Greeley, CO based duo on dovetailing art, music and family
The aural and visual expanse of Greeley based group Giants & Pilgrims is vast. Their music and artwork inject a sense of calm whimsy in the listener and/or viewer, whispery indie-folk interjected and interlaced with a broad array of instrumentation, with visual representations of the music playing in the mind like a drive in movie of better days gone by. The sum of its parts steeping in the metaphorical pot like a warm and comforting tea. Together it brings to mind (at least personally) memories of wide open wheat fields adjacent wide open highways. Now whether that the fields and roads are an actual memory from within my brain or a hazy daydream of an event I wished I’d had is a testament to the transformative power of the music and artistry of Giants & Pilgrims.
If you’re wondering why I keep bringing up both the musical and visual attributes of Giants & Pilgrims, it’s because the two are inseparable. Literally. By the powers invested in the state of Colorado, married members singer/songwriter Tim Coons and visual artist Betony Coons both comprise Giant’s & Pilgrims, a group that are much more than just a band or artist, instead turning music and visual art into collaborative projects.
PULP/ So. How did the “marriage” of music and visual art come up?
Betony Coons/ Being two creative thinkers who are married can sometimes be difficult. We can be brutallyonest which each other at times. But it is also really freeing because we usually “get” each other pretty well. It is wonderful having a constant companion who gives clear truthful feedback. With our first joint project, “Almanac No. 1” and now with “Becoming”, we took that collaboration a step further and let our ideas and themes be shared and inspired by each other rather than just our critiques.
Timothy Coons/ We’ve worked together on lots of projects over the years- she’s designed album covers for me and I’ve helped w/ ideas for art pieces. But it wasn’t until about 3 years ago we decided to start Giants & Pilgrims. It would be a singular project with an art series and album that were companions. We did Almanac No. 1. It was a successful kickstarter campaign and we loved the experience so we decided to do “Becoming” as a follow up project this year!
Did it come together spontaneously, or was it more of a concerted effort?
BC/ It was a natural evolution of where we already were heading. We are continuously looking for more ways to connect and intertwine the work we are doing. It is a very interesting process to ask the questions “how does this audio look?” or what does a certain painting “sound” like? Our creative process is very multi-sensory. We are in a constant process of discovering what that looks like though.
TC/ First we take some time coming up with the direction or theme we’re going to head. And that is a very concerted effort. Almanac was all about the fields of life and digging in the dirt of love and family. Becoming was more focused… It’s all about the constant process of growing up. Ideas came from that direction spontaneously…
Do you find that each other’s art influences the other?
BC/ Absolutely. I trust my husband a great deal. I also love the work that he creates. Often I will have a foggy beginning of an idea, he will have the start of a song, I will listen to his rough tracks and the direction for my piece will clarify through the lens of his work. Lyrics spark images, melodies lead to creating a certain mood with in a piece.
TC/ We DEEPLY influence each other by way of critique. We’re brutal w/ each other’s art! haha. We have ways in which we talk to each other about now (after some initial hurt feelings at the beginning of our 10 year marriage). Now we wait until we’re at a point ready to receive critique. Then ask for the other to be honest but kind. We’ve gotten really good at it! My work has really grown and gotten better and better because of Betony.
Do they ever bleed over too much?
BC/ Argh! Sometimes. Just in that sometimes I trust my husband too much If he is not vibing with a direction I am heading – and he tells me, because we have this great honest critiquing relationship – I will flounder, hugely second guessing my original direction.
TC/ With the difference of the visual and audio and with both of our fairly eclectic tastes, we haven’t gotten in the space of repeating ourselves or copying ourselves too much… I don’t feel like the styles bleed over enough yet!
How, if at all, has the Northern Colorado area (Greeley in particular) influenced your creations?
BC/ I think “place” has enormous influence on the work artists create. Tim and I got to visit Iceland for our 10th wedding anniversary last year. We were both amazed by how much of the landscape is reflected in the art that comes out of that place. In our own work, it is a little harder to step back and see how much our roots reflect into our creations, but I know it is deeply influential. I also believe that the best artwork comes out of community. We have an amazing group of artist friends in greeley that constantly push and inspire us.
TC/ I’ve been influenced by friends and how they write and what they write. It excites me and I get inspired when they make great songs. So Paul Beveridge, the Burroughs, Justin Roberts, LaRhett are Greeley folks that inspire me. Then NoCo at large- A Boy and His Kite, Page CXVI, Loud Harp, Aaron Strumpel have all influenced me. Oh, and Nathaniel Rateliff.
Both the music and artistry of G&P seems to invoke the natural world and the rather whimsical elements thereof. We’re you two doing that as separate entities beforehand?
BC/ I grew up in the most “whimsical” childhood environment. My siblings and I were unschooled and we lived in a barn in the midst of the Kansas prairie. My dad was a bit of an eccentric inventor and our house was filled with all sorts of wonders – a fully functional stage with curtains and lights, gymnastics rings, a zip line, multitudes of treehouses, etc. He is also a naturalist at heart and taught us all about the nature surrounding us and the beauty of living. My mother is a deeply creative soul and filled our days with endless play and creativity. I am very thankful to both of them for giving me so much curiosity and wonder to pull from in my own artwork and story.
TC/ I’m influenced by the natural sounds of voice, guitar, piano, etc. (I usually am very weary of how to use electric guitar! I feel like electric guitar shortens the music’s shelf life SO much because the style of its use changes so quickly) But I also love to use toy instruments in my recordings. Betony just so happens to use our children’s pictures that they make in her paintings (and even let’s them paint on them sometimes). I feel like that’s a style equivalent to my audio use. But this is because we both love that aesthetic… not because one of us did it first…
You see a partner duo every now again musically, but not so much two different types of art (music and visual). Is it difficult to find venues to exhibit both art and music simultaneously?
BC/ We are constantly pushing and pulling against that exact dilemma! How our live show works is still an evolving concept – sometimes it looks like live painting while tim plays, sometimes showcasing existing works, and sometimes it means teaching workshops together.
TC/ Yes it’s hard! Because the visual is a long exposure that isn’t time dependent (a gallery or open house) and the showcase of music is so dependent on a real time experience, our full live show really only happens once! We had Betony’s art show up at a theater in Greeley called Atlas in November. It was up all month then we had a music concert to close the art show. 13 of the 16 art pieces sold, so we won’t be able to do that again! BUT when places have a screen up somewhere for powerpoint I’m able to put up her visuals w/ each song. Betony doesn’t like that route as much, but it works.
Bands are often called “A Marriage with People You Aren’t Married To” . Does being partners in life and also in artistic endeavors create any problems?
BC/ It does, but it is so worth it. I am so thankful to have a husband who deeply understands me. In many ways, we are each others’ complement. Tim is the planner, conservative decision maker, organizer. I am much more intuitive, the researcher, and the more adventurous one. He helps me be wiser with money and planning. I help him to be open to spontaneity and the unknown. Things like that.
TC/ Yes! Creating anything w/ anyone is going to present problems, so it’s natural for when we work together that we have things to work through. Overall though, we work REALLY well together! We have a love of similar aesthetics and just everything that art and music can do for a person. When we stay guided by that we usually feel good about the art we are creating together.
Do you see Giants & Pilgrims as 2 distinct entities that share a name, or one big thing?
BC/ One entity, but that is still in the transitioning process. I do create work separate from collaboration with Tim and he creates work separate from mine. Do we still call that Giants & Pilgrims? We are still figuring it out.
TC/ One big thing. I make music outside of G & P and she creates art outside of G & P. But it’s when we have a theme and a united idea behind the project… THAT’s the heart of G & P. Us both together.
It’s beautiful and refreshing to see artistry that is somewhat centered around home and family life. Do your children take part in your creations?
BC/ Oh my yes. I am a stay at home mom as well as a working artist. The only way I can really get work done is to bring my children into my/our creative process. I will often let my kids paint on my artwork, pushing me to be open to new directions. When we do shows, usually the kids come along. This last November we were both in an Arts Market here in greeley. Lucy, our oldest daughter (6), set up her own booth and sold artwork as well. Each month we choose a theme – which plays out in artwork, in our kids activities, in music playlists around the house, etc. We get almost nerdy about themes around here. It’s pretty great.
TC/ Yes, somewhat! I include all three of our daughters in some portion of the recordings on “Becoming”. It’s tricky to make sure that doesn’t come off as trivial or saccharine, but I think we’ve done a good job making it into great art.
Any big plans for 2016?
BC/ The beginning of our year is lots of planning for summer tours and the creating of new artworks. Mostly we will be tucked away working on our next project, but regularly check out our website where we blog about our creative process, share inspiration, and explore our monthly themes.
TC/ Betony always has a free download for a desktop computer picture/ phone background at the beginning of each month. If you mention that it might bring more folks to our site. Other than that, we don’t have any Pueblo and beyond gigs… Know of any good places we should play?
Giants and Pilgrims are a constantly spinning hurricane of activity. Keep up with them at giantsandpilgrims.com