Interview: Nathaniel Rateliff – He’s Still Alright…

Photo Credit: Rett Rogers

Nathaniel Rateliff is releasing his third solo record And It’s Still Alright this Friday, so TFFT took the chance to sit down with him in London, to speak about solo promoting, his recording process, how he feels about his music, as well as how to explain a shellfish allergy in French!

So Nathaniel, how has the promotional stuff been going?

This is like the fourth day, fifth day but basically, Brussels was starting at 9am. And then I actually do interviews until five. Only a little lunch break in there. And then I hopped on a train and went to Amsterdam. And then you get there and the room wasn’t ready for whatever reasons, I’ve got jet lag and like went to sleep at 11 the next day, up at 9.30. Everything starts again. Brussels, then Amsterdam and then Berlin was like literally 12 hours ago, which was yesterday. But made it through, and this is the easy stuff.

Are you here (in the UK) for long?

Just here in London for the next four days. I think the thing that’s more challenging is actually talking to someone whose English is a second language. I have to kind of think about my answer in a way that will make sense when translated into another language. I just had to do that with one of the songs, I’m trying to translate it into French. One friend translated it. And then I went through that translation with another friend who speaks French, who is the violin player for this project. And then we’re trying to pick words and phrases that would make sense. Now I’m trying to memorise it and learn it.

How is your French generally?

Un petite!

My French is limited to asking, Can I have a beer. And to say what I’m allergic to in terms of food.

I should probably learn shellfish.

Je suis allergique fruit de mer.

Fruit de mer?

Yeah, fruit de mer. ‘Fruits of the sea‘.

Oh yeah. Yeah that’s good to know. Yeah man fruit de mer, non fruit de mer sil vous plait would work!

How are things different to when you do things with The Night Sweats?

The last record was, you know, well it’s been different each record because I feel like with the second Night Sweats record, we did it more as…it was a more of a real group effort. Like we recorded live, and I was letting the guys interject and improvise after giving some of the things I was working on. And so Joseph (Pope III) did a lot of it with me. And then Patrick (Meese) did some of it as well. This has just been me though.

So everything’s on you?

Well, actually you know sometimes that’s better, because you get to say what you want, and how you feel about things so you can have your personal opinion. And honestly when I’m doing it over and over again I want to be able to not contradict myself. When you have a second person there, they can drift, and then I’ll be wondering “What are you saying?”. Or like kind of go off on a rabbit trail and I’ll be like, “Hey, yeah, if we get this done. We’re done…Stop yapping!”

Are there particular songs you’re looking forward to singing live?

Yeah, I mean I’ve been playing some of them just solo. But there’s like a handful of them like “What A Drag” and “Mavis” which are really fun with all the guys, because you know it’s like there’s double drums and and even on “All Or Nothing”, there’s 10 of us on stage and strings. It’s a really big set up. And, you know that’s kind of the interesting thing too, we’ve never really done full on rehearsals. I did a week of it basically, you know, since the guys weren’t really a part of it. But then, it’s mostly the guys in the Night Sweats playing.

So you’ve already got that working relationship.

Yeah, why hire somebody else! (chuckling). Exactly right. So some of the stuff they’d have to learn how to play. And then Patrick (Meese) would go back into the file and recording and be like, here’s the bass part, so you’re not just like ‘what the hell!’. It was a little bit been weird at first because there’s different subtleties in this that we don’t have that in the Night Sweats. I was a little worried whether we will pull it off right, you know?

I can understand that. Are there any of your older solo songs that you’re looking forward to playing again?

Yeah. You know like we kind of take “Shroud”…just doing it kind of crazier. I don’t know it’s just rockin’. And “Early Spring Till” – I only ever used to do it on my own because we couldn’t ever figure out how to play it like the recording. So it’s the first time ever, playing it like it is on a recording. And then there’s a couple of songs like “Oil and Lavender”, just me and the string section. It’s kind of nice to, after years of doing this and now with the Night Sweats, that we’re able to go into a theatre and really create an environment and to show you something. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to do it and so now it’s exciting to be able to have these different elements to the show that actually makes it feel like a performance.

There’s several emotional moments on the record. ‘Rush On’ made me cry when I heard it.

Yeah, I was crying when I was writing it too.

How was it in the recording process?

I mean, everything on the record is live. We approached it that way, it’s what I feel very comfortable doing, playing the instrument and singing, and basically using one mic for that, which some people don’t like, but it works great for me. And that one was tough because we tried it a few different ways. Whether I was just going to sing over it, or what, since it’s so slow. It has this tendency in the way the chords are laid over that the beat wants to jump and I was trying to just keep it on the beat (hums and pats his chest). And so eventually, we figured out how to do this and it’s the most comfortable for me to sing and play. Originally on the demo, I’m hitting the guitar the whole time. But when I was trying to do that, in a performance, I wouldn’t be consistent with it so then I couldn’t do it. So the rhythm section had to create that. And then I have to play to it and that’s eventually what we ended up doing.

A lot of the records I’ve been listening to recently have got a message of hope running through them, often despite any hardships that have occurred . And I feel that about your record as well. Do you think it’s a sign of the times we live in that artists want to give out a message of hope?

I just feel it’s important. I don’t know, between the things that are happening in our cultures, and things that are happening, politically, the class issues that seem to be more and more…

Divisive?

Yeah. I think it’s because the way our countries are led. You know, the distribution of wealth itself is going to so few people and eventually, especially like in the States, you have the people who get blamed for that are the people who are emigrating there to try to find their own hope, wanting to leave their war torn or impoverished countries with the idea of coming somewhere and starting over. I don’t know, I see all of that and it feels like we’re on the verge of something horrible. And I guess this is like an attempt to build, to have a bit of hope. Sorry I kind of went long winded there.

No, no its true.

I really enjoyed “You Need Me”. Do you find the process of writing quite a cathartic thing? Do you always find yourself writing, even if you know it may not necessarily be a song, it’s just something that you want to get written down.

Yeah, some of it is very cathartic at times and other times I don’t even realise what I’m doing. It’s like the title track. I wrote it in the morning and then we went and recorded it within an hour of me writing it, and midway through the day I’m like, I can’t believe this is what I’m writing about, you know I didn’t realise. It’s like you’re subconsciously being vulnerable with yourself. But for now, I guess it’s taken me a long time to be honest with myself and it is like part of my process of dealing with things is letting it kind of come out. I think in the past, though I was like, I’d want to say something but I was afraid if somebody would see it they’d be like, “you fucking wrote that about me!” and then you’d have to bear the burden of that responsibility of potentially hurting that person. And now I’m just kind of letting that go! (chuckling).

Various musicians in groups have done their own solo things on the side and always sort of found it important to have that voice, and maybe have a slightly different voice. And the thing that comes to mind with me is Joe Walsh when he was in the Eagles, he still kept releasing solo records

Right.

And they were very different to what he was like in the band.

They were better than with the Eagles too! (chuckling).

Do you find it important to have that solo voice?

Yeah, I think as a writer I know what the Night Sweats aren’t. I mean I know what they need to be. And so then there’s all this other stuff that I’m very interested in. You know, stylistically, my vocal range and what I’m trying to do. And that’s not what the Night Sweats are, so I kind of need a place to do that. And I had no idea that this would turn into a record where I’m actually like sitting talking to you, you know, because originally it was just Richard and I talking. And I had these songs like “All Or Nothing” and he was like, “Man I love that, I can’t wait to work on that with you”. And I was, “It’s not a Night Sweats song” and he was like “It’s definitely not.” So I thought it was just going to be like another thing where I would just show up. Me and a bunch of songs and let him just kind of go nuts on. We were digging into what kind of soundscapes we were going to do. But then, of course, he passed away which ended up, certainly adding songs, with different things to talk about.


And It’s Still Alright is released this Friday on 14th February.
For live dates and to hear the latest single, head HERE.

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