Q&A with Nathaniel Rateliff of Night Sweats @ the Bluebird 11/12
Seven-piece soul outfit Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats will have crowds dancing this Tuesday night with Communion’s return to the Bluebird. We caught up with frontman Nathaniel for a Q&A, in which he reveals his roots, evolution as an artist, the reason why he plays and more. If you’re as big a fan of Sam Cooke as he is, you won’t want to miss him perform at 8 tonight.
What kind of impact has the Communion tour had on you thus far?
Well now I’ve been sick for most of the tour. My voice is worn out. I’m just starting to get better. (I’ve had) a few days off and so hopefully it’ll start to be a lot more fun. I feel a lot better than I did.
What kind of an impact have you seen that Communion has had on artists and even you individually?
It’s just helping everybody get out…hopefully more people get to come out and hear you play than normally would.
How does touring with Communion differ from your previous tour with the Lumineers and Dr. Dog?
It’s a different musical project. Some of those were at arenas so the venues are different. It’s all the same in the scheme of touring.
So the question I’d really love to know is…really digging deep, what is the reason you play music?
I play because I feel like I have to…you know, I love doing it. I’ve done it almost all my life. I feel really attached to it. It’s what I enjoy doing more than just about anything.
What do you think it takes for an artist to pursue that ‘need to play’ despite the odds of making it (in the industry)?
I think just doing it because you love it. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
How does your music with the Night Sweats differ from your solo work?
The solo work is more singer-songwriter paced. It’s developed and changed over the years. That stuff is more really about life and the things I’ve gone through or am going through or people around me. This project is more about havin’ fun. Just dancin’ and singin’ and this is somethin I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. I kinda grew up lovin Sam Cook and all his writing and this project is trying to really tap into that sort of feeling or emotion.
What is your vision as a band? What effect do you guys aim to have on audiences?
Hopefully we’ll just get people dancin’ and havin’ a good time. That’s the goal.
Where do you guys aim to go as a band?
I don’t know. We’ve put out a 7” and hopefully we’ll make a full-length record soon and just continue to tour and see what happens.
Are you going to focus your energy in the next few years on the band or more-so on your solo work?
I kind of intend to do both. I know that’s sort of contradictory to what most people are doing nowadays but nobody really knows me anyway so (chuckles) I get to do what I want.
How would you describe the art of making music in the industry today? How much is it led by the artist and how much is it led by the producer?
I guess it just depends on the artist and the producer, you know. Some producers have a lot to do with the music that’s made; some artists don’t work with producers. I definitely think that there’s genres of music, and bands and artists that are shaped and made to be what they are because of the influence of the producer and the industry.
How has it been for you personally?
For the most part I just do what I feel and I’ve been lucky enough to work with a couple of producers who were just trying to help me make music that I wanted to make and not try to make it their own.
So how was working with Brian Deck?
It was great. Brian’s a great guy and I wouldn’t mind working with him again. I brought him a bunch of the songs I had recorded at home and he just tried to help me keep that sound and vibe that I had when I was at home.
What about working with Communion?
We haven’t really recorded that much together. The stuff that we put out was a live recording…so far it’s been good.
So how do you think that whole dynamic with producer and artist compares to decades past?
I think it’s still similar. Some artists are still shaped by their producers and some still do what they wanna do. I think it’s been like that for a long time.
Your music has so much soul and so strongly reflects the sounds from the 60s and 70s. Your bio indicates that you mainly taught yourself how to play. How did you develop so strongly & independently as an artist, without the help of other musicians?
Well, you know, I have a large group of friends who encourage me to do what I do and are supportive in what I’m doing and you know, I just always try to study and learn more things as time goes by.
When you were young and first picked up your instruments, can you walk me through step-by-step of how you taught yourself how to play?
I first started off playing drums when I got my first drum kit when I was seven. I put headphones on and listened to my favorite songs and played along. I kinda did the same thing with guitar when I was 13. Just listened to songs that I liked and figured out how to do it.
Did you have any major influence that helped with this?
My parents were really big influences on me. They both played and were both music lovers.
What did they play?
My dad played several different wind instruments and my mom played guitar.
And you guys were avid church-goers?
Oh yeah when I was a kid, we were, yeah. I haven’t been in years now.
How did that affect your music style?
It was a community there, but you know, when I was a kid I wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music. I was only allowed to listen to the Christian bands. But then as I got older it was nice to discover all this other music. It was a really amazing growing period for me.
At what age did you start to listen to other music and discover what was out there?
When I was 15 or 16.
How did that influence you?
There was so much I had never heard and so many different types of music. It was amazing to find out all the things that were out there that I missed.
Your website indicates that you picked up the guitar after your fathers death. Why not before?
Before I was still really into playing drums and my mom played guitar and they were always around. So I just picked one up and my mom taught me a couple of chords and I just started playing.
Was your father’s death a sort of inspiration for that or what was the correlation?
It was horribly traumatic but I guess I was a pretty quiet kid so I was pretty introspective. It definitely protected me. I was a sad kid so I would just sit around and play all the time.
How did you first gain an audience?
When I first moved to Denver, I started a band with my long time friend Joseph Pope III and we played for a few years and just kept playin and more and more people liked us. He’s on tour with me and this band.
At what age did you start playing together and what role does he play in the band now?
We started playing together when I was probably 16. He’s playing guitar in this band now. He plays multiple instruments.
Our perceptions of ourselves often differ from those of others. How do you see yourself as an artist?
I don’t know, still trying to discover things and figure myself out and just continue to grow.
How has music helped you with that process along the way?
It’s just kind of a part of my life and a part of me at this point. It’s what I’ve done for most of my life now.
One last silly question. What do you sing in the shower?
I guess it depends. I definitely make stuff up in the shower. I don’t have any particular song…just whatever comes to mind when I’m in there.
What’s one of your favorite songs that’s not your own?
Cupid by Sam Cooke.
You should do a cover of that tonight!
Haha, we’ll see!