We know how it is. You decided to go out on Friday even though the weather wasn’t so great because, heck, it was a Friday night. Maybe you drank and you realized that you couldn’t get away with drinking terrible vodka the way that you were able to in college. Maybe you woke up this morning not feeling so hot, only to realize that it was beautiful outside and you had to go to work.
It’s okay. We get that. We also promise that coming out tonight will be a guaranteed good time.
Here’s a super heartfelt interview with Nat Osborn of the Nat Osborn band, who coordinated all of the musical performances coming up tonight @ Mr. Rogers in Crown Heights. They are also performing!
R: What would you describe as your first gripping memory relating to sound?
N: The clearest early memory I have is of standing on the piano bench in my old home playing different combinations of two notes at quite a young age, probably three or four years old. I can actually remember picking out fourths and fifths (all white notes: C and G or F and C) and playing with different combinations of them because I liked the way they sounded, which makes sense because they’re pretty simple, basic harmonic constructs.
R: As a performer, what’s the process of mental preparation like for getting up on stage and really putting yourself out there? You have a really striking and confident stage presence.
N: Thanks! To be totally honest I don’t really have a process. I should, but it’s more like me running around making sure set lists are written and in hands and everyone has what they need before going on. Maybe one day I’ll be at the point where that’s taken care of and I can meditate and drink tea and chill before a show but I don’t that that’s me. Frankly, all the running around and stressing is my version of nerves I think. All of that melts away when I’m on stage and in the music. The performing part is what I love, it’s a release in every way, so I think that if there’s a confident presence coming off it just comes from me feeling like I’m doing what I love and what I need to be doing on a fundamental level. So much of a musicians life is hard to control, so there’s an added sense of power in the control of being the focus of both the band and the audience. I’m glad to hear that the ecstasy of that release is palpable from an audience perspective because I want to take them with me and share that.
R: What do you think goes into writing a piece of music that you find fulfilling? What do you think should be included in genuinely listening to a piece of music?
N: I’m not totally sure what genuinely listening to a piece of music is, I suppose it just means giving it honest, open and fully focused attention. We listen to music in so many different ways these days that it’s hard to do that. One hundred years ago if you wanted to hear a song or piece of music you had to own a radio, hear musicians perform live or buy the sheet music and learn to play it yourself.
Now we have iPods, or phones with entire catalogs of music on them or in pockets. We hear music in every store we go into, in most social situations, and even most cell phone rings are musical in nature, so it’s really hard to strip away the context. Also, there’s so much hype and social/cultural context in music, probably more so than any other medium of art. People will like bands or not like bands before they even hear them because the right people are telling them to or not to. We’re all guilty of this to an extent, I think it’s part of human nature.
Just an hour ago I was watching NPR Little Desk Concerts on youtube (another medium to experience music), scrolling through performances by some of my favorite bands and happened to listen to a Passion Pit performance. I never really cared for the band and considered them just part of the wave of synth-pop that was hip in 2009-11 or so, but I was so completely struck by Michael Angelakos songwriting that I realized that I had been guilty of not judging their work fairly, though in fairness I preferred the acoustic version to the produced version so it may be a matter of taste.
It’s pretty hard to listen openly, honestly and with fully focused attention but it can be really rewarding when you do. We tend to let music accompany our lives or images these days, it’s rare that people just sit down and listen to a record for the sake of listening. That’s the best way to take it in and form your own opinion about it.
As for writing a piece that’s fulfilling- I’ll spare you another essay and just say it’s a terribly fickle thing that takes a combination of right brain freedom and inspiration and left brain editing and structuring skills. I tend to struggle more with the latter.
R: What are some sounds that you enjoy, just as sounds themselves?
N: It sounds cliche and corny but my favorite sound that’s not music is the sound of water in motion. Sounds affect us in different ways: car horn makes you alert, the sound of footsteps perks our ears up and makes us attentive, etc. The sound of the ocean or a creek has always had the instant impact of calming the entire nervous system and almost hitting a reset button. Who knows why that is, we’re not exactly aquatic creatures. I think it strikes something pretty ancient and eternal in our make up.
R: How did you become affiliated with the Hoover Dam Collective?
N: Nicole, who’s part of the collective, came to an early Hawthorne show. Hawthorne is my folk band that used to be more active in NYC before the Nat Osborn Band got super busy. She saw us at Rockwood and invited us to be a part of a show at Station 171 probably about four years ago. I remember walking through industrial, way out there Brooklyn on the way to this run down building thinking “what have we gotten into” before having one of the most fulfilling and exciting artistic experiences in my time in New York.
R: Do you find that performing with a collective has shaped any of your viewpoints regarding interdisciplinary performance?
N: Absolutely, even if it just gives me perspective and awareness on how many people are trying to do this in so many different ways. And by “do this” I don’t necessarily mean make a living off art but just express themselves in the way the feel they were born to. That’s what I love about the nights Theo and I have put together in the past and are doing again this Saturday at Mr. Rogers. You get to be moved by different artists who have put years into honing a craft in a way that is different from your own. Those artists get to inspire each other, collaborate with each other in the future, or just hang back, drink a beer and enjoy the atmosphere.
R: How do you want people to listen to your music?
N: My preference would be for them to see us live. The energy, excitement and improvisatory nature of the band means that every show is its own experience and I really feel that over the past year we’ve grown into something unique and powerful. Going on tour and playing close to a hundred shows in the past year has brought us to a whole other level and I’m excited every time we get on stage.
Truthfully though, I’m honored anytime people listen though, so if that’s putting on The King And The Clown while riding the subway or playing a track at a party I’m pretty stoked. Plus, while we’re increasingly touring and going to places like Austin, Chicago or even Prague, you can’t always catch us live so hopefully the record can suffice.
R: What are some less expected references and sources that inspire you?
N: I think some of the music that’s inspired me that’s not so obvious would include folks like Bernstein, Gershwin, Tchaikovsky, and Sinatra. I grew up listening to that music and it’s in my genetic make up as much as more obvious references like Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon. I used to listen to “Rhapsody in Blue” almost every day when I first moved into my Brooklyn apartment at sunset (my view overlooked the skyline and the statue of liberty) and as much incredible music as the city has created I still think that piece is the quintessential soundtrack of New York.
R: Is it possible to pinpoint a couple of ways in which you’ve developed as an artist over the last ten years?
N: Ten years ago I couldn’t even vote! Though in fairness, ten years ago I was in a band that set me up for this whole career and I was working on music and songwriting as hard as ever, if not harder given the fact that I didn’t have to pay rent.
I think the most important ways I’ve developed artistically basically come down to experience. It takes being on stage a lot to find your comfort zone and grow in it. It takes playing with better musicians to become a better one yourself. It takes seeing your friends do incredible and inspiring things to inspire you to do the same. I don’t think I’m more creative than I was when I was younger, just more practiced, more experienced, and generally better.
R: What would you describe as your two most fulfilling experiences related to performing music?
N: The first one has to be our CD release show at Le Poisson Rouge last March. It was packed to the gills and there was an amazing, celebratory energy in the air. It felt like a huge arrival point after years of hard work.
There are so many great moments to choose from for the second that I’m not sure I’ll be able to pinpoint one. We had some fantastic nights in Europe this past October and our NYC shows at Rockwood are always special. The recent show at Gramercy Theater was a great one.
I always hold a special place in my heart for the HDC shows though because they have a different energy to club shows. We always get wilder, more out there and high energy at those shows.
Maybe this Saturday will be that other one!
Saturday, April 5th 2014
Misters Rogers @ 231 Rogers Ave (Crown Heights)
Doors at 7:30, starts at 8
$5 before 9, $10 after 9