'Majestic scavengers:' The Coyote Choir interview uncut
Several weeks ago the Northeast Underground had the distinct pleasure of speaking with local musician Paul Gelineau, who is a member of Northampton band The Coyote Choir.
While our conversation at the time was to be the basis for another article on his group, Gelineau soon proved himself a rather engaging subject. And burdened by the thought of having to discard the majority his quotes in order to abide by pre-determined space constraints, the decision was quickly made to print his interview online in its entirety at a future date.
Well boys and girls that day is finally here. And the Underground now proudly presents to you the entire mess raw and uncut. Read on if you dare…
Underground: First off, who are your group’s members and what instrument does each person play?
Paul Gelineau: I am Paul S. Gelineau and I play the guitar and sing the vocals. Tim [Desrosiers] plays accordion and also sings the vocals.
What is each band member’s background in music?
My love of music started with long rides to grandma's house and me in the back seat singing Christmas songs and patriotic music to myself. I didn’t know much music in my life until I was around 11 when I first heard Ace of Base. I thought “The Sign” was the bomb. This is the first time I can recall being intrigued by modern music, and this is the first time my mom let me watch VH1. I played in the high school band for years playing trumpet, started playing guitar around 15. It’s funny because I never thought I was cool enough to play guitar, then one day I said fuck it and my dad brought me to get a guitar. Best decision. Life has been enriched ever since.
I went to Holyoke Community College after high school for music, guitar major, didn’t graduate, but got a good amount of knowledge out of the well put together music program there. I had been playing trumpet in a band called Skarmy of Darkness, and had various other bands going on, punk bands and such. Me and Tim played in a band called The Montagues for a while together, where we both played guitar and sang. Eventually he busted out his squeeze box again and we started jamming.
Tim played started playing the accordion when he was five. He’ll often joke it was due to his mom punishing him, but in all actuality she encouraged him to play it because she heard if you can play accordion, you can play anything. He took lessons from Falcetti's, and went on to win the Mass. cup for his age groups numerous times throughout his youth. Then he stopped playing in high school because people tend to poke fun at accordion players. He started playing guitar in high school, and also played in various bands. Then we met, made the band, and after a few years of seeing him tinker with the accordion from time to time, we finally tried combining our musical abilities, guitar and accordion, and found our sound. Tim now studies music and philosophy at Bennington College.
How did you come up with the band name The Coyote Choir and what does it represent/ mean?
It’s a bit of a story. After we started jamming, and saw what we were doing was pretty neato (more on this in question five) we were hanging out one night in my car in the parking lot of one area business. I was strumming a chord progression I’d had for years, but hadn’t used, and at one part it seemed like the right thing to do was howl. We found this very funny at the time, and I went on to create a scenario for how the world really ended, and here it is:
So, the Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012, and me and Tim had been playing and getting more popular (back then, we still called ourselves “Paul and Tim”) and we lined up a huge world televised show which just happened to take place on that fabled day. And for the song we started howling on, we decided to get a huge COYOTE CHOIR (hence the name) to back us up during the howling part. We'd be playing, and at a certain point, our gallant troupe of coyotes would come cascading out from either side of the stage, onto podiums and risers behind us, and once they found their spot, and we got to the part, they’d howl along with us, and everyone in their homes watching on TV’s loves it, and starts howling along with us, and the vibrations of the howls start the earth vibrating all crazy, and next thing you know the earth explodes from the vibrations.
So, the band name was created by a very odd end of the world scenario involving an old chord progression, good spirits, idealistic singing coyotes, and the myths of the Maya. The name “The Coyote Choir” just seemed fitting. We are majestic scavengers fueled by moonlight and mystery.
Where does the Coyote Choir call home?
I currently live in Haydenville, and Tim is going to school at Bennington College. But The Coyote Choir proudly calls Northampton our home base. The streets have always been good to us here.
What led to the group’s initial formation?
Well, like I touched upon earlier, we used to play in bands together. Me and Tim met working at the mall a bunch of years ago. I sold watches, him cell phones. We became quick friends because I noticed Tim had a similar strumming style, when one day I had my guitar at the mall, and I let him play it. So we started jamming, made a punk band, and that was fun.
After years of hiatus, and me pursuing other things, working too much, getting fired from my job, and having a relationship go sour, Tim was there in my time of need, and I found solace with him and with instruments. We started to just jam with the guitar and accordion. And would take random musical walks around town with our instruments. That’s [when] we came up with the “La la la” song. We'd be singing it walking through town, and next thing we know, we had people and folk following us around singing along. It was magical. I felt like a pied piper.
Then we got offered to play a gig, to which we enthusiastically answered “YES” (the high spirits may have been a factor). A few weeks later, after forgetting about the commitment we made, pirate Kevin saw us and asked if we were ready to play the show that weekend and Tim and I looked at each other, realizing we forgot to make songs. We only had “La la la” at that point. So we took a couple other songs I had, worked them out, learned a cover (the Violent Femmes “Blister in the Sun”) and played our four song set, which people received well, so we decided to keep doing it, and then started playing the streets.
Watch a video of The Coyote Choir performing their song “La, la, la” on the streets of Northampton here:
How would you describe your current sound?
We get asked this often, and never know how to respond. People always walk up and mention different things we remind them of, most of which I have never heard or am only vaguely familiar with, even notable examples. I guess I’d say we’re indie folk pop, or ambient melodic klezmer. Or punk rock? I don’t know. I’ll leave it to the fans and critics to figure out where we fit.
How has your music evolved?
Our music is ever evolving. Tim and I like I mentioned started out together in pop punk bands. We started harmonizing together at this point, and that was a big shaping characteristic to our overall sound. I realized that harmonies are a big key to a good song. I myself have been involved and listened to such a wide variety of music. Ska and punk were my early roots, but now I listen to just about everything. Playing fast was the old norm, and the Coyote Choir slowed things down quite a bit in comparison. I still like playing fast at times, but I've been enjoying this slowdown, giving us a chance to really dissect and perfect our harmonies.
How would you characterize the experience of playing as buskers on the streets of the Paradise City?
To me, this is my favorite place in the country to busk. It’s an amazing way to meet and connect with people, and the people here are extremely supportive. Busking makes the street a stage. We've moved a good number of albums on the street, and it’s amazing to know you can share your music on your own terms like this. It’s a very special experience to watch young kids dancing to your music, and to see them come back again and smile for certain songs. It makes for very personable encounters.
Busking has made all the difference in my life. Busking in this city was the spark which led me on quite a journey. After I lost my job, the most liberating thing I ever realized was when I started to busk for the hell of it, and realized I could actually make money this way. Playing with Tim we do very well and the busking is now a vessel for adventure and discovery. I myself in the past few years starting living solely upon my busking, and used it as my vehicle to travel. I've since busked all over the country, up and down the east coast to Key West and back, and across the country and back on my guitar earnings alone. It was very exciting to drop into a city or town, and be like “Well, I'm out of gas, let’s see what I can do,” and next thing you know, you make a few bucks, make friends, find places to stay, hang out. It’s the most beautiful vessel for meeting people, and sharing music in a completely organic, genuine fashion. Also, it really makes you get your chops, and develop confidence. I've far and away a better player/singer since I started busking. I'd go so far as to say, it completely changed my life, and was a seminal decision. All that makes up my current happiness was manifested because of busking.
Who are some of your inspirations?
Musically, there is so much, and so much seems not fitting. I really love NOFX still, which most would say is for kids, but they're harmonies and melodic structures really gave me a good sensibility.
My favorite band in my younger years was the Broadways, which was a big influence for me and Tim’s old band. I enjoy Wilco, Belle and Sebastian, and classical music like Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, and jazz like Chet Baker, Kenny Burrell. Antonio Carlos Jobim. So much has inspired me. Including my grass roots original music scene in Palmer, Mass. The Old Store and The Shed, local music venues, really got me started on the path of rock ‘n’ roll. Without those totally DIY establishments I never would have found the road of rock, the beauty of good natured and progressive community, and awesome friends who many fun days and nights occurred with.
I’m also inspired by good food and a nice pint. And the ocean. And the stars. And my mom and dad. And my cat, Harold. Life itself is a very inspiring thing. Ideas for song are on every street corner and in every good cup of coffee and random conversation.
Tim was also into punk rock, and hardcore music. And classical was always a large part of his background. He's also evolved over time, enjoying an eclectic mix of indie rock and Tibetan chants. It’s true. He’s very influenced these day by eastern philosophy and ecology and many of the subjects he is currently studying at college.
What is your songwriting process like?
It varies. Sometimes we create an idea together, get a good base for it, and one of us will develop it further, and come back with it and we’ll expand it into a whole song. Sometimes, we will write our own song, and we’ll bring it together and work it out coyote style. The best songs just happen. Like they're already floating around in the airwaves, and you just tune them in and bam. Sometimes it happens together, and sometimes separate. We'll hash out ideas in various spots, by the fountain, in that ‘80s inspired neon lighted hallway at Smith, pretty much wherever there good acoustics. Good acoustics is [are] inspiring on its [their] own. It [they] enriche[s] the sound of everything and keeps the ball moving with force.
What are some future projects/ recordings you have planned?
We’re currently working on new music for a new album hopefully to be recorded and released early next year. Ideally, spreading our music and touring is a dream. Continuing to produce music we think is good and that other people enjoy is the primary goal though. And hopefully someday some back-up coyote howlers.
When and where do you play next?
We’re playing at The Basement in Northampton December 30th at 8 p.m. Also, you may randomly catch us in the streets, but as it gets colder, that gets trickier to do without fingers hurting profusely and whatnot.
What is one question you would like to be asked but that I have not listed here?
Have you noticed the Chemtrails today? To which I would respond “YOU’RE AWARE” and then go on some rant about how I’m creeped out by the phenomenon. Or…do you like cats? To which I would respond, “Yes Sir, I do.” OR... what is your favorite pizza in town? To which I would respond, enthusiastically, PINNOCHIOS!!! In hopes they'll give me free pizza sometimes!
How about some final thoughts?
I had always dreamed of making music i enjoy, and that other people do too. Granted our main stage has been the streets, and I’m not driving a pimped out ride, and I’m still scraping by, I feel successful because people seem to really like our music. People will walk by and sing along, which creeps me out, but is endearing because something I did is positively affecting someone else’s life. It’s a warm, good, humbling feeling, and I just hope to continue to make music people enjoy, and to enjoy what comes with it. Also, a storm is coming...
Tim...I’m pretty sure Tim’s final thought would be “San Dimas High School football rules!”