The most difficult part about speaking with Monty Colvin, bassist for the band Galactic Cowboys, is where you try to separate out all the stuff you believe has already been covered. You find that some things are easier to diverge from (for example, Colvin’s cousin Douglas Colvin, better known to the world as Dee Dee Ramone); some things are more challenging (i/e that magical combination of thrash metal with pop music sensibilities and intricate vocal harmonies). But in the end, the most important bit is that, after so many years away, the band is back and recording again. Popdose had an opportunity to speak with Colvin about the obvious stuff, some not-so-obvious stuff, and several points in between.
26 years after the debut album and 17 years after the last, Galactic Cowboys are returning to the studio. Which members are involved?
We got the original line-up back together for this. It’s Ben Huggins, Alan Doss, Dane Sonnier, and myself.
In several articles I’ve read, it seems the relationships between the band members never went on hiatus, even though the band did. I’m sure that’s a huge plus for the reunion. Still, most bands call it quits because of interpersonal tension. What were the circumstances by which Galactic Cowboys needed to go away then?
We were together 10 years before we called it a day back around 2000. We had been through a lot, and I just felt like we weren’t going anywhere and I was just very frustrated. We did a final CD for Metal Blade Records called Let It Go, but we weren’t really working as a “band” by then. I was writing for a solo album, and I was ready to leave and do something on my own. So we broke up. Looking back, it was probably the wrong decision, but after some time apart from each other, we got back together and did three reunion shows, had a great time, and remained friends. A couple years later, we did another reunion show as the original line-up and the show sold out. At that point, we started thinking about putting things back together again, but it still took a few years to get everything lined up to where we could actually get together and do it.
I first came to Galactic Cowboys through King’s X, through the song “Mr. Wilson” on Faith, Hope, and Love. I imagine a lot of people did. When the first DGC album appeared, it was rather seismic for those who got into it. The combination of thrash and heaviness, while at the same time being very in tune with rock-pop sensibilities, specifically with the vocal harmonies. How did that specific dynamic come about, and was there pushback from labels to go with an easier-to-market either/or strategy?
I’ve always loved melody, and Alan and I have always loved the Beatles. I grew up listening to Gospel quartet music, and so singing harmonies was something I’ve always liked also. But in the mid- to late-’80s I discovered bands like Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax, and I got full-on into Thrash Metal. But instead of just starting a band that tried to be like every other thrash band, I wanted to do something that combined the elements of metal and melody.
The four of us all like different kinds of things, but when we get together and play, it all seems to work. I don’t really think Geffen knew what to do with us back in 1990. They signed us, and I think they thought we were unique, but they had no clue how to market us. And our songs were so weird…and long…it was a very hard sell. But no, they never told us what we should sound like. No one has ever done that. Mainly because they knew we wouldn’t listen anyway! We’ve always just done what we wanted.
What strikes you the most about working with the band in this capacity after all this time? I imagine that having known them for so long, there are degrees of understanding shared among you that you wouldn’t have had from the start — i/e you know what the sweet-spot among the different players are now, and how to steer toward it. Likewise, you all know what buttons may set bandmates off, and there’s a history to contend with regarding pressing them…
That’s very insightful on your part, and very true. I think we’ve all matured as people since we first got together back in the late-’80s. And the time apart has probably made us appreciate each other more. I learned a lot from doing my solo albums, and it’s been fun working with the guys again. And yes, I think we know what buttons we can push and not push with each other. We’ve all got a sense of our roles in the band, and I think a lot of the problems we had with each other in the past weren’t an issue now….because we’ve learned the little things just don’t matter that much. We all just wanted to have a good time making an album this time.
It occurs to me that while Galactic Cowboys is a great band, you’d have made lousy guests for Thanksgiving. A lot of the earliest material had a heavy recognition for both politics and religion. How has that changed, not changed, or shifted focus in the songwriting after this time away?
I’ve never had any problems at Thanksgiving get-togethers. I’m happy to talk politics or religion with anyone, but I don’t force my views on anybody either. I’m not afraid to speak my opinion, but I don’t have an agenda.
When we write songs, we are making art…and speaking for myself…I write about things that interest me, or things that concern me, or things I have on my mind. I’m just usually making personal statements about how I feel about life, or whatever. But people are free to interpret the lyrics how they want, and they certainly don’t have to agree. In fact, we don’t totally agree with each other within the band when it comes to politics, etc. The lyrics on the new cd are pretty consistent with what we’ve always done. We still write about things that matter to us.
As far as changing our approach to writing…Well, I used to write both music and words for most of the songs I’d bring in… but this time there were quite a few new songs that Ben and I both wrote lyrics on. I’d have a chorus written, and I’d ask him if he had any lyrics he could add to the verses. He always did! Ben is a lyric writing machine. We have really different ways of saying things. He comes up with stuff that I would never write, and I think that’s a good thing. It seems to work well with what I do musically.
Does Galactic Cowboys have something to say in 2017?
We’ve always got a lot to say. We are very opinionated. And our music is just one way we express ourselves. Ben likes to go on Facebook. I have a podcast..and I also paint. There’s nothing wrong with speaking up, or expressing how you feel. People won’t always agree or listen..but some things need to be said. Of course, there’s also a time when it’s probably wise to just keep your mouth shut.
In another article, I read that the band is working with a potential new label, or rather new to GC. Running a band — especially a band that intends to tour — is an expensive enterprise. A lot of groups need to bolster their efforts with crowdfunding. Without the potential relationship of the label at hand, would any of this have been possible?
We thought about taking the crowdfunding route, but we liked the idea of having the support of a label. Besides them funding the making of the album, they will also be promoting it, and we felt like we needed the extra push at this point. We’ll still need the help of our fans to get the word out and make this a success, but so far I feel really good about the label. They seem really enthusiastic about getting to work on it.
What’s been the biggest surprise in revisiting some of the older material, with an expectation it might get into the setlist? To you, have the songs aged as you’d expect, or do you hear the songs and think, “Only some guy in his 20s with hot coals beneath his feet could write this”?
We went back and listened to some older stuff that we never released and we were pleasantly surprised how well it stood up over the years. And I think it still works well with what we are writing and came up with now. There is one song we re-recorded for this album that we wrote around 89′, and it’s still a great song that should have gone on the first CD.
But honestly, I’m glad we saved it because it sounds so much better now. We also recorded a couple songs Ben and I wrote about 8 years ago while we were on hiatus…and then there are a bunch of songs we wrote over the past year. Funny thing is, even though the songs were written at different times, to me, this is one of the most consistent sounding albums we’ve ever done. They sound new and fresh, but they also sound like classic GC.
The new material is expected to lean toward the style of the debut, Space In Your Face, and Machine Fish. How has it felt to jump back into that zone again, especially as the latter Metal Blade albums found the band exploring much more in the “hard paisley” sound of the mid-’90s?
I think we got tired of just being labeled as a “Heavy Metal” band after awhile, and we just started experimenting with our sound, and showing what we could do outside of that box. I always wanted to maintain the heaviness, but I also wanted to drift into other avenues of songwriting..like punk, pop, and dare I say…grunge. But our albums became very eclectic…with varied results. I think individually the songs stand up as good songs on their own, and I think there were a lot of great tunes in there. But I think overall, we lost some of our original vision and sound. So, to answer your question, I was very excited to come together again as a band, and kind of return to that vision. We didn’t really try to recreate anything or sound like we did back when we started, but I think we adopted that whole attitude we used to have, which was “Let’s make a Galactic Cowboys album!” We didn’t try and copy anyone else’s style or worry about genres, or what is popular. We just did what we do. And when it’s all said and done, that’s us rocking as hard as we possibly can, while singing the catchiest melodies we can possibly come up with. And that’s always been the goal.
What has been your interaction with longtime fans who are now learning about all this? Although GC didn’t quite break into the stratospheres of your Metallicas, Megadeths, or Slayers, the band’s devotees are very loyal and devoted. Just wondering what the feedback’s been like, or whether you’ve had to say (good-natured, of course), “That thing you’ve been asking for for 10+ years is coming. Can we now change the subject?”
We do have some great, loyal fans, and they’ve been very patient with us. We took ten years off and they still came out and flew across the country to see our reunion shows. And then we went another seven years before doing a new album, and they are still excited about it. So, we can’t wait to get this out and have them hear it. I’ve been in contact with a lot of them for a long time through my podcast. I’ve been talking about GC on there, and the feedback has always been so good. As an artist, you don’t always realize how much your music means to someone out there that you’ve never met. But since the invention of this whole internet thing, we’ve started to find out, some of our songs really made an impression on people. And THAT is a really cool thing!
Any glimpse of an itinerary or ETA regarding the eventual tour?
We don’t have any dates booked at the moment. We’ll see what happens. Not sure how much we will “tour” but we plan to play as many shows as we can. But don’t worry…we’ll let you know as soon as we schedule anything! And you can keep up to speed with all things GC on our Facebook page, or on Monty’s Rockcast. Rock on!