At first glance Nate Nathan seems like an enigma as he stands in front of his home in Angels Camp. With an afro, painted black nails and a forehead tattoo, the 32-year old carries the vibe of a big-city musician, yet here he is nestled amongst California’s historic foothills in a city of less than 6,000 people.
The juxtaposition remains upon listening to Nathan’s music and it soon becomes apparent that his avant-garde style is a wholly organic package that extends to all aspects of his craft. From his lyrical themes and his visual presentation — both in person and on video — to his DIY production techniques, Nathan’s artistic foundation is one of experimentation focused on internal expansion.
Before long the dichotomy between Nathan and the place he calls home melts away. In a land forged on the frontier, Nathan stands as a pioneer of his own making.
Shortly after being greeted by Nathan, we crowd into a modified washroom that serves as his home studio where more than seven albums worth of songs have been produced. The setup is simple: a MIDI keyboard, a condenser microphone and a laptop. The sum of these parts, however, proves to be anything but.
Over the past decade, Nathan has shared the complexity of his art for crowds in places like Sacramento, Los Angeles, Reno and even mainland China. On this day he performs for an audience of one, playing a stripped-down rendition of “Living a Lie” from his most recent project “Summer Chronicles”.
In this space Nathan seems at peace. His soft tone and reflective lyrics reverberate through the room, hanging heavy in their honesty. Prior to performing, Nathan spoke about the inspiration he gets from the likes of Judy Garland, Usher, Thelonious Monk and Enya, and as his performance progresses, pieces of each can be found in the fabric of the song.
Who is Nate Nathan?
“That’s a good question. I’m trying to figure that out right now… I’m a singer, I’m a piano player, but ultimately I’m a visual artist in the way where I’m just trying to paint pictures for people through sound. And so that’s Nate Nathan in a nutshell.
When I saw you performing and I heard you were from Angel’s Camp it kind of seemed like a weird juxtaposition, because when I think of Angels Camp I don’t think of Soul or R&B.
“My style and the style of music that I do, I do feel like it’s pretty unique to the area. There’s definitely a little bit of it spread throughout, because there’s a lot of different creatives, but it definitely has been a journey playing my genre and my style of Soul Experimental in this area.”
How would you describe your style of music and how did you develop that style?
“The best way I would describe my style of music is Pop, Experimental, Soul. And a lot of it has developed just because I like a lot of different genres. I grew up playing Gospel music in church. I trained singing Classical, I’m a huge fan of Jazz, I used to rap before I sang. So it all kind of comes spinning together. And I think the development of it has been playing it live, honestly. Playing at a lot of the local venues and pushing the envelope a little more each time until I can fully express myself the way I want to at these local shows.”
When it comes to your music, what are some of the concepts or themes that you usually talk about or sing about? Are they similar themes across your songs or does it shift, evolve and morph depending on when you’re recording or what’s going on in your life at the time?
“There’s definitely a reoccurring theme…There’s different experiences that create different songs, but at the heart it’s kind of this spiritual line. I’m always trying to push people to think further, to think deeper about reality, ultimately. There’s a lot of behind the veil talk, there’s a lot of symbolism that I’ll even implement, but ultimately at the heart of it is really getting people to question the fabric of reality and reach for more.”
Do you work one album at a time with specific concepts or do you just create songs and group them together and release them?
“The process varies greatly per project. Right now for instance, I got half way through an album and I started another one. So there’s this kind of sharing of energy, taking one album’s energy and putting it into the next one, but generally I get to a point where I just hunker down and finish the album. And usually the incentive to finish the album to so I can get to the next album.”
What is the DIY lofi production style of production like?
“Honestly, it’s pretty crazy. It’s burning incense, it’s playing a movie in the background, maybe playing Betty Davis or some crime noire, and just really trying to channel and take myself outside of this reality in the best way I can, and after many years of doing this I kind of have key things that help me just shift into that place. I find that when I’m actually almost in this state where it’s a bit of a dream kind of state, that’s when it just flows and I’m not worried about blocks or anything. Being in the DIY situation is perfect for that and it’s my favorite, honestly.”
What is your focus right now?
“My focus as an artist has honestly shifted a lot since the entire world has shifted. At one point I was really focusing on getting signed, and I’m not opposed to that, but right now I’m just really focused on getting my craft exactly to where I want it… My main goal is to get the visual production as high as my audio, so I’ve been focusing a lot on that and really just shaping the sound and making sure whoever is listening, be it one person, they’re getting the full scope of what the project is intended to be.”
Watch Nate Nathan’s full interview and performance of “Living a Lie” on Studio209 and look for his new album “The Castle of Doves”.