The Phantom Tollbooth

Monty Colvin of Galactic Cowboys
Metal Blade Recording Artists
October 17, 1998
Boston, MA
By Titi Ala'ilima & Steve Baldwin
Photos by Brad Kelly

The Galactic Cowboys recently released their fifth full-length album, At the End of the Day, garnering praise from fans that it is their best to date. To prove it, the band is currently on tour opening for King's X and playing portions of this new album to eager audiences. On stage, Monty Colvin, the semi-official spokesperson for the Galactic Cowboys, is a mad man bent on having a good time as he lays a thick layer of bass over the band's melodic yet crushing mix. Even the band photos of his mugging smile and his wild, original cover art prove that he embodies the very vision of a fun performer. Yet he is also a thoughtful person with a heart for his fans. Titi Ala'ilima and Steve Baldwin of  The Phantom Tollbooth recently caught the current tour and Monty Colvin for an interview that reflects both his serious and amiable nature. We encourage you to read the whole admittedly long tome but, in true cyber-fashion, we broke it down into a few smaller sections for ease of navigation.

Monty Colvin Interview Menu:

Cornerstone 1998 & 1999:

Tollbooth: At Cornerstone Festival this year, you ended the set with "Speak to Me"--great song love the song. Are you playing that song again on this tour, and will you play the Cornerstone festival again?

Colvin: We're not doing "Speak to Me" on this tour because we don't have time. It's like ten minutes long or something, and that would take up the space for two songs. So we decided to do two other songs instead of just one. But we thought about it. It was on the list; we considered it. And we will play it if we come back as a head-liner. Will we play Cornerstone? I would love to. It was a lot of fun, and a good experience. I would sure like to. It was just fun to hang out and meet people. And the show was a lot of fun. Maybe next time we won't have to go on at the same time as four other bands. That was the only disappointing thing. We went on at midnight, and there were four other bands playing the very same time all over. But we had a blast, so it was good all the way. Maybe we can play a bigger tent next time.

Tollbooth: How about the main stage?

Colvin: That would be good (laughs)

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The New Album: At the End of the Day

Tollbooth: I know you and [vocalist] Ben [Huggins] wrote most of the last album. We'd like to get your thoughts on it. What was the inspiration for it? What were your personal goals for it? What do you think of it?

Colvin: I think it's our best one, and the culmination of the last ten years. We were basically thinking about a lot of the things we've been through over the last ten years. We put a lot of those feelings and memories into the music, the artwork, and everything. We wrote it as if it would be the last one we ever did. Hopefully, it won't be, but we tried to just lay it all on the line on this one and make the best one we could. We also threw everything out the window and said "I don't care what this sounds like as long as we like it."

Tollbooth: The seven-song section, "Machine Fish Suite," is clearly a kind of metaphor for the band's last ten years. How many of the other songs are related?

Colvin: Ben was also writing songs about things we'd been through, so it ended up that a lot of the songs were about the band's past experiences. I was writing a lot of things in that same vein, and I just decided to connect them all together into one story-form thing which ended up being the suite. I'm really pleased with the way it came out, because it's exactly what I heard in my head as I was writing it.

Tollbooth: Of course, a band never says, "Well, actually, this new album is not our best album. It may not be as good as the last one, but it's still pretty good. Hope you still like it."

Colvin: (laughing) You always think what you just have made is great. I think time tells. People still love Space in your Face, our second album. And what I'm hearing more and more from people is this is the best thing we've done since that album.

Tollbooth: It may even be your best album to date. Which isn't to diminish Machine Fish or The Horse that Bud Bought or the others in any way. They all had strong moments.

Colvin: I think each album, though, is a progression of where we are at that moment, and what we're feeling. The first two were very experimental. Machine Fish had a lot of aggression in it: "Stress" and "The Struggle." They were all just things we were going through. The Horse that Bud Bought was a little more relaxed, alternative, whatever. This new one has got a little bit of all the albums in it.

Tollbooth: It's a great album. Everyone should go right now and get it, don't you think?

Colvin: (Understatedly) Yeah. Give it a shot, would ya?

Tollbooth: A statement on your web sites suggests that this new album will really offend both the Quakers and the Bohemians. True?

Colvin: Who wrote that? Probably Ben. Most of the time I have no idea what he's talking about. And once again, I have no clue what that means. Probably the Quakers. I don't know about the Bohemians. They'll probably be fine with it. But maybe Quakers.

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The Machine Fish Concept:

Tollbooth: Let's talk about the Machine Fish concept a little bit.

Colvin: It [the "Machine Fish Suite" on At the End of the Day] chronicles our career, because we've basically been run through the machine. Starting with Geffen, the management we had, and everybody telling you, "This is going to be huge," and they don't care about the music at all. They just want to turn a quick buck. For us, it had a lot to do with the art we were making. A lot of the paintings and songs are about the control and manipulation of the corporate world. The Machine Fish represents corporate control, things like that. It's also the character with the gas mask in the story who is more or less the villain. Maybe that'll help some of the lyrics be a little clearer.

Tollbooth: Right. Machine Fish, do you have white wine or red wine with that?

Colvin: It's actually too smelly to eat.

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Alan Doss's Departure:

Tollbooth: Why has [former drummer] Alan Doss left the band?

Colvin: That's a fair question. He had some personal things in his life that he wanted to take care of, and didn't feel a real desire to tour and play any more. By all means, I'm not going to force anyone to play music for a living. You don't want to do that, then there are a million people out there that want to. We found a guy the next day that wanted to do it, and he's on tour with us now. I just wish Alan the best. I played with him for twelve years, so it's different for me getting used to somebody else. We'll miss him, but best to him and hope things go good for him.

Tollbooth: Do you think Alan's leaving will affect the sound in any way? Were there any particular musical directions you were thinking of that you feel freer to go into?

Colvin: I'm sure it'll be a little different. We've gotten some really good feedback so far on the new drummer, Erik Tatuaka. Any time you've got somebody different it's going to add different things to it. I guess we'll see. Alan didn't write a ton of stuff, so as far as the writing goes that won't change drastically. Some things will.

Tollbooth: Are you doing "Through" (the song Alan sings on the new album) in concert, and if so, who sings it now?

Colvin: (laughing) [Guitarist] Wally [Farkas] will sometimes start playing the beginning, but we never get to the vocals.

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King's X & Morgan Cryar:

Tollbooth: What's it like touring with Kings X? I know you've done it several times and you seem to have a good time doing it.

Colvin: Yeah, we'd better. (laugh) It works pretty well, because we've been friends for years. It works out real well because we don't have to get to know each other, we already know each other.

Tollbooth: At one point I heard some of you or most of you were going to the same church? Kemper Crabb's church?

Colvin: That's where Ben goes. I think Doug [Pinnick of Kings X] went there for a while, maybe Alan went there for a while. I've known Doug since I was like...well, I won't say that, 'cause you'll know how old I am. But I've known him for about fifteen years or more. I've known Doug and Ty [Tabor of Kings X] a long time.

Tollbooth: Does Morgan Cryar have anything to do with that?

Colvin: Well, I actually knew them before I did him. That was fun, you know. I played with Morgan for a year, it was a good time. It was gig. (laugh)

Tollbooth: Has your relationship with any of the guys in Kings X changed much since some of them started questioning their faith and kind of experimenting a little?

Colvin: It is different. But we still love each other. I guess that's as much as I can say. We're still friends. But it is different.

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European Tour and Album Release Dates:

Tollbooth: In soliciting your fans for input on this interview, I've heard from some of your European fans. Maurice Kirby wants to know if you're playing Ireland in 1999?

Colvin: It's possible. They're talking about us even doing a tour with Kings X over there in Europe. Last time we went over there was a few years ago with Anthrax, and that went over fine, so I would imagine touring with somebody like Kings X would be good, too.

Tollbooth: Do you have any details about this and when it might be?

Colvin: No, they just keep going, "Yeah, we plan to send you to Europe. First of the year." That's as much as I know.

Tollbooth: Some fans need a little hope. You've got fans in Hungary. I don't know how many, but they want to know if you're coming to Hungary or at least going close by?

Colvin: Well, Wally would really love to, because he's half-Hungarian...Farkas. Yeah, we'd like to. Last time we were there was with Anthrax and we had to cancel that show because our equipment didn't get there in time to do the show. So we'd like to make up for that and play there.

Tollbooth: Your European friends are also wondering why the album's been delayed until January. They're hungry to get it, but apparently it's been delayed there.

Colvin: It was basically because it was late getting delivered and we didn't have a chance to do press over there. So rather than just put it out without any kind of promotion or press and let it just quickly die, Metal Blade decided to wait until January, which I think will be all right.

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Fun, Random Questions:

Tollbooth: Do you have any remarks on the song "Things They Couldn't Say" that only got released on the Japanese pressing? From the title it seems like the perfect song to frame the album with since the first one is "Nothing to Say." And, of course, we're mad because the Japanese got an extra song!

Colvin: Well, Ben wrote the lyrics to both of those songs and I have no idea what he's saying on either one. (laugh) It's actually an all acoustic song with Dane [Sonnier], our original guitar player, playing acoustic and singing. It was a demo we'd done around five or six years ago. We still had it on DAT. It's just an eight-track demo that we mixed and put on. It's a real pretty song, though.

Tollbooth: Have you ever been tempted to follow through with the whole "unplugged" wave?

Colvin: I don't really enjoy doing acoustic shows that much, because I like to rock. That's what we're about. You got to have the distortion and all that to go along with the vocals. That's what makes us the Galactic Cowboys. I don't like doing acoustic shows that much, but I think we do them well when we do. You can hear the vocals real well. They're fun sometimes.

Tollbooth: Have you ever thought of doing any straight a cappella numbers?

Colvin: We have done occasional a cappella things. We did an Elvis song one time, but that's about it.

Tollbooth: Do you ever get the temptation to sell out just a little bit and do a loud, crunchy Beatles cover? Get it out there and sell a bazillion more copies than what you're selling? You deserve that. Your fans would forgive that.

Colvin: We did a Paul McCartney song on the EP [Feel the Rage]. Sure, I would do that. Thing is, the music world is so political. I don't know if it would matter how much we sold out. Would that still make any difference as far as people getting to hear it? You've pretty much got to buy your way onto radio these days, and our record company just doesn't have the money to buy people off yet. It's not because the band isn't good or the songs aren't good or aren't radio-friendly. Maybe earlier in our career I could say "Well, maybe it's a little weird for radio," but now I think a lot of what we do could easily be on radio. But it's not allowed on.

Tollbooth: It's "Machine Fish."

Colvin: Absolutely.

Tollbooth: I have some questions specifically for you from some of your fans. They want to know if you really have a tattoo that says "Keep on Truckin'" in your armpit?

Colvin: Well, you'll just have to come see us play live and see.

Tollbooth: How about those [Houston] Rockets? How are they looking this year?

Colvin: I don't think they're going to play this year. Doesn't look like there's going to be a season. Which could help the Rockets, because they're old. So maybe playing a half a season would be the best thing for 'em. Save those legs.

Tollbooth: Craig Hill, one of your fans, would like to know how you feel about chili cheese fries.

Colvin: I love chili cheese fries. He knows that. Craig Hill wrote that? I know Craig. He's a good friend in Missouri.

Tollbooth: Fill in the blank: "The future of the galaxy is...(blank)?"

Colvin: When we were on Geffen, it was the Galactic Cowboys. Now that we're on Metal Blade, it's probably Cannibal Corpse or something.

Tollbooth: "The smell of a feed lot makes me...(blank)"?

Colvin: Uh, want to leave.

Tollbooth: "If I wasn't a Galactic Cowboy, I'd be a...(blank)"?

Colvin: Umm, I'd be a professional basketball player.

Tollbooth: For the Rockets?

Colvin: Yeah. Starting point guard.

Tollbooth: Let's talk about the low key of D. You play a lot in that key, do you have a fondness for it?

Colvin: It's a little heavier than E, that's all.

Tollbooth: Sometimes you just need that.

Colvin: And sometimes we've gone down to C, if D just wasn't quite heavy enough. It just sounds cool. It sounds a little deeper, heavier and it's just got a mood to it. That's why I like it.

Tollbooth: "Intelligent head-bangers:" an oxymoron, or an apt description for the band and your fans?

Colvin: Yeah, I think we've got a lot of those. We tried it with the unintelligent head-bangers and it doesn't work as well. We did a tour with Overkill in about 1991, and they just didn't get it. They'd like it when we were jamming, but the minute we started singing they didn't get it. So we went to the more intelligent head-bangers and it seemed to work a little better.

Tollbooth: One of the things that seems clear to me seeing you guys play, going through the albums, and reading the interviews is you guys seem to really enjoy it. Are you still having a blast?

Colvin: Oh yeah!

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Links to More Galactic Cowboys Information:

Galactic Cowboys Concert Review
At the End of the Day Reviews
The Horse that Bud Bought Review
Our previous interview with Monty Colvin
King's X Concert Review
King's X Tapehead Review - Coming Soon
Official Galactic Cowboys Page
Unofficial Galactic Cowboys page

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Copyright © 1998 The Phantom Tollbooth