was standing in the immigration line. He recognised me, which is a rare thing unto itself, and he wanted to tell me that he was returning from the West coast where he had spent the past few weeks with his brother, who had several months earlier been diagnosed with ALS. He told me that the disease had ravaged his brothers body at a stunning rate and that his brother did not have long to live. One of the things that he had brought along on his trip was the Trinity Revisited DVD. And that he and his brother had watched Vic’s performance of Dreaming My Dreams over and over and they had cried together, a lot. The power of Vic.
For some of the Demons recording sessions Margo wasn’t available so we invited our good friend Andy Maize to join us and lay down “ghost” vocals as we worked on the bedtracks. Some of Andy’s vocals were so powerful and on-the-mark that we decided to keep some of them and Margo ended up working with them, creating a duet using the “ghost” vocals as her singing partner. One such song was “Marathon”, a touchingly beautiful lament set at the end of the line. Here is a rough mix of the bedtrack with Andy singing the lead:
The album that introduced all of us in the band to Vic’s work was West Of Rome. Margo’s husband had come across it and passed it on to us knowing that it would make an impression. It did. The album had some the most off-kilter, heavy-as-shit writing that I had come across in many years. Some of the writing was definitely outside, using personal references, in-jokes and colloquialisms that cast a bit of a shadow over the meaning of some of the songs. But the emotion was always clear and the sound of the album, beautifully produced by Michael Stipe, had a really intriguing texture.
The song that sucked me right in and remains one of my favourite songs was the title track, West Of Rome. The sense of “place” in that song, both physical and mental, is astounding. In the liner notes of the album, underneath the lyrics for the song, was a note from Vic saying that the song was written immediately after finishing John Fante’s book of the same name. So I put the title on my list of books to hunt down in my travels: over the next fifteen or so years I never stumbled upon it. And then, one week after starting to record Demons, I walked into a used book store in Great Barrington, Massachusetts along with our stage tech Tim. A few minutes after being in the store Tim comes walking up to me with a pristine copy of a Black Sparrow Press edition of West Of Rome in his hands and says, “Mike, you’ve got to buy this book….”. Mysterious ways, mysterious ways, heaven and earth and mysterious ways.
For a lot of the bedtracks on this album Pete, Al and I got together to work through ideas and approaches for the songs. I would usually put down a vocal (even if the key wasn’t exactly right for my golden pipes) during the recording or directly after to give a sense of whether the musical approach was working. Here is the bedtrack for West of Rome in its rawest form:
And here is the final version with Joby Baker providing some beautiful piano and Tania Elizabeth adding her magical touches on fiddle…as well as, of course, Margo doing her thang…
Our brief journey with Vic began in the mid-1990’s when we stumbled upon his album, West Of Rome. We had just begun work on the collection of songs that would become Lay It Down and we decided to throw the title track of Vic’s album into the mix. We worked on the song for weeks but were never able to match its wistfulness, its forlornness, its honesty; we were never able to replicate the way the song just simply and effortlessly existed. It sounded so unlike a studied recording and so much like a man sitting in a motel room just east of the border, his life evaporating before him. Vic and this album were one of the reasons that we decided to venture down to Athens, Georgia (his home town) to record Lay It Down. Several months later when our album was released we invited Vic to join us on a leg of our North American tour. The first date and our first meeting was in Ottawa at a club called Barrymores. Vic arrived in his wheelchair and was greeted by a flight of about thirty stairs which were the only way in to the second floor club. I was more upset about it than he was, he just shrugged his shoulders and asked the two strongest people that he could corral to carry him and his chair up the stairs. No big deal…just another surmountable obstacle in the life of someone who spent the better part of the last two decades on the road. Throughout that tour we watch Vic every night as he, stymied, infuriated, intentionally pissed-off and then subtly disarmed and won over audiences across the US and Canada. There was no secret to his game, just him, his guitar, and his uncanny voice, which could be grating and beautiful in the same breath, and the flat out honesty of his songs. After that tour we would cross paths occasionally out on the road, or when he came through Toronto, but mainly we kept touch through his music. After West of Rome he seemed to release an album of new material every year (including the stunning collection Is The Actor Happy) all the while keeping up a hectic tour schedule. We hooked up again in the early 2000’s when we did a tour of the UK with him. I have two treasured memories of him from that tour. The first is from our first gig in Leeds where Vic arrived with his bass player and drummer in tow. The trio had spent the past few weeks rehearsing several albums worth of material. In the car ride over to the gig Vic had told them that the drummer would now be playing bass and the bass player would be playing drums. Neither of them had any practical experience on the others instrument but Vic wanted to keep the material fresh and edgy. They both had the look of freshly caught fish. My other memory from that tour is a show in Brighton which took place in a beautiful wood and glass pavilion that had the most delicate acoustics. Vic played to the room. The instruments all but disappeared; Vic songs took flight on the wings of his falsetto and floated, soared and swoop around the space. In my declining years I’ll swear that he did the entire set a cappella, because that is what it felt like. We like to say that music can transport one’s being, one’s essence, from one plane to another, but who can say that they have ever been truly transported….I can, thanks to Vic. Our last get together with Vic was in 2007 when he came up to Toronto to help us with our Trinity Revisited project. The consummate professional, Vic was prepared and patient and willing to work, no muss, no fuss. My favourite moment of our two days together was when Vic and I played the song Postcard Blues together for the first time. Vic singing and playing guitar in his inimitable fashion and me parrying with my guitar, his voice and our instruments ringing throughout magical Trinity church. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, it was just a rehearsal and it wasn’t recorded. During the taping and recording of Trinity we had an opportunity to do a bit of playing together while the film crew adjusted lights and did those time consuming things that film crews do. It was during one of those breaks that we came up with the idea of doing a Chesnutt/Junkies album. It would be his songs and we’d be the band. We talked about it through email and on the phone and tried to block some time in each of our schedules. The last time that we talked he said that he was working on a song cycle centered around his childhood in Georgia and maybe this would be the album that we would record together. I was on a cell phone in a parking lot outside a gig in Maine and he was in a van driving on the QEW heading to a gig in Toronto. And that was all.
We are trying to approach Demons with the same sense of adventure that Vic undertook all of his projects (or at least that is the way his recordings sound). We are letting happy accidents happen, we are trying to invest his songs with the same spirit and the adventure in which they were written, but at the same time we are trying to invest them with our own Northern spin. We have thrown about twenty of his songs into the proverbial pot and we will let the process decide which songs find their way on to the finished album. Exploring his songs and delving deeper and deeper into them, as one must do in order to do justice to any cover song, has been an intense, moving and joyous experience. I don’t think Vic would have wanted it any other way.
Here is our version of Wrong Piano. I don’t think I have ever heard Margo sing so well in the studio and, man, I love my new Fairfield Circuitry pedal…and…oh ya…if you have a freak flag its time to fly it…our aim is to have the album in your hands by mid-November.
Over the next 18 months (yes, we’ve amended our initial projection of 12 months), we will be releasing four albums, which will collectively be called The Nomad Series. The idea was born in the tumult of a perfect storm of ideas, influences, inspirations and timing. We have just launched our new website and want to put it through its paces. For the first time in twenty years we are completely free of any recording contracts and obligations, we find ourselves writing and recording more than we have in years, our studio (The Clubhouse) feels more and more like home, the band now has twenty five years under the hood and is sounding so darn good…and then, added in to that mix, our friend Enrique Martinez Celaya, the brilliant and inspired Cuban-American painter, dropped these four spectacular paintings (entitled Nomad) into our laps, and it became clear that we needed to release four albums, with his paintings as our ground. And that we needed the challenge of doing so under an intense release schedule.
But, primarily, the main reason for wanting to do a series of four albums is that, as we steam through our 25th year, we feel that we have the energy and inspiration to pull it off. We have been talking about what to do for our next album release for several months now. Our problem hasn’t been a dearth of ideas, but rather, a surplus. We have over two dozen new songs written, many of which we have been performing live over the past year or so, and many more sketches of songs that are just waiting to be fleshed out. There are also many “alternative” recording projects that we have discussed, which wouldn’t necessarily take the place of a “new-studio-album” release, but which we feel are vital to our health as a band and which we feel would be of interest to our audience (that’s you folks). So, four albums in 18 months seem to be the way to go….
The Nomad Series will break down in the following manner:
Renmin Park (volume 1): a song cycle inspired by a three month stay that my family and I had in China, an other-worldly experience. The album will be comprised of all new original material except for two cover songs written by a couple of legends on the Chinese music scene (a lot more to come about this album over the next several weeks).
Demons (volume 2): for some time now we have been batting around the idea of doing an album of conceptually linked cover songs (anyone who has followed us over the years knows that we love our cover songs and that they are a big part of who we are), but we couldn’t find that key that made sense to any of us. And then, this past Christmas, our friend Vic Chesnutt died. We had been discussing with Vic, off and on for the past couple of years, about doing a Chesnutt/Junkies album. During one of the last conversation that I had with Vic, he mentioned that he was working on a series of songs about his childhood that he wanted to bring to the collaboration. So, it only seems fitting that we record an album of Vic’s songs. His catalogue is so deep and for the most part, so overlooked. It will be a labour of love.
Sing In My Meadow (volume 3): this one is still being discussed and fought over (we are currently conducting an arm wrestling tournament to decide who gets the upper hand in determining its contents) . We need to keep a few options open. You never know when a great concept might suddenly present itself.
The Wilderness (volume 4): this will be an album of new songs. Some of these songs (Angel In The Wilderness, Fairytale, The Confession of Georgie E, etc) we have been playing live for the past year or so and they are bound to find their way on to this volume. There is also a whole set of new songs (and more that are yet to be written) that we will be unveiling on stage over the coming year. We’re not quite sure how these will form themselves into a cohesive album, but these things always work themselves out.
After 18 months and after the 4 volumes are released, we will be releasing a book that will delve into the character, nature, inspiration behind each of the volumes. Enrique’s publishing house, Whale and Star, will design and release the book (they also did our twenty year anniversary book XX).
We are aiming to have Volume 1, Renmin Park, available for sale through the website in late April (it will be in general release a couple of months after that). In the meantime we will be blogging about it and going in to more detail about its genesis and putting up a lot of the works in progress for you to listen to. So check back often (or go to the Cowboy Junkies Facebook page and add us as a fan so that you can be alerted directly, or follow us on twitter CJMusic, or subscribe to one of the other RSS feeds above).
Ok….back to work…oh yea, in the meantime here is a slideshow of Enrique’s Nomad paintings….