Daniel James Clark Photography
I asked Charles if I could take on the third part of his exceptional write-up of the evolution of Two Cow Garage, and the songwriting of Micah Schnabel and Shane Sweeney. Some folks suggested looking at their solo albums, but those are so personal as to feel like a different beast entirely. I’m going to cover Death of the Self-Preservation Society, and focus briefly on two new songs they’ve been trying out. Stay until the end, there’s a video…everyone’s favorite part of class.
Well here in Part III I want to let you know: Two Cow Garage really doubled down on the whole no pain, no gain thing. As much as parts of Speaking in Cursive and Sweet Saint Me may have felt like being doused in gasoline, Death of the Self-Preservation Society is like being handed a match and being told to make your own decision.
Think about the title of the album: Death of the Self-Preservation Society. As far as Two Cow Garage are concerned, the time to play it safe is over. We have a society geared towards insulation and comfort; how can you really feel alive if you’re so busy figuring out how to maintain the status quo? To take it a step farther, how can you really be living life to the fullest if you’re a judgmental observer? Micah has one of the most honest lines on the record, in “Van Gogh”: ‘Thirty scared the cynic out of me‘. In “Spiraling Into Control” Shane writes, ‘It takes your whole world being shattered/Before a person will really change‘.
These songs are no longer reflective or contemplative, they are active declarations to a lethargic world. These are songs by men who have experienced life and made a decision about how they want to live the rest of it. The only way over is through. In “Stars and Gutters” Micah writes what may be my favorite line of the album: ‘I can still see the stars from the gutter at night‘. It doesn’t matter how low you go or how hard it gets, as long as you never stop putting yourself out there.
It’s a dangerous way to live, and a difficult philosophy to carry out. It’s difficult to keep climbing in a van and driving across the country in pursuit of your dreams. This razor thin line between carelessness and religious fervor is summed up on the title track of the album, which is also the last song.
Kiss me, I’m broken
My house is on fire
A piano plays a loser’s parade,
I’ve been singing it for years
When you listen to the live recording at the end of this article, pay attention to the way that Shane Sweeney roars. He has indeed been singing it for years, but he hasn’t stopped yet. That’s the through line, that’s what makes Two Cow Garage more than some guys who have some good songs and defines them as a flagship band of a genre. They never stop playing, and they never stop caring. The confidence and understanding that it took to make this album for themselves and their fans instead of trying to achieve commercial success with big name features and marketability is impressive. That record is a grunted nod of approval at the boys that they started out at and the men they have become, with eyes ever towards the future.
We just never learned to fake it, and all we have is sincerity
This is the Death of the Self-Preservation Society
A conversation about the new songs dovetails nicely with one of the biggest improvements on the most recent album, and you can sum it up with one bearded syllable: Murph. This is not to besmirch any previous members of the band, but David Murphy adds an incredible dimension to the band. Not only is he one of the most sincere individuals you could have the pleasure of meeting (which goes a long way in a rock and roll band), but his drumming abilities are stellar and the vocal harmony he enables is remarkable; listen to the end of “Continental Distance”, a new song by Shane Sweeney featured on the KEXP video below.
The other new song is a Micah track called “Let The Boys Be Girls”, and it’s a force of a track that I’ll let you experience it for yourself.
Two Cow Garage has been a band since I was in middle school, and they had released four albums before I knew that they existed. To be able to look at their back catalog and trace my own faults and impulses, to be able to revel in the same pain that they played out nightly, and then to reach the understanding that you can run towards as well as away…
That’s what you call rock and roll…
We can call this a new beginning,
We can write our own soundtracks this time around
PS. Shane Sweeney saying “Hi, Jack” at the end of this performance is the reason I’m glad to call him my spirit animal.