On October 14, 2016, the Columbus, Ohio-based rock band, Two Cow Garage, released their seventh studio album, Brand New Flag via Last Chance Records. Brand New Flag comes on the heels of the band’s acclaimed 2014 release, The Death of the Self-Preservation Society, and seeks to further elaborate the band’s ever-broadening stylistic and songwriting methodologies.
Powered by tight grooves and melodic arrangements, Brand New Flag works to firmly embed listeners in the heart of the Two Cow Garage universe; the record offers personal insights ripe with reflection on contemporary issues, as well as existential considerations that showcase the lyrical prowess of the band’s two songwriters, Micah Schnabel and Shane Sweeney. This record fittingly sees Two Cow Garage enter its 15th year without any compromise of commitment, energy, or intent. Brand New Flag’s 12 songs metaphorically demonstrate how one’s worldview can simultaneously shape and be shaped by one’s experience.
Recorded primarily at Kingston Springs, Tennessee’s Bedbug Studios by guitarist/singer Todd Farrell, Jr., Brand New Flag showcases textures and dimensions that reflect the band’s tight-knit, Art or Die ethos. The songs channel Two Cow Garage’s energetic and straightforward live style and incorporate a multi-instrumental approach to composition. Mixed by Glossary’s Joey Knieser, engineered/produced by Todd Farrell, Jr., and mastered by Nashville’s Chris Frasco, the record, as an entity, grows and morphs through its 12 tracks into a construct that binds listeners to the band through the fabric of the human condition.
“The process was rather organic from start to finish,” stated bassist Shane Sweeney. “We’ve honed these songs—tightened them and tried them live, on stage so that the recording process could capture the energy and sentiment that’s so central to them, thematically.” Schabel added, “Having Todd on-board now in a full-time role [as a guitarist] added a new dimension to the entire process of recording the album. There was a certain closeness that I think the songs reflect, which makes them more accessible—more relatable. As a band, that’s what we always shoot for. We want these songs to matter—to grab people and maybe make sense and affect some sort of change here and there.”
The recording process empowered the band to launch into Brand New Flag with a new approach. When asked about the recording process, Schnabel explained, “We really were intentional about recording only the parts that we thought the songs needed. We let them speak for themselves and tried to do our best not to get in the way. The result is something special, I think, that works to build upon itself as one song informs the next. In writing and recording this batch, we worked to challenge ourselves and think about not so much what we wanted to record but what each song needed.” Sweeney offered further insight into both the recording and writing process. “Everyone was involved,” he said. “These massive rock-n-roll songs might start on an acoustic guitar or a piano, but they finish with all of us, one unit: Micah, me, Murph, and Todd.”
Brand New Flag stays true to The Death of the Self-Preservation Society’s efforts to balance archetypical punk qualities with folk attributes. The songs work to honor their functional and theoretical origins. For example, “Movies”, the record’s opening track, builds a heartfelt and authentic groove of togetherness as, one-by-one, band members drop in to comment on what the societal, unnamed, collective “they” should do—a tongue-in-cheek reference to the problematic challenge to balance passion, art, and creativity with the relentless demands of the so-called real world.
“History Now!” and “This Little Light” both offer a no-holds-barred examination of the state of society invigorated by unapologetic honesty and vulnerability—a combination that conjures a sense of power that is anything but paradoxical. “Let the Boys Be Girls” anchors itself in a softly-swelling piano melody that gives way to a full-tilt anthem, which resolves itself in the claim that “We can write our novels and history books—we can call this a new beginning. We can write our own soundtracks.” The record’s final two tracks—“I Promise” and “Stars”–bookend Schnabel’s and Sweeney’s songwriting in arguably its finest form. Melodic, yet sharply-focused arrangements echo the emotive and engaging tracks and leave listeners room to interpret and introspect, a device welcome amongst the likes of genre-crossing writers such as Raymond Carver, Bruce Springsteen, and Charles Baxter.
Please Turn the Gas Back On. Riding the strength of the album’s opening track, “Been So Long”, the band has mustered five additional full-length releases, a handful of singles, and a few solo efforts. Two Cow Garage has relentlessly paraded their brand of heart-wrenching, ferocious rock-n-roll—a son that calls to mind Nirvana, The Men, and Dinosaur, Jr.—through countless North American tours, as well as several European sojourns.
Two Cow Garage’s 2010 release, Sweet Saint Me, not only managed to get airplay on WXPN’s World Café, but it also found its way onto many critics’ best-of lists. The follow-up, 2014’s The Death of the Self-Preservation Society, opened additional critical doors and furthered the band’s already far-reaching and much revered live prowess. Two Cow Garage has performed at numerous festivals including SXSW, CMJ, Kilkenny Rhythm ‘n Roots, and the Lucero Family Picnic, and has toured with acts like Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, The Hold Steady, Drag the River, Slobberbone, and Lydia Loveless.