Basement Tapes: Cowboy & Indian

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From the bluesy drone of the harmonica in its hit single Trouble Tracks to frontman Jesse Plemons’ lonesome voice and melancholy lyrics, the sound and energy of indie folk band Cowboy & Indian is as warm as a swallow of old whiskey and as fulfilling as a night’s sleep.

Composed of Plemon, also known for his role in Friday Night Lights, Jazz Mills, Daniel James (of Leopold and his Fiction), Peder Gilham, Dorian Colber and Stephanie Hunt, the Austin based band is playing for the first time at the Austin City Limits Festival on Saturday. They are also kicking off the festival with a performance Friday night at midnight in Momo’s Club.

The Daily Texan interviewed Cowboy & Indian during Basement Tapes about their preparation for the festival, living in different cities, and about their excitement to see fellow local bands play.

The Daily Texan: What has preparation for ACL been like for the band?
Daniel James: This is our first band practice. [Laughter]  
Jesse Plemons: Binge eating. [Laughter]  
Jazz Mills: We’re not all in Austin all the time, and so we’ve kind of have to work our schedules around where everyone’s been. We’ve had like two rehearsals.  
Plemons: We’ve been having a lot of pep talks.  
Dorian Colbert: We’ve been hot. We’ve been getting really hot. [Laughter]

DT: Are you stocking up on sunblock? Planning on not wearing clothes on stage?
James: No clothes. That’s how we write our songs. [Laughter] Our practices have actually been us just all being in the same room and playing. That’s been our biggest preparation for ACL. We just got off of a tour that was months and months. Actually, our biggest preparation is taking time off to recoup so we weren’t completely haggard. And here we are, completely haggard. [Laughter]

DT: What do you mean by not everyone is in Austin?
Mills: We don’t all live here full time, so Daniel and Jesse got set-up residency here in Austin. Jesse and Stephanie are in LA half of the time. Peter is here, back and forth from Colorado. Dorian is here, but for the past 15 months, we’ve been on the road. We haven’t been in any town for long. Just working around everyone’s schedule, we’re all rarely in Austin practicing. That’s been our biggest preparation, just resting and just going ‘when can we all be here at the same time to get ready?’

DT: Is it hard to be in a band when not everyone is in the same city?
Mills: We’ve made it work.  
James: I think it’s been amazing.  
Colbert: It’s probably better.  
James: Bands need a lot of rest, a lot of space from one another. Not in a bad way. If we’re together for a few months, we need a month to chill and regroup.  
Mills: We all talk all the time, so even if we’re in another city — like we’ve had enough time to rehearse and prepare because we’ve been playing on the road, but we’re always on the phone and in contact with each other.

DT: So how was the tour?
Mills: Tours are always the best and the worst. They’re hard and they take a lot of hard work and you’re always around each other like in this small space in a concentrated amount of time, but we had really good shows and we toured the West Coast all the way to the East Coast and back. It was almost nine weeks; it’s our longest tour so far. We’ve been touring consistently for the past year and a half.

DT: Are there any habits one person does that gets on everyone’s nerves?
James: I drink a lot. [Laughter]  
Colbert: I know bands who play radio games a lot, where you have to guess the band’s name before anyone else. I get Peder angry a lot.  
Mills: Dorian’s really good at it. But it’s also really hard to find a time when everyone wants to play that game. It can be a really fun game when there’s nothing going on. So me, I’m a static Nazi, that cannot stand static like on the radio and whoever is in charge seems to constantly forget they’re stuck on a static station. It drives me out of my mind. But I can go on and on and on about all the things that bothers me.

DT: So let’s go back to the beginning to when you all first got together.
Plemons: I first met Stephanie, she and Jazz are best buds, and they played in T-Birds and the Breaks and they are an awesome, awesome band. And so I met Jazz and at the time, I’ve been playing guitar for about four, five years and been writing but I’d never play in a band or anything. Jazz and I ended up writing a song and we just kind of hung out and played music all the time and then ended up meeting Daniel at South By Southwest two years ago. I did, not Jazz. Met him, it’s a long story. But yeah, loved what Daniel was doing with his other band, Leopold and His Fiction and we had this tour that somehow miraculously got booked. We don’t know how, what we were going to do, because we were so new and didn’t have a lot of material. So Daniel hopped on board and then slowly, kind of evolved from there. Pete hopped on board and then Dorian.  
Colbert: I was at their house when they were having a party.  
Mills: Yeah, and then we all realized he’s talented. 
Plemons: And we’re like ‘dang it, Dorian’s really good. He’s needs to be in the band.  
James: If he can play tambourine like that, imagine what he can do with one more drum. 
Mills: But the cool thing about the band is, every body that is a part of it is apart of it because we are friends and because they are super talented. They adds something that we weren’t even necessarily looking for. Me and Jesse weren’t even trying to start a band. We just wanted to hang out. I actually didn’t want to be in a band, but then I was tricked.

DT: So what can people expect for your next album?
Colbert: Expect the unexpected.  
Mills: Every song on our album doesn’t sound like the song before it.  
James: What’s pretty awesome is that it was recorded everywhere — every where we were, whether we were on tour or, I lived in San Francisco for a long time so we recorded songs there. We recorded in Los Angeles. Boston. Literally the very second date of our last tour, we recorded a few parts in Phoenix randomly in hotels. Literally, it all sounds different, because we were literally in different situations, recorded in different parts of time. Knowing that consciously you could maybe pick up on that. It’s all very cohesive as well as to what we all bring to the table. But as far as release dates, we’re just releasing singles for now.

DT: So this is your first time playing at ACL?<
James: I’ve never even been before.

DT: What’s your thought on the opportunity?
Stephanie Hunt: Super excited, because I’ve lived in Austin my whole life and now with friends that I love so much, to me it’s really exciting.

DT: What are some acts you’re really excited to see?
Hunt: Steve Wonder!  
Colbert: Stevie, Stevie.  
Mills: I’m actually most excited to see Gary Clark Jr. and Ruby James. I’m excited to see acts on stage that we know that are local. Because I just think it’s going to be exciting that we know and be proud of them. I’m excited to see Stevie Wonder too but I just think it’s cool to sit back and watch Gary play for all these people and same with Ruby, to be like ‘yay, that’s our buddy.’

DT: So it’s ACL. Are you guys going to pull some craziness?
Mills: We’re going to ride horses onto the stage.  
Daniel: Dropped in by helicopters  
Mills: We’re actually going to just be dropped from the helicopter on a horse. 
Colbert: So, if you call that crazy shenanigans then, yes.