Jan 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Heather Johnson
COWBOY JUNKIES BID HIGH FOR LOW-PRESSURE ENVIRONMENT
That “one man's trash is another's treasure” saying proved doubly true for the Cowboy Junkies and their project studio, The Clubhouse. For starters, they outfitted their studio with equipment found through eBay and by putting the word out on their Website, www.cowboyjunkies.com. From their significantly upgraded rehearsal/demo space, the Toronto-based group compiled “throw-away” tracks, unreleased demos, old lyric sheets and rough takes for Anatomy of an Album, their new CD-ROM featuring remnants and musings from their latest album, One Soul Now.
The group began their equipment search three years ago while touring in support of their 2001 album, Open. “We have always had this goal of writing and recording an album in the studio,” says guitarist/songwriter Michael Timmins. “But the cost is sometimes prohibitive when you're paying hourly rates.” However, their demo/rehearsal space, which is actually a renovated garage on a friend's property that's within walking distance for Margo, Michael and Peter Timmins, showed promise. “We realized that we didn't really need that much stuff; a few more high-end items to make it worthy of recording an actual release. We started to get a lot of second-hand stuff, did a lot of shopping on eBay and cobbled together the studio.”
The group found three more Tascam DA-88s, bringing their total to four, replaced their Mackie 16-input console with a Mackie 32×8, and added Avalon 747 and TL Audio compressors, Dynaudio monitors and augmented their microphone supply. “We found a Milab microphone in Sweden when we were touring there,” Michael Timmins says. “We also bought a couple of really nice large-diaphragm Neumanns, a collection of condenser mics and others that we could use on guitars.”
Once they returned to their Toronto space, they plugged in and wired together their acquisitions and decided to give the new digs a whirl. Michael Timmins, who had operated their demo equipment, engineered. “Part of the reason we did this was so the schedule would be completely our own, and we wouldn't have to get an engineer in there to push the button,” he says. “And if I was working on something, I could walk in anytime and everything was set up. If we felt like doing it or were on a bit of a roll, we'd just stay in there and work, but if things got stale, we'd take a day or a week off. For me, the schedule was relaxed enough that I didn't feel overly pressured as far as the engineering goes. Once we got things set up, we pretty much left things as they were.”
Margo Timmins notes that her brother multitasked with very few glitches. “I was quite impressed because this was something totally new to him, and with having to push all the buttons and play guitar and everything else, he was able to figure everything out,” she says. “There were certainly occasions where he'd have to take out the manual, but that's where teatime comes in!”
The group didn't even have to leave the room for teatime. Their studio — decorated with memorabilia and gifts from fans — includes a small kitchen and storage areas for equipment and merchandise, as well as an isolated space, separated from the main studio by glass doors, in which Margo Timmins can record her vocals without losing sight of the band. The studio also contains a couple of homemade baffles, used only on rare occasions. “Part of our sound is that bleed of the instruments,” Michael Timmins says. “We isolate my guitar amp for some songs, but the best sound for us is to keep things fairly open.”
Their warm, melancholic and decidedly open sound became even more relaxed on this album, partially a result of their environment. “We approached all of the writing and recording as rehearsal or demoing or just playing, really,” Michael Timmins says. “Some days, we got something good; some days, we got little pieces of things that we kept or worked on later.”
“I like the idea of being able to go in and feel that I don't have to sing my best that day,” Margo Timmins adds. “And I like the quietness. Often in big studios, you run into some other band from down the hall. But I did miss the comfort. We spent a lot of time at The Clubhouse in the wintertime and it was very cold; sometimes the toilet freezes up and I end up running to my sister-in-law's house! When you've been there all day long, you wish that the comforts were a little less rugged. But I certainly wouldn't trade what we have.”
Heather Johnson is an assistant editor at Mix.
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