Cowgill: Plans, Planted, Performers

I always have a soft spot for folk music (gee, can’t you tell?) and really enjoy elements of folk fused with rock.
That being said, a Boston based band is combining folk with indie-rock, piling some guitar and trombone into the mix, and releasing their newest single. The band is Cowgill, and the single is “Plans”. Others are noting the incredible musical range that Cowgill possesses, and I have a feeling this is quite the catalyst for their tunes. Take a listen for yourself!
After being introduced to the music of Cowgill, I inquired about interviewing the band as they embark on their journey. The band consists of Paul Cowgill (Vocals, Acoustic Guitar), Mike Truskowski (Piano, Backup Vocals, Trombone), Dan Weissman (Mandolin, Backup Vocals, Trumpet), Leeann Hackett (Violin), Ryan Rivers (Bass Guitar) and a “temporarily rotating cast on drums”. Their release party for Side One of their album, Planted, is May 17 at the Middle East Upstairs.


Farah Joan Fard: Cowgill…named after the place? Or cows? I see the cow on your site banner. I’m originally from New Hampshire, so I appreciate cows, but am curious to the story of your band name! I know I could also have cited your vocalist/guitarist, but…again, I’m a curious cat. The decision process of a band name is always interesting.

Cowgill:We took all of our names, and tried to think of the craziest band name we could come up with by combining all of them.  And after we did that, the weirdest was still just Paul’s last name.  Strange.

Haha no, but what actually happened was Paul felt pretty ridiculous using his last name as our band name, so we tried to think of one for a long time, but couldn’t think of anything we all liked.  Some of the not-so-great ones from our brainstorm a while back are No Bills, Hasty Outro, Venetian Mutes, Track II, Unrecycling, Tracks and Stacks, Dogskill, Nomenclature, Trick Poems, and Doggerel.

FJF: What brought you all together? I enjoy the dynamics and range of instruments used here.

Cowgill: Paul started looking for bandmates in about May of 2011.  Paul and Mike have been roommates who make music together for fun, going on four years now.  He and Dan met over “delectable kosher-for-passover brownies” (to quote Dan) last April.  Towards the end of April.  Paul found Leeann the violinist on Craiglist, and same for Danielle, the drummer who plays on the album, but has since left the band.  Leeann knew Ryan the bassist from high school, and he’s a senior at Berklee right now with Joe, the new drummer.

FJF: How did you get a residency at P.A.’s Lounge?

Cowgill: It was actually pretty easy.  They posted the availability on Craigslist, and we sent them an email.  But it must have helped that we had a website and Facebook fans and whatnot.  Oh, and the booking agent used to be the booking agent at Precinct, and we had done a show there through him before, so he already knew who we were when we shot him the email.

FJF: That’s definitely important to note-the website and Facebook fans. It’s getting to be a requirement to book a show, the Facebook fans!
So, you formed just last summer, or am I incorrect? How much do you practice together? You have gotten quite far in that amount of time! How did you do it?

Cowgill: We’ve basically tried as hard as we can since day one, and maybe it’s as simple as that.  And all the songs were already written by “day one”, so that definitely helped.  If our Kickstarter campaign hadn’t been successful, that would have set us back by a few months as we tried to scrape together money to record an album in some other way.  So that’s probably the biggest thing that allowed us to be where we are today (thanks again, Kickstarter backers!).  Also, Paul does nothing other than work on keeping the band moving forward, doing his day job, and hanging out with friends.  Well, that actually doesn’t sound that earth-shattering.  He spends a lot of time reading blogs about the best things to do be doing to raise the profile of the band at each step along the way.  So maybe it’s not just that we’re working hard, but that we’re working hard at the right things.

Oh, and we usually practice about twice a week.

FJF: Do you think the Boston music scene is changing?

Cowgill: Well, we can definitely think of one guy who thinks it is (and we think we agree with him), and that’s David Day, who just left DigBoston to work full time on the Together Boston festival.  Which is coming up really soon – it’s from April 2nd through the 8th – and you should all check it out if you can.  It’s trying to be a SXSW for Boston with a bit of a more electronic skew.  So if they succeed, that should gradually push the music scene here in a more of electronic direction.  We’re not at all an electronic-y band at this point, with our pretty stereotypically folk rock instrumentation, but who’s to say we won’t pull a Radiohead and dabble in that later on?

But yeah, so our point is that we tend to associate Boston music with angry people, some Irish influences, and horns, and that’s probably changing somewhat.  And just having Brooklyn nearby is injecting a lot of indie rock awareness into our scene, and that plays more into our hands stylistically, so we’re pretty happy about that.  But then again, Boston also loses some of our bigger indie rock bands to Brooklyn.

Most importantly, we probably shouldn’t pretend like we’re qualified to answer this – sorry we didn’t warn you.  Paul’s musical life so far has been radio music until college, stereotypical college bands like Dave Matthews Band in college (and he’ll defend them to this day), and then for the past 3 years or so really getting into the indie scene.  And the deeper you fall into that rabbit hole (but it’s a nice, comfy rabbit hole), the more and more you get to know local scenes.  He’s still a beginner at that at this point.

FJF: If there are stereotypes associated with the Boston music scene, how do you think Cowgill negates that?

Cowgill: (…) how do we negate that?  Hmmm.  What we’re going for is taking all the indie rock influences we have, but adding in more energy and making the songs less mopey (no offense, indie rock, we still love all those songs).  Paul grew up listening to a lot of Motown and other oldies, and he thinks a lot of the great songwriters were really nailing it back then at making songs with surprising structures and chord changes but that were still catchy as shit.  So we’re humbly hoping for a renaissance of some of that.

FJF: What are your plans for after your CD release party?

Cowgill: The band will be touring the U.S. in August (tour dates not yet announced), recording Side Two of the album in the Fall, and promptly hitting the road again for a more extensive tour in support of the full album.  Before August, we’ll be filming some videos of us covering two songs that were the winners in this promotion we did during our Kickstarter campaign —  “Old Flame” by Arcade Fire and  “Common People” by Pulp.  So that’s gonna be fun – we’ll probably either shoot those in one of our apartments or in some cool weird spot around Boston.  And there should also be a music video on the horizon in the next couple months, assuming we can find a little money to make that happen.  We’re doing a kind of weird thing for a band, which is looking for investors instead of counting on a label for money for things like that.  So if that sounds like a cool thing to be a part of to any readers, shoot us an email!  10% interest!

FJF: What was the writing process like for the album?
Cowgill: We’re gonna drop the ‘we’ voice for a second and just let Paul answer this one:

“Plans” is probably the newest one, and that one was written in late July of 2011.  I’ll talk about how I wrote that one, but it’s about the same for all of them, minus the iPhone part (spoiler alert).  So I map out the verses, choruses, bridges, intros, outros, segues and all that crap first.  I really think quite a lot about what I feel to be the perfect amount of each and in what order.  And there are no lyrics at this point, and not even a concept yet, just a feeling.  Then I try to think of a concept that there hasn’t been a song about yet that I can think of, but one that still resonates some emotionally and that fits the feeling of the chords.  While I think about that, I play the chords for a while and mumble with melody lines, usually while having a beer in my apartment at night.  Here’s where the iPhone comes in.  That night I record a lot of repeats of each of the major guitar sections on Garageband, put them on my phone as separate pieces, then for the next few days, I ride around on the T whenever I need to be doing that (which is a lot, since I don’t have a car) and sing the melody and words in my mind, changing things around.  And whenever the sounds I make are like words that fit the story I want to tell in the song, I write them down in a notebook I carry with me.  But it’s important to me that I don’t look like a crazy person while I’m doing all this, so I don’t rock back and forth or actually make sounds.  That’s something weird that a lot of people do…haha, and they don’t even have the excuse that they’re writing songs.  Usually it all comes together when I get off the T – ideally it’s a sunny day – and there’s no one around and I can sing out loud what I’ve been imagining on the T.  And then whenever I see someone walking towards me, I’ll stop singing whenever they get within earshot.

After that’s all done, I bring my rough, self-indulgent little acoustic pieces to the band, and they make them sound lush and baroque and awesome. And that part always feels freaking amazing, when you hear it with everyone for the first time.

I think the oldest song is “The King of Wales”, (because) I finished that one my senior year of college in 2008.  That was a pretty Beatles-heavy time for me, which I think you’ll notice when you listen.  And actually, I started “Red Carpet” a year before that one, but I didn’t finish figuring out all the parts until right before I wrote “Plans” last year.  You can read more about some of this on (their Tumblr) if you check out the older posts.  And we’ll also post more of this kind of stuff on there about newer songs and about the ones on the record that we haven’t talked about yet pretty soon.

FJF: How did you decide on the first single?

Cowgill: It was really tough to decide.  There are five songs on our upcoming release, and first we ruled out the one that starts out as a ballad in a 6/8 time signature, (because) nobody wants any of that in their singles.  But then we still had to choose between the other four — a sorta weird one, two happy ones, and a faster angrier-feeling one.  We decided to go with the weirder one first ’cause we thought it might be the most intriguing one for bloggers.  The second single is gonna be one of the two happy ones.  But they’re all sorta weird and sorta happy (even when they sound angry sometimes), so that’s why it was hard to choose, haha.

FJF: Anything you would like to add?

Nope, we think we made this too long already…wait!  Sign up for our mailing list!  That’s the most important thing to us in the world, and if we’re gonna make a real go of all this, we need your help.  And that’s how you can help… And check out our website!  We’re gonna have a brand new sexy design up there in a few weeks .

Check it out!

A big thank you to Cowgill for their awesome, thoughtful responses. Hope to see you all at the Middle East Upstairs for the release. And you, and you, and you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.