Fireworks Magazine Online 81: Interview with Galactic Cowboys

GALACTIC COWBOYS

Interview by Duncan Jamieson

In 1990 the Geffen Label had high flyers Guns N' Roses on their books but sensing they needed a new band as trends were changing, they picked up Galactic Cowboys as their next big hope and then decided they should hedge their bets and sign another. That band was Nirvana. The result left Galactic Cowboys as a footnote in Rock history and they eventually split at the turn of the millennium. However, now they're back with their first album in seventeen years, 'Long Way Back To the Moon', with the line-up who created their seminal self-titled d├ębut and the follow up 'Space In Your Face', and with the signature Cowboy sound of Metal, Thrash and big Beatles-like harmonies all still pleasingly intact. Guitarist Dane Sonnier chatted to Fireworks on the band's resurrection.


Galactic-Cowboys

How did the Cowboys get back together after such a long gap?


Although I left in 1995 the band split up in 2000 but I always longed to play heavier music like the Cowboys again. The stars aligned for us to do a couple of shows in 2009 and 2013. After the reunion gigs we just began talking together and we started to write again. The word got out in the industry and Mascot said they were interested in a record.

So the interest from the Mascot label, were there several people involved or was it one individual who wanted to work with you?

There were a couple of people, Bill Evans and Jim Pitulski, Jim knew us from when he worked with Dream Theater. We toured with them on their 'Images And Words' tour and had a great time on that one. A&R wondered if Jim would like to work with some different bands and he said he always liked The Cowboys. Bill and Monty (Colvin, bassist) had worked together in the past so he got in contact and he was very interested when he found out we'd been writing some new songs.

I believe 'In The Clouds' that kicks off the record is actually an old song that was written when Galactic Cowboys first got together?

That's right. There was an early stage of that song from when we started out. When we started rolling again and coming up with news songs, this came up. It was the very first Cowboys song as it's the song Ben (Huggins, singer) and I had to audition with. Recording it was born out of nostalgia but it's heavy, melodic and very representative of who were as a band, even today.

Are there any other song on the new record that have been revived?

'Hate Me', that was in fact another old song. It was one I wrote and it was the very last song I brought to the band before I left in 1995. It never made their next album for whatever reasons. We reworked it a bit, added an extension to give it more legs and added more harmonies.

There's a real earthy, authentic sound to the new album. Was that deliberate?

I'll have to give credit to Alan Doss (drums) who mixed and mastered the disc. We all know what we like sonically.

How is the band different in its approach now?

We're a lot older! The song writing feels the same way as it did in the past, it feels like coming home. We were surprised how quickly it came together during rehearsals for the reunion gigs. We didn't have to work at it too hard. The sound is ingrained in our DNA. Now what we're doing is a continued evolution of what we've always done. That first album stands up well. We were young and driven at the time. Now we're a lot older but we're still driven. In comparison to the old days the involvement in the writing, recording and the business process has all been self-propelled. That's been helped by the label, Mascot, who have been great as they have left us alone to do our thing.

How do you go about the song-writing as a band?

As a band we operate in different ways. Monty might bring in a whole song, sometimes I'll bring in a few guitar riffs. Personally, for me it's the music first with the melody and vocals coming later. We said, let's just write and see what happens for this one. When we did, the sound that inevitably comes out is a mix of being heavy with lots of melody and harmonies. That's the Cowboys' sound.

How much was done old school with all of you together in the studio and how much was done using file sharing?

Monty lives in Chicago so he's three hours on a plane each way but he came across a few times and we laid down some material but it wasn't so often, but we know how we all sound like and what we want so we could file share and do a lot of it that way.

How do you feel you've changed and the band's relationship with one other has changed since those early days?

I like to think my personality has developed. Back then I was just a 19 year old kid who didn't have a whole lot of life experience to give much of a social commentary. As a band, we all feel the way we feel so there might be four different opinions on anything but in the band we have the freedom to all be who we really are. We don't judge each other and everyone comes in and adds their own twist to what we do. I'd say the relationships in the band are a lot stronger. A lot has happened between me leaving and the reunion. We've got kids now so it's cool that they can come to the shows and meet each other and hang out. At the end of the day it comes back to the music.

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In the early days a lot was made of the band being a Christian band but in fact that's not something you have done overtly...

It's not something we all talk about amongst ourselves as a band now. Life has taken different paths. It might have been talked about at the beginning but I was never one to throw that out there. If your plumber comes round, you don't care what religion he is. You want him to fix the leak. Same with us. We're a Rock n' Roll band and that's what you want to hear.

There's also a sense of humour in The Cowboys' sound. 'Believing The Hype', I imagine, is actually about yourselves.

It may be somewhat biographical. You can believe your own peers who are digging your music. In the very early years when we first got signed we got told a lot that we were going to be the next greatest thing. Then Nirvana came along and that was the end of that!

There's some real angst in songs like 'Internal Masquerade' and 'Blood In My Eyes'.

Some of those things are borne out of frustrations. The world has changed a lot, a lot has gone down since we started out. On social media, everyone airs their grievances; what's the outrage of the day. I'm all about a sense of social justice. It's difficult to watch the negativity when they are all wrapped up in their own shit. The social media platforms seems to bring out the negative side of everyone. You see people, even friends connected to it 24/7 and they share a side of themselves you wouldn't have previously seen or wanted to have seen.

Picking up on that point, how do you view the internet, which obviously wasn't around back in the day, and it's influence on how music is made and heard today?

I think it is a good thing as it allows you an opportunity to get away from record labels and others' agendas. You can put your videos up on Facebook, there are a lot of avenues to get your music out there. That's great. Two million plays on Spotify or whatever and the musicians not getting paid a lot is a a bit of a problem... I'm happy to get our music out to people.

Did you see Grunge coming?

None of us anticipated it at the time it was happening. I liked those bands like Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains. We got to hang out with those guys and they were all great. I don't think anybody saw how 'Jeremy' and 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' were going to be the only thing that got played on MTV, that and Paula Abdul! My kids have never known MTV to play music. When I was growing up I remember seeing U2's 'The Unforgettable Fire' and Maiden's 'Flight Of Icarus'. It was cool.

There are a lot of musical influences in the rich stew of the Cowboys' sound. What music has influenced you?

Growing up there was a wide range of music in the house. My dad played guitar and my mom played piano. Everyone could sing. There would be music like Merle Haggard, Fleetwood Mac, Doobie Brothers which my parents played. Then me and my brother got into Alice Cooper, Kiss and of course The Beatles. There was a wide musical palate. I listened to AC/DC and Free. I'm a huge Paul Rodgers fan. Even today I might listen to Pantera one day and 'feel good' songs the next.

Outside of the Galactic Cowboys you've remained in music with the Sonnier Brothers Band.

In 1995 the band were moving on and I left to play with my brother in the Sonnier Brothers Band, which was the easiest thing to call it. We play Texas Blues Rock and continue to do that today. We play a couple of times a month. He's my brother, us playing together is never going away so I can go back to it at any time.

When you left in 1995 you were replaced by Wally Farkas. How was it decided who would be in the line up for this album?

I don't want to get into something I wasn't a part of when they split in 2000. Wally is involved in a lot of other things so I was really happy to part of this. They made some great records without me. In fact they made more records without me than with me. Not better or worse, just different.

Your history is often intertwined with fellow Houston band Kings X. Was that in retrospect a blessing or a curse?

Being associated with those guys is never a curse. We were like their brothers. I met Doug, Ty and Gerry in '85 or '86 and we shared a lot. There's definite similarities in the sound; you know, we had the same sound engineer, producer and management team.

Do any of those old tours stand out in your memory for good or bad?

The tours with Kings X were always great with some wild dates. That Dream Theater tour was fantastic and we hung out with those guys a lot. The Overkill tour wasn't a bad tour but their fans liked what Overkill did so when we come on singing harmonies and playing a harmonica we got things thrown at us. Ben got into a fight with the crowd on more than one occasion that tour.

Are you going to take the new album on the road?

Touring for us now is a challenge. We're adamant this time round we're not giving up our day jobs. The industry's different to what is was back then and we have families and commitments now. We want to tour. We'd like to come over and do some festivals in Europe and some shows here in the States. It has to be the right situation for all of us. We really, really want to tour but with kids and families there's higher risk to what we can do.

The Galactic Cowboys are back in the saddle with a strong reunion album and here's hoping they come to a cosmos near you soon.

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