Austin-based hard rock band Cowboy Diplomacy have been carving their own niche in the music scene and reminding fans that steeping in Southern Rock and Blues can produce big results. Some very solid songwriting has led to a large live show repertoire and their debut LP, Burn Down The Road in 2019. Their newly released single “Easier When I’m Stoned” actually reflects the band’s softer side, sonically and lyrically, while delivering some emotionally raw truths.
I spoke with frontman, songwriter, and vocalist Ian Cochran about the development of Cowboy Diplomacy’s live shows, the genesis of their new single, what’s already on the slate for next releases, and what songs they are thinking of recording out of their pool of liveshow favorites.
Hannah Means-Shannon: What has the fan reaction been like to the release of “Easier When I’m Stoned”?
Ian Cochran: It’s been positive. It’s been great so far. People are liking how it’s different from what we usually put out. We’re a Rock band, so the last album we put out is just full of in-your-face Rock ‘n Roll, and it’s nice to mix it up and show a different side of us. This song is more of a ballad, slower paced and melodic. It kind of hits you in your feelings. We’ve been getting some good responses to it.
HMS: I had a look back through your album, Burn Down The Road, and I can definitely see some differences in comparison. This is a little slower and a little more confessional, maybe. Maybe it’s a little more direct. There’s not a humor or a pose to the lyrics, it’s more soul-baring.
IC: Totally, it is confessional. It’s vulnerable. It’s putting it all out there, which is hard to do sometimes, to leave it out there on the floor. But I think people can relate to it and understand where I’m coming from.
HMS: Definitely after coming up to two years of pandemic, everyone feels so tired in every way, so being real about how difficult life can be will reach people right now. Is that how the song was written, during this time?
IC: Actually, no, it was written two years ago, but it just makes sense right now. “Dark Days” is a song we’re releasing soon that’s about Covid, which we wrote during Covid. That hopefully will hit home for everybody. But this song deals with the idea that when reality hits you hard, sometimes we use our vices to escape reality.
For this song, “Easier When I’m Stoned”, that’s marijuana, since when you hear the word “stoned”, you think of getting high on weed, but it could be a metaphor for anything. It could be alcohol, it could be going on a shopping spree since that’s what makes you happy and escape reality. It could be eating food, or anything that makes you happy and like you don’t feel like you have to deal with the world.
HMS: Video games, movies…
IC: Exactly! That kind of stuff.
HMS: That reminds me that when the word “stoned” was first used back in the 50s and early 60s, it didn’t mean drugs necessarily, it just meant to be out of it in some way.
IC: Yeah, my Dad told me that, too!
HMS: Since this song comes from 2019, did you fully demo it back then, or did you leave it until later and then develop it with the band?
IC: I left it unfinished, then picked it back up again, got together with the boys. We got the guitar parts we wanted from Billy Boswell, the bass and drums from Brad Bentley and Matt Leslie. Another guy came in, James Rodman, and did keys on it, which we haven’t done at all on any of our songs before. That kind of gives it a totally different feel. Musically, we got together and developed it after I wrote it as a team.
HMS: When were you able to record it?
IC: I believe it was about five months ago at 512 Studios in Austin, Texas, with Omar Vallejo. He’s the man. We all got together in the studio and knocked it out in one day.
HMS: Are these singles leading toward a collection, or is it more about individual releases?
IC: We have a lot of songs that are ready to be recorded. “Dark Days” is coming out, but a month after that, we have a four song EP coming out called Lonely Cowboy Sessions. It’s going to be a totally different vibe as well. It’ll be very slow, melodic love songs. Some deeper shit, you know? [Laughs] In between that time, we’re going to keep getting in the studio and keep releasing singles. Maybe we’ll do the whole album thing, or maybe we’ll keep doing singles. That’s what a lot of bands are doing nowadays. We just want to keep getting out there, whether it’s full-length albums or singles. That’s what really matters to us, getting our music out there while playing as many live shows as possible.
HMS: Tell me more about The Lonely Cowboy Sessions. Is that still coming out via Cowboy Diplomacy?
IC: It’s Cowboy Diplomacy, but it’s a totally different vibe. It’s acoustic, with keys, bass, and very minimal drums. There’s a little organ in there. These are all songs that I wrote. I recorded them with acoustic guitar, only, in the studio. Then, while I was gone for two months in New York, the boys went in there and finished it up. Now we’re almost done with it. Just a couple more sessions, then we’ll have it mixed and mastered for release.
HMS: What’s the origin point for Cowboy Diplomacy as a group? When did you get together?
IC: Brad Bentley and I have been playing together for nine years, in San Diego, Santa Barbara, and then Los Angeles. Then at the end of 2015, we got here to Austin together. We started Cowboy Diplomacy in 2016, and since then, we’ve had members flow in, and out, and back in. But the core of me, Brad, and Matt Leslie, have been here since 2016. It’s been a process but I’ve gotten really lucky with some guys who really believe in what we’re doing. But we just have to do it. It’s built into us. We just have to play music no matter what. We’re not searching for fame or fortune, we just love to do it. It would be nice to do it for a living. That’s our plan.
HMS: What’s your musical background like as a performer or as a fan?
IC: I grew up on Classic Rock and Texas Country. My Dad shoved that down my throat growing up and that’s all I listened to. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles. All the greatest of all times. Then Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, all those guys. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are also where I get my inspiration.
HMS: Is that something you have in common with the other band members or do you all have different tastes?
IC: Brad and I are kind of the same. Matt is the same, but also Pearl Jam. But we love Rock ‘n Roll, that’s our thing. It’s just good music.
HMS: How big an influence has it had on you to be part of the Austin music scene?
IC: It’s had the biggest impact. I don’t think Cowboy Diplomacy would be a thing if we had not come to Austin. We immediately fell in love with the music scene and tried to make an impact on getting our name out there. We got together with Black Fret, a non-profit organization that nominates twenty bands a year for grants, ranging from $5,000 to $20,000, and we got a grant in 2016 that helped us. Really, we just hit the pavement. We go play and play anywhere and everywhere. We’re a little more established now in Austin, but that’s how it started, being down to play anywhere. We hit up every single venue.
HMS: Do you just personally reach out to venues and see if they are interested?
IC: Absolutely, via e-mail, or by going in. We just meet people and network. Once you start playing, word spreads, and people start hitting you up. It’s been kind of a snowball effect and it’s been great.
HMS: Has it been easier once you recorded the album Burn Down The Road, because you can show it to people to give them a sense of your sound?
IC: Yes, totally. We had a couple of singles before, but the album is really what our sound is, and that has helped a lot establishing who we are in Austin. It’s been helpful in reaching out to people and telling them that we are a cool Southern Rock band.
HMS: Was recording Burn Down The Road the first time you went into the studio together?
IC: No, it was our third time going into a studio together, but we did it all live. We were going in to record some scratch tracks, recorded everything live, and then liked the sound of it. We decided to keep it. What we’d been doing before was recording parts separately, but with this, we recorded live, then went back in to touch up guitars and vocals and called it a day.
HMS: That’s amazing! Are you still into the live approach for recording?
IC: I would do it again, for sure. You can tell when it’s a live, raw sound, but I also like dissecting everything. That’s what we’ve been doing and I think we’re going to stay on that train for a little bit, making sure everything is right and tight.
HMS: I noticed that you’d been doing some acoustic playing at events and sometimes play your songs online in acoustic versions. Is that close to the form in which they were written?
IC: A lot of the songs I wrote acoustically. That’s kind of how I start. Most of the songs start off with just me and an acoustic guitar, then we transition to electric, the boys jump in and do their thing, then we build from there. We get into a groove and hone in on what we want. Most times we play live acoustically, it’s because of the venue, though. Because we are very loud. We’re a Rock band. So sometimes venues say, “We like that, but can you tone it down?”
Other songs that aren’t on the album are some that we just play acoustically. There’s a whole collection of those that people don’t really know about. They’ve been written acoustically, but never recorded. We probably have 25 or 30 of those that are ready to record. We’d like to collaborate with some other songwriters to help us form the songs, and we’ve done that before, to work on arrangements before we go into the studio.
But having the acoustic collection is fun, and a lot of people even prefer our acoustic stuff. The four songs from The Lonely Cowboy Sessions are songs that we do acoustically, so we want to see how people react to that other side of us.
HMS: I saw that some of these songs have a longer life, like “Easier When I’m Stoned”. Was that a song that you played a lot live before recording it?
IC: We have been playing that one live for a while, but for me that song was number one on the list to be recorded because it means a lot to me. I feel like a lot of people can connect with it. It’s not the favorite for the boys live because they like to Rock out, but I knew we had to get that one out there.
HMS: Does “Dark Days” have a heavier sound?
IC: Yes, “Dark Days” is definitely Rock ‘n Roll, centered on the pandemic, but it’s also looking at the bright side of things, like when the sun comes up. It’s about having a positive attitude no matter what, even though it’s shitty right now. It’s meant to be an uplifting song. It’s talking about the dark days, but the chorus is about staying positive, looking at the sunshine, and smiling.
HMS: That’s a remarkable way to conclude a song with themes like that! I saw another song you played on Youtube, “Something New”. Is that one of these acoustic songs that you might end up recording?
IC: That was recorded in my bedroom. That’s another song on the list for acoustic songs to be recorded. That’s on our bucket list. It’s also something that would be perfect timing for right now. It’s another uplifting song, which is what we’re going for.
HMS: It definitely has some apocalyptic feelings to it, since it talks about disasters, division, and fighting. But it does have that belief, like something might be able to come out of that.
IC: Exactly, that’s exactly what I’m going for. We do play that song live when we do acoustic gigs, and I’ve had that song since 2018 or 2019. I’ve got a bunch of them! That’s why I want to keep doing the singles and keep getting them out. I think that’s our route now.