"We want to keep the heart high." Words spoken so simply and un-ironically you are struck by their sincerity. For Coyote Choir, this is less a mission statement than it is a summary of their experience--of falling out of love with music and discovering it again. In fact, their new album, Volume 1, feels less like a debut and more like a musical resurrection.
After more than 15 years pounding pavement for their own project, brothers Jason and Paul Watkins found themselves spent when they crossed paths with an old friend. Mathew Linton, a veteran drummer on the Nashville music scene, found himself feeling similarly stagnant. "I was at odds with the drums. Something stole the joy." At one point, Linton even declined to play a show with the brothers, stating his heart simply wasn't in it. So instead of a show, the friends decided to write a song. It wasn't long before they had a whole album.
At the heart of Coyote Choir is a love of simple things. Bassist Paul Watkins likens it to the pure joy he felt riding in his grandfather's truck, feet on the dash, Waylon Jennings on the radio. A multi-generational mix of road-worthy influences quickly found their way into the music, from contemporaries like Brandon Flowers and The War on Drugs to the Traveling Wilburys and Dire Straits. Writing sessions took long detours into discussions of old movies and 80's sitcoms. "There was no pressure to do anything--just this joy of connecting over all these things we love," recalls vocalist Jason Watkins. It seemed as though every new inspiration the band bonded over reminded them to pause and to reconnect with the loves that shaped them. To remember.
With their resulting debut, Volume 1, the band and producer/multi-instrumentalist Joe Causey have crafted a sound at once new and familiar. It's a savvy blend of dazzling programming and production, vintage synthesizers, and jangly, Heartbreakers-inspired guitar. On "Awakenings," synths and guitars chime in harmony over the assuring pulse of Linton's drums as Jason Watkins summarizes their journey from stagnation to inspiration: "Your love was leading me to the other side." It's a spirit that pulls you through the album. In fact, it's an invitation. With songs like "Rainbows," Coyote Choir nudges the listener to remember the music, people, and experiences that made them--to be inspired by simple joys. On "Sing!," they declare it. The message is clear: whatever stole your voice, take it back.
Coyote Choir reminds us that as much as music is a reflection of its creators, it finds new meaning with the people who are listening to it. "So much music these days is about this strong individualism. And that's important and there's a place for that. But we want to point people to each other." And therein lies the essence of the band: community. Coyote Choir is a brotherhood that encourages its listeners and collaborators to gather around their passions, create out of their joy, and most importantly, offer it to the world around them.
"We're the new fringe," Paul says with a laugh. But it's true. Everyone knows music can be powerful. Or cynical. Or self-indulgent. But how many people remember that music can make you feel good? Coyote Choir reminds us that it's okay to lay your head back and savor a single moment--to sit in a simple truth. In today's musical landscape, to be optimistic is fringe. And we've never needed it more.