Artist Spotlight: Student musicians combine talents to create Cow Baby

Taylor Sexton 
Arts & Features Editor
[email protected] 
Artists of all genres thread the community of UNC Asheville. From musicians to painters to poets, art bursts forth from across campus.
A banjo and a guitar sit nicely beside the front door, serving as the musician’s welcome mat, immediately letting any visitors know that they will soon enter the apartment of the folk duo known as Cow Baby.
Annie Jo Buchanan, a newly graduated 2018 UNC Asheville alumna who studied psychology and music teamed up with Claire Hoke, a senior music student to create Cow Baby.

Annie Jo Buchanan (left) and Claire Hoke (right) sit with their signature banjo and guitar that make up their folk sound in Cow Baby. Photo by Taylor Sexton.

The two met in the fall of 2016 when Hoke auditioned for the UNCA acapella group, the Bluebirds, that Buchanan was in charge of at the time. It was not until a year later that the two began to spend time together outside of the Bluebirds.
“We kind of both realized that making music was something that we had been wanting to do, both of us individually felt discouraged and like we maybe couldn’t or wouldn’t be successful and since we were both feeling that way, we were like, why don’t we try doing it together,” Buchanan said.
The duo, who have both been interested in music their entire lives, united forces. All that they had left to do was come up with a band name.
“I heard the name because one of my professors, Jude Weinberg, named a local wifi network Cow Baby and I kind of thought about it for a long time and then we decided that’s just what we wanted to be called,” Hoke said.
The two share a passion for veganism and find it important to incorporate that passion into their musical experience, Buchanan said.
Cow Baby uses both guitar and banjo and they have many musical influences, such as I’m With Her, Joni Mitchell, Gillian Welch and even Dixie Chicks, inspiring a dynamic sound.
“So, we are kind of folky, but we definitely have a lot of varied influences so, it’s kind of hard to pin it down as just folk,” Buchanan said.
Cow Baby’s ability to blend with one another, but also have their own unique voices when singing separately sets them apart from other musicians.
Rebecca Vines, 21-year-old Raleigh native who has lived in Asheville for three years now, also met the duo through the on-campus acapella group, the Bluebirds.
“Annie Jo and Claire both have the technical skills and theory knowledge and an inherent artistic ability, which is something that I think sets them apart from other artists. They’re able to utilize their learned skills and their talents together to create their distinct sound,” Vines said.
The pair write their own songs and find inspiration from their families and life experiences that have shaped them. Ranging from awkward middle school years to many other firsts in life, the pair feel it’s important to talk about the embarrassing or vulnerable events that everyone experiences one way or another.
“That’s the kind of stuff that we like to bring to light in our music, but like in a way that maybe indirectly addresses it so that other people can relate to it and understand and apply it to their own experiences,” Buchanan said.
Vines describes the group’s sound as genuine and reminiscent.
“Their lyrics touch on the idea of operating the world as a woman and relate back to the rawness of being a child which is why it feels so reminiscent to me and is a comforting thing to hear others speak on,” Vines said.  
The songwriting process for the duo can range anywhere from a few days to a couple of months. They often start off separately, coming up with a chord progression first and then adding the lyrics, also keeping in mind what vibe they’re wanting to go for before coming back together and showing the other what they have.
“If I wrote a song in its entirety, but I have like, sort of an idea of what I want Claire to add to it, we’ll get together and just play it and then change it and then incorporate both of our ideas into it. So that is usually how it goes,” Buchanan said.
Recently, the duo entered a contest for the band I’m With Her, submitting a cover of one of their songs. It was an any art goes contest, meaning that fans could submit a drawing, dance or cover. One person even submitted a cocktail based off of one of the songs; but Cow Baby won.
“We kind of submitted it thinking we wouldn’t win, but then we were one of the winners and they asked us if we could go to Red Rocks to see one of their shows, but it was four days in advance. So, that’s in Colorado and we could not go,” Hoke laughed.
The prize for winning was two tickets to a show and although the pair could not attend, they were excited about their win.
Cow Baby has played at a number of venues locally, including the UNCA campus, THE BLOCK off Biltmore, The Grey Eagle, Ambrosia, the student art exhibition and various house shows. The two expressed that their favorite venue to play out of all of them were the house shows.
“It was really, really nice to just play in front of friends or friends of friends. Everyone was kind of sitting on the floor just casually listening and I feel like people were so sweet to us. After that show it was very affirming and validating and everyone really seemed to get what it was that we were trying to communicate and that felt very, very nice and just encouraging,” Buchanan said.
The duo are currently working on recording some of their music and hope to get their songs out into the world. They also have several shows coming up, including the Burger Bar in Asheville on Sept. 14 and Pritchard Park in downtown Asheville for a charity event Sept. 29.
Although the duo do not know where they will be five years from now, they hope that they will continue to grow as artists alongside their music as they go.
“I would hope that we would be able to transition from playing gigs and also doing other stuff as a form of income, to maybe just being touring musicians or playing more around town just as a job instead of something that we do while we also do other things,” Buchanan said.