Galactic Cowboys Are Back: A Conversation With Bassist Monty Colvin

Chris Callaway is a Denver, Colorado-based music journalist. He wrote for both Heaven’s Metal and HM back in the day. His first book, Reel to Real by Reel was published in 2015. Currently, Chris writes for publications, websites and his blog, Rock Music Opinions.

-Book, Reel to Real by Reel:

-Blog, Rock Music Opinions

© 2017 Chris Callaway



Galactic Cowboys are one of the most unique bands to ever exist in the metal realm and now they are officially back and have a new record deal and an album coming out later this year. It’s their first new disc in 17 years, so it’s time to celebrate. Recently I was able to catch up with bassist Monty Colvin – the interview follows – but first a little background and commentary on the band.


Galactic Cowboys carved out a name for themselves by taking molten-hot, blazing thrash metal, heavy riffs (Dane Sonnier), face-smacking bass (Monty Colvin), powerful drumming (Alan Doss) and pristine vocals (Ben Huggins) and mixing all those savory ingredients with incredibly catchy melodies and angelic Crosby, Stills & Nash-style vocal harmonies. Sometimes the band would up the ante by adding musically-challenging odd time signatures that made prog rock folks smile. To say that the quartet wrote catchy songs is an understatement, but they combined a love of hooks with a dedication to musical sophistication and honest, reflective lyrics. It worked for the small segment of music fans that actually heard the band and/or saw them live, but for the average music listener from 1991-2000 – the period when the band was actively putting out records – there was no knowledge of this incredible band. If you were a King’s X fan at the time, you may have discovered Galactic Cowboys that way as both bands shared a friendship, some business associations, a sizable Christian fan base and excelled at displaying superior musicianship in the confines of songs that highlighted ear-pleasing harmonies and melodic structure.


I discovered Galactic Cowboys due to the King’s X association and picked up their masterful 1991 self-titled debut disc around the time of its release. I was impressed that it was released on DGC, basically Geffen, a mainstream label powerhouse. When the band’s sophomore effort, Space in Your Face, came out two years later – also released on DGC – the band made even more of an impression. Songs like “Circles in the Field,” and “You Make Me Smile” had such a melodic power over my mind that the disc was permanently in my Sony Discman (with a cassette adaptor for car listening) as I cruised the back roads in between Golden and Boulder, Colorado. My friend Chris and I would crank the volume and joyfully sing along in pure teenage testosterone-fueled bliss. 


Unfortunately, the Cowboys didn’t stay on DGC after Space in Your Face. To this day, I can’t understand why the album didn’t become a bestseller in the metal realm. DGC was a big label; Counting Crows’ excellent, massively-selling debut, August and Everything After, came out on DGC that same year. You couldn’t escape hearing “Mr. Jones” on the radio and blasting from college dorm room windows. There are some things I may never fully grasp.


All was not lost, however. Galactic Cowboys signed with Metal Blade and continued recording with a new guitarist, Wally Farkas. They would release four albums and an EP on the label, with their last studio disc, Let It Go, being released in 2000. Alan Doss left the band and wasn’t featured on Let It Go; band friend, Jerry Gaskill of King’s X played drums.


While all those Metal Blade recordings are excellent, At the End of the Day (released in 1998) stands out the most. The cover, for one, is fantastic. Monty Colvin is an excellent painter and put a lot of time into the cover. It’s not a small painting by any means; it was for sale at one time on his website and the dimensions were impressive. But let’s be honest, an album cover only goes so far; the disc itself has to stand out and At the End of the Day does just that. There’s even a suite of seven songs that successfully navigates through different musical approaches to a satisfying finish.


It’s been a long time, 17 years to be exact, since Galactic Cowboys have released an album. Band members have done other things in the interim, including Colvin who released a handful of excellent records under the name Crunchy and regularly produces an entertaining podcast, Monty’s Rockcast. But the most important thing is that Ben Huggins, Dane Sonnier, Monty Colvin and Alan Doss are back together now and creating that ear-pleasing sound. Please join me as I catch up with bassist Monty Colvin.


One more thing before we get going with the interview: Doug Van Pelt asked me to photograph Galactic Cowboys during the tour for the Machine Fish album in 1996. I took my vintage Konica 35mm camera to the Mercury Cafe in Denver that night and got one good shot of Monty Colvin playing bass in his usual entertaining fashion. There were no other good shots. Doug never asked me to take photos again. At least the show was phenomenal.


Chris Callaway: So how are things going?


Monty Colvin: Well, pretty good. This week I’ve been working on album covers designs. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’ve got seven paintings going right now. They’re smaller; they’re like 12” by 12” little canvas panels, but I’ve got this whole motif going that I’m gonna try to do as many paintings as I can and hopefully will come up with one that’s just killer. And if we don’t, we may end up using a photograph or something. (laughs)


CC: I think you should do a painting. You’ve always had great paintings for covers.


MC: Well, thanks. I hope so. I’m trying.


CC: Let It Go came out 17 years ago. What led up to doing a new record?


MC: It was kind of unexpected. We weren’t looking for anything. We weren’t even really talking to each other about playing. I got a call one day from this guy and he said, “Hey, there may be a label out there that would want to sign you guys. Would you be interested in getting together again and doing an album?” I said, “Yeah, I think we would love to do that.” I started talking to this label, who I can’t mention yet; they want us to hold off until a later date when they can make a big announcement out of it. Anyway, I started talking to this label and they were really interested in signing us and [I] literally talked to them for a year – almost to the month and date, all that – for a solid year, talked to them every few weeks we’d talk on the phone, kick back and forth with questions and ideas. It literally took a year and we finally came to an agreement and signed a deal with them. It’s kind of a surprise to us. (laughs)


CC: That’s awesome. It’s not one of those things where it’s going to be released in Japan only and then be released here?


MC: They’re talking worldwide and also vinyl, CDs, downloads and the whole bit. It should be a pretty legitimate thing. We’re excited. We’ve been working on songs for the last few months and we are finally starting to lay some tracks. We’re feeling really good about it. [We’ve] got some great new songs.


CC: What would you compare it to that you’ve done in the past? Will it sound like something completely new directionally?


MC: I think this will be something that spans all of our albums in a way, but I think it’s definitely a throwback to the first three where there’s a lot of heavy, up-tempo stuff and some real thrashing stuff. We’ve got a couple ballads in there too, but just a lot of heavy stuff [that’s] at the same time real melodic. If I was going to compare it to anything, I’d say it’s probably somewhere between the first three albums, with a little bit of Let It Go and stuff like that thrown in there, but definitely a lot of energy. I’m digging it.


CC: Do you have any favorite songs yet?


MC: I don’t know. I think we’ll probably know better in a month or so after we’ve starting laying more tracks and start to see them come to life. Right now, they’re pretty rough but I can tell that they’ve got a lot of promise. I think once we start building them and getting harmony vocals laid on there, a lot of them will really come to life. Some of them may not happen like we thought they would. Right now I don’t think I have a favorite, but I’m really excited to see what they end up sounding like.


CC: You guys are going to incorporate a lot of harmonies like you always do.


MC: Yeah, I think that’s just our sound. We’ve always got harmonies on pretty much every song. That’s what we do. We don’t plan on changing that.


CC: And some odd time signatures in places I’m sure.


MC: Yeah. There’s a lot of different things on here. We’ve got a couple songs that have the long instrumental things in the middle that take off into different directions and are a little more progy-sounding, but I would say the basis of every song is really a strong melodic song. Some of them are heavier and faster or whatever, but we try to concentrate on each song being really melodic and catchy at the same time.


CC: Are you the primary songwriter for this album?


MC: I did write quite a bit of it, but what I did on this album is I wrote a lot of the music and I would have like a chorus but at that point, I would go, “I’m gonna get Ben (Huggins) in on this and see what he can come up with for the verses.” He flew down a couple times – well actually flew up – to Kansas City from Houston and hung out with me for a couple weekends and we sat around and kicked around lyric ideas. He came up with a lot of lyrics for the album. We’ve got a lot of songs like that where we collaborated. He and Dane (Sonnier) wrote a song together that’s turning out really cool. Alan (Doss) brought in a couple songs. We worked on some of them together, so I would say there’s going to be a lot of band influence driving on here.


CC: Do you have any more Crunchy projects in the works?


MC: No, I really don’t. I’ve mainly been just concentrating on the Galactic album and I’ve been really happy doing that right now. I had some guys who were playing with me; it’s probably been three or four years ago now. We were really good. It was really sounding good. They did the harmonies and everything and we played a few shows. Then they had a chance to play in this pirate band. Have you ever heard of pirate music?


CC: No.


MC: They get together, they dress up like pirates and they stand there with acoustic guitars and play pirate songs.


CC: I didn’t know there were pirate songs.


MC: Well, apparently so and people, I guess, go crazy for it and they’re booked all the time. They even asked me if I wanted to do it and I’m like, “No, I’m really not the pirate type.”


CC: (laughs)


MC: (laughs) That’s what they’ve been doing and we haven’t played in years, so I’ve put the [Crunchy] thing on the backburner. I could still go ahead and write and make my album – I was playing most everything on the albums anyway – but I haven’t gotten around to doing it. I’ve decided to turn my attention to Galactic and that stuff.


CC: What is the songwriting process like for you?


MC: I just go and pick up the guitar and start jamming. Almost every time, I’ll come up with something like a riff or a chorus or something. Once in a while, I’ll get a line in my head [where] I’m like, “You know, that would make a good chorus.” I’ll sit down and write a chorus with those words and end up developing it into a whole song. But that’s usually how it starts. There’s times when I’ll start with words first, but a lot of times I’ll just pick up the guitar and jam along with a drum machine or whatever, start riffing, and songs just start coming out.


CC: As far as actually getting into music – I know you did the Awful Truth a long time back (a band that also featured Galactic Cowboy’s drummer, Alan Doss). Was your cousin Dee Dee (the late Dee Dee Ramone of the Ramones) at all responsible for helping you get into music or develop that interest?


MC: I was actually way into it before I even knew he was doing that. Of course, as soon as I saw what he was doing, I started seeing him in magazines and stuff. It did kind of give me hope because they weren’t like Dream Theater or anything; they were these guys that—it could have been anybody—they were just guys that could barely play in the beginning but they were writing these killer songs and they had all this energy and attitude. I think they ended up making great albums. They were an inspiration in that way, just like, “Well, hey, maybe I could do this.”


CC: What’s your bass setup like these days? What are you playing as far as basses, amps and whatnot?


MC: I usually use Ampeg stuff for the low end. I have kind of a bi-amping system.


CC: Kind of like what dUg Pinnick (King’s X) was doing?


MC: I’m not real sure what he’s doing these days. I’m just using a lot of the stuff I always have, which is Ampeg heads or cabinets for low. I just got a Mesa/Boogie Rectifier, Dual Rectifier, for the high-end, which is where I get my crunch, distortion and that ringing, obnoxious tone. I just bought a new one for the studio. I’m so excited to use it, ‘cause first practice, I was like, “Oh yeah, there’s the sound!” I used one of those from, probably, from Machine Fish on and live especially, it’s [got] a killer tone. Some guy stole it when I was doing Crunchy and I haven’t had one for years. So, on this one, I got a mini-endorsement from Boogie and so I went ahead and got a Dual Rectifier and I’m loving it.


CC: That’s awesome. I know that John Entwistle (legendary bassist for the Who) used to do the bi-amp thing where you get the biting high ends and that killer bottom end.


MC: Yeah, I think the first guy I got really inspired to do distortion from was Lemmy. I went and saw Motorhead one night. In between songs, he would strum his bass and it was just this massive wall of distorted death. I’m like, “I gotta start distorting my bass!” I went and bought an eight-string [bass] out of a pawn shop. It was one of those aluminum neck things — so a weird bass – but I was just getting this massive distortion and started playing through guitar heads. That’s kind of where it started, back even in the Awful Truth days.


CC: These days, are you pretty much playing traditional four-string basses or are you playing eight and 12 as well?


MC: I don’t think I’m going to probably be playing any 12. I’ve still got a 12-string but I ended up liking the eight-strings more. [They] are a little easier to play and they don’t weigh


as much and all that kind of stuff. I was just a little more comfortable with them, so I am going to use a couple 8-strings on this new album, but mainly 4- [string basses]. I’ve got a Zon four-string that’s my main bass and then I’ve got a couple of 8-strings that I’m going to play on some of the slower tunes and some of the groovin’ songs and stuff like that.


CC: I always thought it was cool how you guys were able to articulate your faith in your music. Was that ever difficult to do?


MC: No, not really. I’ve always just written songs about stuff that’s on my mind at the time. If it was something spiritual or something I was going through, that’s what I would write about or if it was just a story. If I heard somebody say something a lot of times it would spark an idea for a song. I just went with things like that—whatever inspires me at the moment.


CC: Do you have a funny story that stands out from your days as a recording musician?


MC: The first thing that popped into my head — there’s a lot of crazy, I don’t know, weird unfortunate stuff that would happen (laughs) to us. The first thing that popped into my head was on the first album, we were working in this old studio and the engineer in there was always having to fix equipment. It was old equipment and stuff like that so he was always like, “Hang on, I gotta fix this.” So, we’d just hang out waiting for him to fix stuff and while he did we finally went, “Hey, let’s play some Wiffle ball.”


CC: (laughs)


MC: (laughs) We’re playing in the recording room and the place was covered in burlap and all the walls were covered in burlap and foam and stuff. We made a ball out of duct tape. I can’t remember what it was, maybe just a Wiffle ball bat. We started playing Wiffle ball and we’re like, “If you hit it off the back of the studio wall, it’s a home run.” We wasted so much money just hanging out and playing Wiffle ball and football out in the parking lot. I wish we had some of that money back.


CC: Was it ever frustrating for you? You had nice recording budgets for the first two albums, you had DGC – especially the second record [Space in Your Face]– was it frustrating for you guys when it didn’t go as far as everyone thought it should?


MC: Yeah, definitely. We were told we were going to be the biggest band in the world. We were on Geffen; they’ve got Guns ‘N’ Roses and Aerosmith and all these huge bands. It was frustrating and plus we spent so much of that money. We got a big signing deal to do [the albums] but we spent so much money making the albums that there wasn’t anything left. It was kind of disappointing to say the least.


CC: Are you officially back together or are you back together to do the album and see what happens?


MC: We’re pretty much together as a band. I guess we’ll all probably do side projects and whatnot, but as far as [the] band, we’re in it for the long haul. As long as they want to keep us making albums, I think we’re all down for it. I would say we’re officially back.

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