About to make his first ever visit to Australia as part of Byron Bay Bluesfest, Nathaniel Rateliff is one of those rare young artists who bring a timelessness to their work despite their youth. Born and raised on the blues and folk records of his parents, and first leaving home as a missionary, his life and path to success sounds more like a fable from a bygone era than to true story of a contemporary artist’s development and growth.
This is all neither here nor there for Nathaniel though, as as far as he is concerned he just writes songs about his life and those that he shares it with. If sheltered journalists like me want to look at his life through rose tinted lenses that is up to them, but for him it is his life and the only one he’s ever known and the less questions he has to answer about it the better.
Playing for over half a decade on his own, and releasing two solo albums before putting together his band Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats in 2013, the groups soulful R&B styles would take Nathaniel from a local folk hero in Denver to a global sensation. The band’s 2015 self titled album was released to great success, even seeing the band make it’s US television debut on Late Nite with Jimmy Fallon.
Coming from humble beginnings in rural Missouri however, Nathaniel wasn’t one to let the fame go to his head, maintaining the same grounded worldview and dedication to his craft that got him here in the first place. Catching up with him ahead of his appearance at Bluesfest and his own headline shows, we spoke to Nathaniel about his discovery of music, leaving the life of a missionary behind and coming to Australia for the first time.
Music Feeds: You’ve been roundly praised for your voice even though you started out on drums. When did you start singing?
Nathaniel: I started singing when I was a kid. My parents had me sing with them and sometimes my older sister would as well. I’m not sure how old though, singing was just always apart of my life.
MF: Growing up in a rural area coming across music must not have been as easy as running down to the local record store. How did you first start discovering it and your love of playing?
NR: There weren’t any records store near me growing up. I was lucky to have parents that loved music and had record and tape collections. Also there were a couple of good radio stations I could pick up in the era.
MF: Leaving home at 18 for missionary work, was that when you first started thinking of making a life as a musician?
NR: I had been writing songs for quite sometime before I was 18. Joseph B Pope and I had even started a band together in Hermann Missouri before we left for Colorado. When we were young we thought we would grow up to be rock stars but, we had a lot to learn and a lot of life to go through before anything would ever really work out for us.
MF: What made you leave the life of a missionary behind?
NR: I enjoyed working with people that needed help. I was horrible at evangelising and wanted no part of talking to people about religion. I was also just a kid and I hadn’t figured out that I didn’t have to believe in a higher power to have an even better life. So I quickly left after figuring out that religion is kind of a scam.
MF: Did you fellow missionaries ever take issue with you pursuing music instead of following on with that work? Do you ever get calls from people worrying over you living a life of sin?
NR: All of the friends I made there know me to be a loving person and have supported me in the things I’ve done. I haven’t stay in touch with some the as best as I would have liked. If I get calls from friends from the period in my life we just talk about our lives now. Sin isn’t apart of the conversation, Also, I don’t believe in SIN…. God Damn It !!!!!!!
MF: Your music draws on a rich history of music, is that ever daunting? Having the legends looking over your shoulder?
NR: Well I don’t think there are any Legends looking over my shoulder. I’ not sure I’m on there radar at least I haven’t got a call or a letter from any of the musicians I grew up listening to. I just always look at the songs as songs not so much where I’m subconsciously drawing inspiration from.
MF: More than just drawing from other musicians though, your music seems to have people at it’s core. Is that something you consider when writing?
NR: I have always written songs for myself or to try to charm the pants off someone else. This record has been the first record that has had a connection with a large group of people. In the past people have connected to the songs I think for there own reasons. I just always try to keep the songs real to me.
MF: Another key theme seems to be place, both the south and America in general, would you agree?
NR: There might be the sound of the South or America in the songs, but I grew up there and I know what the soil feels like in those places. The songs though are about my life and the people I love in my life.
MF: Is honesty an important factor for you? I read you like to keep mistakes on from the recordings, is that to keep a sense of authenticity?
NR: Honesty is important to me. Leaving the mistakes in just proves that we all have flaws and it sounds better to me than being perfect.
MF: How does it feel to be touring to Australia now? Did you even think you’d end up here of all places?
NR: I was hoping to come over years ago but, it ain’t cheap and I am. It always amazing and humbling to go somewhere you’ve never been to play music.
MF: Other than Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin do you know much about us here?
NR: I know it’s very far away from where I live. Can’t wait to see the beaches.
Nathaniel is in the country for Bluesfest, as well as a couple of sideshows, grab all the deets and ticket links below!
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats Australian Tour
Wednesday 30th March
170 Russell, Melbourne VIC
With Special Guests All Our Exes Live In Texas
Tickets: Bluesfest Touring
Thursday 31st March
Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW
With Special Guests All Our Exes Live In Texas
Also appearing at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016
Thursday, 24th March – Monday, 28th March 2016
Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016
Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, NSW