By annie bryan
No matter the field, making intentional decisions to genuinely challenge yourself to learn is scary, tiring, and confusing. Education is often exhausting. Fitting the grade takes up the least emotional energy to fit when you don’t put your heart into it. It’s common for the felt and experienced pressure to attain a degree to drown out the validity of learning in every other way. How can we truly learn if we don’t find new things, push ourselves outside of the exhaustive bubble of expectation, and test and expand our brains? Here is a challenge to learn.
Smaller concerts are intimidating. Jumping into the experience of seeing live music is intimidating. Putting yourself out there, going to a new space, and interacting with strangers in raw moments of art are intimidating. Embracing “FIDLAR” in a whimsical and challenging last-minute decision in late February 2018, I fell upon a concert in which Little Cowboy opened. In a slew of strange moments, I found kind and familiar sounds in their music. As bewilderment and thoughtfulness entrapped the audience, I knew that these four dudes held something special. I had stumbled upon a classroom.
With the drums of Josh Rios, lead guitar of Mike Grantham, bass by Ian Vaughan, and vocals/guitar of Collin Mueller, a dream-scape is provided. With phasers on full-blast for restorative Americana, their tracks douse listeners with an ebb and flow of contemplative energy. Lyrics become smooth stones underfoot, trustworthy. Small mistakes are only visible with raised eyebrows between band members. The rest is dialed high for self-reflection in locations you may only kind of be in. Go forth and dissociate.
The best classes are the ones you attend out of desire, and not because of a punishment-based curriculum. With or without culturally-significant affirmation of knowing about the translation of waves into sensory adaptation, we all understand that some music puts us in a space to think more about what we ingest. If education orbits relatability and comparison in the traditional classroom, maybe it exists in a different and equally as valid way in music consumption. As proof to the validity of informal music educations, Little Cowboy provides a space to help the ears around them learn to take apart combined sounds. Without surprise, St. Louis keeps coming back.
Months after my first time hearing Little Cowboy, I found their Socratic Method in the Sinkhole on a Thursday night in May. After opening with their premiere single “Indifference” and fan-favorite “Backbone,” lead singer Collin Mueller thanked the crowd for its participation and introduced their new song, aptly titled “Something New.” Jumping into a dream-like saga of sound, I found references to the works of Beach House, Real Estate, and Mk.Gee in the new track. Through the lyrics, themes of a surprising growth over time are documented. The strangeness of livelihood and observation. How we interpret how the universe pays homage.
Elated in her experienced recognition, my beaming friend suggests that their sound runs akin to Alt-J. Interpretations of the same feeling were validated by those around us with phrases including “this is so good,” “I love their sound,” and “oh my god!” As four friendly dudes hit the interpreted stage and blew everyone away with their vibe, St. Louis grew a little bit together.
With semi-active listening, each person in the small venue found something friendly from their past in Little Cowboy’s future. In these moments, the crowd acquired something brilliant on how music works. Beyond the nearly therapeutic music itself, we found relatability with the music and a surprising comfort in knowing that those around us felt the same way. With this band, St. Louis claims an education in how sounds interact with each other and with the rest of the sensory experience of performed music.
Four sweaty dudes in a South City bar brought a crowd to autonomously, symbiotically clap in grounded jubilance. As eyes roll back in heads, a boogie erupted in a community-infused redirection on learning music and didn’t slow down for the rest of the show.
I think community enthused on combined self-education may be the nugget that defines Little Cowboy. I haven’t seen a single unhappy soul at any of their shows. Instead, I find a reinterpretation of enamor with the band in the intentional or coincidental crowd of fans.
Maybe learning music doesn’t have to be through study. We can use the relatability of music, and it’s sounds, to change the way in which we interact with music and with each other. We don’t have to learn music alone. Maybe learning music can be done through experiencing interpretations of the same thing with a gaggle of friendly strangers. Sometimes it takes one track, one moment, or one show to teach us something. Alongside shared moments to bounce ideas and experiences off of each other in a way that isn’t synonymous with comparison or competition, but growth.
If you’re looking to catch an evening of unadulterated fellowship, ethereal sounds, and lens-expanding music education, go to a Little Cowboy show. Seek out indirect education- it’s something new.