Dan Kirkwood of Juneau in late November released a new record with his New York City band Obiwan Coyote. It’s an album heavily influenced by Juneau’s dance scene, and it’s Kirkwood’s fourth.
“People on a Friday night want to come out and dance in Juneau. … Bands around the world dream of that kind of audience. When bands come here for Folk Fest, right, they are so blown away by the energy of the crowds. You play a show in New York, and if the crowd really rocks, they’re going to move their shoulders a little bit,” Kirkwood said. “So I was playing quiet acoustic folk music, and Juneau was trying to dance to that, and I was like ‘You can’t dance to this song, I better start playing some more upbeat music,’ and that really drove me to want to push the songs.”
The goal of the album is playing rock and roll music that’s fun both for people dancing live and listening in the car. It’s a departure from his debut work “Space Country” (2014), which Kirkwood said was influenced by folk music, acoustic guitar, bluegrass and “really quiet stuff.” He played in a rock band in high school, listening to The Who and Jimi Hendrix. Now he’s incorporating a rock and roll sound back into his music and picking his electric guitar back up.
Kirkwood’s close friend Tommy Siegel of the band Jukebox the Ghost urged him to record his music. Siegel produced his first album as well as the latest. In December 2016, Kirkwood came together with Siegel on lead guitar and harmonies, Jesse Kirstin of Jesse Dylan & the Scaredy Cats on percussion, Steve Perkins on bass, and Ben Thornewill, also of Jukebox the Ghost, featured on keyboard. The album was recorded at Thump Studios in Greenpoint, New York City, mixed by John Thayer and mastered by TJ Lipple.
Listening to the album, Kirkwood said he can tell which musician is playing what due to their style, but when they come together, they meld into their own sound; Obiwan Coyote sounds different from the bands the musicians come from. Bringing all these musicians together to add their take to the songs reimagined and strengthened them, he said. When he writes songs at home, he said, they’re “okay.” It’s when other people have their say that they become great.
“I think the best bands are bands where the individual members come from very different music traditions because they bring different things. It’s all going to be one sound coming out, but if you have a bunch of people who all like the same bands they’re just going to sound like those bands. …Probably the most famous example is the Jimi Hendrix Experience. You have a blues guitar player and a jazz drummer playing rock and roll music. Or, the Beatles. John Lennon wants to play rockabilly Americana music and Paul is writing practically songs from musicals and then out comes the best music ever made,” he said.
Kirkwood is a wildlife enthusiast, so it’s no surprise that a coyote worked its way onto the album cover and in the band name. When he’s not working he’s out looking for wildlife in or outside of Juneau. The image of the coyote was inspired by a photo he took through his binoculars, he said. He requested that album cover artist Gina Schiappacasse include it, along with a woman sitting nearby. The band name — with its play on words from the Star Wars franchise — took two years of convincing.
“Band names are like album names: they’re tricky,” Kirkwood said. “You want people to hear the band name and to come up with a rough mental picture of what the music is like without doing that. You don’t want your band name to say what your band sounds like because it won’t match, you won’t get it right. …You want to say something but nothing. Band names usually convey something of the band’s attitude, musical sort of outlook. Hopefully this just conveys irreverent, slightly country-tinged music.”
Even though the album just came out, Kirkwood said several songs from the band’s next are already half recorded. They’re aiming for a unique blend in their music: Hiss Golden Messenger’s “very tasteful Americana music” meets “one of the most fun bands ever,” LCD Sound System, a genre they’re currently referring to as HGMLCD.
“…for some people music becomes a way of channeling…it becomes a way of talking. I spent my childhood with a guitar in my hands,” Kirkwood said. “Some people get into playing lead guitar but for me it was always songs. Before I even learned chords I was writing songs.”
To learn more about Dan Kirkwood and Obiwan Coyote, go to obiwancoyotemusic.com. The new album and past work can be purchased on dankirkwood.bandcamp.com. Kirkwood also frequently plays in town with his Juneau band Goldwing.
• Clara Miller is the Capital City Weekly’s staff writer.