Doug Cowan is a mainstay of New England’s music scene. Since the early 90s, he’s served as the leader of Pluck Theatre and Bullyclub, and as a member of The Townies and Between Dreams. His current project is Welterweight, which switches between a solo and group effort. He performs at Blue on Friday, December 21, 2012 and is preparing to release a Bullyclub compilation with remixes and live tracks.
Where were you born?
This is a problem. I was delivered in some hospital in New London, CT and moved soon after to Maine. However, I consider myself, and have been referred to as, a Mainer. So I will say this… cord wasn’t cut ‘til Kittery.
What brought you to Portland?
I started my first “out of the garage” band, Pluck Theatre, in Orono after college. We soon grew out of the Ram’s Horn and the Oronoka, and wanted to go big time, so that’s Portland, right? We played Boston a lot, and thought about moving there, but we couldn’t get past the loving aura of the sound guys in the city.
Do you have a day job, and if so, what is it?
A coordinator of clinical counseling services at USM. Yup, I’m that old…
What was your most memorable gig?
It was a tough one. Bullyclub was booked to do a show at The Paradise in Boston for a benefit to help with some medical costs for our friend Steve Loignon, who has since passed. As the date approached, a chest cold turned into bronchitis turned into pneumonia, but I was determined to do the show (it was the freakin’ Paradise…they have 3 guys to do the lights alone, and bottled beer in the green room…and a green room! And we loved Steve). I drove straight up from Maine Med, set up for sound check, went to the mic to say the touching words “check one two,” and nothing. Well, maybe a whisper. Panic…first time I had lost my voice before a set. The sound guy (a nice one) cranked the vocal mic ‘til feedback, and we finished so they could open the doors. Then it was a blur. Encouraging words from Johnny Nunan (drummer), and here comes José Ayerve (guitar) throwing whiskey down my gullet like some wild west remedy. When it came our set time, we played. I whisper-sang some songs. José valiantly mumbled another. My friend Dave Shorey came up and sang the song Harrydean… it wasn’t on the setlist, but he knew it. We said “thank you,” got off stage, and drank more whiskey and beer from bottles. People said nice job, and I slept in the car all the way home with my friend Deb Valenti at the wheel.
What was your worst gig?
The ones where I worried about who wasn’t there…
What album or artist has most influenced you as a musician?
Raymond Carver. Whoa, that got heavy…
What’s the one piece of musical equipment you can’t live without?
My 60’s Gibson B-15 student acoustic guitar, “loaned” to me by my brother who took it as payment for a bar tab from his establishment in Seattle, Murphy’s Pub. This thing is made from questionable tone-woods, has nearly-frozen machine head tuners, and a neck as thin as a chopstick. My fat fingers can’t form a proper, unadulterated chord on it, and the projection is that of a stifled yawn. In my infinite wisdom, I drilled a hole in this antique to put in a cheap pickup, bringing its street value to that of a three shot latte, and tying us at the hip ‘til one of us needs a neck reset. It does sound like wood, though…
Any advice for a musician starting out?
Pay attention…to your preparation and practice, so that you can enjoy your time on stage, and you won’t suck. I have formulas…you’ll only play as well as your third best practice, so raise your bar, and every gig is worth 5 practices, so gig accordingly. At least one member of your band will miss practice, so hum their parts so as to make up for their absence.
Pay attention to your bandmates…there’s a good chance that they’re leaving behind an angry partner or a good TV program to make it to rehearsal. You’re a gang. You’ll fight…and that friction will produce energy that can drive you, and your music, even though you think you hate it.
Pay attention to your audience. This doesn’t mean Kowtow, or giving them what they always want and expect (unless you have a hit…then play it third and last in your set). It means that you expect a lot from them. Write good songs. If lyrics aren’t your thing, then write interesting, hooky music, while using Husker Du’s “New Day Rising” lyrical approach…”New day rising/ New day rising/ New day rising” ad infinitum. If you’re musically bereft (like me), pick a chord, any chord, and write words that are interesting to you. ‘Cause no one listens to the words anyway.
Pay attention to moments. Trust me, you’ll never play a set, song, or even chorus perfectly. So listen for that quick moment, the one you might be anticipating or that’s brand new, the one that makes you smile/cry. I’ve been in practices where I’ve teared up, even way after the fart joke or chipping a tooth on the mic.
Please note… I have neglected to pay attention many times.
What’s the origin behind your name/band name?
Welterweight? Just not quite heavy enough…
What’s your musical guilty pleasure?
“You can’t roller-skate in a buffalo herd,” okay?
Additionally, Stephen has exhibited his photography in Portland, Maine, Boston, and California. He lives just outside of Portland with his wife and two children.