Musical Commune Cowboy Cowabunga creates a cassette label
Just outside of Denver, nestled in the Evergreen Hills, is a band of musical misfits who call Cowboy Cowabunga Ranch home. Artists here like to do things a little differently than their contemporaries in the music world. Cowboy Cowabunga is a commune of singer-songwriters in this sense, says resident and co-founder Mark Anderson.
Over the years, the farm has hosted an annual 4th of July festival and has been home to a variety of musicians. Anderson, music producer and multi-instrumentalist who was a drummer for a former folk band paper bird, recently decided to form a label under the name Cowboy Cowabunga which will focus on cassette releases only. Creating a base label at the ranch made sense, he says, even though the master plan of how it will all work is still being finalized.
“I don’t think this label is going to operate as a label, per se, or represent the bands or anything like that. It will work more like a collective, which is kind of a platform for a community of artists to start putting out their own stuff and bring back that DIY ethos,” he says. “I think the idea is that there’s this community of friends who are in Denver trying to build that momentum to release music that feels a little bit more special than throwing it on a streaming platform.”
anderson moved to the fifteen-acre ranch in 2010, after he and his Paper Bird bandmates agreed to take a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of the music industry. What started as a respite and temporary retreat for a group of ten friends turned into a DIY outlet and base for Anderson’s Cowboy Cowabunga studio.
Through his work with other artists, Anderson has discovered that the process of making records can leave even the most ambitious creatives uninterested in releasing new music in such a saturated soundscape. It aims to change that and give musicians more creative control.
“That’s my job, making records. I’ve been working with people all the time for months on these projects, and then they’re like, ‘What do I do with this now?’ [They] release it on Spotify, and you’ll feel like you’re throwing this painstaking work of art into the void,” says the producer, who has worked with artists like Nathaniel Rateliff and John Oates.
Anderson, who also manages Rateliff’s private studios, remembers when he and his friends came up with the idea of creating a Cowboy Cowabunga label. “There’s just something about the music delivery system right now that feels creatively boring. We were like, ‘How about we record something this week and release it next week? Oh wait, we can just do this…’” he said. “That thought started to branch out, like, ‘[What] what if we started making physical copies of something? I love the physicality of this one. I love the sound of the band. I think [the idea] is just having this little pressing label that’s focused on pushing people to make stuff, not get too wrapped up in what it’s going to be, and have this special product that may be the result.
For now, the label will stick to the cassettes. “The strips are so easy to make and cheap,” Anderson notes. “And the whole idea is, how cool is it that in this space you can hypothetically record a song and play it back in the same room?”
Member of the Cowboy Cowabunga community, musician from Denver Miles Eichner performed with Anderson on numerous projects, but he never released any solo material. Anderson changed that. During the pandemic, Eichner began working on an ambient Americana album to help her cope with the anxiety of the times while caring for her newborn daughter. he had recorded Be kind. I love you. by himself, and had previously made it available on SoundCloud. Eichner then asked Anderson if he would help mix the record, and the duo decided to give it a suitable cassette release. by Eichner Be kind. I love you. releases Friday, October 21. Marc Schusterman (of Rateliff’s night sweats) will fall Electric eyesthe first EP of his Amlamas project, the same day. Both tapes are the first official releases under the Cowboy Cowabunga umbrella.
“[Anderson and I have] worked together a bunch before. … We did a lot of performances and recordings together in a bunch of different bands,” Eichner says. “We have this family, this group of friends and this circle of musicians, and we all help each other with each other’s projects. This record I’m making is the first I’ve made under my own name. This is my first time working with [Anderson] for my own music. For me, it was obvious to have helped him a bit with my own record because we have a deep history. We have this very simple and productive connection.
He never imagined that what started as an attempt to ‘maintain sanity’ while he slept ‘very little’ as a new father would then be released to the world on a one-of-a-kind cassette with artwork of his friend Clayton. Norman.
“It was cool. I totally fumbled. I made that record last fall and winter. … I definitely learned a lot on my own,” Eichner recalls. very artisanal and homemade, but I like it, because it was true to the experience.”
Once the music made its way to Anderson’s Cowboy Cowabunga studio, the process was smooth as always, he adds. “We have this small community. … There’s just a lot of confidence. When people create something, it’s like their baby, and people get very protective of it, but it’s really great to have people around you that you can really trust and don’t hesitate not to say, for example, “Hey, can you take this and make it a little better?”, says Eichner. or artistic or creative friction between us. It just makes it easy and fun. That’s the most important thing, that we all have fun doing things together, and that’s not always the case with some [music] scenes.
Eichner and Anderson recall recent birthday bash for Denver singer-songwriter jess parson at the ranch, when the revelers in attendance started playing some of his songs. Anderson decided to record it just for fun, because that’s what Cowboy Cowabunga is. “We recorded this song, and there were eight or nine of us contributing to it,” Eichner says. “But there weren’t too many cooks in the kitchen, because we all trusted each other and had fun.”
A “lifer” in the local folk world, Anderson fondly recalls that he used to burn CDs and make construction paper cases to sell at locally held craft shows growing up.
“That’s where I come from: the do-it-yourself philosophy and the shows. The first records I made were burning CDs, cutting construction paper, and making stamps or screen prints — just making things yourself, then playing DIY shows and selling them. there,” he said.
“The main thing is I have this incredibly talented group of friends, and some of us have been making music together for fifteen years. We’ve just been through so many release cycles of things that have been rewarding and some daunting,” he adds. “Now that environment is amazing. We have shows here. We have a practice area. We have a recording studio. And I produce a lot of the music that will come out here. … We should make it a creative stable in Denver and the rest of the world.
This month’s Cowboy Cowabunga releases will be followed by Country Backwash albums by Clayton Dexter and Paul De Haven; a first solo EP from Mrak (one of Anderson’s projects); an EP of Allison Lorenzen; and an EP by Patrick Dethlefsamong “many others,” Anderson says.
“Hopefully it’s going to be a catalyst to do more stuff, and probably, most importantly, to make manufacturing less valuable,” he says. “Like, let’s do it, and then we can release him. So the good thing is that we can do more.
For more information, find Cowboy Cowabunga on Instagram (@cowboy_cowabunga_recordings).