Today we have the pleasure in sharing The Cowboys newest single "The Sultan of Squat," a glorious return that shows the Bloomington's finest rock 'n' rollers pouring collective blood, sweat, and tears into a sound equal parts then and now. The brand new single is also the opener to the band's upcoming sixth and second "proper" studio outing, Sultan of Squat, out August 25th on Feel It Records. Along with the premiere, we caught up with keyboardist-vocalist Keith Harman, guitarist Mark McWhirter, and bassist Zackery "Chode" Worcel to dive deeper into the new single and how it granted the album's overall theme and aesthetic, returning to Bloomington for the recording sessions, and what it was like filming their first-ever music video.
Paperface Zine: Talk to me about this new track "The Sultan of Squat," the opening title track to your upcoming sixth LP. What was it like putting this song together and was there a specific vision behind it?
Keith Harman: It was just so simple and delightfully catchy. The baseball motif seem to work naturally Lyrically, it has a defeated mindset, and I think that pairs well with the cheery nature of the tune.. it was written two months before going into the studio out of nowhere two months before recording began, but once I had written it, I knew it was important to the record, and then ended up being the title track and granting us the overall theme and aesthetic for the record. It tied the room together.
Mark McWhirter: The song "Sultan of Squat" was pretty hashed out before we recorded it. We had never played it but Keith had a demo of the song. I liked the choppy guitar chords Keith had in place, so I just did that. Keith had some pretty goofy synth sounds in the demo that were reminiscent of the corny organs and things you might hear at a baseball game. The fun thing I remember is that Kieth had a droning synth sound during the chorus. We wanted to replicate it. The sound featured a portamento effect. So I fired up a Juno 106 they had at the studio and got it to sound just like what we needed. The song seems to use a baseball game as a metaphor for life, kind of a story of someone who keeps striking out. It's speedy and jolly. The song sounds pretty goofy, pretty much the opposite of an icy post-punk song, fearlessly uncool.
Zackery "Chode" Worcel: When I was listening to the rough mixes to the album, I was thinking how it had an American theme to it (baseball, Johnny's car, "American boy"). I had the idea to use an old baseball card image for the cover and paste some old cowboys lettering with it. I decided to Google images of Ted Williams. I heard his name oddly enough in a Residents song. I read about him and he seemed like a classic "American," devoted to his team, baseball hero, a U.S. Navy and Marine Corps member. Turns out, it was a happy accident in two ways: (1) I removed his head to fit the band's name, which in real life his family had his removed his brain so it could be cryogenically frozen separate from his body. And (2), the fact that he played for the Boston Red Sox lines up with one of Keith's lyrics "sang Sweet Caroline," which is a tradition of Red Sox fans, unbeknownst to me.
PZ: Talk to me about the making of its new music video. You guys put that one together during your weekend tour back in June.
MM: We decided that when I returned from Mexico for a month or two, I would shoot our first music video. It had been a longtime coming and I was pretty excited about it. I asked everyone to listen to the song and make some ideas. I ended up writing a whole screenplay with everything timed out. I proposed a baseball game in Bloomington against our favorite Bloomington personalities, Pottymouth, a very intense hardcore/thrash band. I knew if all of us got together it would be very easy to portray the boyish shenanigans that endear all these guys to my heart. I forgot to bring the script so we kind of pieced it together from memory. I shot it on my little compact VHS camera. Almost everyone helped contribute ideas and also shot some video. We wanted Potty Mouth to destroy us at baseball. We purchased custom made baseball outfits. The Potty Mouth guys look pretty intimidating, and we look very nerdy and unathletic (well maybe not Chode), so we wanted to portrait that dichotomy in a comical fashion. When it came time to edit, I had a lot of great footage of hilarious antics from a day that was a whole lot of fun. I put it together with a lot of cuts to keep it moving. Lots of bands that would be considered adjacent to us have been making the "VHS" quality DIY kind of music videos, it seems to be a trend. The videos are usually very irreverent and make the band seem weird, cool, and nonplussed
ZW: We've talked about making a video several times before. This song was the clear single of the album to us, and it had a clear theme and feel to it (being baseball). I was living next to a little softball field at the time and had a few gloves. So it was as simple as Mark suggesting he could record it with his camera, and us asking fellow Bloomington band Potty Mouth members to join us as the opposing team, and Keith ordering some custom but cheaply made uniforms. It was a fun day of filming silly scenes with the Potty Mouth guys, and then a nice dinner before heading to the Bishop to play a show together.
KH: We'd put out on our socials that asked people in Bloomington to come and be part of the video, but only two people showed up. Mark was defeated by that, but I thought it was perfect and added to the general feel of what the song is trying to say.
PZ: You guys consider this new album to be your second proper studio outing along with 2019's The Bottom of a Rotten Flower. When and where did you record it and what was it like putting it together?
MM: We recorded the album the summer of 2022 at Russian Recording in Bloomington, where we did Bottom of a Rotten Flower. It is a very nice studio, so definitely considered our second proper studio album. This time we recorded with our friend Damion Schiaralli, which was nice because he's kind of like one of us, a musician who is a part of our friend group, instead of a music studio guy who we don't really know that well. I had never played or heard any of the material. We had about three practices beforehand and then went to the studio. I was very proud of how quick we worked given our unfamiliarity with the material. The songs came about nicely, though there were a couple we left off because we didn't think they reached their full potential.
KH: It's good to be in a big studio even if the financial constraints and limited amount of time create their own issues, but it was a lot of fun, and I think we made a pretty good record.
ZW: Getting back together with Mark was a good feeling too, but we had not much time to rehearse Keith's new songs and record everything (just three weekends I believe: one to rehearse, one to record, and one to revisit and do last minute overdubs while mixing). So the songs are kept pretty straight forward intentionally with not a lot of effects added, and are more piano-driven than songs across Bottom of a Rotten Flower.
PZ: Any favorite memories from the recording sessions?
MM: My best memory from the recording was when we were listening back to a song we recorded. The song ended and there was this really comical electronic fart noise at the end. We all looked at eachother for a moment and then started laughing hysterically. I guess my germanium fuzz pedal burped and made this noise that was just so funny. We compared the sound to the doorbell of a tiny man's tiny apartment. Jordan started doing a voice to imitate the tiny man. We couldn't stop laughing about it, so we left it in and added Jordan's voice to the end. It is on the album.
KH: Really just all the laughter! I hadn't laughed like that in a very long time. It just felt right to have the original four guys back together and making a record.
ZW: After taking a couple years off and all living away from each other (we're now in four different cities), it was nice to get back together and for me, I remembered why we were a band in the first place; we're just good friends with similar senses of humor. But I think there's a lot of mutual respect across the band musically as well.
PZ: Aside from the upcoming album, what else is on the horizon for The Cowboys?
MM: We are planning a tour with our destination being in Rochester, New York around October 20th-29th. We had a lot of fun making this album and Keith has plenty more material so we definitely want to record another album, whenever it works. I live in Mexico permanently now, but we can make it work.
ZW: It's just refreshing to be setting sail again with The Cowboys.
Sultan of Squat is out August 25th on Feel It Records. Pre-order the wax here.