Michael and Margo Timmins are numbers three and four in the family lineup of six — siblings by blood, friends by default, and compatriots in ragging on the youngest of them all, Peter.
Half a century later, that dynamic still holds — their 30-year career as the Cowboy Junkies notwithstanding.
“We are, in some ways, still the same,” mused guitarist Michael Timmins from his home in Toronto as he reflected on their blues/country/folk/rock band, which will play the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Friday, April 6. “Margo and I are pretty close, as far as the band’s concerned, because I write everything that she sings, so there has to be a relationship there. And Pete’s the drummer — and drummers are punching bags, so there you go. Nothing’s changed.”
The missing link is bassist Alan Anton, whose love for music solidified his friendship with Timmins when they were children growing up in Montreal. They went to concerts together, shared a record collection — “One person would buy one record and the other guy would tape it, and vice versa,” he recalled — and didn’t let distance interfere when the Timmins family moved to Toronto.
“He’s always been there as a friend. I’ve known Alan longer than I’ve known Pete — I was friends with Alan before Peter was born,” Timmins said. “He obviously knows the family very well, probably better than he wants to. So if it were a Victorian novel, he’d be the bastard brother who was never acknowledged. He’s always there. It’s a good foil to have. He tries not to get involved when things become family orientated.”
What started as Timmins and Anton bouncing from band to band turned into a family affair one day in 1985. By that time, the punk scene had died down and blues was on the rise, which resonated with the duo.
“We decided to form a band around that vibe,” Timmins said. “As we were working on ideas and sounds and a concept really, we began to look for a singer and Margo was around. We asked her to sit in one day, and she did, and it worked out well. And Pete literally showed up one night at a rehearsal with a drum kit and set it up and said, ‘I want to play drums.’ It was really that basic.”
Three years later, they would release “The Trinity Session,” recorded live on a single Calrec Soundfield microphone at the Church of the Holy Trinity in downtown Toronto. It was the album that truly started their career, eventually hitting double platinum.
“By that point, we were all in our mid- to late-20s. If we were 19, I don’t know if we would have survived it,” Timmins said. “We were old enough to recognize it for what it was and enjoy the ride, and capitalize on it a little bit, and realize, ‘This is a blip that very few bands get and we probably won’t get another blip like this again. Let’s make use of it and turn it into something that’s long term. Don’t waste it. Don’t spoil it.’”
They haven’t, he said, and more than 20 albums later, they are still reinventing themselves. For their newest album dropping in June, Timmins switched up his songwriting practice, pushing Anton to bring him melodic bass lines that would steer him in a new direction, instead of relying solely on his acoustic guitar.
The result is one of his new favorites, “Shining Teeth.”
“We’re doing that live as an acoustic, just me and Margo, very stripped down and bare,” he said. “It’s really a song about unrest in the home — long relationships and how they break down. I’m liking that song a lot, and people seem to be grabbing onto it, as well. So I’ll probably play that one.”
The set list will only come together the night of the concert, Timmins explained. That’s how it’s always been, from the days they were jamming in their garage to playing sold-out shows. They still put out their own records, to both the joy of making it to the hassle of selling it, and they wouldn’t do it differently — even still, decades later.
“In many ways, things haven’t changed at all, so you don’t necessarily feel the years. Some days, it feels like 30 years,” he said with a laugh. “We don’t work as hard as we did; we don’t tour as many days of the year as we did in the past. We couldn’t do it physically — it’s just so draining and not very good on relationships and family, and we all have other interests.
“But there’s still a bit of excitement about touring — about going away and having a little bit of a holiday from your regular life, even if it’s four, five days,” he continued. “It’s just what you do. And it’s nice. We recognize we’re very lucky to do it for so long.”
The Cowboy Junkies will play a concert on Friday, April 6, at 8 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, located at 76 Main Street in Westhampton Beach. Tickets range from $35 to $55. For more information, please call (631) 288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.