A name like Cowboys In The Campfire carries with it an almost inherent reference to the concept of storytelling, a phrase which conjures up a mental image of tales told around the fire.
It’s an idea that lies at the heart of the new album Wronger, the studio debut by Cowboys In The Campfire, a duo comprised of Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson and songwriter/guitarist Chip Roberts.
“I’ve always kind of written that way. And some of my favorite songwriters – whether it’s a Tom Waits or a Bob Dylan – there’s always a good storyline, whether it’s made up or otherwise,” said Stinson during a recent phone conversation. “I’ve always been a proponent of that. I kind of grew up that way. The Replacements, I think a lot of the music that we wrote told a story in a way. Whether it was true or not is always a wink, wink nudge, nudge kind of thing. But I’ve always kind of preferred that – sort of a mini movie if you will.”Stinson and Roberts have toured under the moniker for years, working together in between various projects where possible on new music with Wronger, now available on CD, vinyl and streaming services via Cobraside, growing out of initial recording sessions in Austin, Texas that featured John Doe of seminal L.A. punks X.
“Where this record really got its start to be frank with you, I think it must’ve been 2016 or 2017 when we found ourselves in Austin, Texas, where my friend Christine Smith had this studio,” said Stinson. “When we went there, John Doe had just moved there. And he was kind enough to offer to play bass and sing on it. So we went and did the session with her producing it as a three piece: upright, me and Chip. And we did five songs on the record in that studio, which is what we based the rest of the record around,” he explained. “Those songs would be ‘Fall Apart Together,’ ‘Mr. Wrong,’ Hey Man,’ ‘Karma’s Bitch’ and ‘We Ain’t.’ We went, ‘OK, we’re gonna make a record around this.’”
The result is a batch of ten polished pop gems that are impossible to pigeonhole. Stinson on ukulele alongside a horn section kicks things off on “Here We Go Again” while “That’s It” maintains a rollicking rockabilly vibe. “Mr. Wrong” and “Fall Apart Together” draw from the storytelling history of the country music tradition, both tracks where Roberts shines on pedal steel guitar. “Dream” closes the album in the form of an uplifting acoustic anthem, wrapping up an eclectic but cohesive collection of new material.
“These are the things that I always leave in the capable hands of my executive producer, which has always been Peter Jesperson. I always take my records to him,” said Stinson of the Twin/Tone Records co-founder and longtime cohort. “A lot of times I just take the songs to him before I even start making a record, just to get his take on stuff. He’s always been that non-judgmental, supportive ear for me. And his son Autry is getting into the racket as we call it these days. He’s going to school for this kind of stuff. So I had both of them be my executive producer. And they were the ones that sequenced it.”