The 1990’s weren’t exactly a great time for metal. If you were a fan of grunge, you were in heaven (which at the time was the Pacific Northwest). And if you loved industrial and nu-metal – this was your decade. Unfortunately, if you were into things like thrash, prog and more extreme genres, you were grasping for the occasional band to break through Pearl Jam dominance on FM radio. It was near impossible to walk into a college dorm and NOT hear “Jeremy” blasting from someone’s bookshelf speakers. It is during this unfortunate time that Texan metallers Galactic Cowboys hit the scene with their progressive/somewhat muted thrashy/Beatlesque combination. If that sounds rather unique, well, it was… or should I say… it is – because the Galactic Cowboys are back after a 17 year hiatus.
I started listening to the Galactic Cowboys as soon as they broke in 1991. As a longtime fan of King’s X, I was turned on to them through contacts in the King’s X fan community. People at the King’s X shows were constantly talking about the Sam Taylor-produced bands hailing from Texas like these guys and Atomic Opera. They broke through with their first single, “I’m Not Amused” and video that actually aired on MTV (back when they played music videos).
The Cowboys brought together this bizarre mix of beautiful multi-layered vocal arrangements, heavy distorted guitars, classic acoustic guitars and pummeling bass. With the more-than-capable Alan Doss on drums, Ben Huggins on lead vocals and guitar, Dane Sonnier on guitar, and Monty Colvin on bass, the band featured four incredibly talented musicians who could really sing. There was magic when they came together and its difficult to find a band today (short of King’s X) who has been able to piece together such beautiful vocals over such heavy music.
The Galactic Cowboys were wacky. With dyed red hair on two of the members, a drummer with a wardrobe left over from They Might Be Giants tours and a theme about being outer space explorers, they were the polar opposite of what was coming out of Seattle. While so many of the grunge bands were singing about drugs, violence and despair, the Cowboys were singing about finding love, environmental preservation and exploring space. They were signed to DGC (Geffen) records at maybe the worst time imaginable as Geffen has also signed a little unknown band from just outside of Seattle called Nirvana. While the Cowboys had a very loyal following and toured with some great bands like Anthrax and Dream Theater, the push in 1991-1993 was all grunge all the time. After two incredible and vastly under-appreciated records on DGC, the Cowboys left for Metal Blade where they released a number of new albums with new guitarist Wally Farkas.
Needless to say I was pretty excited to learn that the original Cowboys are back and have completed the recording for a new record coming out on Mascot Records. The record drops in November and a tour will follow.
Last week I interviewed lead vocalist Ben Huggins who met me in over on Docking Bay 94, somewhere just beyond Hanger 18 in the Delta Quadrant, while aboard a D7-class cruiser.
What precipitated this reunion?
Back in 2015 Monty was contacted by Jim Pitulski, who was doing A&R for Mascot at the time. He wanted to find out if Galactic Cowboys would be interested in reforming to record a new album. Monty sent out an email and we had the original members back together in no time. Although, it took almost a year to hammer out the details, we began writing in Spring 2016. Dane and I got together a couple times at my house, and I made a couple trips to write with Monty in Kansas City.
What type of sound can we expect with the new record? Something Machine Fishy or something more Spacey in Your Face?
I think what we came up with is a natural progression from the first two albums. That was the last time the original band was together. Well, to be even more specific, Dane actually demoed most of the songs that ended up on Machine Fish. So, there’s probably a case for some of that influence as well.
What have you been doing since Let It Go?
Galactic Cowboys have been on a special mission that took them into the far reaches of space. When a distress call was received we decided it was time to return. It’s time to save the musical universe.
I was working at WVUD in Delaware back when Space In Your Face came out and it seems like Geffen had abandoned everything that wasn’t from Seattle. How was Geffen responding to your music on the first two records? Were they trying to push you into a different sound with the advent of grunge?
DGC had no idea that Nirvana was going to explode the way they did. But once they did, they got all the attention. There wasn’t really any room for poor producers when they had a sure thing on the line. So, any real effort to push other bands, such as Galactic Cowboys, was half-hearted at best. That doesn’t mean there weren’t some good people inside the organization doing good things for us. It just means that they weren’t enough to push us over the edge into a position where we could make it on our own. We have a great core group of fans around the world that love us, and we love them! That being said, we need more! We’ve got a lot of love to give!
What was your most memorable tour and why?
I would say it’s a toss up between the Dream Theater Images and Words tour, and the Anthrax European tour. We got along very well with both of those bands and made some great memories. With DT we used to come out once a night and sing harmonies on “Take The Time.” And once a night I would don a fancy hat and come onstage and read a custom limerick written by Kevin Moore. We got really close with Kevin and Mike. The European tour with Anthrax was also great. The guys are fun and being able to travel in Europe and play for those audiences was a real thrill.
What are your thoughts on services like Spotify and Pandora?
I think it’s great for new bands but a ripoff if you’re successful and only getting a couple grand for a platinum release. It’s a two edged sword.
Do you have any tour plans in the near future?
We have the release coming in November and then we will be playing shows in a city near you!
Your first record, S/T in 1991 is widely known among fans as a metal masterpiece. The production, harmonies and song writing on that record is quite brilliant. Can you tell us how the four of you first came together and constructed that record? Specifically, you all came up with this incredibly layered sound with Beatle-esque harmonies on top of it. Did you go into the studio with that type of construction in mind or did it just evolve from the four of you working together with Sam Taylor?
There was a moment in King’s X’s rehearsal room (they were gracious enough to let us rehearse there when we were first starting out.) when we all knew what we were doing was going to be special. It was sometime in June 1989. We were meeting daily to write and arrange songs. Our schedule was pretty intense for four rock and roll types. We would show up between 9-10 and work 3-4 hours, take a “lunch break” which consisted of a coke and some chips and salsa at The Last Concert Cafe, around the corner. Then we’d come back and do 3-4 more hours. That first couple of weeks were very productive. We had 7-8 songs done fairly quickly. I remember Alan pulling me aside in the hallway and saying something to the effect of “I don’t know if anyone else is going to get it, but I’m digging it!” Anyway, the aforementioned moment came when we finally started putting the harmonies together. We were working on “Why Can’t You Believe In Me.” What we had never imagined was the ease at which our vocals would stack in such a unique way. Rehearsing in a brick walled room with a metal band was not conducive to vocal rehearsals. So, Dane turned his guitar way down and strummed as we launched into the chorus. About the third time through I noticed that I was grinning like a kid at Disney World, and I couldn’t stop. I looked around the room and it was the same for everyone else. That was the moment. That’s when we all knew. Did Sam add anything to what we were doing? No, I don’t think so. I think he took what we were already doing and refined it. He had some good ideas that made what we were doing even better. The “Beatles meets Metallica” “Partridge Family on acid” “Crosby Stills and Thrash” thing was most definitely intentional. From the very beginning we wanted to be heavy and melodic.
How do you think the greater metal scene has changed since 1991?
Here’s where I have to reveal how woefully inadequate I am to answer such questions. My knowledge of metal music is extremely limited. In fact, I think my favourite metal album is still Cowboys From Hell. (You should ask Monty that same question some time. He will give you a much better answer.
Let’s hope that this time around Galactic Cowboys gets the recognition and support they deserve. While Metal Blade did an admirable job, in my opinion, the band wasn’t really promoted by DGC. It’s unfortunate because once you give them a listen you’ll appreciate the craft and their very unique sound. I’m also glad to see that through the years they’ve kept their brevity. No doubt we can all benefit from a bit of that these days.