Bringing a nomadic journey to a close, while looking ahead to the next
After more than 25 years together, the members of Cowboy Junkies have but one goal: “Survival,” says guitarist and primary songwriter Michael Timmins with a laugh. Yet their recent activities suggest broader ambition than that. Over the last 18 months the Canadian band has released a quartet of separate but linked albums dubbed The Nomad Series. “We had a lot of ideas floating around,” says Timmins. “We had too much material for one record, and we arbitrarily came up with the idea of doing four records. We didn’t really know what the four records would be. We just thought it would be a good challenge—and would make us focus more strongly and give the albums a certain amount of cohesiveness because they were done at around the same time.”
Each volume of the series spotlights a different facet of the band. Timmins describes 2010’s Renmin Park, inspired by a trip to China to adopt two of his children, as “experimental”; 2011’s Demons was a collection of Vic Chesnutt covers; and the same year’s Sing in My Meadow incorporated the band’s rawer, rocking live sound. The new Nomad Series, Vol. 4: The Wilderness finds the group returning to the folkier sound heard on early albums like 1988’s platinum breakthrough The Trinity Session. “We thought the songs I’d written were much more in the tradition of some of our older material,” Timmins says.
In keeping with that notion, the group hewed close to Timmins’ demos for The Wilderness. “To achieve that, I laid down a guitar track I thought suited the song and then let everybody else find their way into the song through that,” says Timmins, who describes the Junkies’ recording process as purposefully disjointed. “We don’t go in and keep recording until we finish. We’ll do a song here, a bit here and then head out on tour. Some of the bits on The Wilderness were recorded before we even came up with the idea for The Nomad Series. We began to work on two or three songs, then put them away.”
The band has every intention of sticking together through its 30th anniversary in 2015 and beyond. “If we feel like we’re playing well together and we’re enjoying recording and we’re touring, that’s about as fresh as it gets,” Timmins says. “I don’t know what the secret is, just that we still enjoy it and still enjoy each other’s company. It’s easy that way.”