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Chosen One: Nathan Bowles

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Interview with Nathan Bowles.

“I like the clawhammer approach to open-tuned banjo because it allows me to express ideas melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically in a way that feels closest to how I think of music in my head.”

—Nathan Bowles

Words: Mark Carry

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The Virginia-native, Nathan Bowles has long been synonymous with treasured folk and Americana music of today, having collaborated extensively with the Black Twig Pickers (banjo, percussion), Pelt (percussion), Steve Gunn (drums, piano and banjo), Hiss Golden Messenger (banjo), Jack Rose, and others. This November marks the highly-anticipated release of Bowles’ sophomore solo full-length, ‘Nansemond’ – named after the Virginia wetlands landscape that he grew up in that has long since drifted off the map – that features the windswept beauty of timeless folk gems (‘Jonah/Poor Liza Jane’ and ‘J.H. For M.P.); brooding, cinematic soundscapes (‘The Smoke Swallower’) and soul-stirring Appalachian old-time traditions (‘Sleepy Lake Bike Club’ ). The seven sonic creations contained on ‘Nansemond’ transports you to a place that has long since vanished but with each divine note and rhythmic pulse, fleeting moments of past lives and faded dreams flood into the present just like the deep blue Nansemond River that continues to find its sea.

Aesthetically, ‘Nansemond’ is a marvel of a record. The tender lament of ‘Golden Floaters’ unfolds gradually like the embers of a morning sun; a piece of music akin to Glenn Jones’ own transcendent banjo works. Moments previously, the full-blown traditional opus of ‘John Henry’ is steeped in age-old traditions that feels as if it’s at once immersed in familiar tradition and the compelling unknown. A rich narrative runs throughout ‘Nansemond’’s sprawling sonic canvas as a searching for truth and meaning serves the vital pulse to the shape-shifting compositions. Bowles is joined by Tom Carter (guitar), Joe Dejannette (guitar), Steve Kruger (fiddle/voice), and Jason Meagher of Black Dirt Studio (recording, production, mixing).

The North Carolina-based label, Paradise of Bachelors has delivered yet again another exceptional and utterly timeless work of art – hot in the heels of Steve Gunn’s careerhigh of ‘Way Out Weather’ which incidentally features Bowles’ peerless musicianship – that represents music to truly savour, now and forever more.

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‘Nansemond’ is out now on Paradise of Bachelors.

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Interview with Nathan Bowles.

Firstly, congratulations Nathan on the incredible and stunningly beautiful new record, Nansemond. It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions about this very special and enlightening record. I would love for you to discuss the album-title, which is the place name of where you grew up in Virginia? The album itself takes you to these wonderful places – the Chuckatuck Creek, Nansemond River, the lakes and beyond – where the music becomes an enriching experience, dotted with childhood memories and a distant past that is far removed from today. Please recount your memories from these particular places and indeed your childhood, growing up in the wetlands landscape?

Nathan Bowles: Hi, and thank you. Glad you’re enjoying the record. I’m not sure the places are wonderful in and of themselves, they’re just places that played an important part in my growing up. They’re wonderful insofar as they were the physical background for a lot of my imaginings as a child, and as a backdrop for my early music studies on piano and drums. I’m not sure what this question is asking, exactly: I can’t obviously recount memories wholesale. It was a mostly confusing, occasionally exciting, mostly introverted childhood spent between my inner world and the outer realities of muddy lakesides, times with friends romping around the woods, spacing out driving along flat, swampy roads wondering when I was going to leave… the places and feelings evoked in the record aren’t as specifically fond as much as they are specific in their confusion and haziness.

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The album itself feels like a collection of suites that are tied together by the geographical trajectory of your hometown and family roots, where ‘Nansemond’ becomes one gorgeously crafted mood-piece. Please talk me through the opening Sleepy Lake Bike Club – which serves the fitting prologue to the record’s sonic voyage – and the construction of the song’s beautiful soundscapes?

NB: The sequencing is wholly sonic; there’s no attempt to trace any geographic trajectory. ‘Bike Club is the title I gave that piece after reflecting on the images it brought it up as I was composing, scattered memories of biking around the wooded paths with a few friends and coming up with idiotic excuses to hurl the bikes into little creeks or play games of chicken around corners. It’s wistful but sad, too, maybe. Those games always ended prematurely when the sun set and came out to nothing, really.

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In terms of influences, the album is rooted in both the familiar traditions of Appalachian and folk music from the south (and beyond) and the avant-garde and cinematic drone. For example, the beguiling minimalist drone of The Smoke Swallower is wonderfully placed before the traditional folk tune of Jonah/Poor Liza Jane. Can you discuss these worlds of music that lies at the heart of your transcendent solo works and indeed the artists and records that have introduced you to these worlds of sounds? It’s clear you have one foot steeped firmly in tradition but the other is rooted in experimental and this for me, is the essence of your unique blend of music.

NB:  I’m not sure what the question is here. It’s all music to me. ‘Experimental is a pretty crappy term; I’m not experimenting, I’m playing — even the most freely improvisational elements of my music are focused in their ultimate aims. Traditional Appalachian music catches my ear as much as the best freely improvised music and everything in between, and I think I’m as picky and discerning across all of those genres. It’d be impossible to isolate what particular ‘worlds influence the music I’m making.

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The pieces on Nansemond are primarily based on your compelling banjo-based melodies. Would this often be the starting point when writing a piece of music, Nathan? Can you discuss the banjo’s possibilities and the reasons you believe the banjo is such a unique and special instrument? 

NB: The songs are generally composed on banjo, excepting instances when they’re improvised around a rhythm or scale (‘Smoke Swallower for instance). I like the clawhammer approach to open-tuned banjo because it allows me to express ideas melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically in a way that feels closest to how I think of music in my head. I feel very lucky to have found that kind of match with an instrument. I’m not sure how to express it beyond that.

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You consider yourself first and foremost a percussionist; collaborating with a wide array of the leading U.S. contemporaries, including Steve Gunn, Hiss Golden Messenger, Pelt, and The Black Twig Pickers to name but a few. I can imagine being part of these various projects must tap into (on a subconscious level at the very least) the solo music you are creating? What do you think are the values you have learned from these varied and awe-inspiring collaborative ventures?

NB: Collaborating is what makes one a truly better musician; listening, adapting, finding spaces, understanding dynamics. These are applicable to solo music, it just means you have to listen very closely to yourself and your environment. Patience is an important lesson.

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You are joined by a formidable cast of musicians on Nansemond. Please talk me through the players on these sessions and what were the sessions like? Were the pieces of music very much written and mapped out prior to recording, Nathan? Any happy accidents occur during this process? 

NB: Tom and I improvised ‘The Smoke Swallower and ‘Chuckatuck in the studio, to different degrees. ‘Smoke Swallower was built around a banjo scale and a rhythm… ‘Chuckatuck was a little more defined, though the arrangement and separate movements happened as a result of studio collaborating. John Henry is a tune that Steve Kruger, fiddler, and I play a lot when we get together around town, and Joe is a singular bassist and guitarist/recording engineer that could easily hop in on that tune. The rest of the tracks are composed but also heavily improvised during each recording.

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The album’s penultimate track, Golden Floaters/Hog Jank is my current favourite, and I love particularly how these two pieces merge together, and the slow-building banjo patterns that casts such a hypnotic spell. Can you recall writing this piece of music, Nathan? It’s such a beautiful and moving piece of music, reminiscent of Glenn Jones such is its brilliance. 

NB: Wow! Thanks. ‘Golden Floaters originated as a tuning and a kind of circular riff after a hallucinatory experience on the gulf coast of Florida. Much of the melody and arrangement was improvised during the recording. ‘Hog Jank is a slide riff that I’ve been toying with for a while now. It made sense as a bridge, tuning-wise and mood-wise, between ‘Golden Floaters and ‘Tire Swing. I’m currently integrating it into another piece I’ve been working on… we’ll see what comes of that.

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What’s next for you? I am sure you must have quite a few ideas currently floating in your mind.

NB: There’s a handful of collaborations in the works that I’ll keep on ice for the moment.  Oh, but there’s a Steve Gunn & Black Twig Pickers collaborative record on Thrill Jockey dropping in February. And another Black Dirt Oak thing in the mix… and … well, you’ll have to wait and see. Needless to say I’m very busy.

 


 

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‘Nansemond’ is out now on Paradise of Bachelors.

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http://www.nathanbowles.com/
http://www.paradiseofbachelors.com/

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Written by markcarry

November 20, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Ten Mile Stereo

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Mark McGuire ‘Along The Way’ (Dead Oceans)
‘Along The Way’ is the new album from former Emeralds member Mark McGuire, a hugely gifted guitarist and producer who has over the last few years toured with Ducktails, performed as a fifth member of the legendary Afghan Whings, and collaborated with numerous artists such as Ponytail’s Dustin Wong. The album’s first single, ‘Instinct’, featured a remix by Norwegian producer Prins Thomas, while second single ‘In Search of the Miraculous’ has also been issued in the lead up to the album’s release. According to McGuire: “This story is an odyssey through the vast, unknown regions of the mind. The endless unfolding of psychological landscapes, leading to perpetual discoveries and expansions, in a genuinely emergent and infinite world of worlds.” Vast, soul-stirring and vital.

‘Along The Way’ is available now on Dead Oceans.

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Angel Olsen ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’ (Jagjaguwar)
To date, Olsen has created the mesmerizing ‘Strange Cacti EP’ (Bathetic, 2010) and debut full-length ‘Half Way Home’ (Bathetic, 2012), and has also collaborated with Marissa Nadler and performed extensively with Emmett Kelly’s The Cairo Gang, where she contributed to both Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s ‘Wolfroy Goes To Town’ (Drag City, 2011) and last year’s stunning 12″ ‘Solemns’ by Marquis de Tren with Bonnie “Prince” Billy (a short 3-track gem featuring Olsen alongside Emmett Kelly’s Cairo Gang and Dirty Three’s Mick Turner). ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’ sees Olsen expand her sound palette (much of the album were recorded as a trio alongside Josh Jaeger on drums and Stewart Bronaugh on bass) while the album sessions were recorded with the band live, with vocals added later. The unmistakable poetic lyricism of Olsen’s remain as strongly evident as always throughout ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’, a timeless gem detailing life’s intricate complexities in the process.

‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’ is available on 18 February on Jagjaguwar.

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Love Cult ‘Know EP’ (Nightschool)
Love Cult, comprising the Russian duo Anya Kuts and Ivan Zoloto (the pair are based in deepest Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia, Russia, to be precise) released ‘Know’ at the end of January on London-based independent label Nightschool Records. In the past, Love Cult have travelled and toured with Ensemble Economique, High Wolf and Lucky Dragons. The pair also run the cassette label Full Of Nothing. Following on from their debut full-length ‘Fingers Crossed’ (Public Information, 2012), ‘Know’ finds Love Cult explore more dub and techno terrains this time around, across the EP’s twenty-minutes and four tracks. Including ‘Mise En Abyme’, ‘My Boy’, ‘Lust Undone’ and ‘It’s True’, the EP is available digitally and as a limited edition vinyl (300 copies).

‘Know EP’ is available now on NightSchool Records.

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Helm ‘Impasse’ (New Images)
Helm is the pseudonym for London-based artist Luke Younger. The origins of ‘Impasse’ can be drawn back to 2008 when Younger released a condensed, edited version of the album as a mini CDR for the Low Point label. This newly issued expanded reissue features two original remastered tracks as well as two compositions from the original sessions that remained unmixed and unreleased until a couple of years ago. ‘Impasse’ comprises four stunning and highly immersive loop-based pieces by Younger, each revealing whole worlds of sound upon every visit.

‘Impasse’ is available now on New Images.

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Beck ‘Morning Phase’ (Capitol)
The long wait for ‘Morning Phase’ — Beck’s forthcoming twelfth studio album and follow-up to 2008’s ‘Modern Guilt’ — is nearly over as Capitol Records plan a late February release. Of course, in the interim Beck has been busy producing a whole host of albums, including Charlotte Gainsbourg’s ‘IRM’, Thurston Moore’s ‘Demolished Thoughts’ and Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks LP ‘Mirror Traffic’. In his Record Club series, where Beck is joined by various musicians (including Wilco, Feist, Devendra Banhart and Thurston Moore to date) members meet and record an album in a day (albums by Yanni, INXS, Skip Spence, Leonard Cohen and Velvet Underground & Nico have thus far been documented), while ‘Reader’ was released at the end of last year, a brand new 20-track album released only in sheet music form. Thus far, two sublime 12″ records have been issued — ‘Blue Moon’ and ‘I Won’t Be Long’ — making ‘Morning Phase’ one of the year’s most anticipated albums. In this month’s Mojo Magazine, Beck reveals his plans for making four new albums — 80% of which are finished — so expect a treasure trove of musical gems courtesy of the forever-indispensable Beck Hansen in the short-term.

‘Morning Phase’ will be released by Capitol on 25 February.

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Black Dirt Oak ‘Wawayanda Patent’ (Mie Music)
The incredible collaborative Black Dirt Oak comprise: Steve Gunn (GHQ, Desert Heat, Violators), Nathan Bowles (Pelt, Black Twig Pickers), Jimy SeiTang (Rhyton, Stygian Stride, Psychic Ills), Justin Tripp (Georgia, Steve Gunn), Margot Bianca (Flown, Key Demo), Dave Shuford (Rhyton, D. Charles Speer, NNCK), and Wednesday Knudsen (Pigeons, Sea Donkeys). Recorded in Jason Meagher’s Black Dirt Studio, ‘Wawayanda Patent’ is released by London-based label Mie Music in a limited vinyl edition of only 500 pressings, while a digital download is also available.

‘Wawayanda Patent’ is available now on Mie Music.

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F.J. McMahon ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ (Rev-Ola / Sacred Bones)
Since first discovering the timeless, haunting sounds of ‘Spirt Of The Golden Juice’ only last year (courtesy of a mixtape compiled for us by Philadelphia harpist Mary Lattimore), F.J. McMahon’s 1969 masterpiece has been a constant ever since. ‘Spirit of The Golden Juice’, McMahon’s only album, is both a deeply personal and wholly life-affirming album featuring McMahon accompanied predominantly by an acoustic guitar, recalling the likes of Bill Fay, Fred Neil or Tim Hardin in the process. The album’s nine timeless tracks cull their inspiration from McMahon’s experiences and time spent in Vietnam while serving in the U.S. Air Force, while “Golden Juice” is a reference to I.W. Harper bourbon, the “fuel of the times”.

‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ is available now on Sacred Bones.

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Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier ‘Those Vermillion Sands’ (NNA Tapes)
Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier is the alias for the Brussels-based French composer (and visual artist) Félicia Atkinson, who has been quietly releasing dozens of recordings over the past decade or so (under both Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier and her own name). ‘Those Vermillion Sands’ is the latest recording by Atkinson’s alter ego, released by NNA tapes, a cassette and record label set up in 2008 in Burlington, VT, USA. Like much of Atkinson’s practice over the years, particular attention is taken in layering complex vignettes of skilfully layered electronics together with a myriad of evocative and enchanting vocal work (often consisting of spoken-word pieces delivered in both french and english). As always, Atkinson masterly negotiates fluid, wide-open vistas which are both shrouded in darkness as well as bathed in a heavenly light.

‘Those Vermillion Sands’ is available now on NNA Tapes.

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Xylouris White (Jim White with George Xylouris) (http://www.xylouriswhite.com)
Xylouris White is the inspired collaboration between Greek lute player George Xylouris and the Australian, Brooklyn-based drummer Jim White. Both composers are legends in their own right, the former through his Cretan lute-led sounds of the Xylouris Ensemble, the latter through his membership of mythical Australian trio Dirty Three and myriad collaborations over the years (Nina Nastasia, Cat Power, Bill Callahan, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, to name a few). Both have harnessed truly unique and unparalleled playing styles and levels of musicianship in their respective instruments where inspiration seems in endless supply at all times. Xylouris White create the kind of celestial, contemporary and powerful music which blurs all boundaries and constantly defies all categorization (and logic) in the process.

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Tom Diabo ‘Dark Star’ (Captured Tracks)
From Wuppertal, Germany, Tom Diabo played in several bands during the late 70’s and early 80’s (most notably Western Force and X-112 For Dancing) and also curated “Talfahrt”, a series of local cassettes which reached legendary status. In 1988 Diabo passed away from cancer, shortly after his 30th birthday. ‘Dark Star’ would comprise the many songs Diabo left behind on his untimely passing, featuring Diabo’s extensive home-recorded songs, each song never fails to emit a life-affirming and transformative spirit on the listener.

‘Dark Star’ is available now on Captured Tracks.

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Written by admin

February 10, 2014 at 9:49 am