Locals: Two Cow Garage has delivered the album of its career

By Columbus Alive
From the August 1, 2013 edition

The recent trend of crowdfunding an album through sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo developed a stigma almost as soon as it caught on because so many musicians seemed to use it as a crutch to avoid paying dues, and some of them didn’t even follow through on what they promised. “Pay me to pursue my dream” seems like the epitome of 21st century entitlement, especially when the beneficiary can’t bother to lift a finger.

“It got misused,” Two Cow Garage singer-guitarist Micah Schnabel said. “People weren’t fulfilling their obligations.”

But if any band has paid its dues this past decade-plus, it’s Two Cow Garage, a rough-and-tumble Columbus rock trio that typically spends its rare homebound days plotting its next mammoth club tour. And the record Two Cow will celebrate Saturday, funded with $16,840 of fans’ money through Indiegogo, is one worth paying ahead for.

The band promised donors that its sixth album, The Death of the Self Preservation Society, would be “far and away the best record that we have ever made.” Two Cow delivered that — more on the music in a second — and soon it’ll deliver the bonus goods promised to some of the more generous contributors, such as 50 handwritten lyric booklets, a task the musicians compared to Bart Simpson at the chalkboard.

“The next Kickstarter will be for my carpal tunnel,” bassist-singer Shane Sweeney said.

The band funneled some of those donations toward recording at Hi Lo Studio, a converted barn outside Buffalo. During two weeklong stints last year, Two Cow assembled what Schnabel called the band’s most musical record.

Empowered by the addition of Ghost Shirt drummer David Murphy and inspired by minimalists like the indie-rock band Spoon and the old Memphis soul label Stax, they opted for sparse, thoughtful arrangements rather than piling layers of guitar atop Schnabel’s weathered rasp and Sweeney’s leathery croon.

“Don’t build a wall of sound and then try and squeeze what you’re trying to say into little gaps in there,” Murphy said. “Get out what you want to say, then put lipstick on it after that.”

What did they want to say? In cow parlance, it boils down to grabbing life by the horns and riding it, something this band knows more than a little about.

“Every day the news is filled with things that will make you live longer. And it’s like, well, yeah, that’s great and all. You can live to the ripe old age of 142. Or you could just go out and live and do, soak it all up,” Schnabel said. “The whole record’s theme is just that — like, go live. Soak it up. Get your heart broken. Fall down. Get back up again.”

That message comes in the context of reoccurring characters and melodies, many of them converging in the closing title track. The Death of the Self Preservation Society is a concept record, if only loosely — grandiose, but with garage-rock immediacy. It’s efficient too; its 12 tracks cover just 32 minutes.

“It’s not like we’re ‘Lord of the Rings’ here,” Murphy said.

Although the record isn’t out officially until Sept. 10, Two Cow plays Rumba this Saturday to celebrate, followed by an appearance at Ace of Cups for Lost Weekend Records’ summer show Aug. 24. Then it’s back to perpetual touring across Europe and North America for a group of guys who’ve gone all-in with rock ’n’ roll.

“There’s no such thing as making it,” Schnabel said. “It’s just life, you know? And this ain’t a bad way to f---ing do it.”

Photos by Meghan Ralston