To say Cowboyy are relishing the word-of-mouth buzz around them would be an understatement. The enigmatic four-piece have been turning heads everywhere on the UK live circuit, even becoming talk of the town at Brighton’s tastemaking The Great Escape last May with no recorded material out there. It’s not hard to see why: at that show, frontman Stanley Powell cut a compelling figure while a perfect storm of math rock swirled around him.
There’s no denying the hard yards Cowboyy have put in to becoming such a vital live force, often playing a show a week. “It’s that classic punk rock approach of just getting out and playing gigs,” Powell explains to NME over Zoom from his Portsmouth home, joined by Reubin Yarnold (bass), Kai Smith (guitar) and Rhys Teal (drums). Powell, the project’s mastermind, admits it wasn’t easy finding compatible individuals for the band. After a few lineup changes, he looked to neighbouring cities along the Southern Rail line from Bournemouth to Brighton to enlist pals sharing his wayward vision for guitar music.
“Lockdown was the real turning point”, he says. “I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time to message people when this is over’.” Though he’d already met the Southampton-based Yarnold through mutual friends, Powell recruited the rest of the band through Instagram. “Finding Rhys was a pivotal moment, he brought us together as a unit,” says Powell. “Before, it was just me writing songs.”
Powell says Cowboyy’s spontaneous sound derived from their heavier influences, pinpointing the likes of early noughties rock titans Tera Melos and Hella as his own guitar heroes. The results are as technical and progressive as they are noisy and fun, injecting a new lease of life on a British post-punk landscape all too content on reworking barbed riffs from The Fall‘s playbook.
The singles dropped in the run up to their debut EP ‘Epic The Movie’ have only consolidated the band’s desire to blaze their own brave trail on the UK guitar scene. ‘Gmaps’ is built around a math-heavy guitar line as Powell unpicks the anxiety of the modern age with a spoken word vocal: “A small bus journey can take you through an entire person’s childhood.” It’s not long before his rapid delivery starts to derail, and sounds like someone speaking in tongues.
Thematically, the rest of the EP is equally unpredictable. Follow-up single ‘Tennis’ depicts thousands of ants being annihilated by a tennis ball, while ‘Plastic’ deals with pressing environmental issues over a classic rock-inspired guitar line. “There’s a theme to each song but not one overarching message across the release,” Powell says. “I’ve got a book where I write my thoughts and poetry. It’s always about serving the song; a lot of it comes from dreams.”
At the centre of it all, though, is Powell’s natural gift on the guitar; he indulges the type of technical and heavy riffs the crowded post-punk scene has desperately been missing. It’s a skillset he attributes to the hours he spent practicing his instrument growing up. “I thought I was shit for ages, so I just stayed in my room learning. I grew up listening to rock ‘n’ roll. I love big stupid guitar solos; I like a lot of hair metal. Maybe it’s an ego thing, but it’s fun.”
NME interjects: Do you admit you’re a guitar nerd? “Oh, absolutely! Have you heard the music? That’s the whole thing!” He continues: “I’m the person in a crowd who’s waiting for someone to do something cool on guitar – I want to play for those people.” It wouldn’t be outrageous to suggest that Powell kicks out riffs in the vein of a young Eddie Van Halen. “I’m massively into rock folklore,” he laughs. “I’m always spewing bullshit facts.”
Given Cowboyy’s eclectic range of influences, it’s understandable the band are already wearing thin of comparisons to avant garde noise projects like Black Midi and Black Country, New Road. On EP highlight ‘Algorithmic’, Powell swipes at the realities of the modern day music industry: “No we’re not a fucking Black Midi rip off”. Yarnold says the line came from first-hand experience. “We’d played a show in Brighton and when we went out to the smoking area, people were saying that.” Teal adds: “It was annoying to be put in a box, we’re playing the same scene but it’s clear we’re our own thing.”
It’s easy to see why such tags might be thrown their way; Cowboyy have made south London’s The Windmill a second home in the last year, a venue that has acted as a launchpad for a multitude of alternative punk bands including Squid, Black Midi and Shame. Though the scene has moved on from the days when the Brixton venue was the epicentre of the UK’s leftfield guitar movement, Cowboyy are aware of its legacy. “It’s a cool place to knock around,” says Powell “We’ve liked the bands that have come through there, and we wouldn’t mind borrowing that momentum.”
Cowboyy might have thrived in the face of unpredictability so far, but Powell says that’s not the long-term plan. “We’re already thinking beyond the first EP. We’re all actively pushing towards that idea of this dream world”
With such momentum behind them already, there’s no guessing where this gang of rock outlaws are poised to go. Discussing their ambitions, they cite the prolific drive of King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard as an influence, who once churned out five albums in a year. “We strive to be that kind of band,” Powell says. “We want to keep creating, evolving and pushing ourselves.”
Cowboyy’s debut EP ‘Epic The Movie’ will be released on March 6 via Nice Swan Records