'Sinking Into Musical Disclosure, One Track at a Time'
As National Child Abuse Prevention Month kicks off, acoustic music legend John Cowan is publicly addressing his own experience with child abuse. His upcoming studio album New Tattoo, which will be released June 13 on Pinecastle Records, features “Drown,” a harrowing and graphic revelation about the tragedy of child molestation. It is the most difficult song Cowan’s ever recorded because it is based on his own experience as a survivor of child molestation.
“For men this has become a taboo subject,” he says of his decision to publicly discuss his experience. “One reason it’s not talked about by men is that it is a source of shame for us. Art has a responsibility to put things like this out there.”
The choice to go public with such a personal song wasn’t easy. His need to be true to an artistic credo built on honesty and the opportunity to help others who’ve dealt with abuse gave him the fortitude to release the song.
“As a performer, you have to be willing to tackle the most difficult subject matter,” says Cowan. “Art has to be fearless. That’s the only way it can make a difference.”
Cowan has been a fearless explorer of music over the course of his career. He rose to fame as the longtime singer of New Grass Revival, the band that introduced a generation of music fans to an explosive, experimental brand of bluegrass.
The band broke up in 1990 and Cowan continued experimenting with musical styles. He gradually found himself circling back to the acoustic music that was such an integral part of his early career. When the current line-up of his band came together, he knew it was time to get back in the studio and record an album full of acoustic songs. New Tattoo is the result.
Chatting recently with John, and mentioning that it seemed his new album was lyrically trying to make a difference in the world - especially as the track 'Drown' deals with his own experiences as a survivor of child molestation - I first wondered how hard it had been to put his thoughts on such subjects into lyrics, then to record them, and then to allow them to enter people's homes thereafter? "I feel that apathy is the easiest route for any of us to take at this point. American men and women are being killed daily in Iraq (my nephew is there serving as well). Our government, it’s direction (or lack thereof), and our trust in those who supposedly represent us in Washington is in serious jeopardy. Thanks to talk radio, we seem to be living in a culture of hate, where opposing viewpoints are not embraced or considered but damned. My song “Drown” is a confrontation, with myself, not the perpetrator. The world and times we are living in call for personal bravery, not cowardice. WE can make this world better. The people who came before us-Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King jr, Mahatma Gandhi, Malcom X, literally gave their lives to belief. And belief, not apathy is what changes things."
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you and was thinking of buying your new CD, how would you yourself describe your sound? "A simple answer to a complex question might well be: Acoustic instruments and soulful singing with pop sensibilities and an eye on musicianship."
Your album title 'New Tattoo' is an interesting choice, but perhaps it originates from a more personal standpoint for you? "For those of us who have tattoo’s, there seems to be an understanding that when you choose to mark your physical body with something permanent, it usually denotes an important event. Usually, something highly personal. Tattoo’s originally, in tribal culture, were often a personal mark of accomplishment, or spirit, as opposed to vanity. So although the CD title was garnered from the song “Carla’s Got a Cool Tattoo”, it also marks for us as a band a milestone in our development."
Indeed, if there was one track on 'New Tattoo' that truly encapsulated The John Cowan Band at their musical and lyrical finest, which one would it be? "I would vote for “6 Red Birds” or “Bristol Town”."
How does your work for the group New Grass Revival match to this new project, The John Cowan Band? "In my view it is a logical continuation in what NGR started and set out to do from the beginning. Take these traditional instruments and the music they are associated with (Blue Grass) and not live in a museum with them, but let contemporary thoughts and ideas enhance the music."
What '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today if asked ... and why?! "'Everytime You Go Away' by Paul Young, because it’s a great tune lyrically, melodically,vocally, and well……… I love it!"
Lastly, I like Penguins ... do you?! "Yes, of course, who couldn’t love Penguins? We, (wife and chilluns) just watched “Deep Blue Sea” and “March of the Penguins” in the last 3 weeks."
Thanx again for doing this for us today, and we wish you all the best for the future. "My pleasure, thank you taking the time to listen to our CD. Many thanks, John E Cowan."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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