REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
The Cowboy Junkies have been around for more than 20 years now. They've recorded 11 studio albums, even though they always seem to be on tour. And with all that, they've managed to escape the problems that have befallen many of their contemporaries: no messy breakups, no stints in rehab, no drawn-out legal battles, just that Cowboy Junkies' sound.
(Soundbite of song, "Follower 2")
ROBERTS: The band is a family affair. Three siblings: guitarist Michael Timmons, sister and vocalist Margo Timmons and brother Peter Timmons on drums, along with lifelong family friend, Alan Anton. Brother John Timmons, who's been an on-and-get-off-again member of the bad, also joins them on their latest album, "At The End of Paths Taken." This song is called "Follower 2".
(Soundbite of song, "Follower 2")
Ms. MARGO TIMMONS (Vocalist, Cowboy Junkies): (Singing) My father's stories fell upon us. Filled us with his light. Gospels, fertile minds taking root, taking root.
ROBERTS: Michael and Margo Timmons join us now from the studios of WBUR in Boston. Thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. MICHAEL TIMMONS (Guitarist, Cowboy Junkies): A pleasure to be here.
Ms. TIMMONS: Hi.
ROBERTS: So you say on you Web site about this album that in the past, Michael, you haven't sort of sat down to write about a certain theme, but you did this time. What was the theme and why did you choose to do it that way?
Mr. TIMMONS: Yeah, I mean, in the normal process of writing a record, I sort of sit down and spend a large period of time reflecting on what's going on in my life and those around me at the time, and then sort of at the same time begin to write and a theme's begin to develop. But with this record, over the past couple of years - I've got three young kids, and Margo's got a young kid, and Pete, our brother, has got two young kids, and Alan's got two kids.
And, you know, with the whole sense of family and - it has really been closing on us in many ways. And then our parents are aging as well, so there's that -there's a looking up as well as looking down as far as family and generations go.
So that was really in my mind and so the I began to look to the notes that I've been gathering over the past, you know, year or so, which is what I do to write a record, I began to realize they'll have family themes to them. And so just the idea of writing a record about family and generations and how one generation affects the next does seem really obvious to me. So that's - I decided that's just what I'm going to focus on. If anything else pops into my head, I'll put it aside for another time.
Ms. TIMMONS: Well, so we're in a very unique position where we're in this middle of our lives, when you look down and you can see these young kids, sort of, such a future ahead of them. And then when you look at my parents, you see lives that are winding down. And it is, I think, a very unique spot to be in.
ROBERTS: Well, we'd love to have you play something from the new album on this theme. I know you've just brought a guitar. You don't have the full complement of instrumentation you have on this CD, but we'd love to hear a version.
Ms. TIMMONS: Sure. This is called "Blue-Eyed Savior"
(Soundbite of song, "Blue-Eyed Savior")
Ms. TIMMONS: (Singing) Where'd you go my blue-eyed savior? Where'd you go my darling one? Standing on that field of honor, not sure what you're waiting on. And she won't let him through the door. Her mind is ticking through those tumbling years, the one's he promised he'd be there for. She says, hope the belief in loved ones will never die. Never heard such nonsense. Never heard such lies.
What to do with our sputtering engine? What to do with our fading star? Leaving us to wander freely, trying to find out where we are. And I can't bear to let him go. There is just too much left on the table. There's been too much left alone. She says, hope: "the belief that loved ones will never die." Never heard such nonsense. Never heard such lies.
Listen to my wide-eyed bundle. Listen to them assail the night. Lost again in their caves of wonder, leaving us alone outside. And I can barely stand the simple pleasure. Each breath carrying just a little more weight. As I bend to adjust the comforter, I think, hope the belief in loved ones will never die. Never heard such nonsense. Never heard such lies. I think, hope the belief that loved ones will never die. Never heard such nonsense. Never heard such lies.
ROBERTS: Thank you. As you look around now in your 40s, with kids and aging parents, do you see a similar transformation of your audience? Are you seeing that they are a different demographic than they were when you first started?
Ms. TIMMONS: Well, definitely, a lot of them are growing older with us. It's really quite fun to see. And people who, you know, came to our shows got married, and then they brought their babies and now babies are 12 and 13, some even older. And that's wonderful to see that they have been hanging in there all these years.
We're always attracting some young, new kids that have never heard of us, you know. Or, that their parents listened to us and they always couldn't stand us, but they just heard a song and now it suddenly makes sense, you know, and so they came to the show. I get that a lot - that my mom made me crazy with your music sort of thing.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. TIMMONS: So I think the demographics are the same but there is this chunk, the middle chunk that had been growing older with us. And I think it's really quite wonderful to see. And Mike's always just written about what's going on in his life, so I think it reflects what's going on in a lot of our fans' lives, too, so they connect with it.
ROBERTS: There are a lot of different musical arrangements going on in this new album, "At The End of Paths Taken". There are strings, there's, sort of, crunchy, distorted electric guitar. There's even a children's choir at one point.
Mr. TIMMONS: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, we, you know, we approached this record from a very different - in a very different way, the actual recording of it. We also had a lot of the musicians, a lot of different textures. When we bring something into our recording process, we don't tell them what to do. We usually bring them in because we enjoy what they do on their instruments. So we're inviting them in to bring their own personality and their own perspective on our music.
So that is (unintelligible) a change for every record. And with this record, I think the biggest change being the strings. There are some pretty major string arrangements on this record, which - and they're not just sweeteners, you know. They're not just these big chords in the background.
We brought in our arranger, Henry Kucharzyk, who's a friend of ours, and somebody who's musically respected, and really gave him a blank slate, you know. And I said just start creating and, you know, obviously, we began to put our two cents in, but he really did the majority of the work on the string arrangements. And he really got it, you know. I mean, I think he really did an amazing job on it.
(Soundbite of song)
Ms. TIMMONS: (Singing) And you've got it all on family. Now we're finally home.
ROBERTS: Did anything come out differently than you expected?
Mr. TIMMONS: Well, the whole record did, really. There's a song on there, "Still Lost," which is where the elm get his name from a line in that song, which again, we had gone through so many permutations of that song. And that was a sample of where we're taking the song. I had sent it out to Joby Baker, who ended up mixing some of the record.
And he just, sort of, start to fool with it. I just sent out to him to put a piano on it, and he just got really into the song, so he started to put a little, you know, textural things on top of it. And again, sort of, sent it back to me and said, I know you didn't ask me to do this, but you know, take a listen and tell me what you think if he really created this really cool landscape, or soundscape where - it just suited the song.
(Soundbite of song, "Still Lost")
Ms. TIMMONS: (Singing) Here we stand at the end of paths taking guiding light inspiration. The slow decline. The crumbling foundation, the station, and now the (unintelligible). But we're still lost. We're still lost.
ROBERTS: Having been around for more than 20 years now, do you feel like you have a sort of responsibility to your fans? You put out this book recently that's clearly a gift to them. You put your chord charts and lyrics on the Web site for people to play them.
Ms. TIMMONS: You know, I think I've always felt a certain level of responsibility right from the beginning. It's always amazed me that people took time out of their busy lives and spent money to come and see us. And just in that, I always felt, okay, you know, we owe them a good show, but as well as we have a responsibility to ourselves, to keep ourselves interested and fresh and played music that we want to play.
So, you know it's mixed. My first responsibility is to ourselves and to the band and to just keep that healthy and interesting, and then the responsibility to the fans is just to give them our best, you know. To give them an honest recording and tell them how we're feeling and what we're doing, and to keep it just honest.
ROBERTS: Michael Timmons and Margo Timmons of Cowboy Junkies. Their new CD is called "At The End of Paths Taken". Thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. TIMMONS: My pleasure.
Ms. TIMMONS: Well, thanks for having us.
ROBERTS: Margo and Michael Timmons joined us from WBUR in Boston, where the recording engineer was George Hicks. To hear more of the Cowboy Junkies studio performance, go to our Web site, npr.org.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Liane Hansen returns next week. I'm Rebecca Roberts.