The Cowboy Junkies, a Canadian rock band that recently celebrated 25 years working together and is currently in the middle of its most ambitious musical project, has got some inspiration from China, the band told Xinhua here in its European tour.
The group, formed by singer Margo Timmins, her brothers Michael and Peter and base player Alan Anton, came into the spotlight in 1988 with their second album The Trinity Session, which achieved platinum sales and earned them huge amounts of critical praise.
Speaking to Xinhua in Madrid as the group continued its European tour, guitarist and songwriter Michael Timmins explained the Cowboy Junkies' longevity and also how some personal experiences in China provided the inspiration for Renmin Park, one of the group's most recent releases.
"We still like doing it and we are fortunate that there are people who still like what we do, so we seek them out and they seek us out and if they enjoy hearing us, we enjoy making the music," he said when asked about how the group had remained together for so long.
The band recently released Sing in my Meadow, which is the third CD of the Nomad Series, a quartet of CDs which they aim to release over an intense 18-month period. In the days when most bands take two or three years between projects, it is an ambitious undertaking.
"Making just one record didn't appeal to us as there were lots of different ideas we wanted to explore," Michael said.
"We looked at the idea of a double or a triple album, but those ideas didn't seem right, so we came up with the idea of doing a series of albums in a condensed period of time. It keeps us focused and makes the albums have a feeling of being in a series and of having a foundation with a beginning and an end," he said.
The first album of the Nomad Series is Renmin Park, a record that begins with the line "meet me on the banks of the Yangtze," words which immediately take the listener to China, more specifically, to the city of Jingjiang in China's eastern Jiangsu Province, where Michael, his wife and three daughters spent three emotive and fascinating months.
"Two of my children were adopted (from China), so we had a family thing where we went to China: my wife taught English and we were put up in a school in a relatively small town (Jingjiang) about two hours from Shanghai," he told Xinhua.
"There was so much input in those three months, from the way the kids reacted to it, to the way the town reached to us, the people we met, the sights and sounds that I heard. It was an amazing three months. I took a lot of pictures and wrote and I recorded, not just music, but sounds from the street," he said.
"When I came home, I had a huge archive of material and I knew I had to incorporate the trip into the next record," he said.
"It was so personal, I thought, should I do a solo record? Why would the band care about this: I sat on the stuff for a year as I didn't know what to do with it, but then we came up with the idea of the Nomad series, that made sense as there was room for an album that deals with this subject," he added.
Renmin Park contains songs written by two Chinese artists: Xu Wei, who contributed My Fall and I Cannot Sit Sadly by Your Side, which was written by Zuoxiao Zuzhou, who also performs vocals on the song A Walk in the Park.
Michael explained that he was introduced to Chinese music through a chance meeting with a young man, Eric Chen.
"He turned up at my apartment one day with a stereo system and a stacks and stacks of CDs. I'd go to his house and he's show me videos of these artists and famous concerts and it was just luck," said Michael, who was won over by the music Eric introduced him to.
Mandarin is a perfect language for rock music, Michael believed.
"The thing about Mandarin that really works is the language itself with the hard consonants: it's created for rock music because you can punch it out. The vocals showed a real meaning, you can tell what they are saying without even understanding the lyrics," he commented.
The Cowboy Junkies still have to complete The Wilderness, the final CD of the Nomad Series which will be released in 2012, but after his experiences in China, Michael has no intention to turn his back on the Chinese music scene.
"We played in Beijing this summer and I have talked about going back and producing and recording. It is my dream. There is so much to mine there, the energy is so fantastic," he said.