Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Q&A with: Neil Nathan

Singer/songwriter Neil Nathan recently released a sugary sweet album of pop rock songs that's guaranteed (almost) to delight.  I had the chance to ask him a few questions about the album and his music.  Here's what he had to say:

T.O. Snob: First off, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me.
Thank you!
T.O. Snob: Your debut full length The Distance Calls is out now. What was the writing and recording process like for you?
I sent Producer Bobby Harlow from The Go about 25 demos and he chose. This record was a big test for me to let go of control in the studio, so I reached out to someone who I knew had immaculate taste and just let him run with it. I left NYC and stayed in a seedy hotel in Detroit for 10 days while we recorded. It was a kind of total focus I had not experienced before in the studio (usually these things stretch out for months) and it did wonders for my performance. Bobby assembled an absolutely stellar line up of musicians for my backing band, including Dean Fertita (The Dead Weather, Queens of The Stone Age), Joe Mazzola (Detroit Cobras, Sponge), Kenny Tudrick (Detroit Cobras, Kid Rock) and John Krautner (The Go). It was like rock fantasy camp for me. Very uplifting.
T.O. Snob: What inspires a Neil Nathan song?
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 or id. 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.
T.O. Snob: Some artists clearly put more effort into their lyrics, others focus on a killer riff or fancy arrangement. Is there one element of a song that is most important to you?
A catchy, emotive melody, a simple chord progression, a basic 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. It’s that effortless feeling that is most important to me. One should never be able to hear that a writer was consciously trying to do this or that with a song or is being too precious with every word/note/chord etc. When that happens to me as a listener, I’m taken right out of the moment and turned off by whoever the writer/performer is.
T.O. Snob: Rosario Dawson stars in the video for the lead single “California Run”. Did you hit her up for a cameo in her next film?
Ha, I don’t think I’m ready yet to hang with Denzel and the rest of the company she keeps on screen. Rosario was fantastic. Shooting with her was the most casual thing in the world. We just caught up on our lives since we’d seen each other last, and in between, the directors would yell action and cut.
T.O. Snob: You’ve shown a great sense of humour with your version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” as well as tracks for Valentine’s Day and birthdays. How important is it for you (and the audience) to have fun with your music?
I’m definitely into taking the piss from time to time. Mostly with videos though, not the actual songs. With Santa, it was a great opportunity to have some fun and do something a bit outside the box. My version is a totally stripped down, sweet, folky lullaby and when Writer/Director Zev David Deans presented the idea of me playing a kid in feetsy pajamas that opens his presents early and gets whisked away by an evil secret police Santa Claus, I jumped at it. And I always love working with my friend and doppelganger, Robert Lehrer. He played evil Santa and also the older version of me in my 3 Seconds video (our resemblance is pretty uncanny in that one, my Mom actually asked me to introduce her to my grandfather at the video release). The other video that we had a lot of sardonic fun with was Darling Friend, my cover of Beethoven’s Fur Elise. Vaj Potenza came up with the insane idea of a Dia De Los Muertos homage with a choreographed bunch of dancing skeletons prancing about while I sang to my dead lover, who I may or may not have murdered. That was macabre magic, but it was freezing that day in December when we shot it, brrrrrrr!
T.O. Snob: There are differing opinions on how song placements in television shows and commercials is impacting the music industry. You’ve obviously embraced it with a placement on Californication. What did you see as the pros and cons and what were the determining factors that made you go ahead with it?
Licensing is the new radio and the new reality in this bizness. I remember growing up thinking, “I’d never let Coke use my song in a commercial, that’s selling out!” But times change. And for an independent artist, that is where the money is. If I want to keep this train moving and make all the records I already have written and ready to go, I need me some placements. The Californication placement was a dream come true for me as I’m a big fan of the show and Jeff Lynne had to listen to my version and approve it for them to use. He reportedly loved it!
T.O. Snob: Your cover of ELO’s “Do Ya” was fantastic. Do you have any other unexpected covers up your sleeve?
Thank you. It’s such a well written song that it stands up as a coked out 70’s symphonic rock freak out and a Dylan style folky fingerpicker. I definitely have a few more unique takes on classics up my sleeve. Looking to record one this one year. Mums the word though!
T.O. Snob: Will we be getting a chance to see you in Toronto any time soon?
Ya know I’ve never been. Vancouver, Quebec, and Montreal, but never Toronto. I’d love to visit. I’m a big fan of Canadian rockers Sam Roberts (who I got the chance to open for last year!) and Matt Mays. Maybe you can twist their Canadian arms and have me open for one of ‘em sometime in your town ;)
T.O. Snob: If someone were to look at your CD collection (or iPod playlist) what would they find that would surprise them?
My vinyl collection is more interesting. And I’m very down with Engelbert Humperdinck. 

T.O. Snob: Thanks again for taking the time to speak with me.
Thank you. My pleasure.

Neil Nathan's website
Neil Nathan's Myspace

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1 comment:

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