Because Songs Matter

The Life in the Songwriting of Two Cow Garage – Part I

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Several months ago I went to see Two Cow Garage play. They had a local band opening for them and this local band has a bit of a following in town, has put out a record and played a few, but not many shows out of town. I had heard a song or two on the radio but never thought much about them. Needless to say, when they opened for Two Cow I was not a fan.

I don’t mean to band hate, and I hope you don’t see this as that, but their songs were about parties and if you couldn’t catch the meaning during the song the members of the band told us between songs that “this song is about…”. And they “rock-out” on stage but in such a way that they were trying to prove that their songs were rocking. That’s a terrible description but I’m sure all of you have seen what I’m talking about.

micahTwo Cow songs are about life not about lifestyle. There might be songs about drinking too much but they’re phrased in regret instead of celebration. I only started thinking about these two bands and the juxtaposition because a few nights after the show a friend asked me what I thought of the opener. I said it wasn’t my thing and he asked why, and I had to think about it. There are consequences and desperation in Micah and Shane’s songs. There is no escaping in those songs, no casual “it’ll all work out” and no hipster indifference.

Let’s rewind a decade and look at 2004’s The Wall Against Our Back. I think Micah was about 21 when these songs were written and recorded. There is a healthy bit of teen angst within these songs but there is also plenty of foreshadowing to the subjects and worldview he would spend the next decade writing and obsessing about.

Make It Out Alive     

“Make It Out Alive” isn’t the most ingenious song title ever and it seems clear that the lyrics are written by a 21 year old songwriter but what is present and clear is a sense of desperation. I need desperation in music, I need to know that other people have felt it and survived. “Make It Out Alive” is a precursor for what’s to come for the band while also making a statement about what Two Cow is not. They are not a band that writes about running away from the cops or the fun of getting so fucked up you can’t really remember the night before. I don’t need those songs but I need Two Cow songs.

135     

But the line from The Wall Against Our Back that makes me smile the most comes from “135”. I know I’m pulling one line out of a song and using it to illustrate a larger point, but just follow me a little longer. When Micah sings “never really stopped to think it all through, about the things we’ve done wrong” I can’t help but laugh a little. In the context of “135” it may be an accurate statement but what Micah was already starting to do, and what he and Shane have both done in the decade since is think it all through over and over and over again, both about the things done wrong and things not done. The way I see it, back in 2004 Two Cow Garage was defining the themes of their songwriting; desperation and regret (and I don’t feel like regret is the absolute right word here, but it’s as close as my handle of the English language allows)

shaneI don’t know Micah or Shane so I have no desire to infer or speculate about personal issues, but I’ll speak a little about mine. Depression is a part of my life, always has been and always will be. If you’ve read things from me here or on Facebook or Twitter you’ve probably heard that before. I’m also firmly in the camp of people that prefer to acknowledge the condition instead of hiding it. There is no shame in depression and the more people that accept that fact the easier it is for people like me to cope.

I am often drawn to art that expresses emotions like sadness, frustration, desperation and loneliness. I’ve had the conversation with multiple people, not just about music but books and movies, about not finding sad art sad. I didn’t realize I was drawn to these emotions in art until I was working in a bookstore. I often made recommendations and when the customers would return I would ask if they enjoyed the books they bought based on my suggestions. More than a few times I heard they had enjoyed them but that they were terribly sad. I had to give this some thought.

There is a comfort in sad songs that provides great joy. From them you can see that you aren’t the only one who’s ever felt the way you’re feeling and even if it’s through speakers or letters on a page, you’re not alone. I don’t know if I’d call many of Two Cow’s songs sad, but in my eyes, they come from writers who understand sadness. The emotion manifests itself as desperation and regret and by the time they released Three in 2007 these themes were front and center.

*In part two I’ll talk about a couple of songs on Three as well as try to find the value and beauty in being able embrace the sadness in life.  

9 Comments

  1. June 2, 2014    

    I completely agree Charles. I think the majority of us that love this whole scene/genre/whatever feel the same way. Helps us understand we’re not alone.

  2. Nick Nick
    June 2, 2014    

    Looking forward to the next part of this.

    I get asked pretty frequently why i listen to such sad music when i’m generally a happy person and it’s always hard to explain. For me its very similar to you in that they don’t make me sad but can draw an instant connection.

  3. Doug Doug
    June 2, 2014    

    I enjoyed reading this post, but you probably could have done without the first 2 paragraphs. Not sure why you need to denigrate some other band (or make generalizations) to make a point about how awesome Two Cow Garage is. Just some constructive criticism for you.

    I think the reason people like sad music so much is because it is the easiest for an artist to absolutely pour their heart into. You can hear the desperation in Ben Nichols’ or Chad Price’s or Micah Schnabel’s voices, and it is something that is very easy to relate to.

    • Mike Ostrov Mike Ostrov
      June 2, 2014    

      I dunno, regarding discussing the other band: I like knowing why the author came up with this piece, sometimes you don’t realize something particular about a band’s point of view until you hear another band who does something on the same axis but just turns the wrong way. I’m not from Colorado and I couldn’t discern what band Charles was talking about, so I think he did a pretty good job of not throwing anybody under the bus for no good reason.

    • June 2, 2014    

      I think showing the dichotomy between the openers and the main act is decent literary device. We don’t write much about what we don’t like on here but sometimes it’s not horrible to use a comparison to make a point. Sure the first two paragraphs could have been left out but I don’t think the third would have as much impact without them.

      • Doug Doug
        June 4, 2014    

        The only thing I got out of the first 2 paragraphs is that there was a band that opened for Two Cow Garage who the author didn’t like because they told you what their songs were about, they had songs about parties and they tried to “rock out”. I don’t see how this adds anything, but to each his own I suppose. Maybe I’m just picking nits. Regardless, still like the article.

  4. Mike Ostrov Mike Ostrov
    June 2, 2014    

    I want more of this series. Shane and Micah definitely grow/change from album to album–I’m interested to see that trajectory laid out plainly like this. Perhaps oddly, I don’t really dig “No Shame” or “Should’ve California” which seem to be the touchstone TCG sad-comfort-connection songs–I think they’re too on the nose or something. I don’t have a good reason, actually, they’re great songs and I understand why they really hit people, but they don’t do it for me the way “Mediocre” and “Bastards and Bridesmaids” do. Is there really a difference between those groups of songs?

    That’s why I like the idea of this series–I’ve had a dialogue about TCG in my own head for a long time–why is Micah too whiny and reference-reliant for my tastes in some songs and just the perfect amount of angry/referential in the next song? Would Shane’s songs stand out as awesomely if they were split equally with Micah’s?–and it would be cool to hear other thought-out thoughts.

  5. t-storm t-storm
    July 11, 2014    

    Good article. Working my way through. I love Two Cow so much I need to read it slow.
    I’ve been a fan since 2003 I think. I was at the bar in St. Louis when Micah turned 21. And in Cleveland when he turned 32. These guys are incredible. Sweet Saint Me is Better than III which is saying a lot.

    • July 14, 2014    

      thanks so much for reading.

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