Margo Timmins, lead singer of Cowboy Junkies, and her brother Michael, the band’s songwriter and guitarist, are middle children born 18 months apart. “When I was little, I always thought I was going to catch up to him,” Margo tells me. “At one point, I thought we were one year apart, then he turned a year older, and there were two ages. I never quite got it.” With younger brother Peter on drums, and long-time family friend, Alan Anton on bass, the four make up the Canadian band that took off in the late 1980s.
When PopMatters catches up with Margo, she is an hour north of New York City with the Junkies for a show to promote their new album of mature slow-rock sounds, Such Ferocious Beauty. PopMatters discusses everything from her father’s passing to the Trinity Session heydey.
The new album seems to be the siblings’ unique way of transforming the loss of their father into something less frightening. The album’s first single and album opener, “This is What I Lost”, speaks to the discombobulated feeling of losing a parent: “I woke up this morning / I didn’t know who I was / I looked at the room / I didn’t know where I was.”
Michael’s deceptively simple lyrics are rendered tenderly through Margo’s voice, which has always been the lifeblood of the Junkies, in order to reflect both the father’s battle with dementia and a son grappling with his subsequent death.
When reflecting on the song, Margo says she prefers the idea of grieving as a “reshaping [of] your heart into something different than what it was [before].” She also explains that “We are still in the aftershock. Anybody that deals with grief knows it takes a long, long time to process. I don’t know if you ever get through it.”
Throughout our conversation, despite losing both parents now, the overall feeling that Margo conveys is gratitude. “Both of my parents died at home. We were very much involved in their care … which is a really a gift that we as kids gave to them. Mike and I would say that watching somebody die is sort of like watching somebody be born … it’s real, as hard as it is,” she explains. “There’s a real grace in watching somebody leave the planet, especially when it’s someone you love.”
8mm old home movies of the Timmins family were used to create the music video for the new single. This peek into their family’s intimate moments elevates the song’s bittersweetness. A few moments are even reminiscent of the introduction to the old TV show The Wonder Years, providing a moving tribute to their father’s legacy.
Another legacy of the Timmins family is the Junkies’ Trinity Session album. Recorded in November of 1987, with songs released in early 1989, the album is still revered by rock nerds and fans for famously being recorded in a Toronto church with only one microphone. We take a few minutes to reflect on the madness that followed the album’s release.
“Trinity Session wasn’t a brilliant idea that we came up with, you know, we didn’t have a budget or a studio,” she laughs. “So we went to a church that we could get in for free, and we used a friend’s microphone. It happened to work that day. If it hadn’t, we would have done something else. I wish it was a big planned, musical genius moment, but it wasn’t – it was just a bunch of musicians playing together for cheap.”
She also remembers all of the sudden media attention to be disarming. “When we were more in the industry when we had our big labels and all that, it didn’t sit well with us. We understood the connection we wanted, so we were always having to protect the music from the industry. It was a compromise that was huge. The days when I was on all the magazines and all that — that was hell.”
Margo says that now that she and her siblings’ children are “older and out of the house”, the Junkies would like to return to how they used to write together. She explains, “Now that we have more freedom again and have more time, I’d love just to go back to when we used to rent a cottage and hang out and write together. It’s funny, I was just talking to Pete about it last night. That’s an approach we haven’t done for a long, long time.”
For now, she explains how appreciative she is that she can still perform after all these years. “There’s a part of me that always feels like, ‘You still want me to get up there?’ When I’m doing it, I feel like, ‘This is insane. This is craziness.’ In the old days, if somebody didn’t like what I was doing, it felt really personal. I wouldn’t say I’m a reluctant singer anymore. I know this is what I do, and I certainly know I can do it. As I’ve aged, I’ve lost the need to prove myself. I always want to do a good show, but if nobody likes it, well, that’s their problem.”