Interview: Nathaniel Rateliff on his new album 'And It's Still Alright'

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Cover art: Nathaniel Rateliff, 'And It's Still Alright.'
Cover art: Nathaniel Rateliff, 'And It's Still Alright.' (Stax)
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Jill Riley interviews Nathaniel Rateliff
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We've had him in the studio, he's played Rock the Garden along with the band the Night Sweats. They even performed a MicroShow at the Turf Club here in St. Paul. And that performance made it into the music video for the song "A Little Honey." Yes, I am talking Nathaniel Rateliff, with whom I just spoke by phone.

Jill Riley: Hi, how are you doing?

Nathaniel Rateliff: I'm well. How are you?

Not bad! So the new record, your solo record, And It's Still Alright, is out today. How you feeling about that?

Excited to share with everybody and for everyone to hear it.

I've been listening to the title track over and over. And unless I'm really far off here, it feels so optimistic and peaceful.

In the end, that's kind of where the material landed. It's kind of recognizing the struggles we all have, but then being able to find hope and still, you know, try to find joy and all that.

Well, this record is your first solo record in a while. I think for some of our audience, they know you as Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. But you are a solo artist and you're kind of going back to a sound that you had before that hootin', hollerin', foot-stomping band, the Night Sweats. What would you say would be the biggest thing that informed this new record and your decision to make a solo record?

Well, I guess I started writing a lot of these songs while I was making the second Night Sweats record with Richard Swift. And really, some of them were coming out of different things I was trying on guitar, so it's kind of nice to take a step back and do something different. And since I have no restraint on this and it's not labeled as anything, I can kind of let it be whatever it wants to be. So you know, the songs on this record are cut from a lot of different things, and yeah, it's kind of nice to, you know, approach making a record that way.

You mentioned the name Richard Swift. For anyone not familiar with him, could you talk about him a little bit? I mean, that was a pretty big loss for the music world.

That was a very big loss for myself, and the Night Sweats, and a lot of friends...and enemies. He produced the first two Night Sweats records, I had planned on him continuing to be our producer for years to come. He and I have a kinship that was kind of instantaneous. And he always referred to me as a long-lost twin. So we have a lot in common and, and unfortunately, he passed away at 41, about a year and a half ago.

So when you were working on the record and finishing the record, I imagine that it has to inform what you were doing in the studio?

Since this was a record I was going to make with Richard, I went back to his studio and started it there last March, which actually where I wrote and recorded the title track "And It's Still Alright," which is kind of about Richard in his passing.

You're kicking off your tour here in the Twin Cities; two sold-out shows at the State Theatre. You've got a big following here in Minnesota. What can people expect from the show, anyone that's seen you with Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. How does this show compare? I mean, how do you do things when you go out on the road as a solo artist?

This show, there's ten of us on stage. So there's actually five of us in the Night Sweats and James Barone, who's one of the producers, is playing drums, and then there's a string quartet as well.

I see later this month you will be part of Live From Here with Chris Thile.

We played the show when he first took over and it was still Prairie Home Companion. I'm familiar with it, and I was actually a pretty big Sunday morning or Saturday morning listener to Prairie Home Companion and some other [public radio] programs.

The new record is out on Valentine's Day. Does it make it more special to have it on a day of...either canned love or, maybe, real love. Some optimism?

Right? I know. You know, it wasn't my choosing. My manager told me it was coming out on the 14th and I was like, "You know that's Valentine's Day?" And he was like "Yeah." I was like, "Okay." I've never been a huge fan of Valentine's Day, personally. I kind of consider it one of those, like, more of a consumer holiday. Like, it doesn't really match up. It doesn't really align with anything. I've been with people who care a lot about it. So, I'm always trying to make it special for those people.

There's so many great love songs out there. Do you have a favorite love song or maybe a singer-songwriter who just like can hit you right in the heart?

I've always been a huge Leonard Cohen fan, but you know, I guess those songs are kind of love songs and kinda not.

You can play "You Want It Darker" on repeat today. So we just talked a little bit ago, just a few minutes ago, about you making this record and what informed that. Can you just share maybe another backstory or tidbit about this song for The Current listeners?

It was a loose idea I had; I finished writing it one morning and then recorded it. I didn't know it was going to be the title track. I guess that's sort of the thing about writing: sometimes the songs reveal themselves to you, and so did the album. I didn't know it was going to end up shaping the theme of the album, which is sort of the acknowledgement of our own struggles as humans, but then also the search for hope and joy and all of that as well.

Transcribed by Caleb Brennan


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