The Cousin Brothers walk the bluegrass-rock line
We’re all still shocked at our success,” John Bowyer, The Cousin Brothers’ mandolin player, says of his band’s seemingly out-of-nowhere arrival. “Just a couple years ago, we were strumming on acoustics in our garage.”
Since then, the band has made a name for itself playing a style of music that frontman/bassist Kevin Vickery describes as “powergrass”: a jacked-up and plugged-in version of traditional bluegrass. Along with Vickery and Bowyer, banjo player Ben Long, drummer T.R. Yelton and guitarist Dave Bagdade round out the lineup. Explosive live sets, acoustic instruments punished by distortion pedals and rousing covers of popular rock songs are a few of the reasons that prompted local fans to vote The Cousin Brothers as the best country band in NUVO’s 2006 annual readers’ poll. Their popularity also launched them to the third round of the recent Battle of Birdy’s competition, and listeners of X103’s Stuck ’n Gunner radio show will recognize them for their hilarious “Big Colts Fan” song that can be heard on Friday mornings.
Taking time away from prepping for NUVO’s Second Annual Elvis Birthday Bash, when The Messarounds, Hustler, Deacon Sean and The Cousin Brothers will lace their sets with Elvis favorites this Saturday at Locals Only, Bowyer discussed the band’s tightrope walk over two music genres and the battle between playing covers and original songs.
NUVO: Being primarily a cover band, do you feel some discrimination from club owners or favoritism from others?
JB: There’s a club in Fountain Square — I won’t say which one — but we tried to book a show there, and they called back to say they don’t book cover bands. But when we get in to play a show, even if the club owner is apprehensive, we usually prove them wrong. We can hook the audience in. We’ll play a Van Halen song then turn around and do [Snoop Doggy Dogg’s] “Gin and Juice.”
NUVO: Most people who aren’t familiar with bluegrass may not realize that playing covers is common.
JB: Yeah, that’s just part of the bluegrass scene. Ya’ know, keeping the heritage alive.
NUVO: Do you ever perform in traditional bluegrass festivals?
JB: That’s the beauty of this band. We can play stripped-down acoustic style or full-on electric. We’re a really flexible band; we can just switch it up.
NUVO: What’s the biggest difference between playing a bluegrass festival and a regular bar or club?
JB: We pretty much get the same response, except they don’t serve alcohol at bluegrass fests (laughs).
NUVO: When playing the bluegrass festivals, do you upset the more established players?
JB: The older guys are very strict on how certain songs should be played, so yeah, I think it’s the younger fans that respect and “get” what we do.
NUVO: So what is your goal when you take the stage?
JB: To put on one hell of a show and not look like clowns (laughs). We know we’re treading thin ice as it is with the style that we play.
NUVO: Do you want to be known as a funny band or as a serious live band?
JB: Our style is so fresh that we’d like to be known for that, but more than that, I’d like us to be remembered as a kick-ass live band.
NUVO: Are you planning on expanding beyond Indy?
JB: That’s actually one of our goals for ’07 — to get gigs in Chicago and Cincinnati.
NUVO: What else is on the horizon for The Cousin Brothers?
JB: We haven’t recorded an official album yet, and that’s something we’re getting to in the next couple months. People who are familiar with just our covers will see a new side of us. We’ll have some funny songs and some rockin’ ones too.
NUVO: Do you ever see The Cousin Brothers playing the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Festival, held every September in Bean Blossom, Ind.?
JB: We’d really like to play there within the next year or two. It’s the world’s longest running bluegrass fest, and everybody who’s anybody has played that stage at some point in their career. That is our dream.