There are not many artist today still working at making top quality music who can claim the pedigree Susan Cowsill can. A recording artist since she was five years old, Cowsill has been through the rock music of the sixties, the arena rock of the seventies, the big hair of the eighties, the indie scene of the nineties, and still making great folksy music in the 2000ís. Thatís quite an accomplishment for anyone!!!
Today finds Cowsill living in New Orleans, her home for the past 17 years with husband drummer Russ Broussard. She has one daughter, Miranda Holsapple, from her previous marriage to musician Peter Holsapple. Besides fronting her own band she plays in the Cowsills with two of her brothers. She has played and recorded with Dwight Twilley, Hootie and the Blowfish, The Continental Drifters, and Jules Shears. She and sister in law Vicki Peterson, whom she played with in the Continental Drifters, also have performed in the past as the Psycho Sisters. This April she released her second solo record Lighthouse, a wonderful CD filled with utterly fantastic songs and stories about New Orleans.
I had the fantastic opportunity to talk with Cowsill about the CD and her music. This interview turned out to be one of the funniest I have ever had the opportunity to conduct. Cowsill was animated, funny, and do I dare say perky!
AG: How would you describe your Music?
Cowsill: Oh my God you open up with that question! Wow thatís a tough one! I canít believe you even asked that! I guess that they are just thoughts and feelings that come out of my head and end up on a piece of paper, featuring a melody (as she laughs) You know that is a really tough question for me to answer. Its story tillable, kind of pop but itís not, itís kind of folksy and it is. You describe it for me.
AG: This is hard hitting journalism here! I would describe it folksy. I hate to say Folk-Rock because that has been used so much in the past.
Cowsill: How about folk with an edge?
AG: Yea thatís a better description.
AG: What made you decide to record this material at this time for your new album?
Cowsill: That I can answer. I had been starting since Katrina collecting thoughts and music, and keeping them close. What I found was that I was not able to finish anything. That went on for a good four years. I knew I really needed to finish these songs and get them out of my body an in to the universe. It was very difficult for me to do that. My husband, drummer, partner said we need to put a deadline on this. We need to pick a date and go in a record these songs and he was right. I said what if Iím not ready by then? He told me that I would be, so we set a date and I started sitting out on my sun porch and started to tie all the loose ends together and finish these songs. It is definitely my Katrina record, and it is a good thing that I was able to finish this. I needed to get all these thoughts and emotions out of me, and move a ay from it.
AG: You lost your home and a lot of your belongings in Katrina. After the storm and the clean up started did anyone find any of your things and return them to you?
Cowsill: When you lose your stuff in a flood like that you know where it is. Itís in a big ugly pile in your house or your yard mixed in with mud, grass, and everything else. Our home was intact, but everything that was in it was destroyed. We knew where it was. We actually drug the piles out on the sidewalk and went through them to see what we could save, which ended up being a couple of Christmas ornaments.
AG: We canít even imagine what it would have been like to face that kind of devastation. You see it on TV and it just seems surreal.
AG: What made you decide to record the songs River of Love that was written by your brother Barry and Galveston by Jimmy Webb on this Record?
Cowsill: Well River of Love was one of his songs I really loved. I wanted to record something in his honor. Iím a huge Jimmy Webb fan. I have always wanted to record something f his. I was leaning towards Wichita Lineman, but decided on Galveston. It is loosely attached to this record because they went through a similar experience with the hurricane that struck them recently. So it ties into this project well.
AG: Itís a great cover of it. I love the simplicity of it.
Cowsill: Thank you. When I play covers I like to put my own spin on them. If you are going to record a cover why do it like the original? That would be just repeating it.
AG: Do you have a tour planned in support of this record?
Cowsill: Yes we do. We hope to be out and playing all over this summer. We are in the middle of getting a new booking agent so things are not all tied together yet. We do have several dates already booked and are speaking to a couple of agencies to get things finished up.
My first solo record came out two weeks after Katrina. It was impossible to go out and support the record at that time so things kind of fell by the wayside. Thatís why Iím so looking forward to this tour. This time itís very different. We have a manager publicist, radio promoter, and soon a booking agent so we have things in order now.
AG: Cary Baker of Conquero, your publicist is a great guy! We have had such good luck working with him in the past. Heís one of the best I have ever dealt with. He was one of the first people who took us serious at Americana Gazette and would even talk to us.
Cowsills: Thatís says Cary all over. He is one of the best! Is a bomb! You canít get any better.
AG: You have a lot of great players on this record. Not to name drop but you have Jackson Browne and Vicki Peterson (her sister in law) on background vocals, Waddy Wachtel on guitars, your husband playing drums, and your three brothers, Paul, John and Bob also on vocals. You also have the Craft Brothers, Jack and Sam, playing multiple instruments.
Cowsill: Iím a very lucky gal! I had a lot of friends and family who came to my aid to help me record this record. Iíve known Jackson since I was 14 years old. Heís an old pal. We had never done any recording together and had only sung twice on stage together in the past. He has always just been a great friend. He also loaned me his studio and engineer Bill Lang to mix this record. We had a little mixing problem and Jackson rode in on his big white horse and saved the day for me. I call him Ben Cartwright. Waddy Iíve known since I was five. He was a dear friend of my brother Billís He had a band called Twice Nicely that my Dad helped bring out to California. Waddy also produced a couple of Cowsills records.
AG: Do you and Vicki ever go out and do the Psycho Sisters anymore?
Cowsill: Ah! How did you know about that? That is so good! Weíre just a virtual band now. We do promise before we are using walkers that we will put out a Psycho Sisters record!
AG: I really love the stuff you guys did in the Continental Drifters. The Rain Song is one of my top ten favorite songs. I even modeled my band after the Continental Drifters. Vermillion is a great record one of my favorites!
Cowsill: Well thank you. I really appreciate that. I love that record too. The Drifters were an awesome band.
AG: When you go on the road who is in your band?
Cowsill: Well thereís my husband Russ, Aaron Straub guitar, two great local musicians Sam and jack Craft who can play anything and everything. They have their own band Glasglo. Mary Lasseigne is my bass player who is a fantastic singer songwriter in her own right. Itís such a great band. Iím hoping I can keep all of them until I can start paying them real money (as she laughs)!
AG: When you perform live do you just play your material from your records or do you play covers and other friendsí songs?
Cowsill: I definitely play stuff from my records, my songs from the Drifters, and we play songs from the folks in the band. We like to share the musical food from everyone in the band. I do a couple of old Cowsills songs and covers of stuff I like to sing. Iím a serial band member. I love to play with groups of my friends.
AG: When you write do you just write on guitar?
Cowsill: For the most part I write on guitar. The title cut from this record though I did use a piano part I had come up with years ago. It was something that I had in the back of my mind. It was the only thing I could play on the piano. People would hear me play it and say ďdo you play the piano?Ē I would say actually no I donít. This is it!
AG: My favorite song on this CD is Sweet Bitter End.
Cowsill: I wrote that song with another old ex-band mate of mine, Tad Armstrong. I donít do-write with many people except Vicki and Russ. To be very honest I was stranded in one of those everday floods you get here in New Orleans and I was waiting for the water to do down the storm drains. I was listening to Tadís record. I was stranded for so long I started writing lyrics to this melody of his I was listening to. At the end of the sessions for Lighthouse we needed one more song so I brought this one up. I told them I had a Tad song that I had written lyrics to. Tad said, Ďbring it on.Ē We tweaked it a little and it came out great.
AG: Lighthouse is a well recorded, written and produced record.
Cowsill: Thank you. We had help with the production this time around with Mike Mayeux and Mike Costanzo. Two fantastic guys, engineers, and producers.
AG Is there any question you wish you would have been asked over the years?
Cowsill: Oh my God you are funny! You start out with what is your music like and you leave me with this? What I want to be when you grow up. Go ahead and ask me!
AG: When youíre a musician you never grow up!
Cowsill: That was going to be my answer!
AG: My parents always want to know what Iím going to be when I grow up. When am I going to get a ďrealĒ job?
Cowsill: Thatís what I want. A ďrealĒ job!
AG: Thank you so much for your time. It has been a pleasure.
Cowsill: The pleasureís been mine. When can we do this again?