Belgium has a huge history of groundbreaking acts and even today the small country is home for a huge amount of bands fitting in every niche of the musical industry. The stoner rock genre sees (a.o.) Cowboys and Aliens as Belgium’s most dominant presence. The band was founded in 1996, released their first album in 1997, split-up in 2006, reformed in 2011 and gave a hell of a show on Desertfest. My feeling of national pride immediately desired an interview so we contacted the band via facebook and had a really nice conversation with Kris (bass) en Henk (vocals).
How did you feel about Desertfest?
K: We were honoured to play there. It was the icing on the cake for this year and for our entire career as a whole. The atmosphere was great and we played in front of a pretty big audience. The organization and sound crew were very professional so we could relax and focus on playing a good show.
H: For me, a veteran in the scene, it was a great experience. The line-up was excellent. I had a smile on my face for the entire day.
K: I think Desertfest cannot (or no longer) be compared to most other festivals. It’s an independent and international festival. We noticed a lot of people from our surrounding countries, maybe that’s why so many people were waiting for us to play.
Cowboys and Aliens can almost celebrate their 20th birthday . Are you planning anything special for the anniversary?
H: We are indeed working on something special. Next year we plan to play two of our records entirely on an anniversary concert. Currently we don’t have any details yet.
I noticed that you have very strong songs and a solid live performance, yet the big breakthrough never came, especially for a band that was groundbreaking in the stoner rock genre . How can you explain that?
H: Als a band you can’t control everything that happens and some choices might have not been the right ones. Playing in a band has some social consequences as well. On the other hand, we noticed that there’s still a lot of people to convince. And besides, a cult status also has its charms.
In 2006 you called it quits, why?
H: At that point Kris and I were the only ones left from the original line-up. The two other founding members had left the band for diverse reasons. Although we found some new, world class, musicians, the feeling wasn’t the same anymore. I think we all had different ambitions in those days. Fortunately we remained friends. Through social media like facebook, fans started asking us to come back. We decided to try again and did so with a lot of new found energy. I love being a part of Cowboys and Aliens so I was as happy as a little child when we started again.
If your performance at Desertfest showed one thing, it was the new found chemistry between the members.
H. Absolutely. We released a new album and we rediscovered the power of our extensive repertoire. So we have a lot of songs to choose from when we make a set list. In that respect there’s no need to be nervous about playing at a festival like Deserfest or a big stage like Vorst Nationaal.
K. As you might have noticed, we really felt at home at Trix. It was our third time here. We still feel the adrenaline rushing through our spine when performing. Desertfest was perfect for us. It was in front of our target-audience, and a lot of them, so it had to be good. There’s no two ways about it. We play in the same line-up as in 1999 so we’ve been through a lot together, so there’s no reason to be nervous.
H. Nervousness? That’s negligible I think. We’re all pretty self-assured when we go on stage.
What makes a good show?
H: I want to reach the audience and I want to go off stage steaming and vibrant. I don’t think we’re a ‘proto-stoner’ band so I go through great lengths to manifest Cowboys & Aliens, to persuade people of the way we do things.
Is there really something as stoner rock? Isn’t it mainly a combination of rock-styles played by musicians who happen to smoke weed?
H: I’m glad you think about it that way although personally I prefer a beer. I’ve seen the genre evolve from acts like Dozer, Orange Goblin and Unida to more doom-loaded music. I love both but I feel disappointed when we find ourselves confronted with the restrictions of the genre.
K: I really want to avoid ‘style over substance’. I’m not really revved with the hipster-like beard culture but maybe that’s something genetic (laughs).
In a previous interview with Sardonis we were talking about the difference between stoner and metal audience. Do you notice that too?
H: Maybe metalheads spend a lot more time classifying their music into genres. I don’t go wild for terms as ‘true metal’. I wouldn’t even know what true metal is. On the other hand, I always notice the pleasant atmosphe, whether it is at a metal festival or at a stoner fest.
One last Stoner question. In the past few years the genre has become increasingly successful. Do you notice any difference between now and ten years ago?
H. I’ve always loved the genre and it pleases me to see that festivals like Desertfest are able to put a ‘sold out’ sign on their website. About ten years ago that wouldn’t have happened. I’m very proud that we could contribute with Cowboys & Aliens. In Belgium there’s a lot of great bands like Miava and Your Highness. They have a different style but a great solid sound. Grizzlyncher is another very promising band. I only hope they realize that ‘the job is never done’ and that playing in a band can be hard work sometimes.
So about the new release. I haven’t heard it yet, so what can I expect?
H. It’s a cocktail of old hard rock, stoner, indie and a bit of doom. I think it’s a pretty exciting mix, matching modern day bands like The Shrine.
But with better vocals?
H. (laughs) Cool, thanks. I see myself more as a classic rock singer. I will never hide it behind effects or auto tune.
About the movie...
H. We were first. It’s a coincidence that both our name and the movie were based on the same comic strip.
What can we expect in the near future?
H. We’re planning on something big. ‘A Trip to the Stonehenge Colony’ will be fifteen years old next year and ‘Language of Superstars’ ten years. We would like to play both albums live on several occasions, if possible with the same people we recorded them with. I’m also looking forward to the new material, it’s very promising.
Nice, finally, I heard you say ‘your moms and dads watched us years ago’. How about your own children?
H: That was a little joke. But yes, Kris's daughter and my son already had some stage experience…