Iowa Tapes, Part 4: Mose Wintner on Red Coyote, Charlie Vestal, and the Summer of 2009

Mose Wintner, left, with Campfire in 2010. Photo courtesy of Mose Wintner

Mose Wintner is a musician and data scientist from Los Angeles who spent a few months in Ames in 2009 during a particularly active phase of the Ames Progressive DIY space, where he befriended numerous local and touring musicians, participated in the music scene, and recorded a rare experimental cassette under the name Red Coyote (and also worked on a mathematics problem at Iowa State University).

The Ames Progressive (a venue I helped to establish that was later renamed The Space for Ames) staged regular concerts throughout the quiet summer months in Campustown, sometimes hosting outstanding nationally touring artists who graciously performed to the often small but always supportive audiences of that room. And at one such show I was grateful when Mose walked through the door: He’s a lot of audience for one person. He became a regular at shows and by the end of the summer if felt like he’d always been there.

Red Coyote’s Barn Swallows, recorded in Ames in 2009. Photo by Nate Logsdon

The next summer we met again when Red Coyote joined Iowa bands Mumford’s and Utopia Park for the California leg of our 2010 tour. When I recently pulled out the Red Coyote tape Barn Swallows for the first time in years I noticed a number of Ames references in the inserts and found myself reminiscing about that time and wondering what Mose has been up to; turns out, a lot. He corresponded with the Informer about meeting musicians in Ames, self-recording, and his extensive musical journey over the last decade.

What brought you to Ames in the summer of 2009?

I got accepted to a summer research program for undergraduates in the math department at Iowa State. Really undergrads rarely get the opportunity to break new ground in math because one typically needs such a high level of knowledge to find and solve open problems. The project my group worked on was called Symmetric Norms in R2, but we didn’t have any significant findings.

What ended up leading you to the Ames Progressive?

That’s a funny story, actually. In April 2009 or so, after I’d been accepted to the research program, a friend of mine said, “I have to show you this band French Quarter I’ve been really loving lately,” and pulled up the Myspace page. After hearing enough to know I was into it, I was like, “Where’s their tour going?” Turned out they were playing in Ames when I was going to be there, at the Ames Progressive! To add to the coincidence, they were touring with Hell-Kite, whom I’d known as a teenager! She went on to claim some notoriety as Olivia Neutron-John and later Anna Nasty. James Roemer (Glochids) was along, too, and I still have some strange and wonderful tapes of his. French Quarter, aka Stephen Steinbrink, is now a friend of mine; we’ve played some gigs together since meeting at the Ames Progressive.

That was a great show. I remember Stephen played a beautiful cover of “Stayin’ Alive.” I also have a memory of you and me being maybe the only people at a Cartright show and we were blown away. Do you recall more musical performances you saw in Ames?

I was definitely going to mention that Cartright show. This tall and gregarious farmer Luke Gran was there, too, and I remember him saying, “This is like seeing a mermaid.” The music was so loud he had to scream it into our ears a couple of times.

I think I saw one or two other shows at the AP during my two-month stay in Ames. I remember Paul Hertz playing piano. I think I saw your band [Mumford’s] too then, but that may have been later in California.

Garrett Adams and Charlie Vestal had a band at the time and I was hanging out with them outside the research program, so I went to see their set. I think I saw each of them play solo, too. Charlie played a really great solo acoustic set. May he rest in peace.

Yes sir, we cherish our memories of Charlie and wish him peace. I bet the band with him and Garrett was Banshee Beat, I was a big fan. I wonder if you could share some memories of Charlie and maybe what draws you to his music?

Yeah, Banshee Beat, that was it.

I haven’t listened to Charlie’s music since probably 2010. I remember being so surprised by his melodic sensibility. He came off as kind of goofy, but his songs were so sweet, and he had some of the warmest and funniest stage banter. And he made it all seem so effortless. Watching him made me feel like, “Wow, making and performing great music is really that easy?” Of course, it’s not, but anyway, his songs really made you feel welcome.

While you were in Ames you recorded a tape called Barn Swallows under the name Red Coyote, released on the Ace of Tapes label. What instruments and recording equipment did you use?

I used an SP-404 sampler, a beat up Squier, and some pedals.

Had you made tapes prior to this?

That was my first and only solo release, and it was all live to tape. I was in a band just after that in Berkeley called Campfire, and we made a few tapes.

What was your composition process like?

I had no composition process for Barn Swallows. I’d just start recording and see what happened; later, I edited the raw stuff down to tape length.

Track list insert for Red Coyote’s Barn Swallows. A number of Ames musicians, including Charlie Vestal and Garrett Adams, are noted in the “special thanks” section. Photo by Nate Logsdon

What were some of your musical influences around that time?

Well, I was a massive fan of Animal Collective for a long time, including then. I was very heavily into noise and drone music then, which is what most of Ace of Tapes released. Black Dice, Deerhoof, Broadcast, and the Microphones were among my favorites in college, but I could go on. I still think Deerhoof is the best rock band in the game. They and Broadcast have been the most enduring favorites of my life.

The cassette case included a mini-zine of drawings called How Can Anything Possibly Go Wrong?

A page from the collaborative zine distributed with Red Coyote’s Barn Swallows. Photo by Nate Logsdon

Oh yeah, I forgot about that zine! That summer, I had some friends who were train-hopping from California to Chicago, and some other friends biking cross-country from Philly to the Bay. It was a bit of a crusty time in America. They all met up in Ames and, to the horror of my math program roommates and administrators, crashed in the dorm with me for a week or two. I think there were four of them. They were considerate, but my poor roommates probably came away with a lot of unfavorable judgments of Californians based on that experience. The zine was a joint effort between us. Now that you mention it, I think Aly Peeler may have been involved with that, too, and I saw her play at the AP. A very kind heart.

Can you tell me more about Ace of Tapes? Also, while you were in Ames, you introduced me to the music of Iowa native Arthur Russell. I love that a guy from California was teaching an Iowan about Iowa music history! How did you get into his music?

I mentioned living in Berkeley, but I’d actually transferred to UC Berkeley from UC Santa Cruz after my first two years of college. Ace of Tapes was a little label started by some friends in Santa Cruz to release stuff made by our circle of weirdo musician friends. One lived in an attic space in Santa Cruz. My first time hearing Arthur Russell was falling asleep on his floor to World of Echo sometime in 2008. I still really cherish those friendships, and the surviving tapes, as a result. They say you don’t make friends like that as an adult, and I’ve found that to be true. I’m planning to move back to the Bay Area ASAP to be near them again, actually. I have a big job interview next Friday to make it real. If it doesn’t go well, I still feel confident I’ll find something before the end of quarantine.

We played a show in Santa Cruz with you and Utopia Park at a bookstore/zine distro: I remember the show went from extreme crowdsurfing during Utopia Park’s set to everyone laying on the floor and meditating during Red Coyote. That’s range! It was a special time, do you have some memories from that tour?

Oh man, I do remember! I remember playing at Subrosa in Santa Cruz, at a house in LA, and y’all doing a hilarious, loud acoustic set in a parking garage in either Oakland or Berkeley. I had recently moved into a big beautiful house in north Oakland with eight other friends. I’ll never forget approaching them and asking, “How do you guys feel about putting up ten Iowans on tour for a couple nights?” Everyone was tickled by that. And everyone was down. You guys taught nearly all of us how to play flip cup. Most of you I haven’t seen since then, but I sure do remember y’all.

I don’t have a lot of memories of my set, though. I was a really shy performer — those were the only times I’ve played solo. Usually I’m behind the drums with a whole bunch of other people on stage so I don’t feel so exposed.

Red Coyote performed at Subrosa Cafe in Santa Cruz with Utopia Park and Mumford’s in 2010. Photo by Kai Tanaka

Utopia Park was a huge influence on Ames music and I want more people to remember and appreciate that band. Do you have some memories or impressions of them from that tour?

Oh, yes. Philip and Dom were just the nicest guys. So positive and so energetic and kind too. Dom was all about the party but he was way more mindful and respectful than other people I knew with that energy. Philip was more reserved off-stage, but together they put on such a damn fun show. Just a great time, great vibes. I really looked forward to their set every night. I still have their tape.

Wintner took this picture of Philip Rabalais and Hilary Nelson on Red Coyote’s 2010 tour with Utopia Park and Mumford’s.

Tell me about some of the bands you’ve played in.

Campfire split up in 2010 when one of us moved away. In 2011, my friend Reese asked me if I was interested in playing some songs he wrote with his cousin. I waffled. He asked again, but this time he mentioned they were going on a US tour with of Montreal. That band was Painted Palms. of Montreal are some of the most amazing and wonderful people I’ve ever met. Since then I’ve never seen a group flow creatively like them. I was super shy on tour but they really made an impact on me. I moved back home to LA shortly after that tour, and they ended up getting a new drummer and making a lot more music together.

It wasn’t long before my brother Miles, who is an excellent musician and artist, invited me to see a band he’d just joined called LA Takedown. I was blown away by the songs. At that time, the band was a bit of a rotating cast, so I threw my name in the hat for a seat at the drums. I’m not sure what happened to the other drummers since then, but I love playing in LA Takedown. The songwriter, Aaron M. Olson, is one of my favorite musicians alive, and one of the better friends I’ve had since college. I don’t think I would have made it through graduate school without that crew. Or maybe my dissertation would have been much better — thankfully, we’ll never know.

Shortly after that, Aaron and some others spun up a Grateful Dead cover band called Dick Pics. I was not into the Dead, but after cycling through some drummers, he invited me to join and I accepted. I’ve come around on the Dead, and I absolutely love playing those songs. This band in many ways is the most fun I’ve ever played in. We’ve gone back and forth between being called Dick Pics and Richard Pictures but internally we’re just Pics. One of my bandmates has been tight friends with Ezra of Vampire Weekend for decades, so we’ve actually gigged with them several times, including at the Hollywood Bowl. There are very few things I’ve done in my life sillier and more fun than playing “Casey Jones” in front of 10,000-plus people.

I also played drums in Chris Cohen‘s band for a US tour a few years back. Chris is one of my favorite people and musicians in the whole world, and playing in his band was a dream come true. Not only that, he’s one of the best drummers I know, so to be asked to play drums in his band really made my head spin. My favorite band’s probably been Deerhoof since I was like 16, and Chris was in it when I first saw them. I’d followed his career since then super closely. Actually, the first time I ever saw Aaron was in Chris’s band Cryptacize, but we didn’t meet until LA Takedown.

Aside from that, I’ve done one-offs here and there, including a few gigs with Little Wings, which is another childhood dream come true. I’ve loved Kyle’s music, art, and soul since I was a teenager. I’m also a regular member of Aaron’s Musical Tracing Ensemble. Leaving this community is by far my biggest hang-up about my imminent move north, but I’m beyond stoked to play music with some new people.

Nate Logsdon is a writer, editor, and indexer from Ames. He was a founding editor of the Ames Progressive and contributing editor at the Iowa Informer.