Originally known as The Mustangs in the ’80s and ’90s California alt-country scene, the all-female band performed and toured extensively until 1997 when the group disbanded. They’re back having reunited in 2017 with new music and a new name because of potential legal issues – Mustangs of the West. “When we looked at getting the band back together, there was another band going by the Mustangs, so to avoid potential legal issues, we changed our name to Mustangs of the West,” said Sherry Barnett. Mustangs of the West’s current lineup includes original members, Sherry Rayn Barnett (electric guitar, vocals), Suzanna Spring (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), and Holly Montgomery (bass, vocals), with the addition of Suzanne Morissette (drums, vocals) and Aubrey Richmond (fiddle, vocals) rounding out the quintet.
The band released their single, “T-Shirt From California,” in late 2018, a song about love gone wrong written by lead singer Suzanna Spring with cowriter Wes Hightower. “I wrote T-Shirt from California when I was living in Nashville and homesick for California,” said Spring. “Sitting on my couch one morning, strumming my guitar, the chorus melody and chorus lyrics came through, almost complete. I took that chorus into a writing appointment with Wes Hightower, and we wrote verses and the story. He had the idea for those great Beach Boys harmonies in the chorus, and Mustangs of the West has such a beautiful vocal blend; it was natural that we’d record this song.”
With their debut album, Time, releasing this month on Blue Élan Records, Mustangs of the West will be kicking off a tour at SXSW supporting the new album. Time was recorded at Henson Recording Studios (formerly A&M Studios) and produced by Canadian record producer/engineer Mark Howard (Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris). In a press release, lead singer Suzanna Spring describes the decision to hire Mark, “Working with Mark was transformative. We needed a strong producer, and he just had remarkable vision for the songs.”
Sherry Barnett chatted with us about The Mustangs, Mustangs of the West, and Time.
Tell us about the original band, when it was formed, and notable performances.
The original Mustangs were formed in the late ’80s and had a great run of seven years. We became a staple at the “world-famous” Palomino Club in Los Angeles, being featured numerous times at Ronnie Mack’s Barn Dance. My very first gig with the band though was opening for Jim Lauderdale and Lucinda Williams at a club called the Music Machine in West LA. I had just auditioned for the band the day before and hit the stage with them the next night. Shortly after, the founder of the band left, and we got an opportunity for an NBC sitcom where The Mustangs were written into the script! From that point on, we went on to play regularly as well as tour Europe three times, including performing at the famous Roskilde Festival in Denmark – Europe’s original Woodstock – where we shared the stage with Edie Brickell and the Stray Cats. Prior to leaving for our first European tour, we received an endorsement from G & L Guitars, Leo Fender’s company he formed years after creating Fender Guitars.
How did the band reconnect, and why the name change?
I had a vision to put the band back together, based on the talents and friendships with several original band members who were still writing, singing, and performing in 2017. I thought it might be our time. I reached out to lead singer/songwriter Suzanna Spring and bassist/vocalist Holly Montgomery, who both jumped on board. The idea was to see where we might be able to pick up where we left off and create a new sound with more recent original material based on the solid reputation we’d built previously. We also chose to move from our traditional country leanings to more of an Americana/California jangle pop vibe. We added two kick-ass players, drummer Suzanne Morissette and fiddler/vocalist Aubrey Richmond from Shooter Jennings’ band.
I found an opportunity for us to go into the studio, thanks to friend/guitarist/acclaimed composer Snuffy Walden’s generosity, and we recorded a song of Suzanna’s, “T-Shirt From California.” The magic began to happen between us in the studio. From there, we started to hit the stage again as well, opening for acts such as Junior Brown and The Bellamy Brothers. The next step for me was pursuing Kirk Pasich, founder of Blue Élan Records, which seemed to be a label that made sense for us — a label all about his passion for all genres — and generations — of music, which is a rare commodity these days. A label that welcomed and respected female artists, too. We got signed and started moving forward.
The name change to Mustangs of the West came about after I did some major searching and found out that during the time the original group had broken up, there were that many more groups named “The Mustangs” — from party bands to an “all guys” blues band in the UK with a number of albums. We definitely didn’t want to have our new group get off the ground, only to invite a lawsuit. So the new name needed to reflect our past, our present, and, hopefully, our future. We all came up with names and took a poll. We ended up choosing Mustangs of the West, which I thanked our bass player Holly Montgomery for, although she says the idea was mine!
Mustangs of the West is releasing a new album called Time in this month. Share with our readers a little about the new album.
Our album, Time on Blue Élan Records, was recorded entirely in Studio A at Henson Studios, formerly the famous A&M Records Studios, where numerous classic records were made – from the Carpenters to Joni Mitchell to Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers to Joe Cocker and dozens more. The same room where apparently Paul McCartney had just recorded his most recent album, too! The opportunity came about thanks to our fabulous producer, Mark Howard, and we couldn’t have had a better room to create in. Mark has an illustrious history of working with unique artists such as Neil Young, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, to name a few.
What could’ve been an intimidating situation for us going in to finally record our very first album, was transformed by Mark, into a creative environment that elevated everyone’s playing and excitement. He had innovative ideas and changed up arrangements on a number of songs that gave them new life. For me, as a player, I was thrilled that he loved bringing in vintage instruments and amps to give our band a unique sound. I brought my ’60s Jazzmaster, borrowed Wendy Melvoin’s (Wendy & Lisa) ’60s Fender Mustang, played my ’70s Telecaster, and was amplified through either Mark’s VOX AC-30 or my limited edition Fender Blues Jr. He also brought in a 1930s National resonator/dobro for me to record with on several tracks – previously played by John Lee Hooker! He also loaned his EB-2 vintage Gibson bass to Holly to play on specific tracks.
What was the writing and recording process?
The album consists of nine original songs out of twelve. They’re primarily written by our lead singer, Suzanna Spring, including one track, “How Blue,” that she and I collaborated on. Three others came from respected outside 1riters that we’re acquainted with as well, keeping it in the family: Randy Sharp, Renee Armand, and Tish Hinojosa.
We worked long, consecutive days at Henson, after doing a week of pre-production with Mark. Going into the “hallowed halls” of Henson contributed to the recording excitement, and the energy between Mark and the band was the driving force that makes the album what it is!
How was the collaboration with Mark Howard formed?
We all had connections to renowned producers, and we met with some of the very best. We were looking for a combination of a personal connection, along with recordings that we loved that each had produced. Our label, Blue Élan, gave us the artistic freedom to choose, but the process started to drag on, with five headstrong, experienced female musicians who had their individual “favorites.” Then fortuitously, Aubrey, our violinist, who works with Shooter Jennings, got a direct referral to Trina Shoemaker (engineer/producer for Sheryl Crow, etc.), who in turn, led us to Canadian engineer/producer Mark Howard – and the shoe fit! Mark had just returned to his recording career after conquering a nasty bout with cancer and was ready to go!
Will the band be touring in support of the new album?
Yes, Mustangs of the West will be touring to support the album, which releases on March 27, 2020. We’re starting off at an official showcase at SXSW, then on to other Texas dates, East Coast (DC and Virginia), and back out to Los Angeles for various shows and an official record release at The Hotel Café on April 6, 2020. Summer dates are already being planned as well.