Nailing down a genre that best suits Black Cowgirl isn’t an easy task. The quartet from Lancaster County has been labeled everything from “heavy backroad rock” to “’70s grunge.”
Their sound pays tribute to bands like Black Sabbath, Marilyn Manson and Anvil with a side of The Black Keys and a twist of Mastodon. Oh, and don’t forget The Allman Brothers Band.
“I spent a couple hours last night learning some of their songs and I said, ‘We need to be the evil Allman Brothers,’” says Black Cowgirl vocalist/guitarist Ben McGuire. “I love The Allman Brothers. They’re one of my favorite bands, but there’s just something I haven’t heard anyone do yet, which is to focus on the darker side.”
Perhaps the best description of what to expect from Black Cowgirl comes via the group’s Facebook page:
“Black Cowgirl sounds like a less talented version of an imaginary supergroup composed of members of Captain Beyond, The Allman Bros., Wishbone Ash, Nirvana, Thin Lizzy and Neil Young smashing together in ’60s Chevy vans at the intersection that Robert Johnson sold his soul at, with an Eyehategod tape in an aftermarket cassette player in one of the vans….with some Bad Company songs dubbed over the B-side of the tape.”
McGuire attempts to clarify the description by explaining that Black Cowgirl’s plan is pretty simple when it comes to making music.
“There’s so many bands now that go out and try to sound like a band from a certain era,” he says. “I just like to imagine a lot of the contemporary bands I like and how they would have sounded in 1960 or 1970. It’s not focusing on a time as much as focusing on putting bands out of time – like what would The Allman Brothers sound like today if they were signed to Relapse Records?”
Nathan Rosenzweig (lead guitar), Mark Hanna (drums), Wyatt Kring (bass) and McGuire met each other while working in different bands and, in 2008, they decided to start Black Cowgirl as a side project. They built a following by playing gigs in West Chester and York until Black Cowgirl became each member’s main band. By 2010, the group was touring, and a year later they cut a six-song, self-titled EP that would become the foundation of their full-length debut.
“I like to imagine a lot of the contemporary bands I like and how they would have sounded in 1960 or 1970. It’s not focusing on a time as much as focusing on putting bands out of time – like what would The Allman Brothers sound like today if they were signed to Relapse Records?”
Bilocation Records – a label in Germany – urged the band to lengthen the EP, which they were selling independently while touring. The group recorded six more songs, and Black Cowgirl was released overseas on vinyl before Restricted Release Records made the album available in the U.S.
McGuire looks back on this time, wishing the group had continued to self-release the album because it didn’t work out with the label. The band was actually pulling in more money from the EP prior to signing with Restricted just because there was less cost to consider. The exposure was great, but there were fewer funds to record new music.
“I think it might have been a little bit of a mistake, because we had revenue that was coming in that was solid when we self-released,” he says. “As soon as the label got involved, we sold way more than we ever could have, but I’ve barely seen a cent.”
The band soldiered on, though, continuing to score local and out-of-state gigs. The record ended up landing Black Cowgirl a performance slot on The Artie Lange Show, which is co-hosted by Central Pennsylvanian and former Philadelphia Eagles fullback Jon Ritchie. McGuire says that experience was an eye-opener because the group had never played on TV before. There were some technical hang-ups the band wasn’t equipped to deal with, considering they tour and perform without the services of a sound technician.
Perhaps not as glamorous – but just as cool – the band also joined forces with South County Brewing Co. in Fawn Grove to create the Black Cowgirl Black Double IPA. It started out as a one-time deal, but the double IPA has become a staple for the company, even going so far as to use the artwork from the band’s EP for the beer’s label design. “Not quite a sipper, not quite a drinker…maybe a thinker as you work through its complexity,” the beer’s description reads.
When the band members started working on their second album, they encountered multiple hurdles. First, Rosenzweig was battling an illness when McGuire was sidelined with Lyme Disease for nearly four months last year.
After everyone was healthy, the band linked up with Machine – a producer who has worked with the likes of Clutch, Fall Out Boy and Lamb of God – and entered the pre-production phase. Unfortunately, there was only a small window of time to record with the producer at his New Jersey studio because he was relocating his base of operations to Texas.
“We went in and the songs just weren’t ready yet,” McGuire recalls. “We started it, but we decided we didn’t want to rush it.”
The band hooked up with a local producer, recorded one song and never heard from the mysterious man again. The session went great, but McGuire hasn’t been able to locate the producer.
Black Cowgirl decided to scrap the material and start over. They took 2014 off to rewrite the album and are now finally ready to record. McGuire says the band is weighing its options as far as where to record the LP (Machine’s invitation still stands now that the Texas studio is finished).
“I was really excited about the album a year ago, but what it’s turned into now…the break definitely gave us time to perfect things,” he says.
Despite all of the obstacles of the past year, Black Cowgirl managed to release one single, “The Traveler” (the product of the recording session with that producer who mysteriously disappeared). The four-minute track is a slick composition that highlights McGuire’s powerful vocals and the band’s ability to show off all of its influences without ruining the creation of something that’s brand new.
“We try to be more creative about how we rip people off,” McGuire laughs. “If you rip enough people off, then it doesn’t stick out as bad.”
Black Cowgirl opens for US Christmas at The Depot (360 W. Cottage Pl., York) on Sunday, April 26. 7pm doors. 21+. $10. Click here for tickets.