Cowboy Sadness (Interview)
Today we’re listening to Cowboy Sadness, a trio from New York. The group is David Moore on keys, Peter Silberman on guitar and synth, and Nicholas Principe on drums. They started jamming in the 2010s, and from 2017 to 2021 amassed over 20 hours of recordings in their upstate NY sessions. They painstakingly edited this music down to the cosmic meditative hour that is Selected Jambient Works, Vol. 1, their debut LP out last Friday. The existence of Vol. 1 implies the future existence of Vol. 2, which we hotly anticipate. In the meantime, we’re re-upping David Moore’s 2023 album Let the Moon Be a Planet, released as Bing & Ruth. An interview with Moore and Silberman follows the streaming links.
Tell us about Cowboy Sadness jam sessions: what they felt like, how they would begin, notable bits left on the cutting room floor…
Peter Silberman: Once we were all set up, the music came about spontaneously, without any discussion or planning. Usually one of us would begin with a drone, or a riff, or a pattern, and the others would find something complimentary. We’d spend a lot of time searching for the ideas that fit as that first seed of an idea continued and changed itself in reaction to the others’ responses. Eventually we’d lock into something that felt concrete and stick with it for a few minutes. Each one of these explorations lasted anywhere from 10-30 minutes, but much of that meandering was edited out of the final recordings for the sake of listenability.
David Moore: Yea it was really about finding a footing – something to grab onto. It didn’t always go somewhere, but when it did we all felt it. Luckily by around 2017 Nick had gotten very into recording and acquiring all the gear to do it right, so we were able to have this really special opportunity to be spontaneous and exploratory and have it captured really well. Nick now runs a great studio in Kingston, NY, and has blossomed into quite the recording and mixing engineer.
You list Pink Floyd and Can as references. What other musicians were you inspired by as this project progressed?
PS: For the more band-sounding tracks, I drew bass inspiration from old dub and reggae recordings – simple rhythmic lines that bounce and sync with drum patterns. In terms of texture, the swells of Stars of the Lid come to mind and thick shimmery walls of sound from early Eluvium and Tim Hecker.
DM: I actually came up listening to jam bands, and as much as I’ve tried to distance myself from that, the reality is I did spend a lot of formative years in that scene – going to shows and playing in bands. Still got that dog in me guess.
While Selected Jambient Works was recorded in New York City and upstate New York, the album cover, liner notes, and name Cowboy Sadness invoke desert scenes. Tell us about what drew you to the desert.
PS: Ironically, I don’t know that we were necessarily thinking of the desert while playing. But we seem to be drawn toward expansive textures and chord progressions that leave considerable space between changes. I think there are metaphorical parallels between these compositional considerations and desert landscapes.
DM: The group was actually assembled and named by our mutual friend Jessie Stein (who has an incredible band called The Luyas out of Montreal). Jessie ended up moving out of town but we kept playing the three of us and kept the name. Then it was one of those things where we evolved to inhabit this sort of character of the open west and the spirit of discovery and vastness that it conjures. Basically it was one of those jokes that grew up and became real.
What is "jambient" music? Who else would you put in that category?
PS: I don’t remember how we landed on that word to describe what we were doing, but it felt like an obvious fit and hard to believe it wasn’t already widely used. I think quite a lot of people make jambient music without realizing it. I can’t speak to other groups’ processes, but I think of it as anyone making improvised ambient music with at least one other person. Improvising simultaneously (as opposed to through overdubs) is probably a useful distinction, but really there’s no rules.
DM: Agreed. Again, it was kind of a joke that became real. I also think when you use that term “jambient” it becomes almost impossible to take yourself too seriously. For a group of friends jamming together a few times a year for fun, that actually felt really important.
What music do you listen to when you're doing busywork?
PS: I have a steady rotation of albums I put on as background music for work periods. Older dub compilations have been a go-to for years, as well as beat-driven electronic albums. Really anything instrumental, repetitive, and steady.
DM: I’m less inclined these days to put music on while I’m in the work zone, though when I do, 90% of the time it’s the Japanese artist Chihei Hatakeyama. He’s so good at this and has like a billion albums so I’ve yet to run out of fresh tunes.
Name an underrated artist from the past 50 years.
DM: The first person that comes to mind is our good friend. He has a bit of everything coming out of him: ambient, rock, electro-pop, noise, etc. He’s also a brilliant writer with the best newsletter on the planet. Been a longtime fan, friend, and admirer.
PS: For years now I’ve been stuck on the Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo, specifically his records Bacchanal & Dreams. I just love his style and the sound of those recordings. His band is all heavy-hitters and they’re so tight. As for someone current, I think the last Sea Oleena album was gorgeous and perfect.
What are you working on next?
PS: We’ve had a few sessions together since finishing this album, and have a number of unedited recordings we’re currently sifting through to make selections for the next Cowboy Sadness record. In the meantime, I’m also working on a new Antlers album.
DM: Yea sessions for LP2 started last summer so we’re well under way. Outside that I’ve got a cool release announcing soon and also hitting the studio in a couple days to record my first solo piano album in 15 years.