Donkey Lessons

The Central Valley is creeping into the triple digits and California is starting to burn down, just like we thought. I am sweating it out in my second story bedroom/studio, with no natural light and no air flow, laying down tunes. It should be called Funky Hot Box Studios. Sweaty Man Cave Studios. Enticing, no? Come on over for a sauna sesh.

I just sent out the first batch of Songs of the People, what a process it has turned out to be! I vastly underestimated the amount of time it takes to produce a decent song. It’s definitely not like my young days when I might sneeze out a song at any moment.. my standards are higher for one, craft is something I didn’t know much about back then, and the sneezers are like shooting stars – they do happen once in a while, but don’t count on it to happen on demand. I have already learned so much about my process: songs can go through many forms before snuggling in to the one that suits them best; there are an infinity of options at any point in the song (no pressure); they can also be very donkey-like, in that no amount of tugging will coax them from where they want to be. I also found that when it came time to hand them over to their patrons, I had a severe hide-under-the-covers avoidance response.. I clicked “send” feeling like I had pushed the “self-destruct” button on my life boat. I did not expect to feel so vulnerable. People were then waiting for their songs without any updates from me, which made it worse. Normally I would have gotten drunk for a week or two. Well, more likely I would have just blabbered on about the project from my bar stool and never actually started it. I’m so grateful for this project, thank you to everyone for bearing with me, and sharing your beautiful and unique stories. I have four more on the stove, and four interviews to schedule. Shoot me an email if you’d like to jump in line! I promise I will schedule them reasonably this time, and keep people in the loop.

You may have noticed, but I spruced up my website in the last week; gone are the dark brooding, hard to read pages. I also finally started a Facebook Fan Page, which will help me get the word out about the many goings-on in my music world. Like it if you like, annoyingly the numbers do actually mean something in the music business world.

Other news is that I am booking for my Big Damn CD Release Tour in Aug/Sept! I’ll be on the road for a solid two months, if not longer, throwing my new CD at everyone I see, so look out. Starting in Sacto, I’ll head east to CO for a show with Jill B, then split some shows with Iowa boy River Glen, up to MN to play with V and the Dirty Pretty. Then I’ll head down to the Southeast to do a leg with Humble Tripe, then it’s up to the Northeast to do some shows with Bethel Steele. From there I’ll start heading west, I’ll do some shows with Ohio’s wonderful Wormz and the Decomposers. From there we’ll see what comes together. Shows are listed on the website, stay tuned and they will keep rolling in. If you have a suggestion for your area, want to bring me to your college, or any other helpful hints, let me know! If you can’t wait that long, want to hear some new stuff before I get to town, or want to check out two of the Songs of the People, you can watch the Empty Sea show on demand, at The Roots Channel, for only 5 bucks! What a steal.

I hope this finds everyone well. I have to say, none of this would be happening if I wasn’t sober. Gotta give thanks where thanks are due. It has been a weird two plus years since the beginning of Coyote Grace’s hiatus, this isn’t where I thought things would be at this point, but I’m not complaining. The lessons reveal themselves. They can be very donkey-like themselves. Best to just be a vessel and let them evolve.

j

Back in the Sac(ramento)

Back in the Central Valley after a beautiful springtime loop through the Northwest! Traveling can be so packed full of new experiences that two weeks feels like a month.. I am just coming back from the last week out in the far reaches of eastern Oregon, Idaho, and seriously isolated parts of Nevada. My favorite!

I had a great run of shows with Drew de Man, bringing his lap steel stylings to my tunes, joined by Brianna Blackbird in Portland and Seattle, the other half of their duo Pretend Sweethearts. I got to squeeze many friends from Eugene to Seattle, dropping in on the Camp Ten Trees annual auction, which is truly an event that can make a trans man cry. And that ain’t easy! I spent Easter with some great friends eating great food, then waddled over to Empty Sea Studios for the final show with Michael Connolly and the Sweethearts. The show will be ready any day now on The Roots Channel to watch on demand, for those of you who missed it. I’ll keep you posted.

Then, my lady friend and I took off for the Great Basin, and this happened:

 

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Yes, that is a bathtub in the northern region of Washoe County, rigged up with a pipe flowing from an incredibly hot spring. Sarah and I found it following vague directions with flashlights after sunset, and saw a sea of stars like only Nevada can reveal. Here was another awesome one:

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This one was outside the ghost town of Unionville, east of Lovelock. I swear, I could wander around Nevada for a year. One day I just may.

So as of now, I am trying to re-acclimate to the urban environment I live in, and am busy as ever writing songs and working on my solo album set for release in August, and setting up the tours for the late summer and fall. Songs of the People is trucking along, I’ll be putting up videos of some of them soon, stay tuned!

j

Birthday Boy!

So now I am 32. I feel completely different! Just kidding:) I do feel a little different though. 31 is not like 21, that’s for sure. 32 at least feels a little more solidly in the 30s. And I have finally broken the pattern of hazy birthdays drifting aimlessly by, half baked ideas forming momentarily and then fading back into the ether from whence they came, few real signposts to mark the passage of time. I said I’d be damned if I let another birthday go by drunk and alone, throwing a pity party so rowdy it should have been broken up by the cops. I’ve said a lot of things, but at this I have been successful. As for next year – one birthday at a time.

I found my old camera yesterday and looked through it. Road trip after road trip, punctuated by solo drinking/smoking sessions, apparently in an effort to keep myself company. The longer I’m sober, the more I get a sense of how long I wasn’t, and how valuable that time was. Everything I was seeking is right here, in the moment. All potential energy exists in the moment, and that potential is directly related to the machine’s capacity for creative action. I wasn’t capable of much in my ever-present stupor. I may not feel amazing all the time, but I am capable of much more than just lighting another cigarette. I feel, again, like I have woken up from a dream, except this time I am 32. I’ ok with that. I cant think of any good reason not to be.

I’m looking forward to heading up to the Northwest this coming week, playing out some of these new tunes I have here will feel good, and it’ll be great to be back on the trail. My US trip in Aug/Sept is also very exciting!!! I used to traverse the country a few times a year – something about crossing the landscape of my homeland is very awesome to me, even if at the end of the summer with all its humidity and bugs and sunburns.. Songs of the People is also rocking my world, such amazing stories! I definitely took on a huge batch to start out, and I’m going to need to put in some hours to get caught up. Although I can hardly classify this as work! I’m a lucky fella, getting to do this.

This year (like every year) I have many plans. Although this year, I have a far better shot at making some of them happen.

Thank you everyone for all the birthday love! It means a lot 🙂

j

 

Smiling Springtime

The sun is bright and clear in between rainstorms in Sacramento, Clouds are billowing by way up high, and everything is bright green, green, green. Soon it will be summer and all will be brown and dry, so I am enjoying this lovely temperate weather while it is here. There is a cat sprawled out across my desk in the sun by the window, and one lounging in the open banjo case. I have been clacking away all day at the computer, planning tours and corresponding with many folks. I am excited to get up and get to work each morning. That is something I have wished for for many months, but it has remained out of reach. Suddenly, it is here.

I love my therapist. I love my sponsor. I love these lazy varmints that roam the house. I love the springtime, and I love to write songs. This Songs of the People project was a total wild card, but I am so happy with it. The songs are a real honor to write, and it really is a breath of fresh air to write about someone else. Self absorption is a horrible swamp of quicksand that shrinks your world till it hurts like tiny shoes, and never resolves in an endless funnel of insanity… yuck. I prefer cats by the window and songs for others.

I’m working on some crazy long tours for this year! (nothing gets me going like long drives:) I will be heading up the 5 in two weeks here, a well-trod route that never gets boring. Well, not often, anyway. Then in August, I will take my yearly pilgrimage to Song School and the Rocky Mountain Folks Fest. I’ll split some shows with Iowa boy River Glen, the hit up the Storyhill Festival in MN. Then since I’m already out there, how bout a show in Chicago. Then hey – might as well go down to the Southeast and play some shows with my buddies from Humble Tripe, and visit my baby bro in North Carolina. I’ll be looking to do some shows on the eastern seaboard, I’ll keep you posted! Then I get to ramble my happy ass back to Cali, possibly through the Southwest. In October I will make another run up to the Northwest with my new album, returning the favor and bringing Humble Tripe to the west.

I’m so excited to get back on the road. It has been a strange two years; one that, now looking back, was absolutely essential to my development as a musician and a human being. Not exactly what I planned, but it usually works out better that way. As long as one takes reality into account.

Happy springtime!

j

Songs of the People

Hey folks!

I would like to announce a new project I am kicking off here, called Songs of the People.

Through my teaching, I have recently re-learned the potential for healing with the song. You’d think I’d know that already, since I’ve been keeping myself sane by writing and listening to songs since I was a wee one, but working with others to write songs about their lives has put a whole new spin on it. Following the loose rules for writing a compelling song actually forces a person to look into themselves for that universal human experience within them – the tension and release, the overcoming of some obstacle or trauma, etc. Creating a cohesive narrative of one’s life and experiences has the potential to re-integrate the frozen parts of ourselves, enabling us to see our story outside of ourselves, and move on from old thought patterns we are locked in.

In this new project, I would like to offer that experience to you. If you are willing to spend an hour on the phone or on Skype with me and tell me your story, I will write and produce a song about your experience as a human on this earth. I find that people who don’t consider themselves songwriters, or writers at all, say the most profound things when they open up about their lives, without even knowing it. This could be a general song about your greater life path, a specific trial or trauma, a relationship, or whatever. It doesn’t even have to be huge and heavy, it could be funny, enlightening, inspirational. But if you are willing to go there with me, I am willing to do what I do best and tell your story through song. What I would love to do with these songs is put them in a collection album and send them out into the world, if you so choose.

A few notes here – I will want to pry a little, gently and with your consent, of course. Often the best material is where you least expect it. I will also need to retain artistic license in this process, I cant do any extensive rewrites, but I will consider amendments of inaccurate information. I will retain the rights to these songs, and there won’t be any royalty payments made to any of the participants.

For $140, I am offering this song for you, produced (meaning dressed up with other instruments as necessary) and recorded and sent to you in an MP3 format, for you to duplicate, send out, give as a gift, do whatever with (except sell for a profit).

The process will look like this – we will chat on Skype preferably, or on the phone for as long as we need to find the good stuff. I will ask you to tell me your story, I will ask you questions, take notes, and maybe strum a little on the guitar to find a groove we both like. In about two weeks, I will send you your song. When I have gathered enough songs, we will put out a compilation CD (I’ll keep you posted on that process).

If you are interested, please contact me at coyotejoestevens (at) gmail.com

TDoR and Evolution

I’m sitting at an outside table at a corner coffee shop in Tucson with Bennett and his dog Honey. We passed Trans Day of Remembrance driving Hwy 62, 72, 10, 86, 8, and 10 again from the Mojave to the Sonoran desert. We got the van stuck in a sandy wash, and on our third attempt to dig it out with a plate and a frying pan, two guys in a minivan stopped to help pull us out with a rope. Honey thought it was the funnest game there ever was.

We talked about our journeys through transition. We talked about our experiences in the context of trans* experience through history. We talked about how, even in the light of our relative privilege, we still feel like we barely made it through the fire. Both of us could have easily made it onto that long list of names that were read and acknowledged by communities all around the world. I thought about my pen pals from Iran and Venezuela who persevere in environments totally unimaginable to me. I think about my new friend who courageously steps out of her home each day, finally as herself. When the list of names is read and I can count the names of male-identified folks on one hand, my bravery seems to pale in comparison.

Gender is something so fundamental to human culture and biology. As our environmental pressures change and our survival tactics must adapt, we find that oftentimes culture lags behind. At least it feels that way to those of us who bear witness to such unnecessary violence and loss. The faster our environment changes, the faster we must change, and the more friction there is at the edges. The history of physical and social sex transition is a good example of the quickening nature of change, and the greater whole of us’s struggle to keep up. But it happens, glacially as it may seem. When I read articles about gay men fleeing from Syria to Lebanon and the torture and extortion they experience; workers paid pennies a day to make western clothes dying in crumbling buildings, and there’s no clear consensus on whether buying the clothes does more harm than not buying them; my beloved western spaces fracked beyond repair in my life time, because lighting faucet water on fire still isn’t proof enough that it’s dangerous; hundreds of thousands of people killed in a war while the governments of the world stand by and weigh their financial interests; poor countries taking the brunt of climate change caused by the excesses of wealthy countries – I am overwhelmed at the enormity of suffering that exists on this planet. Hope seems elusive when lost in that emotional storm. What tethers me pack to the hopeful present is just the plain impersonal nature of impermanence. Change. Evolution. It happens in its time, its force a confluence of so many energies so complex, all I can do is accept it and trust its nature. And do what I can to add my breath to the great wind of growth, awareness, and love.

My heros this time around are Ben and Rachael Hudson of the Gender Heath Center. Together, with very little means, they set out and created the services they wanted to see provided in the world, and now serve and inspire a community that stretches over all social lines. They provide services for youth that they did not have access to. They provide services to families that their families did not have access to. Services that my family and my young self did not have access to in the same town we lived in. Seeing that change has been more rewarding than I could have imagined. From all of us who’s lives you have changed, many thanks.

Tucson is mellow and overcast, many friends I knew here have moved on, and I am such a different person than I have been at many times through this town. The trains still holler through the city, and it is still one of the loveliest places to be in the winter. Bennett and I will play for Transgender Week of Awareness here and do our part, I get to play with my super homie Courtney Robbins a few times, and take another long beautiful drive through the desert with my buddy. All the names on the list stay with me, as well as those who remain unknown. Also, all people who lose their lives due to our inability to evolve fast enough. They are all ours.

Love,

j

Sea Voyage

late night.

i bet that sometimes on a voyage at sea, there might be stretches of days when the weather is static, only a light breeze, and the horizon stretches out in all directions. you might watch the sun all day make its slow way across the sky. maybe your perspective would get all turned around – the sun seeming fixed as you somersault through space, or the sun seeming to fly in circles around your inert planet. so still, in fact, the water barely even moves. yet still the boat trundles on and the days tick by. barely a bird has been seen since who knows when, nobody remembers. the lapping of the wee waves becomes rhythmic and your mind slips into a kind of meditation. you start to feel you have been on this boat forever, and will continue just as long. there is a journey happening but it’s hard to see from here. you might wonder if you will ever reach your hypothetical destination. you can’t help but create a view of it in your mind, even though you know you can never know until you see it. does it exist? will i be disappointed? what if we never make it and just float out here for eternity? what would be worse?

you start to sink into the days, the still, and go about your daily duties with increasing intention. there is less and less reason to hurry, less and less to distract and cloud the mind. worries come and go. and there you are, on your boat, waiting, working, existing, on your voyage. there will be sights and storms soon enough.

j