Most country-folk is overripe with heartbreak. And so it’s hard not to treasure the jaunty hope in these lyrics: “Baby you’re so bad/can I have some?”
“Magick” isn’t the only fun song on Pistol Pete and Popgun Paul’s second full-length CD, Son of a Gun. There’s also “Whatsyername,” an ode to one-night stands (“Whatsyername/could you please get out of bed?/I really must get moving/could you please get out the lead?”), and “Workin’ for a Lovin'” — which ought to be self-explanatory for most folks.
While it’s true that Son of a Gun — an independent release produced by New Orleans-based Mike West — might be a bit unsettling for the too-tightly wrapped, it’s also true that anyone with half a sense of humor, a love for clever lyrics, and an ear for good harmonies will find a lot to appreciate in this duo’s twangy tunes and cabaret-styled performances.
They’ve been touted as “a gay Everly Brothers” — and Paul Cowgill says he’s fine with that description. He explains that he and Pete Sturman try to “intertwine our voices in much of our material. A lot of it for me is about the energy Pete and I create together, and how we invite others to participate.”
On stage, Cowgill can be found playing the piano, other keyboard instruments, and, lately, the accordion. Sturman plays acoustic guitar, banjo and “various percussive instruments,” notes Cowgill.
Sturman writes most of the lyrics, and they collaborate on the music. “Paul and I both do all the arranging,” says Sturman. “How we present the song is a creative process between us both.”
This creative process has held steady since the two met at an open-mic in New Orleans in 1994. They officially became a duo that night, though it took a bit longer to come up with the name.
“When my dad was growing up, if you were funny, he said you were ‘a pistol,’ says Sturman. “So when I was starting out, I was playing country and writing these funny songs … and I used a different name every time I played an open-mic. One of those was ‘Pistol Pete,’ and it stuck.” However, when he teamed up with Cowgill, Sturman decreed that he, too, must have a stage name.
“We couldn’t be just ‘Pistol Pete and Paul,’ so I came up with ‘Popgun Paul,'” he reflects.
The name taken care of, Sturman and Cowgill hit the road, playing coffeehouses and bars all over the country. “Our repertoire is the two CDs we’ve done, plus a bunch of songs we’ve never recorded,” reveals Sturman. Many of these unrecorded songs are “sort-of live, ha-ha kinds of songs,” he says. “I think it’s fun that there are some songs [we do] that you can only hear live.”
As for what concert-goers at Warren Wilson’s Sage Cafe might hear, Sturman says, “We’ll probably do a little bit of everything: love songs, surprising covers, gay anthems couched in whatever political situation is going on at the time. We never play the same set list twice.” If you’re lucky, you might be treated to such odes as “Jesus Loves the Little Faeries” and “What If God Was a Homo?”
What they probably won’t do is perform in drag, something they have done with some frequency. “We do drag less and less these days,” says Sturman. “When we started out, we didn’t think we were very good — and we weren’t — so we felt we needed [the gimmick]. I came from a Bowie and Roxy Music standpoint, and Paul came from being a drag queen when he was younger.”
Lately, though, “we’re less focused on spending an hour getting ready to go on stage,” says Sturman, emphasizing that “we’d rather spend that hour getting the sound set up and talking with the bartenders and the people coming in to see the show.”
The Warren Wilson show won’t be the first time P&P have played in Asheville, or even in North Carolina. Sturman studied English at UNC-Chapel Hill and did several solo gigs there. As a duo, P&P have performed in Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Asheville. The Warren Wilson gig, though, “just fell in our laps,” says Sturman. “I have a friend who goes [there], and he said, ‘Send me a CD and I’ll pass it along.’ Then they e-mailed us and asked us to play, and of course we wanted to.”
Pistol Pete and Popgun Paul will ride into town a few days prior to the gig to “stay with friends and soak up the local culture,” says Sturman. But they won’t be coming from New Orleans. Since moving to a gay artists’ colony in Middle Tennessee last June, the two have been enjoying the country life. Citing the expense of city living as a big impetus for the move, Sturman says, “We lead a simple life here — we make our own fun.” Bonus: “We have lots of time to play guitar and write new songs.”