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Progressive Rock Interviews

Coyote Poets of the Universe

Interviewed by Gary Hill

Interview with Coyote Poets of the Universe from 2019


Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – sort of a "highlight reel?"

Josie Quick: I started with the school orchestra and studied violin all the way through music school. Guitarist/dobro player Tom Carleno and I started Perpetual Motion, an acoustic world chamber jazz project, in 1989. While he was working on a solo project I joined the Coyotes, in 2009.

Andy O': We all have grown up in music....all our lives.

Tom Carleno: I began playing guitar at the age of 14. I have been performing, recording, and teaching music full time since 1986. My solo guitar album was nominated for two awards, and won one, in the 2013 ZMR Awards. I am the most recent addition to the Coyote Poets of The Universe, I joined the band about five years ago.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

Josie Quick: I might be a master gardener or a shrink.

Andy O': Inconceivable. When you're a musician you do all kinds of other jobs but you always come back to music.

Melissa Ann Gates: Well, it's hard to speak for everyone, but I would probably be an organic farmer who sang to her crops and animals! I would also say we have a band full of would be mystics, engineers, horse breeders, radio personalities, chefs and genius rocket-science types - quite a broad range of talents. Finally though, I don’t think any one of us would actually be doing anything else that did not include, at least in some major way, music.

John Rasmussen: Literature, or maybe theater, but even if I did those, I'd still do music.

Tom Carleno: It’s hard to imagine not being involved in music, but if I had chosen another career path, I might have been an oceanographer.

MSJ: How did the name of the group originate?

Andy O': Awareness of Coyote the Trickster stories and involvement as Poets.

Melissa Ann Gates: The name came from the fact that the group started out with poetry as its base and lifeblood. Gil Bateman was an amazing poet and creator, who initially got the project started with Andy O'Leary and Gary Hoover when the Millennium was just turning over. The three of them loved the spiritual meaning of “coyote” as the trickster, poetry, and the vast beauty of the Universe. Thus, the name was born.

MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?

Josie Quick: Personally, Jean Luc Ponty, Stephane Grapelli, chamber music, romantic composers.

Andy O': Obviously the teachers who got us here, but with eight people the list would be unruly. 

Melissa Ann Gates: This I can answer for the group. If you cross reference every genre of music with some of the most emotional and moving forms of those genres, you will have great examples of what influences The Coyote Poets of The Universe. I think that what we do every time we write or play is try to bring that powerful and altering sense of what music does to the soul, body and mind of the listener. Because of that, there is truly no particular genre that influences us, as we tend to be open to inspiration everywhere in the world of music. That is not to say each of us does not have favorite inspirations, but in Coyotes, we bring everything to the table that we agree is powerful and good.

John Rasmussen: I myself am heavily influenced by the great classic masters, such as Bach and Mozart, and also by progressive classical and jazz musicians including Stravinsky, Varese and Miles Davis ,among others.

Tom Carleno: The biggest musical influences for me are Steve Mesplé, Brian May, Laurence Juber, Al Stewart. There are many others but those are the big ones.

MSJ: What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?
Josie Quick: On Strange Lullaby:

“CPU has always kicked but this is a steel toed boot to the soul. One thing that Coyote Poets of the Universe does is not let up with unassailable configurations of funk bump soul roll lyrics and beautifully timed and orchestrated new world music. Strange Lullaby brings the classics into the new classic era. Lovin' it like a house without a roof.” - WAWL flyingman Mark Caldwell

Andy O': Applause.

Melissa Ann Gates:  Hands down that we are a “steel toed boot kick to the soul.” That made me really happy because Coyote music is, I think, at its core a very emotional form of musical creation. In our minds, if you aren’t feeling something when you listen to us, then we aren’t doing what we set out to do! As a caveat (laughter) you don’t need to feel kicked, but you get the metaphor there!

Tom Carleno: After playing a gig I heard someone whistling one of my songs. I wrote an earworm!

MSJ: What's ahead for you?
Andy O': Our next album.

Melissa Ann Gates:  I know that we have more albums in our future. Every person in Coyotes is a lyricist and composer in their own right, so there is no question that new music is always coming for us. As a singer, there has never been another group that gave me the platform to just go wild across genre the way that the Coyotes do. It's just phenomenal as a vocalist to find that quality and level of play across the board in a group of musicians. I am blessed with that. We also shine in live performance because of the detailed nature of our music. We are always having a good time, but we are always weaving a picture, as well.

Tom Carleno: More recording and performing.

MSJ: I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?

Josie Quick:  I call it "Progressive Americana," but that doesn’t capture the enormous variety of styles and influences this band has. With seven people coming from seven different musical backgrounds there’s a huge amount of creativity and influences.

Andy O': Rocky Mountain Gumbo. jazz, classic, folk, blues, rock, country and avant-garde.

Melissa Ann Gates:  I would describe our music always as a musical ride or journey. We love to tell stories. Even within our instrumental pieces, stories and emotions are being held out in our palms for the listener to feel and experience. At this point, we are often referred to by industry as Progressive Americana or Progressive Adult Retro.

Tom Carleno: I would describe the Coyote Poets music like this: take a cup each of rock, jazz, blues and Americana, add a couple of tablespoons each of country and classical, put them in a blender and mix. Pour into a large glass, add some poetry, and sprinkle with a generous amount of improvisation. Stir and enjoy.

MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play in the future?
Josie Quick: I love collaborating, so anyone.

Andy O': Another unruly, long list.

Melissa Ann Gates:  I am always open to collaboration, but plan to continue to be the voice of Coyote Poets of the Universe because it offers me so much freedom to perform and create.

Tom Carleno:  I am always open to collaboration with other musicians.

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Josie Quick: It’s got its pros and cons, but I think the cons outweigh. 

Andy O': Both. Whenever someone listens to your music on purpose it's a success, but we still have bills to pay.

Melissa Ann Gates:  I think that the internet and social media have changed the landscape of music distribution so much that we will not know what its final outcome will be for a long time. I don’t think illegal downloading for free is a good thing for musicians. I think that, at the very least, bands should get the streaming fees from streaming services, and those can be so small still. It’s a quagmire that is fully money based and really has no bearing on the art form at all. On the other hand, the internet is a phenomenal way for genius and unknown folks to find fans. I don’t have the true answer.

MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?

Andy O': Let us know. We'll clear a space, but no selling them allowed.

Melissa Ann Gates:  I think recording live shows is kind of art form in and of itself, (i.e. Grateful Dead fans). I don’t think someone should be able to sell them, but trading them is just fine - people sharing music they love.

John Rasmussen: I wouldn't want them to put up a whole show; I'd rather folks came to see our concerts! But I don't mind short clips that get folks curious about us.

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

Andy O': Too much respect for anyone making music to be enemies.

Melissa Ann Gates:  I would be Sound Frequency Woman! My nemesis would be whoever the person was that decided to pitch correct every single human voice that is played online, radio and TV. The corporate machine seems to be trying to suck every human element out of music. I love being a Coyote for that reason, too. We work hard to keep the true human element in the music. What you hear is us, pretty much unadulterated us.

MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?

Josie Quick: I would love to hear jazz artists Rebeca Mauleon and Regina Carter do an album together. I think their styles would complement each other.

Andy O': I'm in that band already. 

Melissa Ann Gates:  All of the Coyotes, but adding some of the most unknown but genius jazz and blues players probably. I would also mix in some phenomenal classical players who wanted to get on the Coyote bus for a day or two.

MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?

Andy O': One person's ultimate is another person not so ultimate, but here goes: Lukas Nelson, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Trombone Shorty, Heart, Lord Huron, Regina Carter, Joshua Redman, Pat Metheny and us.

John Rasmussen: The Coyote Poets would be headlining for sure! But I'd like to think we'd hold our own even against groups like the Silk Road Ensemble; I'd love to jam with those great masters.

Melissa Ann Gates:  Well we would headline for sure! Also I would bring Trombone Shorty, Patsy Cline, BB King, Bette Middler, Van Halen (David Lee Roth version) Dwight Yoakam, The whole Carter Family, Ray Charles, The Doors, Parker Millsap, Lena Horne, The Grateful Dead and Andrea Bocelli. As backup for everyone, and for performance on their own, I would have The London Philharmonic Orchestra led by Jeff Lynne doing all of ELO’s best. Boom! I would foresee some massive universal jam at the end of the festival under a full moon with everyone attending.

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Josie Quick:  Joni Mitchell’s Blue

Andy O': Charles Lloyd & The Marvels with Lucinda Williams.

John Rasmussen: Vladimir Horowitz, the Moscow concert.

Tom Carleno:  The last CDs I bought are I’ve Got The World on Six Strings and Under An Indigo Sky by Laurence Juber.

Melissa Ann Gates:  Parker Millsap is the last CD I bought online. He is a phenomenal singer and is a young guy with huge sensibility, I think.

MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?

Andy O': Moby Dick

Tom Carleno:  I am currently reading Somebody To Love, a biography of Freddie Mercury by Matt Richards and Mark Langthorne.

Melissa Ann Gates:  Right now I am reading Becoming Super Natural by Dr. Joe Dispenza. I am a huge fan of changing your mindset to create your life the way you want it. I also love historical novels.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

Josie Quick: A crazy cellist named "Rushad Eggleston."

Andy O': Karrin Allyson.

John Rasmussen: Opera On Tap, a local group of concert singers who could vie with the best.

Tom Carleno:  Rushad Eggleston, cellist.

Melissa Ann Gates:  Tom Petty. He was a great songwriter.

MSJ: Do you remember the first concert you attended?

Josie Quick: My mom took me to classical concerts when i was very young. My earliest memory is when i was about four and we saw the "Marriage of Figaro."

Andy O': Beach Boys 1965

John Rasmussen: No, it was during my early childhood, but my mother said that it featured Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and when I first heard the piccolo I laughed out loud with pleasure. Thus began my love of unusual instruments.

Tom Carleno:  It was Black Sabbath, Heart and Boston in Denver, 1976

Melissa Ann Gates:  Van Halen, Hollywood Bowl, David Lee Roth version, stunning in all its 80s glory. I stood transfixed the whole time.

MSJ: Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?

Andy O': Another unruly list

Tom Carleno:  I bought a Dobro (a resonator guitar) a few years ago. I got it specifically for playing with the Coyotes and I absolutely love it.

MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

Andy O': It's all guilty pleasure.

John Rasmussen: I don't feel guilty over liking any of the music I like. 

Melissa Ann Gates:  Bee Gee’s Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. I was about 10 when it came out and I still love it today. I have been known to yell out “Nothing can go wrong when the Bee Gees are on!” out-loud in many appropriate and inappropriate places!

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

Josie Quick: Auditioning keyboard players. One guy joined, quit, and then answered the ad to audition again. 

Andy O': I'm the one guy who never saw Spinal Tap.

MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

Andy O': Bobby Kennedy, Nick Drake, Mom

John Rasmussen: Jesus of Nazareth, Johann Sebastian Bach and C.S. Lewis.

Tom Carleno:  Only three? Okay, Brian May, Jacques Yves Cousteau, and Vincent Price. The discussion would be about music, astronomy, the ocean, art and horror films.

Melissa Ann Gates:  My father -  he died young, but was a huge influence on me. Nikola Tesla - he was, I think. a couple of thousand years before his time - massive brain. Finally, my husband Zach. I wish he could have met my father, and he would love Tesla!

MSJ: What would be on the menu?

Andy O': Spaghetti

Tom Carleno:  Along with being a refined actor and art connoisseur, Vincent Price was a noted gourmet chef, so he would prepare the meal. I would leave the menu up to him.

Melissa Ann Gates:  Two Bottles of Laphroig Whiskey, some good cheeses, good fruits, good breads, tons of butter and a buffet of desserts - candles, and Strange Lullaby playing in the background. I hope my Dad and Tesla would like it, and since its 2.5 hours long, it would work! Of course, I would assume that my fellow Coyotes would be there with their three people, as well, and I think you can tell we would need more whiskey!

MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Andy O': See local music. Support music education. Be nice.

Melissa Ann Gates:  As Coyote Poets of the Universe we are able to transcend the everyday, and create a kind of magical soundscape. As a group we all impart our pieces, which to us (and we hope you all) feel like something so much more powerful than we may be individually. Music is healing, moving, inspirational, motivational and, if you are human, moves you through your lifetime. Music to us is the place where we become more of ourselves, and we are always trying to bring the listener along with us. That never changes for us and that I think is what brings our fans back for more.

MSJ: This interview  is available in book (paperback and hardcover) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 1. More information and purchase links can be found at:
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