Reviewer’s Note: Shortly after this interview, Coyote Run announced a Farewell Tour. Details of the remaining tour dates and reasons for the change in plans can be found on their web site.
Coyote Run first came across my radar about five years ago, at a science fiction convention (MarsCon of Williamsburg). I’ve been hooked on following their rapidly evolving sound and performances ever since. With the release of “Between Wick and Flame” (2008), their skills and talents hit such a level that I knew I had to drag them into the Green Man limelight. It’s taken me a while to work up the courage and taken the band members a while to find the time, but I think you’ll find the results to be well worth the wait (especially since you didn’t even know you were waiting, didja?)
First question goes to David Doersch, lead…well, just overall lead of everything.
LW: David, Coyote Run has been around since 1999. How have you changed, how has the band changed, and what were the most important things you’ve learned?
David: Coyote Run started life as a folk band. Five men singing tight harmonies on songs that told stories and tended to be very dramatic (read: sad). Over time we realized that while folks loved the sad songs, those songs weren’t selling CDs. As we put in more fun music, more CDs sold. Our act evolved over the next four years to a high energy, Celtic folk act touring all over the east coast. We quickly hit a plateau though, and knew that a change was needed. When Les & Steve needed to step down due to conflicts with their respective day jobs, we decided to make a major change in the sound. We brought in a drummer.
Catherine Hauke [Cathy] was the first real drummer we’d had. Up to then, we’d handled all of our own drum needs through hand percussion and whatnot. We’d also never had a woman in the band. Well, she came on board and immediately started metaphorically moving the furniture. And the fans LOVED IT!!!
[Leona interrupts: oh, hell yeah, we did! *ahem* Sorry. Back to you, Dave….]
David: Things were never the same after that. We began a movement towards Celtic Rock that really wasn’t completed until Michael came on board a few years later as our new bassist. Michael’s background is very rock oriented, so he and Cathy clicked and were able to really lock in the new rhythm section for the band.
Recently, our very popular guitarist and digeridoo player, Doug Bischoff, decided to retire from the band after 5 years, and once again, we made the decision that a major change in the sound was called for. When we have these critical changes in personnel, which most bands have, I don’t believe in trying to hire someone who just emulates an existing sound. Instead, I like to use the opportunity for a real re-think on the sound and style of the band. The result is a real breath of fresh air into the music and into the energy of the band. So, we made a few very key decisions. The first was that I would take over the bagpipes. Since the inception of the band, I’ve relied on others in the lineup to play bagpipes and whistle, but now I’m stepping up and handling that myself. There’s a surprising sense of artistic control that this decision has given me. I can’t really describe it, but I absolutely love it. Perhaps the biggest change is that we hired Craig Olson as our new guitarist. Craig is a consummate player with virtuosity to spare. He has come in and helped us rethink much of this music in a way that is absolutely spectacular. We’ve reached a new level with Craig on guitar and Chelle Fulk on fiddle.
LW: From the outside looking in, I can say that it’s been absolutely wonderful watching your style evolve to suit each change. To me, that’s the mark of a true professional—the ability to adapt to almost any lineup. Turning now to Craig and Michael, let’s get their thoughts on another question: What drew you to begin performing Celtic music in the first place, and what was the impetus for moving to a more rock-oriented style?
Craig: I’ve been interested in world music and cross-cultural, genre-bending stuff for years, so Celtic Rock was a natural fit for me. I didn’t really approach the music from a folk perspective like David did because my “folk years” were more in the vein of James Taylor or John Denver rather than trad Celtic music. I’d been listening to bands like the Afrocelt Sound System, Tempest, and the Peatbog Faeries, who were already exploring rock and trance interpretations of the music. And despite my extensive use of acoustic guitar, I’m still a rocker at heart.
Michael: I’d barely heard of Celtic music before getting a chance to meet David and Catherine at a picnic. Upon being introduced to the band, I grew to appreciate the originality of the music as well as the richness of the vocals. When I found out that the bass chair was open, I got an audition and gave it my best shot, thinking that my approach to bass lines might give the music a boost I felt it could use.
LW: Seeing your musical dueling in “Battle of the Kings” is certainly an awesome sight! I’m very glad you took that shot, myself. *ahem* Back to you, David. Your web site describes the music of Coyote Run as “the thinking person’s Celtic Rock Band”. What exactly do you mean by that? How did that concept develop?
David: That actually was a fan comment at a major festival where we were playing in the lineup with some other bands who play more of a rocked up, pub style sound. The fan who made the comment came up to us and said—with a look of real epiphany—I get it now. Coyote Run is the thinking person’s Celtic Rock band. I get it! We’ve used the comment in our press ever since, though our new press material doesn’t mention it.
LW: Open question for everyone—CR has been compared to Jethro Tull and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Do you think that’s a fair assessment? Who would you cite as influences on your personal musical style?
David: I think each of us has very different musical influences. Personally, mine range from Mannheim Steamroller (theatricality and mold-breaking) to Andy M. Stewart (storytelling) to Bill Whelan (symphonic/orchestral size) to Loreena McKennitt (atmosphere and magic) to Bad Haggis (Celtic/World blend) to many, many others. For the band, we borrow from many of our colleagues, including bands like Shooglenifty, Peat Bog Faeries, Enter the Haggis, Hevia and more. Cathy can give you a more thorough list as she is perpetually researching our genre, mining for gold in the work of other bands. She’s amazing.
Cathy: When I was first hired into this band I had never heard Celtic rock (except for “Big Country” back in the 80’s!) and so had no idea what Coyote Run wanted me to do. Were they looking for symphonic percussion? Traditional old-world percussion? There was no instruction, just an expectation for me to somehow enhance their music. After months of trying this and that, and really having no idea who to turn to for ideas, David played a Wolfstone CD for me. Listening to the drumming, I was pleasantly surprised to hear straight up rock and roll. Since then, I have delighted in seeking out the best that Celtic rock has to offer (David has already listed all my faves). One big aspect of this band that has kept me in for the long haul is that I am given opportunities to play symphonic and old-world percussion as well—so I get all the variety I love in one group!
Craig: Well, in addition to the Afrocelts, Peatbog Faeries, Shooglenifty & other crossover Celtic bands, my most fundamental influences on guitar have been Will Ackerman, Michael Hedges, Frank Gambale, Hendrix, Jeff Beck, James Taylor, Eric Johnson. Even Wes Montgomery and George Benson. I listen to a wide range of stuff and then try to form a sort of sonic amalgamation that blends it together.
Michael: More Tull than Chili Peppers, really, but there is an adventurousness to the Peppers that I can understand. As to influences on my personal style, pretty much anyone I’ve ever heard who would stand still long enough for me to steal ideas away from them. I really started listening to music in the early seventies, when bassists were pretty much free to play whatever they thought would goose the song along. Think Tull’s original bassist, Glenn Cornick; John Entwistle with The Who; Jim Fielder with Blood, Sweat & Tears; Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady, and the like.
David: Personally, I like to relax to very atmospheric, peaceful music. The work of bands like Qntal, Clannad, Paul Winter, Paul Horn, Brulé, etc. These are all musicians that allow my spirit to soar and create while I’m listening. I think each of us in the band is radically different on this score. I’ll let everyone else chime in.
Cathy: Besides the phenomenal Celtic bands already listed, nothing energizes me more then a grungy, wicked groove. Telesma—a trance band from Baltimore—has been my latest supplier. I also have a playlist of my favorite female artists like Björk and Loreena McKennitt that keeps me connected to my musical soul-sisters in the world. To take me out of the mundane & carry me to other worlds, I turn to classical. For me, nothing tops Beethoven’s Allegretto movement from his Seventh Symphony. Debussy’s Sirenens, Bernstein, and Rutter’s Gloria are a few examples of transformative music that brings me to a very happy place.
Craig: I enjoy listening to a wide range of music, depending on my mood and what’s going on. I love world music and crossover stuff, starting with jazz/rock fusion bands like Weather Report and Brand X and extending to artists like the Afrocelts, Peter Gabriel, and Johnny Klegg. I also enjoy some trad and smooth jazz where the players are all really smokin’. At another end of the spectrum is the rocktronica scene with bands like BLVD and Jimmy Swift doing these mind-bending rap/techno/rock anthems. There’s also a time for old blues, reggae, jam bands and folk artists. Again, it just depends on mood and setting.
Chelle: I spend so much time with the fiddle in my hands that when it’s time to relax, I turn everything off. But when I’m looking for energizing music, I’m absolutely a child of the 80’s. British and American pop music like XTC, the Cure, the Smiths, and Mark Knopfler bring out my creativity.
Michael: I am a huge fan of fusion jazz, as in jazz influenced by rock and world music. I have a collection of stuff in my personal player, along with a Pandora internet radio station geared toward that style. If you listened to it you’d hear the Brecker Brothers, Chick Corea’s Return To Forever, Weather Report, and other artists exploring that style. I also have a soft spot for marching brass, having spent two years in an upstate New York drum and bugle corps.
LW: That’s a wide range of answers! Let’s see what this one provokes: what are your favorite songs from the CR repertoire? Are they the same as the guaranteed crowd pleasers?
David: In my case, that’s like asking a dad which child is his favorite. Hard question, as I’ve been there for the birth of every song. I still have a real soft spot for many of the older ballads, songs like “The Snows of Western Alberta,” and “Goodnight Innocence.” These aren’t songs we perform anymore, but I’ll always remember them very fondly. From our current repertoire, I have to say that I am extremely proud of songs like “Newgrange” and “The Hurricane.” These are newer pieces that haven’t been recorded yet and haven’t yet found their way into the audience’s hearts and minds. Folks like them, but they’re new and so they haven’t settled in yet. Of course, “Papillon” is really taking off right now, pun intended. Since Craig showed up, the song is proving to be very, very popular—South African pop meets Quebecois—too much fun.
I’m always amazed that some of our most popular songs are songs we’ve been doing the longest: “Ripe and Bearded Barley,” “Oak and Ash and Thorn,” “Lord of the Dance.” These are songs that have become iconic Coyote Run songs, and are proven audience pleasers. What’s truly amazing to me is that even with more sophisticated songs in our repertoire, if we play to a new audience—folks who have never heard us before—they still really react to the old crowd pleasers, so it isn’t just a matter of familiarity. These songs have solid hooks and are fun; really a joyful experience.
Cathy: New songs are always exciting because they represent progress and development and fresh ideas. Currently I’m really enjoying what Craig is bringing to “Newgrange”. This song represents for me a thrilling discovery of Craig’s skills and what they bring to our music. “Luseblus” is also very fun and exciting for me because I get to be lead-singer-for-a-day. Well, sort of…
I’m thrilled to have Papillon back on its feet—it has had a troubled launch with members coming and going—but it is too good to sit on a shelf. “Lord of the Dance” will always be the most emotionally stirring for me, simply because of all the fantastic memories I have of performing this song to thousands of people all over the world in the most amazing places. That song never fails to unify and have a tremendous impact on audiences, which is very humbling for the performers.
Craig: At the moment I’m really enjoying “Luseblus” and “Papillon”, although they’re all a lot of fun.
Chelle: As a relatively new member of the band, I’m a kid in a candy store with the entire repertoire, old and new. I love the lightness of “Ripe & Bearded Barley”, the depth of “Invictus,” the drive of “The Hurricane,” the passion of “Newgrange”… and of course, the opportunity to fiddle like mad in “Oak and Ash and Thorn.”
Michael: I don’t really have *one* favorite. I’ve helped create, or at least update, all of them, so they all are fun for me to hear and play. My approach to these songs tends to evolve as my playing style and abilities improve, so it’s fun for me to bring something new to each song in its turn.
LW: All right, now we’ve really got everyone talking. Good. So let’s talk about your dream concert venue next.
David: That’s another hard question. For me, the dream concert venue is anywhere that the audience is having a good time, in a nice theatre ready to hear a great concert. I put us in a theatre because that is really where we are most comfortable. We enjoy festivals and music clubs, but at the end of the day, we’re a very theatrical band with a very theatrical show.
Chelle: My favourite thing in the world is playing for dancers, no matter the venue. Whether it’s a specifically choreographed piece, or the delicious spontaneity of our audience members dancing to the tunes that move them, it adds so much joy to my own experience of the music.
Craig: Primarily theaters and Performing Arts Centers. I still really love festivals too, but as David said, Coyote Run is best experienced in a theatrical setting.
Michael: Any place where the band is appreciated. I’m a long-time veteran of the hotel-lounge and bar circuits and have played plenty of nights to either nobody or a roomful of people who weren’t there to hear the band.
LW: Speaking of being appreciated, let’s talk about the recent acoustic concert in Williamsburg, David—how did that show come about? (And was it really true-acoustic? I saw some amplifiers.)
David: For several years, we’ve been performing only 4-5 times in the Williamsburg area. Each year, we play a concert at the Williamsburg Library in February, then a big concert in July at the Kimball Theatre, then usually a local festival in the fall, then our Christmas concert at the Kimball in late November, and finally First Night. In trying to differentiate these experiences for the audience, I felt that the two that were really competing with each other were the February and July concerts. Given that the Library theatre is smaller and provides for a more intimate sound, I thought it would be a great idea to try a “mostly unplugged” concert, Cathy not on drum set, the rest of us minimizing the electronic effects. The audience ate it up—
[Leona interrupts with a small cheer of agreement, quickly stifled.]
—and I think we’ll keep doing that every February. In contrast, our July show has really become our big concept show, i.e. a chance to showcase a broader theatrical vision and bigger concert experience. So these two shows are now at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Michael: I can only speak to one comment here. You saw one amplifier, and it was for me. My acoustic bass sounds great when nobody else is playing, but once any other instruments start to speak it gets buried. Hence the backstage amp for me to be able to hear myself.
LW: Ah, that makes perfect sense. Thanks, Michael. Now for another open question—let’s hear from everyone on this! Your “hospitality rider” (and by the way, those are excellently well organized tech and hospitality riders) notes that you like micro-brews. What would be your top favorite micro-brew at the moment?
David: Ha! Well, I’m particularly partial to the stout that is micro-micro brewed by one of our long-time friends/fans, David Hamrick. He produces some amazing stuff. Generally, I think I speak for most of the band in saying that we like beer that is rich and flavorful. A quick way into Cathy’s good graces is to show up with Chocolate Stout, while I personally love a rich amber ale or porter.
Craig: I’m a hop-hound and a big fan of IPA’s. Best IPA in my book is from a craft brewery in Bellingham, Washington (my home town) called Boundary Bay Brewery. It’s bitter and hoppy with just the right malt balance. I’m also a home-brewer and have developed a reputation for being something of a beer snob, a badge which I wear with pride. Then again, at a recent show in North Carolina it was just REALLY hot and a light pilsner went down well in the summer heat. Lager and lime is also quite refreshing when things heat up, but I always go back to a frosty IPA.
LW: I will certainly keep that list in mi—errrr, that is, thanks for sharing those recommendations with us! *ahem* Back to you, David, for the wrap up—Coyote Run recently celebrated its ten year anniversary with an impressive Retrospective album. Where do you see Coyote Run being in another ten years? Do you have any concrete plans? (World domination, perhaps?)
David: Coyote Run is in the midst of a major change. Six years ago, we made the decision that we were not a pub band and would not continue to play in that world. That disappointed some fans who had gotten to know us there and were hoping to continue seeing us in those venues. But it was demoralizing and not at all financially or artistically rewarding. During the past six years, we’ve focused on festivals, music clubs and concert halls. Now we’re shifting once more and focusing more directly on Performing Arts Centers and Fine Arts Concert Series, etc. We have taken on new management that we believe will move us more aggressively in this direction. These are elite venues with subscribers, and they provide us with a more theatrical venue that will allow us to really reach for the stars visually and aurally.
We’ll still be doing festivals, no doubt, but this shift in our focus feels really right and like a much better fit. At the end of the day, we’re not like other Celtic Rock bands. We use the music to express and define a mythic journey that is ultimately a theatrical experience.
For example, our new press material says, in part, “Coyote Run will seduce you body and soul. Their sound is nothing short of hypnotic, their stage production intoxicating…[this band] bends all preconceived notions of Celtic Rock. Roots, Celtic folk, jazz, latin, rock opera: check all or none…They are a wild breed unto themselves: bold, sexy and intellectual.”
LW: Sounds like you have a brilliantly perceptive marketing person in charge now, because that sure fits everything I know of you guys! Except that they forgot to add “super friendly and approachable”. Thank you so much for the thoughtful, thorough answers. Oh, and…where’s your next performance? I want to make sure I get plenty of b—errrrrrr, I mean, I want to be sure everyone knows where you’ll be next.
David: All announcements, tour dates, and press kits are available through our web site. We also have a Friends of Coyote Run Facebook page, which is a good spot to follow our latest adventures and connect with other fans (quite a few fan photos post there shortly after each of our concerts!).
LW: Thank you, David, Cathy, Craig, Chelle, and Michael! And for those unfamiliar with the basic band lineup, here’s a list:
-keyboards, whistle, accordion, bagpipes, vocals
Catherine Hauke -drums,
vibraphones, djembe, percussion, vocals
Michael Kazalski – bass,
trombone, didgeridoo, vocals
Craig Olson -guitar,
Chelle Fulk- fiddle
Thomas Arnold – guitar,
And for those curious for still more information, a list of releases:
10 and ½ (CD-2011)
Ten Years Running – A Retrospective (2 disc CD-2010)
A Kilted Christmas (DVD-2009)
Between Wick and Flame (CD-2008)
Pleads the Fifth (CD-2005)
Tend The Fire (CD-2005)
Don’t Hold Back (CD-2004)
Full Throttle Celtic (CD-2003)
Coyote Run (CD-2001)