To start with, I owe this band a huge apology.
They sent me their mixtape a year and a half ago. It took me months to set up the interview them, and (after briefly thinking the audio was lost with my stolen computer) finished transcribing it this past fall. And now at long last it is now here for you to see/hear/read. Thankfully, the songs are timeless and the theme is rather timely with the new year, making changes, etc.
I am not exaggerating when I say that this is one of my favorite mixes I’ve ever received. I mean, all of them have a special place in my heart, both because they were created for me, and I always appreciate how no matter what my musical horizons are challenged or expanded (often both). The tracks included in “Farmers’ Almanac,” however, are probably the closest to my personal taste. And not just a genre I’m partial to, but a genre that has a tendency to elicit strong emotions from deep inside my being. At least three of the artists on here have moved me to tears with their songs.
It does make sense though, as the music COYOL themselves make is not unlike what you will hear on this mix. Perhaps with a dash of the American Southwest, to spice things up. A write-up in Black Book Magazine this past fall praises “the fantastic arrangement that seems just a little yet perfectly off and the oddly beautiful lyrics that stick with you long after each track.”
A nuanced yet guttural brand of earthy alt-folk, the songs are equally affecting in an intimate, acoustic setting as with a full band. I can vouch for that personally. I first saw them over almost two years ago now at Lot 1 in Echo Park, and was completely blown away by their rich vocals, primal harmonies and the emotion behind every word. Several months later I caught them at the Bootleg backed by a full band. They had no trouble filling the space with robust sound and energy. I felt like I was at the hippest campfire ever.
Someone needs to ask them to score an indie Western one of these days (or really, someone needs to make an indie Western first I guess…I’ll totally music supervise).
And so at long last, read on for a peek inside the minds of the COYOL braintrust – Celeigh Chapman and John Isaac Watters – as they discuss their contemplative mixtape, how they came to create music together, and the uniquely creative process of releasing their EP.
Townes Van Zandt “Our Mother the Mountain”
Neutral Milk Hotel “Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone”
Laura Marling “Alas I Cannot Swim”
Belle & Sebastian “Another Sunny Day”
Ryan Adams “Amy”
Joni Mitchell “Woodstock”
Tom Waits and Kronos Quartet with Greg Cohen “Way Down in the Hole”
Los Tigres Del Norte “Flores De Mi Pais”
First Aid Kit “Ghost Town”
Ray LaMontagne “Empty”
The Tallest Man On Earth “The Gardener”
Matt Sweeney & Bonnie “Prince” Billy “Only Someone Running”
“Alas I Cannot Swim” by Laura Marling
“Only Someone Running” by Matt Sweeney & Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Celeigh Chapman: At first we wanted to call it music to garden to –
John Isaac Watters: But then it became a lot less about gardening and more of a guidebook to your life. And the Farmer’s Almanac is the guidebook to the seasons. It tells you when to plan what, where the moon is going to be, how big its going to be.
CC: My grandpa still gets one every Christmas. Thats what we put in his stocking every year.
JIW: Did you set out with a specific tone in mind when you created the mix? The sound is very cohesive.
CC: Personally, I wanted to put together a mixtape of artists that inspired me, and from there it was a matter of finding which song of theirs I thought would fit.
JIW: I didn’t have one in mind. We each did our own playlist and put them together, and I think the tone just kind of came out.
CC: It was a combination of what we both like.
TA: Were there any tracks you disagreed on?
JIW: I remember you didn’t want the Bonnie Prince Billy song on there.
CC: I didn’t? That was stupid. I like Bonnie Prince Billy.
TA: And so why the Spanish language track?
JIW: I thought it would just be really funny to put on there.
CC: I thought it was also because of Coyol?
JIW: Yes, the name of our band is this small town in Mexico where I grew up. Los Tigres Del Norte are actually from another town where I lived for six years. Now they’re this huge norteño band. So it was kind for those reasons, but lyrically the song is just really silly. It’s basically “Mambo No. 5” norteño-style.
TA: I found it really interesting that the Joni Mitchell song was in the middle of the mix…It’s the one song that seems equate music with the universe as something as sacred and powerful as love or nature. Was that on purpose?
CC: I chose that song because, like I said, when I was putting together my portion of the mixtape I wanted it to be a lot of artists that inspired me, and Joni is just so amazing. I was digging through some of her songs to try, thinking what might fit with our gardening theme, and not only do I really like this song, but as an added bonus she says the word “garden” in it. It worked perfectly. It’s just a really beautiful song.
JIW: She has this image in her mind of Woodstock as her “Garden of Eden,” but I think she’s talking about it on a much larger scale. Like, we came from this place that was perfect and now everything is messed up and we’ve got to get back there somehow.
TA: It seemed as though the term “garden” meant something different in each song? Was that something you took into consideration?
CC: I think it kind of just happened.
JIW: We didn’t set out to find songs that had the word “garden” in them. Originally, it was just what would be fun songs to listen to while you were gardening, but then it became about more than that.
CC: We could have put anything on there to garden to, but we kind of wanted it to have a bigger meaning.
JIW: I never actually listen to music when I’m gardening.
CC: The truth comes out.
JIW: We could do another mix for you of songs to listen to while gardening and it’s just silence. 45 minutes of Angelino Heights.
TA: Many of these songs have very specific messages, or points of view – do any of them reflect your own personal opinions?
CC: Some of them do, and some of them are just thought-provoking. They challenge me to think about what I believe.
JIW: I think they do…but I don’t know if what a song is saying to me, is what it’s saying to you. It’s hard to say from a song what a songwriter believes.
CC: Even songs on that we co-write together, Isaac can have a different interpretation than I do.
JIW: Like what?
CC: I think it was “Gone Gone.”
JIW: What does it mean to you?
CC: It’s actually about a farmer, but for me it was the story of my grandparents in the beginning. Thinking about my grandfather farming. You pulled in the John Steinbeck reference, which I wasn’t even thinking about.
TA: Intentionally or not, you ended up touching on many of life’s “uncontrollable” aspects. In this respect, “The Gardner” This song is actually pretty dark, and not about falling in or out of love. As I interpret it, he is asking his love to excuse a lot of his terrible actions because he does them in the name of love.
CC: I think when we were making this mix The Tallest Man On Earth must have been on some press tour or something, because I remember seeing his name everywhere. I didn’t really know him as an artist before then. So I was digging around through his songs, and came across this one. You’re right it’s dark, but in a sort of sweet way? And we decided to just put it on.
TA: Do you agree with what the song is saying?
JIW: Well what does it mean to be motivated by love? If you’re doing bad things, can you really say that you’re motivated by love?
CC: Wow, that was really deep.
JIW: I’m just glad that song was at the end, and the Bonnie Prince Billy song was last.
TA: I found that choice really interesting as well! The chorus is a question. Was that conscious decision?
JIW: I like stuff that doesn’t have a happy ending – it’s maybe more honest? So to try and do that with the playlist was interesting. The question song, I felt like it summed everything up. “Can you love the one that god loves? Can you love the lilies of the field?” Maybe it is asking if you can love the unlovable things about life.
TA: Now moving on to a little insight about the band. I feel like you’re own music very much fits in this oeuvre. Did that inform any part of the mix making process?
CC: I think the reason that we started by searching for artists separately is because we are inspired by different artists. Sometimes we share a common interest, and sometimes it’s not for the other person. Joni Mitchell may not be someone that inspires you, but she inspires me, and when I sing in our band I think her influence comes out in my voice. That’s part of what makes us. And in the case of Bonnie Prince Billy, I love him, but I haven’t dug into his music the way that Isaac has.
TA: Are there any artists that inspired or influenced you that didn’t make the cut for the mix?
CC: Linda Ronstadt is one of my favorites and she isn’t on there. I have her record on my turntable right now.
JIW: Most of mine are on there. Oh, Bob Dylan, he’s not on there. I don’t have any cool obscure ones though…
TA: How did you come together, and where did you sound come from? Is this the sort of music that comes naturally to you both, or was it a conscious choice to write in this genre?
CC: We went to college together, and were introduced through common friends. Isaac and Will (who is also in our band and produced the EP), they started playing hymns together in this house near USC, and somehow it turned into this jam session that happened every Thursday night. Everyone brought an instrument and would just chime in singing hymns and folk songs.
JIW: And a lot of Ryan Adams songs.
CC: Yes and Hank Williams songs. I grew up in Bakersfield and folk music and country music were so much a part of what listened to. Then being dropped in Downtown Los Angeles…not a lot of people were listening to that kind of music. I was brought to the group because someone thought I would like to be a part of that. We became this huge collective of twelve artists or so, and we would play shows together as Still Waters. Then once everyone started to lose steam and go off to pursue other projects, Isaac and I started writing together. Initially it was for me to sing, but then we realized it sounded better as both of us, and decided to go down that road as a band.
TA: So your sound evolved organically, based from your influences mutual love for the style of music.
CC: I think so. It’s not intentional. It just is.
JIW: Our musical heritage.
TA: Leading up to the EP release, new tracks came out with original artwork…was it every week or month?
CC: Every month. It was really awesome to go through the process of creating the artwork, and getting it ready, and then revealing it to everything. Deciding what artists to choose and reaching out to them and seeing what they came back with.
TA: Where did the idea come from?
JIW: I really like cross-disciplinary projects; you write a song and ask someone to do an image for it or a video. Trying to pick our artist friends’ minds…it’s just fun to work with people
CC: I think art is very much a part of our music, so it was a way to include some artists that we’re friends with and we like, and it was exciting to put a visual to what we were playing.
JIW: Also we had only recorded six songs and were trying to make that stretch.
TA: Did the artwork play into the release?
JIW: We had some friends design the whole record release party. We did it at this art loft downtown, and they created some really big pieces for the walls.
CC: That was a great night. We had so many people doing such creative things for us, it was just really awesome. One of our friends even brought home-brewed beer. We love performing in different spaces, sort of off the radar – it kind of makes it more special. You’re not stuck between two bands you don’t even know, who have crowds totally different from yours. It was really amazing.
Up next for COYOL…
The Central S.A.P.C on Wednesday January 9th (THIS WEDNESDAY) with Opus Orange and Nova Albion. Event details here.
Los Globos on Tuesday January 22nd with Ferraby Lionheart and Eastern Conference Champions, benefiting the Pablove Foundation. Event details here.
Viva Cantina on Friday January 25th with Amilia K. Spicer, The Running Jumps, The Tulips (COYOL is on at 9:30pm)
COYOL “Come On” (NEW TRACK!)