The Raptor Trail is a progressive rock outfit out of the southeastern United States. The band consists of: John Meyer on guitars, vocals and backround noises - Matthew Mayes on Guijo, Guitars, acoustic banjo and vocals - Gene Bass on Drums. They draw from a varied backround of influences from hard rock to bluegrass, and that's what gives The Raptor Trail their unique sound. Their latest release "New World" is a fine collection of rockin' songs, and you get your money's worth, as it features over 72 minutes of well written tunes. I recently corresponded with John Meyer about the new CD.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your new CD release 'New World'. It's a very well written and well produced collection of songs. What was the process of writing for this album? At 78 minutes, the twelve songs must have taken some time as well as thought?
J.M. - Thanks for the kind words! It probably didn't take as long as you'd think. We just put out our first album in May of '15, and started on this one about the same time (finished it this January), and I think it was about 75 minutes. The majority of the music was pretty much recorded by about October '15, and then Geno came in and put the drums down.
Through the years, I've probably recorded around the neighborhood of about 300 songs. Matt has written no telling how many songs on his own and throughout his tenure with Jupiter Coyote. Between the both of us, we pretty much have an absurd amount of ideas through all of what we've written – plus the new stuff still comes out. I should point out that 2 tracks on the first album and this one are actually re-works of Coyote songs - "Amorous" & "Pawn" on "The Raptor Trail", and "Whoville" and "Wheel" on "New World".
We have been talking recently, however, that we really don't need to be spitting out (what amounts to) 4 albums per year! In all honesty – we are kind of putting a loose goal of getting out 2 per year if we can, but we may ease them back to 60-70 minutes (heh heh). The main thing is that we're having a blast doing this stuff. If it ends up being long & plentiful, so be it...
R.V.B. - There seems to be a diverse style on the record. Did you guys start with a theme and build upon it?
J.M. - If you were to sit all three of us down and ask us what influences we all had, we'd be writing a book here! Matt & Gene played in Jupiter Coyote together for about 10 years, and that was somewhat a bluegrass/rock/jam band scenario. They broke a lot of rules and had a great run doing it. I started hearing the Allman Brothers (being from Macon, GA - I didn't have much of a choice) when they came out in 1969 (yeah - we're old) when I was about 5, but hearing Black Sabbath for the first time at 8 is really the first thing that really blew my mind. Shortly thereafter, I became a Deep Purple/ELP/Yes freak, as well as becoming a total Pink Floyd freak as well.
Gene & I started playing with each other when we were about 15-16, and have played on and off with each other since then. We were mostly playing ABB to Sabbath - then ended up playing in a punk band, and I've even played in a couple of country bands. I understand that this is all a pretty absurd mix, but I think it's safe to say that we're all influenced by just about anything that is good.
So to finally answer the question - none of this was ever pre-planned at all. We'd just listen to or write things that we knew each other would be cool with. If a song ends up sounding like Johnny Cash or Metallica, then no problem! I've always been attracted to albums that showed some decent diversity in the music - with attention paid to dynamics.
R.V.B. - What type of gear did you use in the process of making this album. I hear a clean Fenderish sound at times and of course it kicks into a heaver mode on occasions?
J.M. - Ahhhhh! I think a good bit of that "Fenderish" sound is Mayes' guijo! It's a Strat body with a 5-string banjo neck, and he plays it like a banjo! He uses various tunings on it, but the majority of it is the standard "G" banjo tuning. Lots of luck to anybody wanting to exactly mimic what he's got going on with that! He plays it through a Mesa Boogie Mk IV. I should point out that on "4 Times", that is him playing slide on it with a 6L6 tube! He couldn't find a slide, so a tube was the next best thing. I insisted he do this, because I knew damned good & well that slide had never been played on a distorted guijo!
When we first started, he used it a little here and there, and then I noticed where he was almost playing the thing like a piano. I got to liking it so much that I pretty much forced him to use it on about everything we do - just because it sounds different, and (again) who in the hell else is playing one!?
So you've got Mayes & his guijo in "G" tuning, and to be even more screwed up, I don't tune my guitar standard at all. I tune it to a D tuning (and no - it's not the standard open D tuning). I just taught myself, and decided to stick with it. G & D tunings tend to really work well with each other. We found that out right off the bat. We just roll with it. It sounds different, nobody else is nutty enough to play in the tunings we're using, and if they do - they're going to run into a lot of brick walls. Add to that, Matt tends to play his acoustic (Takamine) in various tunings as well...
As far as guitars I'm using - I'm primarily using a 1981 Les Paul Standard and also use pawned $60 Fender Squier "Toy" Strat. I also use an early 80's Westbury Standard that is fretless (used on all of "Blue Highway" and the last solo in "The Fall"), and occasionally an '81 Guild X-79. I primarily use a 1983 Boogie Mk IIC as well as a few other things for amplification. I probably used the Strat a little more on this album than the first. "Dublin" was all the Squier. Cheap, but it plays like a dream!
For bass, I was using an old Ibanez on these first two albums that originally belonged to Mayes. I've had it for the last 26 years, and just recently traded him it for a Fender Jazz... I normally run it through a HiWatt with lots of compression, sometimes a little distortion, and do what I can to get a little of the Geddy Lee/Chris Squire sound. Now getting to play like those guys is a whole different story!
Gene plays a set of Yamaha Recording Custom drums, and they are an absolute joy to work with...
R.V.B. - The song 'Going to Dublin' caught my ear with the time changes, accents, and very nice harmony lead work. What's behind this song?
J.M. - "Dublin" is the result of a song that has morphed from several songs over the course of about 23 years. I wrote the main riff in my head whilst traveling down to Dublin, GA in 1993 while working in the credit industry (not very R&R). The first bridge is from a song I wrote back even further in about 1990, and I just sort of combined them afterwards.
We had some reviewers and true prog-lovers a little mystified that a lot of our songs weren't sort of what they would consider "prog". We don't really know what in the hell to call ourselves - though one reveiwer called us "Southern Prog Jam Rock", and that may well be the best term we've heard yet. As far as true "prog" goes, we'd definitely be more on the Floydian side of prog than something like Yes or something like Dream Theater.
Anyway, we kind of figured that "Dublin" might kind of silence at least a couple of those critics! Gene & I used to go see the Dixie Dregs as religiously as most people down here go to church, so there's a bit of their influence on it as well. At least we "tried" to be Dreggish. Nobody will ever pull the Dregs off but the Dregs themselves!
R.V.B. - Another song that stood out to me was 'Let it Go'. It has unusual sound effects and is well written. the ending has a drone feel that keeps you in a trance state. What's the story with this one?
J.M. - I wrote it song about 6-7 years ago, and then Matt made a few changes to the lyrics. Pretty much the same as it started, though. For the first part, I was noodling around with an old Yamaha keyboard I've got with some pretty awful sounds on it. I kept noodling and came up with a semi-decent sounding program out of it, recorded it, and then reversed it in the mix - then stuck delay, flanger and reverb on it.
This one is more than obviously influenced by Floyd. Originally, I'd sort of played "Gilmouresque" solos in the middle and at the end, but I decided to stick a "Gilmoresque Slide" solo in the middle. I'm not exactly "Mr. Comfortable" as far as singing songs, but Matt really liked the way I was singing it, and we knew it would just be something else a little different. Finally, that is Matt taking the last solo. He fought me on it, but again - I just wanted a different sound, and I really loved what he did - certainly the fade out!
R.V.B. - All the songs flow from one to another nicely, Why did you end it with the acoustic ballad 'Grace'?
J.M. - Man - "Grace" is actually a direct follow up and an answer lyrically to "Desolation". Matt was writing "Desolation" about a friend of ours who'd had some bad things happen back years ago. They were actually talking about the words, and our friend said "wow - that's really more like Desolation". Mayes agreed, and then he wanted to tie it in with something that pertained to "Grace".
He ended up writing "Grace" in just a short, short time - sent it to me and was pretty much like "Man - I dunno - this is really country-sounding". I said "screw you - it's absolutely great!" We played it together at his place a couple of times live, and we knew it was a pretty special song. When Mayes sent the first recording of it to me, he had a cricket that had gotten into his studio. The damned thing would start chirping every time he started recording, so he finally just said "to hell with it" and recorded it anyway. To keep in theme, I just added a lot of crickets in the background.
The first time we played it on his porch in NC, that's pretty much exactly what it sounded like, too - wildlife & all in the background.. I ended up playing a 12-string on it to possibly make it a little less country. I don't know if that achieved the proper effect, but I tried...
So anyway - a lot of folks end albums with bangs, and here we go again wanting to do something that is outside the box. We ARE our record company. JC was under RoadRunner Records for awhile, and I don't think Matt was super-happy about how they ran things. It's no secret that big labels have always been fairly strict in their guidelines of what the want, etc., and probably now more than ever. What we're putting out is exactly what we want to, with absolutely no rules at all. If we like it, then there it is. It's definitely not going to be everybody's cup of tea, but we've had some good response so far. It's nice to see that some folks still like music that's written out of total love for music itself, and I can assure you that this is where we're coming from...
R.V.B. - Are there any songs that have made it to your live set?
J.M. - Matt & his family own a resort in Brevard, NC (Deerwoode Lodge & Cabins), and they have several "Music Weekends" a year. We get together and played some stripped down acoustic versions of some of them, but that's about it so far. We're not spring chickens anymore. We're all in our early 50's, Matt's running Deerwoode, I've got this & that going on, and Gene's working as well. Never say never - if something ended up doing well and promoters came running at us with boatloads of money - then we'd probably do it, but none of us are frothing at the mouth to go hop back on the road. We've seen it, done it, been there, and just sort of doing the "Steely Dan" method of just going studio and only doing that right now is a lot more convenient.
R.V.B. - How did you guys originally meet? Did you start Raptor trail as an original band from the start or do you guys have some covers in your arsenal?
J.M. - Well - Gene & I have known each other since 1977 in high school. Matt moved down here to Macon back in 1987-88 and that's pretty much where the origins of Jupiter Coyote began. Matt & I became room mates at the time, and I actually went out and ran sound for them for about a year. Matt & I have always been great friends, but he & Gene did the Coyote thing for a long time, and I did the corporate world thing through the 90's/00's. I kept writing, kept playing in cover and original bands. Mayes & I had always talked about getting together and doing something. It took about 25 years, but we finally did it! And after playing so many years with both of us, we couldn't have wished for a better choice than Gene on drums. Gene knows Mayes & I like the back of his hand, so he always knows where we're going...
So - yeah - The Raptor Trail was going to be an original project from the get go...
R.V.B. - What kind of help did you have making this album and where was it recorded?
J.M. - None! We do it all on the internet (thank you, Al Gore). Mayes & I started sending mp3's back & forth to each other, and it all snowballed from that. Gene finally became interested enough to where (like Matt & I) he set up a studio, and there you have it. They send all of their recorded parts to me, and I throw 'em down on my system, and then they're out the door...
R.V.B. - What are your plans to support 'New World'?
J.M. - We're going to be putting out CD's in random bakeries and animal shelters throughout America and Sweden!
Okay - that was a lie. But in all seriousness, this is a word of mouth game with us. We're getting some fabulous PR through Glass Onyon, as well as having our material digitally distributed through RedEye USA, but we're just taking baby steps with it.
Since we can't go out and tour every little nook & cranny of the world, we're just going to keep churning out albums - again - hopefully a couple a year. I know most people would definitely prefer seeing bands play, but it would be a logistical nightmare for us three to do that right now. So maybe the next best approach is just to inundate people with loads of music. We're kind of taking the approach that if we keep putting this stuff out, something might catch. We also know that the type people who like our stuff are probably (and very hopefully) going to be interested in the other albums, so there might be a bit of the "snowball effect" - to where they would check out some of the other albums.
Like I said - we've literally got hundreds of songs to draw from, plus we still continue to write. The chances of us running the well dry in our lifetimes is 0! We may well be the only band left on earth that nobody has ever heard of - but has 20 albums out. That's okay - as long as the people who have supported us so far like it, and we're happy with what we're doing - that's all that matters...
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
This interview may not be reproduced in any part or form without permission from this site.
For more information on The Raptor Trail visit their Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/theraptortrail
For more information or to advertise on this site contact musicguy247(at)aol(dot)com