There are some misconceptions about The Cowboys. The fishing pole on their album cover is not actually going up the naked guy's ass and though punk and garage music forms a big part of the Bloomington, Indiana band's sound, they are not technically a punk act. They aren't even cowboys.
"We have no allegiance to 'punk' or 'garage rock' or anything like that," explains vocalist Keith Harman. "We're just trying to have fun and write good songs. And good songs come in all shaped and sizes."
There's certainly some good songs on the four-piece's debut LP that mixes classic bar band/70s rock sounds with a punk spirit. There seems to be just as much The Steve Miller Band streaming through the album as there is classic Killed By Death garage sounds. Sometimes even hints of Buddy Holly (by way of Lux Interior) pop float through.
Like Bloomington heroes The Gizmos, (who The Cowboys opened for on their hometown reunion), the band play a unique style that has developed after they started out performing covers.
Following a number of self-released cassettes they released their debut self-titled album earlier this year on Lumpy records. The album has just been released in Europe through UK label Drunken Sailor.
Stream the album below and read a brief chat we had with Keith.
Noisey: Are you named after 60s Indiana TV host Cowboy Bob?
Keith Harman: No. I'm a bad Hoosier, I've never heard of this guy. Truth is, we couldn't' agree on a name (Wild Dicks, NFL Clitz, and Glock were all in the 'maybe' pile at one point or another). We liked The Cowboys because it was 'classic' sounding but we couldn't find a 'classic' band with that name. So we took it.
What covers were you playing in your early shows?
"Jumpin' Jack Flash" by The Rolling Stones, "Jet Set Junta" by The Monochrome Set, "Hello Skinny" by The Residents, "Lovefool" by The Cardigans, "Tear in my Beer" by Hank Williams Jr. I seem to remember those songs being in heavy rotation the first few months of playing together.
How did you hook up with Martin/Lumpy Records?
I don't really know, he just sort of appeared one day with praise for The Cowboys and offered us a record on Lumpy Records. I think Martin really appreciates the music in Bloomington, so it makes sense that he eventually found us and took to us.
You name some of your songs after girls names. Are you romantics?
We're a bunch of sensitive cry-babies who hang out in our rooms too long. We yearn for women who will never love us and we weep for memories that once were. We are totally romantics.
What was the Gizmos show like?
The collective feeling in the town that night is something that is so indescribable and incredible. I could feel everyone's soul smiling alongside my own in those moments and it was truly a beautiful evening as we spent it celebrating this local institution known as The Gizmos. However, since then they've reunited about eight times and it's all cheap now. They cram 13 people on stage, play four or five guitars, someone's banging a cowbell and yelling. It's basically proto-punk's answer to Arcade Fire, except with songs about 'eatin puzzy' instead of existential angst. But they're still a great band and I do love them. Especially The Gizmos second and third line-ups. They are legends and way tighter than us.
When searching info on you I kept getting directed to Musical Family Tree, which sounds like a genealogy reference for Christian bands but turns out to be a cool site of Indiana bands.
It's just this archive and database of all Indiana music. It really is an incredible resource, because there are/were some GREAT Indiana bands and it's great to be able to find them so reliably. I will agree with you, though, it's a weird name. Whenever we mention it to people you can see their faces contort in confusion. Our guitarist, Mark, puts all his recorded output there under the name Dr. Ray. Spread the word, the man is a home-recording machine who explores sonic worlds of every conception through the cosmic gateways of his 4-Track recorder.
You have a song called "I Salute The Boys In Blue". What has your experience with the Bloomington police force been like?
They usually fuck with us for practicing and threaten to ticket us/take us to jail. Other than that, I've only had super positive experiences with the police here. For instance, BPD found me passed out, drunk as hell, on a stranger's lawn at 5am and decided to call me a cab home, no penalties. It made a loyal supporter out of me for life!
Has Indiana changed much since the film Hoosiers?
I've never seen Hoosiers. Our insane Leslie Nielsen impersonator of a Governor is now Vice President-elect, so shit definitely feels different. Indiana is a southerner lost in the Midwest. It hasn't changed much because it is old and set in its ways. A mosquito trapped in amber. Foul, shit-speckled amber.
Image: Caroline Marchildon