Though Jupiter Coyote hasn't hit the mainstream, the Southern genre-blenders have done mighty fine for themselves. A quarter-century after Matthew Mayes and John Felty left their North Carolina mountain home to join John Meyer, Noel Felty, Sanders Brightwell and Steve Trismen in Macon, their hard-driving rock, funk, boogie, bluegrass and jazz-infused sound has built a rabid fan base, following the six-piece playing through 5,000 shows and selling nearly one million CDs.
So what’s next for a band with a slew of accolades under its belt? After a four-year break from the road, Jupiter Coyote has a new album dropping Aug. 4, preceded by acoustic duo performances featuring Mayes and Meyer and small-lineup house shows that build momentum for monthly Jupiter Coyote blowouts around the Southeast. “It feels good to be back out there,” Mayes tells Folio Weekly. “I’m blown away by the reach of this band and how many diehard fans want to see us.”
Jupiter Coyote has plenty of experience playing in Jacksonville, right?
Oh, yeah. Back in the ’90s, we used to play Club 5, then Jack Rabbits and Freebird in the 2000s. We’ve also done the Tony Boselli Foundation’s event at TPC Sawgrass, and Cousin Catfish’s for Georgia-Florida weekend. Meyer and I are excited for these acoustic duo shows, too. It’s really fun for me because I can tell the stories behind the songs. I’ve got a quieter, more captive audience. I can really concentrate on singing and fingerpicking. But Meyer and I can jam, too. He is such an excellent guitar player—oh, my gracious. He can blister the frets off, and he’s a great slide player. There’s a lot of sound coming from just the two of us.
How do you plan a set list for a performance like that?
It is totally me just calling ’em off. I’ve got 300 songs across 18 albums in the hopper. Sometimes I pull stuff out on the spot, just to mess with Meyer. A lot of it depends on what I’m tuned in. If I’m in drop D, I’ll play a handful in drop D; if I’m in DADGAF, I’ll play a handful in DADGAF. Then I’ll switch to standard tuning and we just make it up as we go. We might do some covers, too. Some bluegrass, some Pink Floyd, some [Widespread] Panic, some Bobby Bare. Whatever we’re in the mood for.
How does that compare or contrast with the many house shows you’ve done for the last two years?
Man, some of those have turned into real barnburners. The fans are not seated listening quietly; most of them get kind of rowdy. Jupiter Coyote took a break from touring for four or five years, and I wasn’t sure if people had forgotten about us. A friend of mine told me about the house show thing and I figured I’d try one the night before the whole band rolled into town for a Jupiter Coyote show. I put a feeler out on Facebook and had 18 requests the next morning. This year I’m capping it out at 80 because otherwise we’d be doing ’em all year. I’m seeing more interest in the band than ever, so playing in backyards has become a great way to rejuvenate the fanbase. I played a house show in Jacksonville back in May and a guy showed up from Fort Lauderdale who knew every song I had ever written. He was naming off songs I hadn’t played in 25 years.
Earlier you referenced bluegrass, Pink Floyd, Widespread Panic and Bobby Bare, which perfectly represents your wide range of influences. When you were growing up, were your interests that fluid?
Oh, no. I started out playing banjo in second grade, learning all the clawhammer-style folk and Appalachian Mountain I could. By sixth grade, I wanted to play Scruggs-style three-finger picking, so I took lessons to master that. I got bored, though, and picked up the guitar in high school. I went through a Zeppelin phase like everyone else; I started listening to The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd, teaching myself how to play each guitar part by listening to the record over and over and over again, sometimes for a year at a time. I probably wore out 50 Technics turntable cartridges; now you can go to YouTube and learn to play everything, note for note, in five minutes.
When did things change for you?
Once I got into songwriting. It’s like John Popper says: “We’re all thieves.” You take parts of the stuff you enjoy and incorporate it into your own music, even if it’s subconscious. The major/minor turns in Jupiter Coyote are a direct influence from bluegrass, as well as from ’70s rock like The Doobie Brothers. Certainly, country got rolled into my grab bag. Jupiter Coyote has a progressive funk, groove and jazz element to it as well, which is probably why we were never on mainstream radio. They didn’t know what to do with us. It’s roots rock—all organic. We have the capability to play genre-bending stuff while still sounding like us. At the end of day, we’re really a rock band, though. A rock band driven by bluegrass, funk, jazz and Southern boogie, sure, but we’re not a country or bluegrass band trying to be a rock band. It’s the other way around.