Mike Bell, Calgary Herald
Published: Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Cowpuncher Release their new album Ghost Notes on Friday at the Palomino.
Sometimes you just have to be who you are and what you want to be, not who others see or what they want you to be. Trite. But true.
And a lesson that Matt Olah has learned with his Calgary country rock faves Cowpuncher over the past half decade, as the band has slowly, gradually, nestled nicely and naturally into a sound and direction that is entirely its own. “I think we’re trying to just be a band now,” Olah says, sitting in Inglewood’s rustic Ironwood venue. “I think when I first started getting into music I wanted to be the next Corb Lund or Tim Hus, or something like that. I had an idea of what I wanted to do with music, and I kind of let go of that …
“I get a lot of the limelight just because I’m the front guy and writing the songs, but it is a group process and there is no, ‘This is the songs we should be making,’ it’s more like we just write songs.”
Damn fine ones as evidenced by the quintet’s latest release Ghost Notes, which they’ll release with a show Friday night at the Palomino.
The album, the band’s third full-length, was recorded over the past year with Pilot Audio producer Robbie Josh Gwilliam and his mobile studio in locations ranging from an empty warehouse and Village Brewery to a Masonic hall in Nanton. And it’s a defining work for the fivesome – which also features Ryan Kelly, JeffSulima, Scott Martin and Harley Hoeft – a record that rocks and rollicks at its own pace: raucous and raisin’ hell one moment such as on standouts Country Maiden and Acetaminophen; lulled and lollygagging wonderfully the next on a song such as Wounded Wing.
But all of it fits into that rural roadhouse meets Beltline altbar sound that Cowpuncher has cultivated, one that recalls everyone from The Band to contemporaries Wilco and Bare Jr., but only in a passing glance on the way to its own spot on the roots-rock spectrum.
“For better or worse, yeah,” Olah says while stroking his trademark old-timey moustache. “I think everyone wants to have their own sound but it’s actually a double-edged sword because nobody knows what to do with us or how to describe us.
“We get calls to do straight-up country festivals and we don’t fit in there, and sometimes we don’t fit in the rock thing, either.”
Ghost Notes, as a complete and confidently crafted statement, should change that.
As should the slightly more business-like approach Cowpuncher are opting to take these days when it comes to getting themselves and their music out there, including everything from the packaging of the album, which features beautiful art work by Geoffrey Hanson, who’s done covers for such acts as Kings of Leon and Alabama Shakes, to a pretty slick video shot by local filmmaker Chad Schroter-Gillespie for the song Bridesmaids.
They’ve also, Olah says, made some other, just as important changes when it comes to how they present themselves to the industry, which may also have some preconceived ideas about the band and may not think they take it as seriously as they should.
“We’re a lot more sober than we used to be so we don’t burn as many bridges, hopefully. We’ve always been serious about (the band) but, yeah, I think we wanted to prove ourselves, that, stupidly, we wanted to be known as the crazy party country band and that probably isn’t the best reputation to have around,” he says, recalling an event the band played where one of its members drank 19 bottles of Mott’s Clamato Caesar, “made an ass of himself and we never got asked back.
“Your set can be good, but what you do backstage also counts, too. So we’re trying to present a friendlier, more professional, front.
“But, yeah, we’ve always been serious about this. Whether or not we’ve been taken seriously is a different matter.”
That, again, is something they’re hoping to rectify on the back of Ghost Notes and touring with their brilliantly chaotic live show that certainly hasn’t suffered with the move toward sobriety (the singer cracked some ribs at a gig this fall after an illadvised speaker dive while under the influence of only the vibes in the room).
Olah admits he’s somewhat frustrated by the fact that building the band outside of its already established western Canadian comfort zone is something that’s still necessary five years and three albums into the life of Cowpuncher, but he also expresses optimism that they’re at a point in their history and with their sound where it will come.
“From the outside looking in it looks like we’re doing awesome, but for us we’ve come this far, but looking at how far we have to go to be where we want to be is daunting.
“We haven’t gone anywhere in both directions. We haven’t broken up, but we also haven’t broken through yet. We’re just still here,” he says, gesturing to the middle. “But hopefully that will change …
“Some of the institutional Calgary bands are happy just being the kings of Calgary. We’re probably on that list somewhere, but we want to be more than just a Calgary band or a regional band, we want to be a Canadian band or,” he pauses and says it one more time, “just a band.”