Cowboy Junkies Lead Vocalist Margo Timmins Talks the Band’s Newest Album
From left: Peter, Margo and Michael Timmins and Alan Anton of the Cowboy Junkies. Photo: Heather Pollock
When Cowboy Junkies hit the road in Ontario this fall, lead singer Margo Timmins will be clad in her signature baggy dresses, tights and boots, having defied marketers who once tried to inveigle her into miniskirts and a nose job.
Fronting a quartet with songwriter-guitarist and big brother Michael Timmins, younger brother Peter Timmins on drums, and Michael’s kindergarten pal Alan Anton on bass, the singer (ranked on People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” list, in the ’90s) was determined to keep the focus on the band’s distinctive mélange of blues, country, folk, rock and jazz, even when showbiz dangled movie roles and hair-care commercials.
“My brothers protected me, so I was very lucky,” she says, “because the industry does like to gobble up women and turn them into what the industry feels is attractive and sexy, or more saleable, into a commodity. And I was able to hide, a lot, and still do hide.”
Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inductees with more than two dozen albums to their credit, the Junkies rose to fame with their acclaimed sophomore album, 1988’s The Trinity Session, and beloved covers like Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.” Nearly 40 years after bursting onto the flourishing ’80s indie scene alongside harder rock faves like Barenaked Ladies and The Tragically Hip, the Junkies maintain a core following for their spare, melancholic sound that keeps them touring the world.
A precious month of downtime finds Timmins and her five siblings sorting through 50 years of memorabilia — from report cards to hockey jerseys — as they prepare to sell the Etobicoke family home where their widowed 94-year-old father, John Timmins, died.
“All of us were really very much involved in taking care of Dad in his final days. He died in our childhood home, in his bed, surrounded by all of us. So, you couldn’t have asked for a better death.”
It’s the cap on an emotionally taxing period, all of which is reflected on Such Ferocious Beauty (June 2), the Junkies’ first album of new songs in five years. The band describes it as a “rumination on aging, losing parents, facing mortality and creating space for one’s life in the midst of the ruin that comes from merely living” — sentiments that are backed with evocative lyrics, conveyed by Margo’s mournful vocals.
Michael penned the tunes and together he and Margo worked out the vocal arrangements. “My approach has always been to dig into the song to make it as personal and as much my song as I can, and to sing from the emotional side of the song,” says Timmins, 62, by phone from the farmhouse north of Toronto she shares with her husband, returned-and-leaving-again-soon adult son, a cat and two dogs. In between promoting the band’s new album, she’s catching up on the banality of life off the road — paying bills and taxes — and is as astonished as anyone by the longevity of the band.
“I think the common denominator for all of us has always been, we still really enjoy playing. We don’t fight anymore, we’re too old for that,” she says.
“When we disagree, I think the bottom line is, is the winning worth losing the music and this opportunity that we have to go around playing it?”
A version this article appeared in the June/July 2023 issue with the headline ‘Cowboy Junkies Ride Again’, p. 26.