Posted On 12 Jun 2018
The band, led by Jessi Williams released “Roam, Little Gypsy”–the lead single from their upcoming EP–on June 1. Set to a lulling piano and twangy guitar, the moody waltz–penned by Williams for her fellow country songstress, and friend, Margo Price—“Roam, Little Gypsy” exudes biting lyrics examining the pressures and expectations faced when transitioning from a young, free-spirited woman to a wife and mother.
“When I lived in Nashville, Margo and I would frequently get together to drink, smoke, and play Nirvana or Dylan songs in her basement,” says Williams. “We were a little wild back then, so these nights felt pretty responsible to us. When I got pregnant and moved to Kansas, my life was strikingly different than the life I’d been living. Margo wrote a song for me called ‘The Ballad of Jessi Williams.’ I remember it had a great line about trading cigarettes for apron strings. When Margo got married and subsequently pregnant with her boys a few years later, I wrote ‘Roam, Little Gypsy’ as a response song. She’s heard it and is really supportive of this release.”
Born and raised surrounded by cornfields in southern Indiana, COYOTE’s songwriter and rhythm guitarist, Jessi Williams, is no stranger to country and bluegrass music. At 14, Williams hid in her bedroom studying the Neil Young guitar songbook, while her parents hosted regular “pickin’ parties” in her old farmhouse kitchen. While, at the time, her interest in the bluegrass genre may have taken a backseat to her love of 60s,70s rock and Motown, it’s has always been a prominent style in her songwriting.
In 2008 Jessi moved to Los Angeles with her two-year-old daughter while her, now ex, husband was fighting in the Iraq war. As an outlet for her frustrations as a military wife and single mom, Jessi flooded her notebooks with stories of personal woe and folkloric interpretations of the world. Guitar in hand, she took to the stages of dive bars and coffee shops where she met Chris Sousa (bass), Robin Harris (guitar), former member Adrian Prohaska (mandolin), and Conan Skyrme (drums). Through their mutual adoration of folk music, the 5-piece folk rock band known as “Coyote” (pronounced Kye-Oat) was born. Eventually, Coyote found themselves in the live room of the historic East West Studios- home of The Beach Boys Pet Sounds. There, they laid down eight tracks and prepared for their first release. However, around the same time, Jessi was touring with spaghetti-western influenced folk rock band, The Lonely Wild. Balancing a demanding tour schedule, a day job, motherhood, spread her too thin and she was forced to put Coyote on a hiatus.
All the while the songs still came….
Now reemerging in 2018 as Jessi Williams and Coyote, the group, with The Lonely Wild member Ryan Ross joining, have new songs in the works and are blowing the dust off of tunes that, like a bottle of wine–and all good old country songs–have ripened beautifully with age.
For more information on Jessie Williams & Coyote, visit:
Learn more about Jessi Williams & Coyote in the following All Access interview:
So how has 2018 been treating you all? What is one musical goal that you have had for this year and how close are you to reaching it?
It’s been a great one so far! My personal and musical goal for the year was to get back into the habit of writing every day. It’s something I love to do and I’m compelled to do. I even tend to get depressed without that as an outlet. Even still, I’d fallen out of the habit of making it a daily event. I could feel the toll it was having on my psyche was not good. I’m happy to say that I’ve gotten back into the ritual. Secondly, releasing this material was high on the list. We’re almost there! June 1st our single will be out and we’ll be one step closer.
Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be in this band together? Has anything surprised you about it all so far?
I started out doing solo sets around LA and I accumulated members over a period of a few months. I think I’ve been surprised every time someone has been like “hey let’s play music together.” Since the material is my own there is a certain vulnerability, so anytime someone likes it enough to be willing to dedicate the time to playing it, I feel honored and a little surprised. It was an even bigger surprise that the band was willing to re-band after our hiatus.
How difficult was it to come up with your band name? What other names were you considering?
There are plenty of coyote (kye-oat as we say) running around LA, so we actually came up with it pretty quickly. I can’t remember any other names in serious consideration. We did have to consider whether we’d continue to be just “Coyote” or to add my name, which ultimately we did. There have been a few bands with the same moniker accumulate over the years- perhaps a different pronunciation though, but we decided to be safe about it. As far as I can tell though, we were the first.
Jessi, how does being in this group compare to your previous one, The Lonely Wild?
I would say that Coyote is a little more “loose”. Most the songs are based in traditional rhythms. We could easily add on members or instruments if someone wanted to come on and “jam”. The Lonely Wild’s style is much tighter. Our songs are precisely orchestrated. We’re all an integral part of the machine and there is not as much flexibility. For me personally, The Lonely Wild is much more of a technical challenge and takes me out of my comfort zone. It’s allowed me to grow as a musician. Coyote is easy and allows me to have a creative outlet which I also need. With both projects in an active status, I have a well-rounded musical curriculum.
How do you think this group’s hometowns have influenced the sound and how you all carry yourselves in this group? If you don’t think that it has, why is that?
I’m from a part of southern Indiana that’s steeped in the bluegrass traditions. There are lots of great little music festivals and I know so many bluegrass musicians, including my mom and stepdad- and all their friends. It’s always been a part of my life.
Let’s talk about your forthcoming single,“Roam, Little Gypsy, Roam.” What was the inspiration for this track? How do you think it prepares listeners for your upcoming EP? How did you go about selecting it as the first single to be released from the collection?
This song was inspired by my friend, Margo Price, and her transition into being a wife and mother. It’s a bit more of a country vibe than most the others, but the same roots rock base. I also tend to write in a more folklore, storytelling style which is represented here. Within the band it’s always been a favorite. The recording came out so beautifully, probably because of where it was recorded.
How is the music that you are creating with this band different or similar to anything else you have previously put out before? What was it like recording this new music at East West Studios where The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” was created?
Recording at East West was such an honor and so inspiring. It’s an surreal feeling when you know you’re standing in a spot where music genius has manifested. I don’t think my heart ever stopped fluttering, which may be why all the songs seem like they’re really fast on the recordings compared to live.
The music I did as a solo artist was also folk, but playing solo just wasn’t as fun. I would never want to be a solo artist again. I love working with a band. It’s a very synergistic experience that’s unlike anything else. You have to learn to read minds. Sound-wise Coyote and The Lonely Wild are similar because both have members who are all heavily influenced by rock’n’roll even though that influence takes very different directions.
I have to ask what it was like working with Margo Price? How did this collaboration and friendship first come to be?
I wouldn’t say we “worked” or “collaborated” together- though I would absolutely love to do something together eventually. It’s a little less convenient now with her still in Nashville and me in LA. We were just having fun back then.
We first became friends about 13 years ago in Nashville. We were both schlepping beers for tips at the Flying Saucer. By our second shift together we realized we were both into the same music and both aspiring musicians. At the time, she was the only other female musician my age that I knew personally. I think that commonality bonded us.
Back in the day, We’d get together at her house and pluck away at Lennon or Dylan songs. “Instant Karma”, “Shake Sugaree” – Elizabeth Cotton & “Mighty Quinn” all come to mind as some of the first things we played together. We were both really starting out and pretty terrible guitar players. She always had pipes though. I was pretty shy still about singing in front of other people, but she’d book coffee house gigs and her boyfriend, now husband, and I would sing back up for her or we’d take turns playing the few songs we’d written at the time. It was fun. I was already a late bloomer and without the encouragement from those two lord knows how long it would have taken me to get here.
Where do you think you are all happiest– in the studio recording new music, on stage performing or elsewhere? Do you have any upcoming shows this summer that you would like to tell our readers about?
I can’t speak for everyone, if I could guess I’d say at least Chris and Ryan would prefer being in the studio, but I personally like performing over recording. It’s a personal victory for me to break through my anxiety on stage. That probably doesn’t sound fun, but it makes me feel good. I get antsy if too much time goes by without a live performance. My absolute happiest though is when I’m alone writing songs. That mind-space is essential for my well-being and finishing something is such a satisfying sense of accomplishment that’s never come from anything else.
How do you think being a musician and in this band gives you all the most joy in life today?
It gives me purpose and a drive. There is always something to attain while also having little victories to enjoy.
We are currently living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious to know how your own music is reflecting this time period? If you don’t think it is, why is that? Would you say that other musicians are making music that has been influenced by this climate?
Absolutely, this point in history is so pivotal and so important it’s definitely changed the way I write- although it won’t show up until my next batch of songs come out. It’s been a few years since most of these songs were written and I tended to use a more folklore storyteller style. Certainly a lot I’m writing now and that I’ll be putting out in the next year will touch on these “current” issues. I think part of the reason I haven’t released much about it in the past is that it is all so deeply personal and emotional for me. I have an 11 year old in elementary school, so I can’t even begin to separate myself emotionally from the epidemic of violence we have this country. It’s not about just jumping on some bandwagon for me. It’s my absolute heart and soul on the line. The women’s movement obviously effects me personally as well and it’s something I think about a lot. It’s one of those many things where you just think “are you freaking kidding me?” How are we still dealing with this shit? For people to really believe that other people are lesser humans in some way is just something I cannot fathom. Sexism is so ingrained in our society, people don’t even know they’re being sexist half the time. Alas… I will save it for the music.
I would definitely say music is being influenced by these things. A lot of musicians, including me, use music as an outlet. We vent frustrations or process our emotions that way. Some people go to the gym, some people don’t process their emotions at all before they do and say stupid stuff. So as much as you see fans or critics commenting on musicians telling them to “keep politics out of it”, believe me, I’d love the day when I didn’t have to think about this stuff, but that ain’t gonna happen any day soon, so until then, I dunno, start your own band if you have something different to say. Besides you’d have to barricade yourself in a cave to keep from being inundated with these issues and everyone’s opinions on these issues on any given day.
How important do you think social media has been to this band? Do all you help to maintain all your sites or is one of you more into it all? Or do you rely on your PR/management team to handle it?
Oy, I know social media is a pretty integral part of publicity for a band, but I’m SO awful at it. I’m a private person for one and not particularly outgoing, so up until recently all my pages were private too and I only shared with my family and friends. I want to respect my kids privacy, but they are also such a huge part of my life and so damn cute and talented, it’s kind of impossible to share about myself without including them. I know I like to see other people’s pictures and know about their events so I try to reconcilethe contradiction in me by remembering that, but then I also have a hard time ascertaining why anyone would care what I’m doing and what they would care about enough that I should share it. lol. So I should probably have someone else handle it once things get moving for us.
Who would you love to work with in the future? Who are some of your favorite artists right now? What do you think would be a dream collaboration for this group?
My two fantasy collabs would be Neil Young and Jeff Lynn. Those are two of those “my life is complete” types. I think Coyote could really work well with Calexico. Both bands have a folk mentality and Ryan and I are both brass players, which you’ll also probably hear on some future recordings. I really love First Aid Kits’ new album. I think we’re in a similar vein of music. Of course, I’d love to sing with my girl, Margo, again.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
I think what I’ve done with my songwriting, in the tradition of folk music, is create these self-contained characters and stories. So right off the bat I hope people will just enjoy the imagery those create. For this album at least I don’t think there is a direct message like “look both ways when you cross the street” or something. They’re just stories. So I might write exaggerations about cheating, murder or sadness or whatever, but they aren’t necessarily representative of me or anyone else. Some are a snapshot in time, but it’s just one tiny piece of one moment. I hope people will relate to the characters and realize they don’t have to be defined by one idea of themselves or by one thing they’ve done. We all have these many many characters inside us. Maybe it’s OK that things aren’t all sunshine and lollipops. You can take those moments and experience them outside of who you are.
If you guys were all going to be stranded on a deserted island, what musical item would you want to take with you and why?
Definitely a guitar. I like to write on the guitar and I think I just enjoy to play it the most of the instruments I play. I’d pray I didn’t break a string, but as long as I kept most of them intact, I could adjust for a pretty long time.
Would you like to share anything else about your music or this band with our readers?
Music is a living thing and we all have a lot of different influences at play. If this first EP isn’t your jam, don’t discount us our second time around. I like the direction some of my new songs are taking. We might surprise you.