The year was 1994. I had skipped school with some other rebellious teens and was holed up in someone’s spare bedroom, awkwardly making out with a cute older boy. The Cowboy Junkies’ version of “Sweet Jane” filled the room, Margo Timmins’ airy voice blissfully slumberous over quietly restrained instrumentals. It was perfect, a great song made even greater. There have even been rumors that the Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed liked their version more than his own.
Trent Reznor and Oliver Stone saw merit in the Junkies’ rendition of the song as well; they selected it to be part of their wildly-popular Natural Born Killers soundtrack, which contributed to the band’s rise to fame. Michael Timmins, guitarist and chief songwriter says, “We put that song out on one of our own albums five years earlier and it received praise from media all over the world. I wouldn’t say that being on the soundtrack was our ‘big break,’ but it helped for sure.”
Canadian-born siblings Margo and Michael formed the Cowboy Junkies in Toronto with brother Peter Timmins and friend Alan Anton in 1985. Put simply, the dynamic between the four members works “quite well.” Michael says that over the 27 years they’ve been playing together, each member has established set roles. “There’s more of an intuitive understanding of each other now,” he notes. “We can react to each other instinctively.”
Of the 17 albums and “few hundred” songs the Junkies have amassed, Michael gravitates towards their most recent body of work, Nomad Series Vol. 1-4, when asked to pick a favorite. “The quality [of the collection] is high… We’re very proud of it.” Through the band’s growth and musical evolution, one aspect has remained the same: Michael still writes about the everyday things in life and the people that surround him.
The Cowboy Junkies are no strangers to Rhode Island; they played the Newport Folk Festival back in 2008. “[Fort Adams] is a great site and there was a great lineup that year,” Michael says, citing Cat Power and the Black Crowes amongst the most memorable performances of the day. The band is excited to return to Newport this Saturday, as part of the Sunset Music Series.
Before I bid adieu to Michael, I had to know the story behind the band’s name. “We booked our first gig in ’85 and needed a name. Those two words just fell together,” Michael explains. “There’s no meaning; it just sounded unique I guess.” So what’s next for the band? “A lot more touring – just getting out there and trying to sell it.”
Check out the Cowboy Junkies at 8pm on Saturday August 4 at The Newport Yachting Center, 4 Commercial Wharf, Newport. $22.
Hear their iconic version of "Sweet Jane":