"When bands like The Gaslight Anthem get more popular it ultimately brings more attention to us and kids are more open to listening to us." -Micah Schnabel
Looking at the routing of Two Cow Garage’s current tour reveals many gigs taking place at bars, pubs, lounges, and even the odd brewery or tavern. If there was any justice in the world, these Ohio natives would have broken out of the bar scene and gained the same level of popularity as like-minded bands like The Hold Steady and The Gaslight Anthem. Injustice notwithstanding, one must admit that Two Cow Garage’s songs make a lot more sense after a few beers. Vocalists Micah Schnabel and Shane Sweeney write songs that are as poetic as they are direct. Drawing influence from classic rock, classic literature, folk, country, punk rock and everything in between, Two Cow Garage aptly mixes energetic, bar-burning tunes with slower, plaintive tales of heartbreak and days gone by. SLUG spoke with Schnabel just as Two Cow Garage was beginning their tour in support of their newly released fifth album, Sweet Saint Me.
SLUG: How did you initially get into punk rock?
Micah Schnabel: We all grew up in small towns in Ohio, so [punk] wasn’t very accessible. We found it through the Fat Wreck Chords compilations and Cinema Beer Nuts and a lot of stuff like that. That’s how we all got started because that’s all that they had at Best Buy in the closest city. We’d buy a lot of records based on the cover art, or we’d find one band we liked and it would all trickle down from there and we would just keep searching. We never really fell out of it—I think it’s still [in our music].
SLUG: Did you grow up listening to folk and country, or did you gravitate towards it later?
Schnabel: I kinda gravitated toward it when I was younger and got into the harder stuff from there, which I guess is the reverse from the way it usually happens.
SLUG: There are a lot of bands currently playing a style of music that combines punk with folk and country or classic rock. Do you think there’s something about these genres that makes so many people want to combine them?
Schnabel: I think it’s all just honesty. There’s something to take away from all of it. You get into folk songs for the same reason you get into punk rock songs. They all make sense because it’s all just true.
SLUG: Has the recent increase in roots-influenced punk bands had any effect on the way you’ve been writing music?
Schnabel: We’ve always kinda been our own thing. We’ve been a band for ten years now, and I think we’ve kinda progressed out of what we were, and it’s weird to see all of these bands popping up now. I think it’s really good for us, because when bands like The Gaslight Anthem get more popular, it ultimately brings more attention to us and kids are more open to listening to us.
SLUG: How does having two singers affect Two Cow Garage’s songwriting process?
Schnabel: For the most part, we just have whoever wrote the song sing it. For the first time on this new record, we have a song where we go back and forth, and I wrote those lyrics. We haven’t gotten to the point where we’re both writing lyrics on the same song, but that’s definitely not outside the realm of possibilities. That song [“Lucy and the Butcher Knife”] is actually one of my favorite songs on the new album since it’s a brand new thing that we had never done before ... We just got about ten beers deep, got on the same microphone and recorded it all in one take, just belting back and forth.
SLUG: On the new album you make references and allusions to Marvin Gaye, Bruce Springsteen, The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby, among other things. Where do you draw inspiration when writing lyrics?
Schnabel: From everywhere. I read a lot, and sometimes there are lines that just pop out of a page and I think, “Shit, I could write a song about that!”
SLUG: Is Two Cow Garage doing anything differently or planning anything special for the tour in support of Sweet Saint Me?
Schnabel: We’re five records deep now, so we’re trying to make it more of a show and less of just a band playing at a bar. We’re playing about an hour and a half set and we’re trying to cover a lot of material. We’re just trying to make it a little more professional.
SLUG: What do you hope Sweet Saint Me will lead to?
Schnabel: The hope is always to just grow. I’m really hoping this record reaches beyond our normal fanbase and we see more people at shows. We’d really like to get on some bigger tours—that’s a big goal for this next year. We just want to get in front of more people and get the chance to be heard.
Whether Two Cow Garage is performing songs about forbidden love, brotherhood or murder, they’ll surely leave a few drops of sweat and maybe even a teardrop in your beer when all is said and done. Two Cow Garage will perform at Burt’s Tiki Lounge on November 10 with Michael Dean Damron.