When I was teaching I really tried to get kids to examine the idea of “The American Dream” and what it meant to them. I actually got some of them to come up with their own definition for the term. But sadly, too many just didn’t care. They don’t care about others, don’t care about the world we live in. They are taught this mindset, and given all kinds of distractions to enable it to take over. There is going to be a greater divide between people who choose to think and those who refuse to care about anything but themselves… Right now, there are millions of people standing up for what they believe and demanding humane treatment for all living things. I’m just one of them.– Nate Hall (USX)
North Carolina’s Nate Hall of U.S.Christmas fame is one of America’s great bards. I really wish more people fuckin’ knew it. His at times semi-laconic when not wailing delivery upholds an underlying deep respect for nature, art and the voyage of the soul vs. ego. Listening to Nate’s music I always feel like I am both participating in and witnessing something special, like the 60’s must have evoked in people pulled and moved by the great causes and love ins of yesterday. That said, his shit really digs deep like an ayahuasca dance upon waves of feedback, like hopeful Appalachian poverty tales or the flicker of candle flames gasping up oxygen. USX are just a Godhead band, one of the rare acts like indie film/Jarmusch darlings White Hills who can do modern psychedelic music and make it not a bunch of time killing pompous wank/posturing. Writing this on the Winter Solstice, I can’t help but reflect that Nate is a real spiritual warrior who could help bring about positive energy shifts.
This isn’t throwback folk or retro blues doom just for the sake of it or the more bereft side of indie metal’s imaginative cook pot. Hearing Nate sing or play the guitar vast drone “Dance Of The Prophets” feels as much like ritual as any Sonic Youth bliss out at the end of “The Diamond Sea” or as cut to the chase of American truth as “Death Valley 69”, and yet Hall resonates on the same meridians of hope and faith in rock n roll that any Neil Young disciple will recognize. There’s kinship to metal, punk, country and folk but it’s all rock as life force. “The Valley Path” by USX was a shamanic journey through underworld energy and back to the surface of self, perhaps shaking and changed but with knowledge gained and so much potential for self-growth. From the more aggro stuff on Bad Heart Bull to recent efforts there is always movement… and miles to go before Hall sleeps.
Now Nate is back (on the heels of a great recent split with Scott from Neurosis) to deliver Fear of Falling, his new record with backing band Poison Snake. It’s as great a place to start as any when the main dude is as prolific a teacher, poet and genuine artist as Nate Hall (please buy merch from him HERE).
Click HERE for a deep conversation on America, music and hopes for bringing deeper awareness to the next generation.
How’s life treating you, man? What’s going on in your camp today of note?
Lots of guitar playing, art making, laughing, small dogs, fat cats, children, and general jackassery. For the most part, things are good. I have the things that matter.
Do you think we still have “myth” stories for younger musicians or this eras musicians who aren’t part of the old guard?People always talk about Dylan visiting Woodie Guthrie or whatever. I hear a song of yours like “The Traveling Sun” and I can’t help but imagine some road weary back story to it.
Oh yeah, for sure. It is much easier now for people to reach out and interact with people they admire. I can see plenty that would have inspired me as a younger person. I hope I can inspire the next generation. As for Traveling Sun, it is abstract even to me. Most of my songs are a sort of slideshow from my subconscious. There are some things that only songs can say. If you want a road story, “Raw Chords” is the one.
Do you think anyone still wanders around in search of an American Dream ala Ken Friedman’s Made In Usa movie. Why do people hold up this idea of the heartland but then ignore that all our food is fucked with, for example. New York just banned fracking which may have a domino effect, but that remains to be seen. Any thoughts on these matters? The 7″ art to your split with Scott Kelly makes my heart ache for the past but also want to hold on to the memories of the dead, the Buffalo, all the stuff we hear about. I live in Upstate, NY and have rarely seen many Native Americans in one place, for example. It’s painful and still lingers.
Cool that you ask that. When I was teaching I really tried to get kids to examine the idea of “The American Dream” and what it meant to them. I actually got some of them to come up with their own definition for the term. But sadly, too many just didn’t care. They don’t care about others, don’t care about the world we live in. They are taught this mindset, and given all kinds of distractions to enable it to take over. There is going to be a greater divide between people who choose to think and those who refuse to care about anything but themselves. There has always been a divide, but it is going to grow because the people who seek knowledge will find it and grow into amazing, caring, thoughtful, creative and sacred beings. It’s a new kind of evolution, which is going to divide humanity. To me, this is, oddly, an important sign of hope.
I imagine so many people in the past desperately wanting information and understanding but had no way to learn anything outside of their own sphere. I was a child like that. I had so many questions and no one to answer them. I do look to the past, and maybe that is why you feel the same connections I do without any kind of explicit reference. We are all linked together in some way. The art for that split is actually the exhumed skeleton of Tony Wyioming’s beloved tomcat. He sees the beauty in decay for sure.
What do you remember most vividly from the period of time when you completed The Valley Path? Did you know that was a next level artistic statement or was it like a dream?
I wrote the words and imagined the direction as a means to hold on to a place I was leaving behind. It was just a thing I needed to do. I do have to admit that I expected more people to see the symbolism and codes in ETLD, RTITN, and The Valley Path. It’s there, and there were a few bright souls who embraced it. Thank you for being one of them.
So you put out Live On The Columbia Beat this year! How did you choose those performances for a live release? I love “Dark Star.” One of your most spare and haunting, dare I say, ballads.
Man, that was just a really happy accident. I went to Columbia a while back just to do a show with some friends. I recorded that on the USC radio station just because it fell together. I’ll always do as much as I can in a day. It was a good studio and the radio dudes knew what they were doing. I just played those songs and was out! The recording is exactly what happened, no edits whatsoever. Then I played a show to about six people that night. “Dark Star” is a tragic story for sure. “A Great River” came from some really dark times.
Do you ever have to sort of prepare yourself before letting go in a song like “Heat and Sway”? Fear Of Falling is such a great record. How’d you find your band and also what’s happened to bravery in America? Does it still exist?
I guess I am always prepared. I never do anything deliberately before I play or record. I just know what I need to do and the rest happens naturally. I am perfectly suited to playing guitar. Everyone has that one thing, and thankfully that is mine. I found the Poison Snake dudes by trying to help Richard (Kirby) find some of his stolen gear. I knew who he was because he is a legendary pro skater. I had heard he played with some of the desert rock bands (Fatso Jetson). We met up later and ran around, eventually played some. He and Scott Thomas already played together and were tight. It was a good thing it happened. We get along well and like to ramble. It would be awesome if we could get a proper release for Fear of Falling. But you know, you can lead a horse to water -labels being the horse. Sometimes the horse dies before it can drink the water, hence our predicament. As for bravery…..yeah I see a lot of it. The problem is that so many people in power are total idiots, cowards, and just terrible human beings. I mean, we had a total C-student idiot as president for eight years. We had a war started by a bunch of privileged cowards who were too scared to fight in one themselves. However, I look to the past to find a lot of inspiration – Faulkner’s Nobel prize speech, Crazy Horse’s defiance and sacrifice, BobDylan’s complete disregard for expectations and tradition, Neil Young’s endless inventiveness, Jesus laying out the meaning of life in simple terms and calling out powerful hypocrites even though he knew he’d get killed for it. MLK always knew he was a marked man and said as much in video interviews. Of course, that was the past, but there is always bravery in living things if you look for it. Right now, there are millions of people standing up for what they believe and demanding humane treatment for all living things. I’m just one of them.
What keeps psychedelic music vital for you? I’m impressed when you or a band like The Golden Grass can make new strides in a well worn genre. It’s fantastic. Namaste, traveler.
It’s all I know man. I never think twice about it. That’s the thing that is hardest to explain about music: being able to see what is possible and make it happen when nobody (or few) understands or cares what you are doing. I mean, in 2014 I put out that live recording, two full albums, a part of a Townes Van Zandt Tribute, and completed my part for a collaboration with Dragged into Sunlight from UK. I also worked with Richard, Scott, Brett Netson and Scott Kelly on a record for a new band called Rivers of Madness. I don’t know many other people that could pull that off.. But for the most part, it was met with a collective shrug. I was blown off by labels, booking agents, venues, you name it. It’s been frustrating. I do realize how things work though. Most magazines and blogs cover bands they are paid to cover. When a label with means puts out music, they hire a PR agency to push the record. I have no problem with that, but it shouldn’t be the only means to an end. When I was a reporter I was always on the lookout for interesting people and subjects. I just don’t see that same drive in most music writers today. And I don’t get it, because I am a pretty interesting figure. I’m sure as hell not boring. I guess I don’t nurture the connections necessary to work the business end of things. I’m not for sale. People who make music are either artists or entertainers, and I am not an entertainer. I don’t give a shit about trends or things that “fit” together. And I certainly am not going to lower myself or beg for coverage. I’d rather speakmy mind about what bugs me. I know my own worth and I won’t lower myself or deal twice with someone who wastes my time or insults my work. I’m just going to do what I want. Ironically, that is the most important thing for any artist to do.
I don’t want to come across as unappreciative of the many labels I work with. They know where they stand with me. Neurotis like family, and I have good relations with a dozen others across the world. I love and value them greatly. But I create too much music for any one label to handle in this economy, so I am really open minded about who I work with. I want to give smaller labels a chance to step up. I don’t want to feed the beast, I’d rather make it obsolete. My point is, when labels like Neurot are willing to back me, that should be a good sign for others with shared values. The signs are there. Bright minds reading this: take note.
Mind closing on a grand note? I am going to embed a quote of yours from your Fear Of Falling release page and wondered if you could elaborate more on the topic:
“To fall, to find ourselves at the mercy of cowards and fools is a great and terrible fear. It is the ultimate humiliation. From childhood, we all understand the basic truth of, “what goes up comes down.” Still, those with vision and the force of will to make it real cannot resist the urge to rise as high as we can, knowing full well that we will eventually fall back to the lowest plane. But there is more, much more than this. I believe that there is another world greater than the one we now see.”
Everything is backwards now. I guess it always has been, but in the information age it is really hyper- visible to me and millions of others. Rich and powerful people have created shortcuts only available to themselves. This applies to government, employment, and sadly even art – or what often passes for art. It sucks, but that is the world we live in. It’s a rigged game. If an honest, good person gets involved in this equation, the result is going to be bad. I feel like I, and really anyone with a shred of decency in them, is faced with two choices: Try and be sure to fall – hard. Or, just give the hell up. I refuse to give up. I spent the last five years of my life waiting for the hammer to fall. I’m speaking of a professional setting outside of music. I knew that my very existence was an affront to so many people I interacted with on a daily basis. I worked my ass off to earn advanced degrees, knocked the top out of tests, made deep connections with people I taught only to see the most corrupt, dim-witted, lazy people I have ever met completely destroy any hopes I had for a steady job to benefit my family. And I’ve seen the people who worked the least rewarded the most.
Deep down, I knew something traumatic would happen to me. I’m too blunt, too honest, too real. I am who I am and I don’t hide that or apologize for it. And to be honest, I am a threat to the way things are. If given a chance, I will teach kids to think, to challenge what they believe, and to grow as human beings. I want them to break the cycles of ignorance, bigotry, and selfishness that keep most of the world in a state of poverty. That scares the hell out of a lot of people. But I also want to say that in the big picture my troubles are minor. I have a good life and I am grateful for it. Troubles like mine are shared by many people over the world – often to much larger and severe degrees. I feel a connection to that. I feel the pain of others, but I don’t understand it. I guess the best way to explain it is that when I reflect on my own personal troubles I often think about how much worse the pain must be for those subjected to mindless violence, torture, sickness, and grief. I think the human soul – the collective one – is deeply wounded by the course of human history. The goodness in humans, in all sentient beings, is a sacred thing, and I believe it is the thing that will endure when all else is gone.
Thank you for being one of a handful of people to take the initiative to write about me. Keep seeking out the good stuff.
I enjoyed this – Nate
photos by Mignon Petrini
In April, for my old lady:
-by Nate Hall
Your old bones are showing,
As you jingle and clatter. You
Are thirsty every hour, no food
Is enough. Once I prayed for
Your long life.
It was given
And I prayed for you to
Return to me.
And you came back.
You ran sleek in summer,
With long deer legs, not
Strong. Your eyes shone
In connection, as earth flew
Once, a wolf dug a hole
In your side.
It was sewn.
You walked with horses,
Bared your teeth.
Your old bones are telling
Me that I might be the one
Who sees you out.
Now I pray that I will find
You silent, still, curled
On the old towel you prefer to
I will hang your tag on my wall,
Wrap you in cloth,
Offer food for your journey,
Spread flowers over you,
Cover you with earth,
Leave you in an old place
I can always find.