As the poets often say, there is a time for everything and–once again–it is time for the Southern California band Mustangs of the West to make a break for daylight. The all-female quintet first made waves in the burgeoning Los Angeles music scene, starting in the late 1980s. There had been an explosion of music in the city for over decade. A wild variety of styles, and bands ranging from the Screamers to Los Lobos, drew worldwide attention to the City of Angels. One of those styles, first labeled “cowpunk”, grew into a much bigger movement that included everyone from Dwight Yoakam to the Screamin' Sirens. When the Mustangs (as they were known then) appeared, they immediately turned heads and developed an energetic following that tagged them as leaders of this new musical brigade.
Now named Mustangs of the West, band members have reunited to take up where they left off in the mid-'90s and make good on their early promise. Original Mustang and lead guitarist Sherry Rayn Barnett is again playing music with lead vocalist/guitarist Suzanna Spring and bassist/vocalist Holly Montgomery. Joined by new members Aubrey Richmond (fiddle/vocals) and Suzanne Morissette (drums/percussion/vocals), on their new album, TIME, released on March 27, 2020 via Blue Élan Records. Working with noted producer/engineer Mark Howard (Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, The Neville Brothers), Mustangs of the West sounds like a band now in the top tier of musicians who can blend a variety of styles into one of their very own. And to hear band members talk about their present incarnation is to tune into five women who are dedicated to defining their new destiny with the commitment it takes to share it with the world.
Sherry Rayn Barnett discovered music as a young player in New York City, and became a classical guitar major at Manhattan’s famed School of Performing Arts. She also immersed herself in the folk and rock world there while still a teenager. By the time she arrived in Los Angeles, Barnett knew it was the right place and right time. The LA country and rock scene had come together and she found a new band that was looking for a female lead guitarist. She auditioned and became a founding member of the original Mustangs. Soon joined by singer/songwriter Suzanna Spring and then bassist Holly Montgomery, the group became a staple at the LA’s Palomino Club, performing constantly and touring Europe three times during their seven year career. The Mustangs made a solid name for themselves before starting to splinter in the mid-‘90s. It was time to try different musical pursuits and see where those led.
Two decades later, three of those paths led back to each other. This new incarnation of the group would be much more than just picking up where they left off, and the way everything started to coalesce made it clear that the time had come for Mustangs of the West. "It all felt right," says Barnett. "Everyone had stayed active and had success, but there was something about the Mustangs that still lived inside us, and seemed like it was what we were meant to do." Barnett, Spring, Montgomery, Richmond and Morissette collectively renamed the new band Mustangs of the West, to start the next chapter.
Suzanna Spring grew up on both coasts and in the south, listening to Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and Tom Petty. “I'd been living in Nashville and working as a staff songwriter for music publishers,” says Spring. “Sherry and I had kept in touch over the years after we’d played together in the Mustangs, and I sent Sherry some of the songs I was writing. When I moved back to California, Sherry told me she had this idea about getting the band back together to record one of my songs. And because Sherry is known for her ideas, I was game for it." Once that decision was made, the gears started moving fast, with Montgomery again joining the pair in the new collection of Mustangs.
Bassist Holly Montgomery grew up in Kentucky, and after relocating to Los Angeles, played with a wide variety of musicians as well as her own rock band. She became a member of the Mustangs during the '90s, and always felt drawn to the songs. "I like to go for emotional, lonely, and beautiful ideas that serve the song." She feels the new album title, TIME, is very telling. "We picked TIME as the album title as a way of saying that we are only now coming into our own and sound better than ever before."
"By the end of 2016 I knew this was a good thing to do," says Barnett. "I had been talking to Holly and Suzanna, and thinking of how we could really make this happen. And I knew it couldn't wait." Sometimes that sense of urgency is enough to kick things into the next gear, and that’s what happened when drummer Suzanne Morissette and fiddle player/singer Aubrey Richmond became official Mustangs of the West.
Aubrey Richmond was born in Sacramento and grew up in northeast Washington state, 100 miles from the nearest city. A classical student turned competitive fiddler, she’s been touring with Shooter Jennings for the past four years and recently ended a tour playing/singing with Duff McKagan of Guns n’ Roses. Following an invitation from Barnett, Aubrey immediately fell in with the Mustangs of the West, explaining, "The band is a group of not just solid players, but people who really shine at what they do." That's exactly the quality great bands share; not always an easy mix to find.
Born in the small Canadian town of Chicoutimi and now based in southern California, Suzanne Morissette is a graduate of the prestigious Quebec Conservatory of Music and of Percussion Institute of Technology in Los Angeles. A versatile drummer/percussionist, she has performed and recorded with elite artists in nearly every musical genre, garnering high praise in publications including Modern Drummer, The Los Angeles Times, and LA Jazz Scene. "The combination of our different backgrounds makes for a cool blend of styles. It’s one of the band’s greatest strengths,” says Morissette. Suzanne’s history of playing with bassist Montgomery gives MOTW the powerful rhythm section that shines on the new album.
Fast forward to 2017, the fivesome was official, had recorded together and Barnett was sizing up potential record labels to find the new band a musical home. When Mustangs of the West met Blue Élan Records, they found a perfect partner. After rehearsing and recording six of Suzanna’s songs during what the band thought was an audition, the label offered them a record deal on the spot. And that's when the cogs really started turning. Next up– to find the perfect producer to help the band realize their musical vision.
Mark Howard worked with producer Daniel Lanois for many years, setting up Kingsway Studio in New Orleans and recording Peter Gabriel, REM and many other artists before going solo as a producer. When he and Mustangs of the West began working on TIME, the band knew they'd met their match. "Working with Mark was transformative," Spring says. "We needed a strong producer, and he just had remarkable vision for the songs. Mark has a system of recording and works with just a few takes. We recorded one of the songs, “How Blue”, with all of us just playing together in the control room next to the board." Barnett adds, "Mark always had a good idea of where the song could go, and just as importantly, he knew how to lead us to it."
For Mustangs of the West, this record is the reward for their belief in what they'd found together. The band had taken a 20-year break, and returned to show themselves stronger. TIME is also one of the first albums Mark Howard has produced as a cancer survivor. Together the band and producer bonded on the thought that it is never too late to be your best, proving again that time really does take care of those who believe.