By B. Simm
CALGARY — Matt Olah, Cowpuncher’s ambitious frontman, is sporting a new pair of glasses with translucent, turquoise-blue frames that compliments his bushy, strawberry-blond beard. He’s a handsome man; with a bold look. I tell him so, although a bit taken back by the compliment, he accepts it.
But Olah isn’t easily persuaded. He can be somewhat of a challenge. I also tell him that Cowpuncher’s latest release, Hustle, is also brave and bold, quite a marked difference and change in direction from their previous record.
“Yeah?” says Olah, cocking his head to one side unsure of that assessment. “We get that question everytime we put out a (new) record. ‘Oh, but you’re so rock and roll now!’ Really? I don’t get that.”
Despite the objection, Hustle is radically different from what Cowpuncher once was. No longer a rootsy rock band flush with twang geetar, an upright bass and weird tales of the estranged heart (okay, there’s still a bit of that), the band’s brave new sound is a largely result of working with producer Derek Downham from Toronto who sets out to make “no bullshit” records.
Hustle is a bombastic sonic attack, an eclectic mix of aggressive (gasp!) dance melody driven by a score of turbulent bass frequencies, gang vocals and prog-guitar that sways from fluid stratosphere meanderings to a terse, angular flurry of notes along with big, meaty hooks that dig in deep.
Olah nods and sums it up, “Yeah, we made a riff-rock record.” Indeed it is. But not one that’s simply dominated by the blues riff. While it’s a rock and roll record, it’s also sophisticated and uncompromising which Olah attributes to Downham’s approach.
“I will never, not work with a producer again,” states Olah confessing that the experience changed his whole perspective on making music. “That was the smartest thing we’ve ever done in our whole career.”
Even though it was like “working with a bulldog and there was a lot of yelling,” Olah says Downham spurred them on to “cut the fat, get to the point and make it faster.” Hence, Hustle.
Another notable difference contributing to Cowpuncher’s sprawling assault is bassist Shari Rae who’s helped shape the band’s changing dynamics.
“Shari actually played on a cruise ship,” says Olah (pointing out a misconception I made in a previous interview that Cowpuncher’s drummer, Jeff Sulima, was a cruise ship vet – he’s not). “She has all these files on her iPod that she’s got sharing with other people she’s played with. It literally has everything on it. We listen to her iPod a lot when we’re driving.”
Olah adds that Rae often brings ideas in that helps the band connect better. “She plays in a military band as well, and they’re all about the team work… When we’re stuck on how to blend something together, she’ll know where to take it. Solid, she’s really solid.”