INTERVIEW: Nathan Kalish

Pic by Amy Thorne

Nathan Kalish has spent the past decade averaging 200 shows a year at bars and honky-tonks across the country. It’s from this experience he cultivated his new collection of story songs for his 10th album, the self-produced Songs for Nobody. His sound has been described as a “unique brew of Americana, rockabilly and outlaw country.” Through his cutting and intimate lyrics, he transports listeners from the passenger seat of his touring van to behind a magnifying glass aimed at the darker side of American culture. It’s not only his experiences that he shares, but the experiences of the people that he has met along the way.

The music he’s released has landed him on stages with Lucinda Williams, Molly Tuttle, and Lucero. He’s earned accolades from Rolling Stone Country, Saving Country Music and dozens of alt-weeklies. Kalish has lived the life of a curious wanderer, taking his music from town to town, creating a catalog of songs that act as colorful snapshots, like polaroids in a photo album. His music has been compared to American icons like Merle Haggard, John Prine, Gram Parsons, and the Sun Records’ rockabilly roster, circa 1956.

Hi there, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

I’m doing great. Real busy but busy doing things I enjoy so it feels energizing. Getting ready to release my new album Songs for Nobody which comes out April 10th!

Can you talk to us more about your song “Songs for Nobody”? 

Its the title track from the new album, obviously.  I wrote it as a tongue in cheek song about the successes and failures of the life of a traveling musician.  I used the idea of backed-up traffic caused by a highway accident as the imagery to describe my music career.

Did any event, in particular, inspire you to write this song? 

We were doing a long haul overnight drive from one gig to the next and I stopped for a rest while my bassist was already sleeping. I woke up a while later to her nacho cheese spilled on my dashboard. I got angry and wrote the first lyrics as a joke.

What can you tell us about the new album?

I produced it. It was recorded at Tracehorse Studio in Nashville TN in 3 days. The album cover was shot by Sanne Kanst,  a dutch photographer, while I was on tour in Riga, Latvia. I wrote all of the songs except for a verse and chorus on the tune “Delta Woman” which was an unfinished Johnny Cash song that was found in Stockholm. I wrote the music and finished the lyrics though. There is electric guitar on only 4 songs, 2 of which were performed by Drivin N Cryin’s guitarist Laur Joamets.

How was the recording and writing process?

I produced it in Nashville.  I had lots of friends and my road band play on it.  We all performed the songs at the same time in a small studio over the course of 3 days. The cuts are all organic and relatively unaltered from the original takes. Just a bunch of friends picking through a collection of songs I wrote on the road about the road and the people of the road.

How did the process of putting together this LP differ from your previous releases? 

I spent more time after it was done figuring out how to release it. All my previously released records, I just put them out to my friends and fans without any real promotion beyond incessant touring. This is the one I want to have the broadest audience for, so I spent more time on the rollout.

What role does Nashville play in your music?

Nashville is a big part of this album and my sound. I have always been inspired by country, rock n roll, folk, and blues music but on this particular album I used more bluegrass and country instrumentation then I have in the past. Mostly because that’s what I was playing with my friends when I was around town but also because it’s available in a way it is not anywhere else. Nashville has some of the most talented bluegrass and country pickers in the world. I don’t claim to be a traditionalist by any means, but I love taking inspiration and cues from that music and I love pedal steel, fiddle, mandolin, and telecaster. I asked my friends and neighbors who happen to be really great musicians to be on the record.

What aspect of your life did you get to explore on this LP?

It takes a lot of organization to get 7 people in a studio to record 11 songs at the same time, so I really had to get my organizational skills up to par with my artistic vision. Both happen to be opposite sides of the brain so it was a good mental exercise for me. Maybe not much for most people but for someone like me who has a lot of anxiety it was quite the feat. I also tend to be a loner so I had to learn how to rely on a big group of friends, as opposed to just doing everything myself. My friends also happen to be way more talented than me.

Where else did you find the songs and lyrics? 

The road. Since I traveled so much these past 2 years since my last release  I would make verbal notes while I was driving and put them to music if they still flowed well when I got back to them.

What’s the hardest part about being a full-time touring musician? 

Not controlling your sleep schedule or your own diet a lot of the time. A lot of nights I want to play music and go to bed afterward, but sometimes I have to drive instead. Occasionally, I have friends I haven’t seen in a while who want to party with me and I always want to party with friends but I end up sacrificing sleep and so I end up taking naps in the van after we load into the next gig.

What else is happening next in Nathan Kalish’s world? 

Tour starts in April. I’ll be solo for 2 weeks,  then have a band for the rest of summer in the US. Next, I return to Europe in October. I’ll be playing in Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Poland, and the Baltics again.

Check out the video for “Songs for Nobody.”

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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