Conversations from the Gayborhood: Coyote Grace’s Ingrid Elizabeth

Ingrid Elizabeth of Coyote Grace will be performing solo this weekend in Seattle.

The first time I ever heard Coyote Grace, I asked them if they would play at my wedding. A friend took a group of us to see the show at a downtown pub when I was living in Flagstaff, AZ. It was one of those experiences that takes you by surprise: I wasn’t expecting to discover an extraordinary “acoustic downhome due” on such a mediocre downhome Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t expecting to get tipsy either, but what else can you do on a warm weekend day when surprised with the kind of music that shifts your entire perspective?

Before Coyote Grace kicks off their 2010 Southwest tour, Ingrid Elizabeth—the soulful, sultry bassist of the duo—will be featured in an event a little closer to home, in Portland’s neighboring town, Seattle. XOXO: Love Notes From the Margins (or, A Queerly Crumbled Valentine’s Evening) is the third show produced by TumbleMe Productions. After its initial two sold out shows, “TumbleMe is proud to bring the perfect date night or anti-date night for Valentine’s lovers and haters alike, in one of Seattle’s most intimate venues.”

On an unseasonably warm Portland afternoon, I caught up with Elizabeth on a lawn in Northeast Portland to talk about her solo performance, the up-coming Coyote Grace tour, and what music she’s been delighting in lately.

Krista Houstoun: So tell me about the event this week?

Inglid Elizabeth: The event is called XOXO: A Queerly Crumbled Valentine. It’s being produced by a fantastic spoken word artist and best friend of mine, Elaina Ellis, who has been very prominent in the queer spoken word scene in Seattle…her new project [is] called TumbleMe Productions. The first [show she produced] was called “BodyLove” and it had to do with queers and body image, her second one was called “And God Said, Come Inside” and that was about queers and spirituality, and so this is her newest one called XOXO [which is] about queers and love.

Houstoun: So these were one-time events?

Elizabeth: Uh huh. One-time events. A lot of the stars—or people who are featured in it—are similar from show to show, but she has new people coming in and out for each one. This is the first show that I’ve participated in.

Houstoun: Is there anybody that you are particularly excited to see perform in the lineup?

Elizabeth: Yeah! I haven’t really heard almost any of the pieces, so it’s going to be a really neat surprise for me. I’m excited—this is the first show where [Ellis] is strongly incorporating music into it. I’m going to be doing not only spoken word, but I’m also going to be performing a music piece…and there are two other artists who are doing similar things, so I think she’s trying to mix up the mediums a little bit as well.

Houstoun: Are you going to be doing original songs?

Elizabeth: Yeah. It’s neat for me to do this kind of show because as part of Coyote Grace, all I ever really perform on stage these days is music. But growing up [I was] mostly doing dance; I was a dancer…And it wasn’t until I moved to the West coast from Ohio that I started playing music, and I’ve been doing music pretty much ever since…but when I was in Seattle, I was also a student at Bent Writing [Institute] and became really involved in the spoken word scene there. So [At XOXO] I’ll be doing an original poem of mine and also an original song of mine—a new song that is not performed during the coyote grace set, so it will be a neat new surprise for everybody.

XOXO: Love Notes From the Margins Feb. 11-14, 2010

Houstoun: Cool. So is the vibe of the show going to be—since it’s valentines day—is it going to be a little bit erotic?

Elizabeth: It”s a pretty good mix. It’s [going to be] love in lots of interpretations. Sometimes it’s romantic love, sometimes it’s a matter of loving yourself or your relationships with certain things or issues. So, I think it’s got a relatively open spin on the phrase “queers in love.” But I also think—because I think a lot of people are going to be coming for valentines dates—we wanted the show to be really uplifting, and sexy, and love-y, and thoughtful…I don’t think it’s going to be pure raunch [laughs]. But it definitely could be!

Houstoun: [laughs] It has potential…

Elizabeth: Yeah, I think everybody could probably bring their dirtiest laundry and hang it up on the show line, but I think it’s mostly going to be a good mix of the overall ball that love is.

Houstoun: As it stands, it’s almost sold out, right?

Elizabeth: Yeah. Thursday, Friday and Sunday—all those shows sold out. So they actually just added a show on Saturday and that show is now almost sold out—I think there are like four tickets left.

Houstoun: Gotta get them quick! I know Coyote Grace is starting a new tour and I didn’t see Portland on the tour lineup…

The Coyote Grace duo, Ingrid Elizabeth and Joe Stevens

Elizabeth: We do lots of tours throughout the year, and we kind of do them in chunks. So in February we’re going to be going down to the Southwest for a chunk, and then in April we are going to be going to the Midwest for a chunk, and then in May we’re going to be coming up to the Northwest. So we’ll be back up in Portland early summer, which we’re very excited about. We love, love, looove doing shows in Portland. It’s one of our favorite towns to play in.

Houstoun: That was my next question: Do we top the list of favorite towns to play for?

Elizabeth: Most definitely. The shows here are always well attended, and everyone is so enthusiastic…We [also] have a lot of really close to our heart people up here that always make the shows really feel like family.

Houstoun: So what’s the best and the worst part of touring?

Elizabeth: The best part of touring, I would say, is getting an opportunity to see people all over the country that I wouldn’t normally see if I worked a different kind of job and had a different kind of life. Being on the road [gives me the chance to see] people like family and friends that live all scattered all across the country, and I feel really grateful for that. We’ve also—both Joe and I individually and together—have been able to really make friends from doing shows, and getting to know fans better to the point where they actually become really good friends and we end up staying with them.

The worst part about touring is being away from home. I really love where I live in Northern California. Some people have no problem being on the road that long, and I’ve been pretty flexible for a long time. But these days…I’m getting a little more cozy and home-y, and really enjoying that time off. So when I do hit the road, I get a little bit of separation anxiety from my house and my community…There are some artists who tour 9 months out of the year and that’s just so intense.

Houstoun: I think some people thrive on that chaos, but for me, I would need the balance of home life.

Elizabeth: Yeah, me too. I think I need it more and more, especially as I [laughs] get older. That sounds horrible: like, oh I’m such an old late twenty-something!

Houstoun: [laughs] You can’t party that hard and stay up ’til the wee hours every night anymore!

Elizabeth: No, and the sleeping and eating schedule on tour are also pretty grueling…

Houstoun: Well, I commend you. I don’t think I could do that. I’m such a sleeper.

Elizabeth: It takes a pretty special breed, for sure. Well, and there are people out there who are sleepers too…When we toured with Melissa Ferrick, we’d get to the venue and she would instantly go to the green room and put a blanket over her and a face mask on, and she’d go right to sleep until the sound check. And then she’d come back and she’d lie down, maybe eat something, and then go back to her hotel room right after the show…I think we’re too social, that’s our problem! [laughs]

Coyote Grace and Melissa Ferrick on tour together

Houstoun: You don’t want to miss out on anything! [laughs] So, what music have you been enjoying lately?

Elizabeth: Fantastic question. Let’s see, definitely really big influences—not only that I just enjoy listening to, but that have really influenced my song writing—are Ray Lamontagne, and also Grace Potter and the Nocturnals…[Grace] is kind of the goddess of my existence right now.

Some musicians—I don’t know, I guess some people are more music listeners, and some people are more music players. And even though I do play music for a living, I identify as [laughs] more of a music listener. I wake up in the morning and I turn on music right away; I have music going all day long. I just love to be inundated with music, and having it be like a soundtrack to my life—

Houstoun: Wait until you hear my next question! [laughs]

Elizabeth: [laughs] I’m heavily influenced all the time by music and so it just seeps in there. Where as a lot of people I know who are full time musicians as well—they will wake up and they’ll play music all day. They are the ones who are constantly crafting songs in their heads. And I’m a songwriter but it’s not my primary art form or expression.

Houstoun: Totally. So my next questions is: If you could have a soundtrack to your life…

Elizabeth: [laughs!]

Houstoun: …what would it be called?!

Elizabeth: [laughs] That’s awesome. Love that segue. Hmmm, what would it be called? Wow…that’s like a Rolling Stone question.  [pause]

Houstoun: That’s a hard one, so you can pause on that…Mine would be “That’s What She Said,” if that helps…

Elizabeth: [laughs] I’m going to have to think about that one, I’ll come back to that.

Houstoun: OK, come back. I only have one more question though, so you don’t have that long to think.

Elizabeth: [laughs] OK!

Houstoun: What’s something about yourself that would shock people?

Elizabeth: Hmmm…I would say that I’m shy. I can be really shy, especially when meeting new people. Being on stage is really different because you be whoever you need to be. But I think in real life I can tend to be pretty shy, until you get to know me and then I warm up.

People who know me really well also find that I’m actually kind of old fashioned in a lot of ways. Like, I can be pretty prude! People see me as somebody who is really flirty and sassy and sexy, and I used to do burlesque and I write dirty poems, but when it comes to my actual personal life, I’m pretty old fashioned….Like sure, I can put that costume on. But when I come home, I just like to be kind of quiet and snuggled and shmoopy. So I think that’s something that takes people by surprise. They think that I’m this flashy, slutty, free-flowing person, and…I can be flashy every now and again, but I’m actually kind of prude.

Miss Grace

Houstoun: At the core of it all you’re a prude, huh?

Elizabeth: Yeah, pretty much. I kind of pride myself on that too. I’m a proud prude….I don’t think “Proud Prude” would make a very good soundtrack title! [laughs]

Houstoun: [laughs] I do!

Elizabeth: Well, one way that I usually describe myself is “old fashioned, new-fangled,” so maybe that would be my soundtrack…[I’m] really old fashioned in a lot of ways, but I also do it in this new, modern, queer way that puts a whole new spin on it. I think Coyote Grace in a lot of ways is similar to that too. People see us and they see straight-looking people who dress vintage and old-timey, and then we get up there and sing songs about queer relationships, and transition, and substance abuse, and whatever political statements…What they see is not what they’re actually getting.

Ingrid says her motto is: be the kind of gay you’d like to see in the world. I think we can all agree we’d like to see a little bit more gay like her. So if you can’t wait until early summer to get your Ingrid Elizabeth fix, or if you want to be amazing and take your sweetie on a queer valentines field trip, I suggest you get on top of buying tickets to XOXO. But if you can’t make it, a video of the performance will be available for purchase from TumbleMe Productions.

Don't miss XOXO: Love Notes From the Margins this weekend!

Krista Houstoun hopes Coyote Grace will still play at her future wedding after she used the overdone phrase “that’s what she said” during this interview. If you know someone in the queer or allied community who is doing a damned good job at life, e-mail to nominate them for an interview.

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