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INTERVIEW: Nathan Mathes

How would you classify your music?

I think of myself as an indie-folk-rock-singer-songwriter.

2. Who are some of your top 5 musical influences?

Bob Dylan (Bringing It All Back Home through Blonde on Blonde)–I love his lyrical approach and the production on each of these 3 records.

The Beatles (everything after Revolver, with an emphasis on The White Album)–In my mind they’re the masters of pop melody.

Neil Young (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere through Zuma)–Melody, harmony, quiet, raucous, Neil Young albums encapsulate everything I enjoy about music.

David Bowie Produced Albums (The Stooges, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, David Bowie)–Melodic, hip, experimental, brash…so much stuff going on on these albums.

90s rock/pop-punk bands: (Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Jawbreaker) This is when I was “coming of age” as a musician. The influence isn’t necessarily apparent, but it’s there in my music, I’m sure of it.

What do you want fans to take from your music?

I feel the value of any art is to evoke emotion. Most of my songs are about specific and personal subjects, but I like to write in a veiled way so as to allow listeners the opportunity to make their own inferences. I feel that my songs have a general somber feel, with hints of optimism splashed in. I always hope that my music conveys a sense of relaxed complexity: I want it to sound as though I’ve put a lot of thought into it without laboring over it.

Can you tell us a bit about your latest album? When will it be released and how does it differ from your previous work?

Anajune Rival is set for release on January 30th. For me, the thing that really sets it apart from my other albums is that it took me a long time to finish–about two years. I’m used to working on my music quickly and deliberately. Life was complicated during those two years (mostly with the birth of my son and adjusting to this new lifestyle), and I had to take many breaks from the recording process to attend to those things. It was frustrating for me at the time, but looking back, I feel that the album really benefitted from having to take this time and reflect on things. The album covers more ground than previous albums of mine: sonically, lyrically, and melodically.

What do you love and hate about the Music Business?

As an artist who spends most of his creative time working alone–writing, and recording music on my own–I really love how technology allows me to accomplish musical things that could only have been achieved by a full band in a professional studio just a few years ago. In many ways technology has also leveled the playing field by allowing artists like myself the opportunity to get their music heard around the world very easily. The flip side to that positive, though, is that because anyone and everyone can get their music “out there” it is becoming increasingly difficult to cut through all the noise. That whole dynamic has required me to really re-evaluate what it is about music that I love, shifting my focus from a desire to play in front of people and get some sort of immediate feedback, to just being happy that such a musical world exists where I can do things on my own terms and have avenues to get my music out to the world where at least there is the potential that it will be heard.

What is the best concert you have been to? What do you like most about playing live?

I saw The Walkmen at a festival in Milwaukee a few years ago. It was an incredible performance: a group of really talented guys playing really great musical gear with a rather simple, stripped-down approach. It was really all about the sum of the parts with them–in a live setting one really can’t ask for more than that.

The thing that I love most about playing live is being able to showcase my songs in my own stripped-down fashion. On my albums I tend to embellish my songs to make them more enjoyable over repeated listens, but live it’s often just me and an acoustic guitar, sometimes with some simple looping. I’m a songwriter, first and foremost, and I love being able to convey songs in such a pure form.

Is there a song on this latest CD that stands out as your personal favorite, and why?

I would have to say that “In The Long Run” is my favorite from the new album. It’s more upbeat than most of the stuff I’ve recorded in the past. I remember spending a lot of time on it, especially with the lyrics. Often I find that when I have to spend too much time on a song it never really ends up working out well–the songs that come easy tend to be the songs I like over time. With “In The Long Run” I feel I was really able to encapsulate that duality of somberness and optimism

How have you evolved as an artist over the last few years? What made you decide to come back into the music business?

When I first began playing music most of what I focused on was writing and practicing so I could perform live. What I’m doing musically now doesn’t always translate the best to my local market/demographic (Green Bay), but I’ve always felt that what I was doing would be appreciated by someone, somewhere. I’ve moved away from playing live and have focused more on writing and recording, and focusing on getting my music “out there”. That’s the great thing about the state of music now–a guy like me can make his music in his basement studio and have people in Japan hear it and enjoy it. That wasn’t possible just a few years ago.

If you could meet, play a gig, co-write a song, have dinner, get drunk with any band or artist (dead or alive) who would it be?

I’d want to spend time with someone I respect musically as well as on a personal level. I bet Willie Nelson would be a great guy to spend some time with. Socio-politically he seems like he’s got a great perspective–he’s got great views but he’s probably not the kind of person who feels the need to shove his opinions down your throat and make you come around to his way of thinking. Plus, maybe he would bring along Trigger (his guitar) and let me strum a few chords.

So tell us what’s next?  

As I’m working on the promotional push for Anajune Rival I’m also writing new songs. This is a pretty typical cycle for me: write songs until I’m sick of writing, record until I’m sick of that, finish an album and promote that until I’m feeling ready to write more songs again. I’m not sure why but the goal for my next album is to be a double album. I’ve set a goal of writing 40 songs…we’ll see how far along I get before I feel that urge to record again.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, play guitar, music geek, movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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