by Christine Leonard
October 6, 2011
They may have painted this town brown on more than one occasion, but celebrating a recent coronation as the best new band according to the 2011 Calgary Beer Core Awards has local rock-posse Cowpuncher seeing gold.
Happy to claim that crown and the ensuing sensations of triumph, singer/guitarist Matt Olah, baritone guitarist Ryan Kelly, guitarist Scott Martin (the Smokin’ 45s), upright bassist Harley Hoeft (5 Star Homeless), percussionist Jeff Sulima (Matt Masters’ band) and guitarist Tynan Groves (the Bobby Kork Orchestra, also of Matt Masters’ band) are all the better for their five-year run at the title. Known for their hard-driving and quick-shifting alt-country and punk antics, Cowpuncher has become notorious for rustling talent from other local acts until their onstage roster swells to seven or more players. Whipping crowds into a frenzy with their genre-defying live performances, the Calgary-based ensemble has the unique distinction of being able to straddle the ditch, saddle the bronco and piss in the wind without missing a beat.
“The timing is right,” confirms founding frontman Olah. “We’re all quite proud and excited about the release of our second album, Call Me When You’re Single. Getting back to recording required some mental adjustments after performing live on the road for a stretch. After we got home there was no rest. We hit the road for a ranch and finally became men. We branded cattle, cooked pig and ate prairie oysters. That same night we played in a field under open skies in the cold of night until our hands froze up. That was the start of a good spring and summer; now we’re reaping that harvest.”
The latest recording to receive the Cowpuncher brand of approval sees the manly men parlaying their twisted roots into a bonafide rock ’n’ roll round up. An evolutionary leap away from the primordial mud of the band’s 2010 debut, The Brown Album, this new release connects the seemingly random dots in Cowpuncher’s sound. The picture revealed depicts a group that has run the gambit from honky-tonk to hardcore and found some mighty comfortable stomping grounds in between.
Somewhat deflated by the departure of banjo/pedal-steel player Shawn Canning, Cowpuncher dug deep to test their mettle and put some true grit into their second album. “Sadly, one of our members is concentrating on fatherhood and has left the punchers to focus on the family,” Olah says. “Rock ’n’ roll ain’t easy on a personal life…. We’re gonna miss you, Papa Shawn Canning. You’ll always be part of our family.”
Canning’s departure meant the group could try out some new musical ideas without changing their lineup. “Seeing as our pedal-steel player has moved on, and given that we already have enough mouths to feed, we decided it might be fun to bring in some different instrumentation on the new record rather than attempting to recruit new members,” says Olah. “I started Cowpuncher a long time ago, and since then we’ve had a pretty steady revolving cast, so it was the same crew for this record. We’ve all been playing as a group for two years straight now and you can hear it on the album.”
The recording studio also played a role in shaping the album’s sound. “Fortunately, the gentleman who mixed our first record is some big shot who was kind enough to engineer this one. We did it in January during his slow time and reached out to friends who helped us rent out a church that’s been converted into café in Coleman. We hung out for the better part of two weeks and the results were dramatically different than our previous experience. We made the last one right in the heart of downtown Calgary; I have to admit it was fun to go out to the country for a change.”
Cowpuncher turned the isolation of the remote Rocky Mountain mining town to their advantage. “We’ve definitely packed in the tasty licks,” Olah says. “On some songs you’ll get to hear three solos! I mean, you don’t have three guitarists in your act without wanting to hear some good licks…. I guess you could say we’re a bluegrass band that morphed into a crazy rock ’n’ roll band. Our aim is to provide an interesting twist on things and become everyone’s favourite rootsy country and greasy rock band.”