Criminal Rock of the Sacramento Area
Criminal Rock is a family affair—dad Brian Cowan II is on drums and vocals; daughter Emma on bass, keys and vocals; and son Tre on guitar. The trio’s mix of sounds—which sway between hard and classic rock, punk and metal—can often be heard at Sacramento’s Old Ironsides. “We share a musical chemistry that I seldom share with other musicians,” says Brian. “Any of us can start playing a riff or groove, and the others will have something awesome going over top immediately; it’s like we can read each other’s minds!”
HLB: What’s the story behind Criminal Rock?
BC: In 2006, Josh, a bassist from [my former band] Hammer Down, and I started a new project and named it Criminal Rock. The name was based on the lyrics from the song “Rock and Roll Outlaw” by one of our favorite bands Clutch. I liked it, since it could have different meanings for different people. In 2012, Josh moved back to Arizona, and I needed some new players [so I could] continue to jam and play shows. Emma and Tre, who were 13 and 11 at the time, had been watching for years and learning to play, so it was a natural evolution.
HLB: Do you ever get artist’s block or stage fright?
TC: Sometimes I get nervous when performing, but it always goes away after the first song or two. When I’m writing stuff by myself, I sometimes get to a spot where I can’t think of a good riff or bridge, but then I get up, take a break, and think about what I have so far until I come up with something good.
EC: When I come up with different song ideas but can’t think of another part to complete the song, I’ll play with the band and usually one of us will come up with the last part.
BC: Originally the kids learned to play a lot of the songs I wrote. Over time and as they progressed, they began to come up with more riffs and songs on their own, and I would just put a beat to it and help structure the song. Mainly we just jam, and cool things happen.
HLB: Are there challenges working with family?
BC: The biggest challenge is our health. Emma and I both have Crohn’s disease and my wife has multiple sclerosis. When Emma was hospitalized last spring, we had to cancel a show. In the hospital, a music therapist brought in instruments and after hearing Emma play the piano asked if we’d perform unplugged for the children there. They got to see Emma, a kid just like them, struggling but still living and playing music.
HLB: What are your plans for the future?
CR: We’re currently working on our home recording project, rehearsing for upcoming shows, and trying to learn new techniques. When Emma and Tre are old enough, we’d like to play at more venues around the area. Opening up for Clutch would be a dream come true!