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Published: 2004/06/29
by Mick Skidmore

Another Side of Jupiter Coyote

Jupiter Coyote is a band that needs no introduction to most readers. Since its inception 14-years ago the band has sold a combined total of over 200,000 copies of its eight albums. The band recently released a new two-disc set The Hilliary Step, which consists of one studio album and a live DVD. Disc one is a concise nine-track studio album where they finely hone their traditional sound with a few extra nuances and textures. Disc two, is a two and half live concert shot at The Windjammer in South Carolina last year. The set includes guest appearances by the likes of percussionist Count M'Butu, Bobby Houck and Hank Futch from the Blue Dogs and Darius Rucker from Hootie and the Blowfish.

The quality of both the musicianship and sound and video is extremely good. The studio album includes a remake of "Crazy Woman," one of their most popular songs as well as new gems such as the infectious "A Little Like Me" and the evocative "Falling." The most striking thing about the studio disc is that it's much more focused, more produced than some of their other albums, but it works. What follows is an interview with Matthew Mayes in which he speaks enthusiastically about the new album and some other hot topics.

M.S. Why don’t you start by telling us little bit about the new CD/DVD?

M.M. Well, the DVD was shot from multiple cameras and is mixed in 5.1 surround sound so it creates the effect that you are standing out in front of the stage watching it. It's pretty neat. The ways things are panned left and right when we are onstage. You can control the sound more. If you like more kick drum and bass in your shows you can crank it, if you don't you can roll it right off. It gives the person watching it a lot more freedom to mix it while they are watching it.

M.S. Is the actual recording process any different? I assume it just a multi-track release that’s mixed differently.

M.M. Yes, we brought in six cameras and a hard drive multi-track unit and we ran a feed from the board on every thing and a mike on stage, so everything going on had its own track and that went to a hard drive recording system and we took it back to a studio … all we did was get flat levels of whatever was performed and then we remixed it and brought in the two crowd mikes and that was pretty much it. There are some raw spots in it and there's some raw spots in it and there's one spot with feedback but that's it, that's live that's what happens. At the same time there's a digital feed that goes through the camera from the sound board its all in time code. We mixed the audio then we sent the mix out in wave format to California and Cliff Roepke and John Watson did all the cutting and editing. He makes independent films. He has all the equipment in his house. He spent a lot of time on it. With six cameras going there was so much stuff to do. He did a really good job on it. So the audio synchs in with his camera and then you just start cutting and editing. It's really pretty neat.

M.S. It sounds like you are really pleased with the end result.

M.M. Yes, it is above and beyond what I had expected. I didn't think it would look that good but the resolution on it is phenomenal. I am pretty pleased. I have made so many records and it's not necessarily a bad thing but it pretty much like tour paper for me, you know kind of here we go again. But with this one it just all started coming together from the studio sound and everything. I thought this is really going to be the project. Noel (Felty) wrote three songs on it and he sings on it which is a big addition for the band. It gives me a break because for 13 years I have written 99% of the stuff. I thought it was refreshing a departure to hear some of his stuff.

M.S. Do you think it has given you a broader sound?

M.M. Yes, and John got into this layered harmony thing that he just started constructing. This stuff makes the record. To me this is like our Pet Sounds. It's got all this cool harmony on it and all that was his doing. Somewhere in there it just took on this whole new life of its own and it all came together. I thought, wow, this is really going to be a good project for us.

M.S. Are you going to do anything more to really push this disc?

M.M. Yes, we are going to going to hire a couple of guys to work it to radio and I haven't done that in years.

M.S. It sounds like you either spent a lot more time in the studio. Did you work these songs up simply in the studio or where they road tested first?

M.M. Five of them were worked out live and the others just evolved in the studio. It was kind of putting pieces together. It did take more time in the studio but just because of the way we recorded. We did at James Island and we didn't have all the guys here at the same. We tracked five all at one time and then we came back and added stuff to them.

On our other records we never really took a radical departure from our live approach in the way we recorded. We pretty much cleaned up what we did live and then recorded. This time we said lets use the studio. We paid a lot more attention to things that we don't normally have. There is like four-part vocal harmony. We added some acoustic banjo. We used the studio in a more Beatlesque format, because why not.

M.S. I think that’s the problem with a lot of bands in the jamband genre they tend to just go into the studio and record live. If they are going to do that they may as well just record live shows. The best studio albums by jambands are those that utilized the studio and add other dimensions and colors. There’s nothing wrong with treating studio and live albums as two separate entities.

M.M. That's exactly what we did. It was intentional to do and we felt that if people hated then well you have the live DVD there's two and a half hours of it here for you. So, once we knew it was going to be a double release we said lets make it more of a studio project on this record. It's fun to use the studio. Neil and I were having a field day. We were playing with all the studio toys. We got to push the envelope a little more. Sure, it's more produced. The production is slicker, its fat. I think it is a very listenable record.

M.S. I agree to the point where I think it may get you across to a wider audience that some of our other albums?

M.M. I've had some people say they think there are three or four singles on it. This time I'm going to spend some money and suck it up and give it everything for five or six months. I'd really like for it to take off on radio because we have never really had a radio hit. Part of it is our fault, part of it is that we never felt we had anything that could play and we didn't want to get caught in the payola game. I'm not playing it to the level that major labels play it but I am going to go out there and get me some easy guys that are established in the business and get us on some radio stations. We'll have a lot more support that for anything else we have ever done.

M.S. Are you still planning on doing a couple of hundred shows a year?

M.M. No, we are planning on doing about 75-80, but they are all going to be major market places, festivals. They could be anywhere. I am working on stuff for labor weekend in New York, stuff in Montana, Dallas, it doesn't matter to us where they are. It gets more expensive for us if we have to fly to the West Coast but I don't see us doing more that. The morale of the band is better. We have been together for almost 14 years and we are very fortunate of being in a position where we can tour less and still make a good living. We are not doing anymore secondary market or cruddy bar gigs. Our longevity is finally working for us. We are up there. I feel very proud of where we are musically. I feel we can hold our own with anyone. It's neat to be in a position where we don't have to kill ourselves doing 200 gigs a year. There were many years where I felt we were spreading ourselves too thin. You get burned out. We've got wives and kids. If I didn't change the way we toured it would be very difficult to keep us together and I want the band to go on for few more years. It's almost like creating the illusion that we are getting bigger maybe we are maybe we are but if you can only see us play at bigger things it certainly seems that way.

M.S. Is your success still really regional?

M.M. The best places for is definitely Texas and D.C. In the Deep South we are household names. Outside of that there are areas where we have pockets of fans, New York has some, Chicago, Colorado has a huge pocket but there are a lot of Southerners there. Boston is tough. We are going to work it where it s the strongest right now.

M.S. Did you think the band would last this long?

M.M. No, when we first started I thought we'd kill a couple of years and then do something else but it just kept going and going. We love playing music.

M.S. The fact that you do all the business aspects of the band yourselves, did that just natural develop or was it conscious effort?

M.M. Two things; we never really wanted to let go of things. I am very fortunate in being surrounded by a bunch of sharp guys, now my partner John and I pretty much run the whole thing but we have the responsibilities delegate out to the other guys in the group. It helps make the whole machine roll. It's their baby too, so it works. At one point we had label and a manager, booking agency and 11 acts working with us but we just let that kind of die out and went back to just us. I make everything personal and extend the relationships with the owners of the clubs and the agents. Doing ourselves the bottom line is we all make a lot more money. We all have a vested interest in it. It's our baby I don't think we could ever turn it loose again.

M.S. Jupiter Coyote has always had strong songs. What kind of influences do have in that regard?

M.M. Everyone in the band has a different one. For John, the slide player you are going to her a lot of Duane Allman, Little Feat and stuff like that. Noel comes out mostly straight jazz. He likes great jazz players and people like Sting. Our fiddle player is a classical guy and all about Mozart but he has also developed a thing for Celtic fiddle playing and bluegrass. I think he has won Telluride twice. Sometimes at sound check you can watch him play classical pieces from memory. It's pretty amazing. Sanders grew up on old school R&B and funk. For me it was definitely bluegrass. I started playing banjo when I was about 10. I used to listen my dad's Flatt and Scruggs records. When I first heard Earl, I was like god I want to play like that. When I put the banjo down and started playing guitar I listened to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, but mostly Lyrnrd Skynrd and Marshall Tucker Band. I learned to play guitar off of the first three Skynrd records.

M.S. Where would you say your band fits in genre wise?

M.M. We've gotten into a little of that country rock jamming thing, but we are a rock band that has country and bluegrass and the Appalachian derivative but we are not a country band that rocks.

M.S. I like your more song structured music, especially the Ghost Dance album?

M.M. Well, we are not really a jamband, but the whole jamband thing didn't hurt us, but we write more structured songs we have three and four part harmonies and I think our lyrical content is way better than much of what is in that market. There are some phenomenal musicians in the jamband scene but some of the worst songwriters I have ever heard. It's like you should have just played. Our stuff is more real. It needs to say something. There has always been a lyrical content and that has helped with our longevity. We played for years before I ever heard the jamband thing coming out of Wetlands, but we certainly have that element in our shows. When you got a couple of songs that are over 15-minutes long you are going to get pitched into that genre but we also have a lot of really good songs. I don't know what n accurate description of what we are is?

M.S. People have a tendency to want to pigeonhole everything and sometimes it just doesn’t work that way.

M.M. Well the jamband genre is so small anyway. It is just such clicky sub-group of the music scene.One thing bout the whole jamband scene that I am not sure about is it is a clickish from the point of the music fans. It has to be in that vein in that genre without that label on it they don't like it. They want bands to be exclusively their own. It's kind of strange to me I never thing about that kind of stuff. I don't care who shows up as long as people come. I heard from our merchandise guy that sometimes people will say we like you but we don't like your crowd. That hurts me. I want to say why don't you just stop for minute and think about what you just said, what do you want me to do sit at the door and say who can come in? I don't care where they come from or what they believe, they can be rednecks, yuppies, I don't care, but I have heard that on more than one occasion.

M.S. How is your interaction with your audience?

M.M. Great, everywhere we play we've got five, six or seven songs that people just love. We like playing them and it is a real joy for me songs like "Rose Hill," "Crazy Women," "Real Thing" "Ship in a Bottle," I don't know why they gravitate to certain songs I wish I did I could write more like them, but when people know your stuff like that and have a great time it is incredible. I don't think it gets any better than that. A lot of bands are lucky if they can one or two songs that affect fans like that and we have a handful of them. They let us know about it if we don't play those tunes.

M.S. But despite that you still vary your sets?

M.M. Right, we may play "Rose Hill" every night but it may be a different version and it may be in a different place. We don't give them every single song they want to hear but we try and give them some of them. We probably rotate three or four of them in and out every night. When we do two sets we sometimes like to do the more mellow stuff first set. But we have this big grab bag of songs that we kind of rotate and it depends on how we feel and how the crowd is. Some nights it is more of a listening audience and other nights they just want to go crazy and hear a rip roaring rock band.

M.S. In all the shows you’ve done and all the people that you’ve jammed with are there any that really stand out for you?

M.M. For me when Count M'Butu plays us I just absolutely love that guy. He just such a phenomenal talent it is fun to just watch him go. I wish he would join us full-time. There have been a bunch of good players that have played with us over the years.

M.S. What is the significance in the title of the new album?

M.M. Sir Edmund.Hillary was the first guy to climb Mount Everest. He did it with that Sherpa guy whatever his name was in 1953 and the last two hundred feet of that climb is named after Sir Edmund Hillary. It's that point where you either make it to the top or you go back down or you die. About six months ago I think National Geographic did a big special on it…..and our drummer said you know this would be a great title for an album because this is kind of where we are in our career. It's almost not cost effective to make records anymore, it's hard on us. This album really is the Hillary Step for us. We are at a point where we really need to get to the top and sell a whole lot more or we may not be making many more of these damn things. We need people to buy them or what's the point. So, based on that concept we thought it was really a good idea, so that's what we called it. This is our big studio record. We have put out a lot of stuff in thirteen years and we thought this would be the appropriate name for the one that might finally get us to the damn top.

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