Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Sunday Conversation with Neil Nathan

Singer/songwriter Neil Nathan has applied those final touches of color to his new album The Distance Calls and is now waiting for this beautiful piece of music to hit the streets. We were able to catch up with Neil for a few minutes to see what made Neil, well . . . Neil. Here's what he had to say.

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, and Simon & Garfunkle, the first time I ever hear Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphanies since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.What have been your musical epiphany moments?

As a kid, my first 45's were Neil Diamond's "Desiree" and Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me." I was rocking Shaun Cassidy's cover of "Da Doo Run Run" too. So, hooks, hooks, and more hooks were hammered into my head from a very early age. Plus listening to the oldies station CBS 101 in the car with Mom gave me that sense of pop taste and history. Later on, the big ones came from AC/DC's Back in Black and the immensely tasteful and rocking Who's Next. I played both cassettes over and over until they broke. There's something about that feeling of playing the absolute shit out of record til it actually falls apart that is lost with the advent of modern techonology.

What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

Huh, very deep question. I'll give you the narcissist's answer.

For me, songwriting in general is intensely personal, therapeutic and meditative. I usually sit down with the guitar and hear a chord progression that speaks to me and then the melody and lyrics come through from the ethers or the deep subconscious. Certainly from a place or mindset that is more grounded and wiser than my conscious state. Then I edit a bit here and there and try to translate as best I can the signal that is coming through. Sometimes the songs pop out almost complete as if they existed somewhere else and I just channeled it. Other times an unfinished idea will be there for a year or two and then it pops back in there and I know where to go with it. But I digress, at their best, my tunes help me process an emotion or whirlwind of conflicting emotions in a focused fashion. Hopefully, the song, regardless of the lyrics, gives the listener a sense of what that feeling or feelings were like for me to deal with. And perhaps they have gone through exactly the same thing, and thus we connect! Woo hoo! The power of song.

In songwriting, how do you bring the song together? What do you look for in terms of complexity? Simplicity? Time changes?

I try to go with the song and what it is asking for. But I am straight ahead to a fault. I usually err on the side of simplicity in theme and structure. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, solo, chorus or perhaps a quality outro, which makes me the happiest for some reason. Richard Ashcroft and The Verve as well as GNR do that quite well. I'm not the kind of guy who says I need a bridge here for the sake of having a bridge. If verse, chorus, verse, chorus with no solo seems to feel right, then that's fine with me.

Time changes might happen live and organically but certainly not on purpose on record. I prefer one groove that continues. Why fuck with what's working? A catchy, emotive melody, a simple chord progression and structure with some thoughtful lyrics that aren't too fancy, and a good groove. That's what I strive for. And if that's working, the song sounds as if it always existed in an effortless realm of natural wonder.

For you, what makes a great song?

The above plus an emotion I am experiencing or have experienced. Or that just makes me feel cool when listening to it. Isn't that what we all want? To be cool!

What piece of your music are you particularly proud of?

I'm proud of all my babies, but some I feel more responsible for than others. On The Distance Calls, I'm absolutely flabbergasted by "California Run" and "Better Be Goin'". They are both the result of a very positive collaboration with my producer, Bobby Harlow (The Go), and the fantastic musicians he brought to the session in Kenny Tudrick (Detroit Cobras, Kid Rock), Joey Mazzola (Detroit Cobras, Sponge), John Krautner (The Go), and Dean Fertita (The Dead Weather, Queens of the Stone Age). "California Run" has an Otis Redding/Eagles breeze rock vibe that is a perfect example of that natural quality I referred to earlier, and "Better Be Goin'" is a T Rex on steroids modern blues rocker that is sexy as hell. When going into the session I didn't have a clue that those tunes would come out like that. And although I'm a solo artist, it's the collaboration of all these talented folks and the surprises that come out of that collaboration that make those songs what they are and made the experience so worthwhile.

When you write a piece of music, do you consciously write from the mind set of being different than what's out there now?

No. I write something that I would dig and that usually means it comes from a mélange of influences, both past and present.

The business of music is a brutal place. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?

Though writing, recording and playing live are motivation enough for me, total creative and monetary freedom are always the goals. I've got a licensing deal with North Star Media that I'm excited about. Hopefully more tv and film placements like Californication will bring in the necessary funds to sustain my addiction to recording. I'm slightly prolific, so I've got backlogs of quality tunes up the whazoo. My only goal is to record them at a clip that keeps my A.D.D. mind entertained. That, to me, means a full album a year for the next five years along with singles, ep's, and myriad videos thrown into the mix. Content, content, content!

Spending any amount of time in the music business opens the door for many a “Spinal Tap” moment. What’s your best moment?

Well I've certainly worked with many a guitarist that felt the need to turn up to 11 regardless of the level of any of the other instruments in the room. That's funny when Nigel does it, but not so much when you're rehearsing in a 12x12 space.
And another.....

I played a solo acoustic show the other night at a small bar and while I had the entire audience rapt and entranced with my finger picking version of Jeff Lynne's "Do Ya," the sound guy was screaming in the back to one of his friends about his last Judas Priest show. I smiled while the audience glared back at him.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

There is nothing like the warmth of Vinyl. And with sales doubling last year, it seems like the younger generation are catching on. We, as a culturally advancing society (at least in terms of time) are getting to the point where we can combine technologies and styles of the past that worked with what's new and amazing now. Bell bottoms and skinny jeans are cool now (as far as I'm concerned) and they were cool then. The same goes for Vinyl. CD'S should be a thing of the past. Vinyl and MP3's are where it's at. The best of the past and the best of the now. The quick fix portable version and the slow food, glass of wine, joint smoking home version. I have a vinyl geek listening club called The 33's and we come together once every month or so and entertain each other by spinning the records we bring and sharing the stories behind them. If everyone did this, we'd have world peace in a year!

We, at The Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. When we come to your town, what's the best record store to visit?

Bleecker Street Records is the mother load if you've got the cash and the time or if you don't have the cash, the discipline to say no. House of Oldies on Carmine Street is great little spot with a very nice and well informed owner. I picked up an Equals record there a few months back at a great price that I'd been looking for over a year.

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