“It’s making a decision to try and look for joy, and to not let grief be crippling…” - hmv.com talks to Nathaniel Rateliff
A relationship between a producer and an artist is a complex thing. Some like to bounce from producer to producer, while others like to build a deeper connection which grows over time. So it was the case between singer-songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff and Richard Swift.
Swift, who also worked with The Shins, Foxygen and Damien Jurado, produced both of Rateliff’s albums with his soul-rock outfit The Night Sweats, and was all set to work with the singer on his new solo LP. Tragically, Swift passed away in the summer of 2018, meaning the project never happened.
Wanting to pay tribute to his friend, Rateliff headed to Swift’s National Freedom studio in Oregon to make the album, which he made with co-producers Patrick Meese and Beach House's James Barone.
The album is a contrast to Rateliff’s work with the Night Sweats. It’s a raw, brittle and stripped selection of songs and an enchanting listen.
With the LP now on shelves, we spoke to Rateliff about making the record, his relationship with Swift and his plans for the next Night Sweats album...
When did you start putting the songs together for this? Are you someone who can collect ideas on tour?
“I do collect. I always come back with a collection of voice notes from tour. Occasionally you get those songs that just won’t leave you alone until you’ve done something about them and you work on them. A few of these I’d written some time ago, some were there for the second record."
"Richard had done a few records with this singer called Damien Jurado and I really liked those, I wanted him to do something similar for me. I’d come in with the song on guitar and he would layer it. With Richard’s passing, some of the songs have naturally ended up being about that.”
Going to record in the place where your close friend spent his working life isn’t something everybody would want to do. Did you worry it all might feel too raw?
“That never came into play for me. Relinquishing feelings and getting over things is a big part of my process. I also felt like I wanted to honour him and the only way to do that was to go and work there.”
Was it strange?
“It was good to be there, but it was hard. We didn’t have much time to do it, so I didn’t give it all that much thought until after we left. Then it hit me, there was a lot of his spirit in that place. It wasn’t all done at once either, it was done in the breaks between tours, so every time I went in it was working in earnest.”
When the record was done, it must have been a strange feeling, you’ll probably never work there again…
“No, I didn’t feel like that. The studio’s still open and I’d like to go back and work there. I’m close with his family too. I don’t feel like it’s the end of something.”
What was Richard like?
“He was a total sweetheart. And he was brilliant. He could take a song that you kind of liked and he’d elevate it so much. He was so funny too. We laughed so much. There’s this idea in the studio that everything has been so hard and so intense. That you need 70 takes to get something done. Richard liked the moment, one or two takes, not question yourself too much. Laughter does so much for the creative process, it’s really underrated.”
So that would be crucial in any future relationship with a producer?
“You’re working with another ego and you have to find the right person. I won’t create well with someone who I disagree with. Some people like to have a producer get you upset to record, to rile you. I don’t function well with a coach mentality. I fundamentally don’t like authority figures, which always makes for an interesting time…”
Did you enjoy the intimacy of these songs? It’s a step away from your work with the Night Sweats...
“I like being able to explore different styles of music. It’s not that the Night Sweats is limiting, but I know what that band needs to be. I’m very curious about different types of songs and it’s nice to be able to have an idea and see it through, rather than being limited to one sound. Occasionally I’ll write a song and I feel like it could go in either direction, either just for me or for the Sweats. It’s great to have the option.”
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme?
“The title sums it up. It deals with loss in all forms. It’s a record about loss and struggle and trying to find hope. It’s making a decision to try and look for joy, and to not let grief be crippling.”
Was that always going to be the title?
“Originally it was going to be called ‘Rush On’. A title that was looking up into the ether, some kind of heaven. Sending Richard off to whatever is next. But I know people gravitate towards the title track and I didn’t think it summed up the record. Then it was called ‘All Or Nothing’, but I figured that might be too sarcastic. Then this writer said to me ‘I was surprised you didn’t call it And It’s Still Alright. Really sums the record up’. And I stole that idea.”
In terms of what you’re going to do live, how much is booked in?
“We’ve got a 10-piece band this band, five of the Night Sweats and a string quartet. We’re doing seated theatres this time, that’s helping with the mood I want to set. In some places, it might be a squeeze to get 10 people on stage, but we’re going to try. It’ll be the new record and picking bits from the earlier years that I still like. Mostly whatever I feel like.”
Is that all of this year and some of next year?
“I don’t know how much of next year. I’m already thinking about the next Night Sweats record and I’d like to get that out next year. I’ve had a few ideas about producers, but nothing’s locked in yet. I wanted to progress, but I don’t want to drift too far from what we do. We’re a rock band with soul and R&B in our DNA.”
Nathaniel Rateliff’s new album And It’s Still Alright is out now in hmv stores.