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Rivulets interview by phone December 2000

I’d been in touch with Nathan Amundson for a long time before I’d ever heard his band Rivulets.  He first caught my attention with his great zine Pretty Bruises that’s kind of like what I really originally envisioned QRD to be when I started it, a zine about music I love.  A lot of people say his music sounds like Nick Drake, but I’m not familiar with Drake; so I’ll say it’s kind of a cross between Simon & Garfunkle & Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska era.  Hmmm maybe that might be turning some of you off as a description?  How about boy with guitar moody pop or bedroom nostalgia pop or just honest self-revealing songs.

QRD – What genre of music do you think Rivulets would most appeal to fans of?

Nathan – I don’t know.  Right now we’re kind of thought of as whatever slow appendage you want to use – like slow-core or whatever.  But hopefully when people hear the record they’ll find we’re more than that. I think that what we really are is that genre where there are a lot of stylistic differences, where you’d have anything from Mojave 3 to Spacemen 3.  Kind of the dream-pop category, that covers a big brush stroke, would fit for now.

QRD – Would you like Rivulets to have more instrumentation &/or higher fidelity?

Nathan – Fidelity has already been taken care of.  What’s out there now is just demos, but now we’ll be properly recorded.

QRD – & as far as more instruments or anything?

Nathan – I’d like to get strings involved at some point, but it costs money for that.

QRD – But no drums or anything?

Nathan – There’ll be some percussion on the album, but that probably won’t happen live for a long time if ever.

QRD – Do you think when the zombie plague comes that you’ll be able to remain vegan?

Nathan – I’m having a pretty tough time remaining vegan right now.  The new bass player works at the best cheese shop in town & they get all this great imported cheese & tonight I might go over to his place for a wine & cheese party.  So I guess I don’t really qualify as vegan anymore.

QRD – What musical projects did you have before Rivulets & what others do you have now?

Nathan – In high school I had a band called wallchildren with a couple of my friends; one of them was J Seckel, who later became the original bass player for Rivulets.  We were kind of a Seventeen Seconds/Faith era Cure thing. Then my brother & I had this little folk duo called Let Ring when we lived in a small town called Red Wing about an hour outside of Minneapolis.  Right now Rivulets is kind of my main focus & I don’t have anything else.  I was doing a side project with J Seckel called Emily that was cinematic soundscape instrumental type stuff, but that’s on the back burner for a while.

QRD – What retired musician or broken up band would you most like to see do another record?

Nathan – Julee Cruise.  I think Julee Cruise needs to come back & do another record.

QRD – You tend to do a number of covers at your live shows, but none of them have appeared on any of the numerous tribute albums around, is there a reason?

Nathan – Honestly, most of the tribute albums I would be interested in… I feel like (A) I don’t feel like I could do justice to the original version & (B) I might be disappointed to be in the company of some of the other contributions.  I mean there are some pretty shoddy tributes out there & I don’t think we really need to encourage people to do more.

QRD – Is Pretty Bruises your first zine?

Nathan – Yeah.

QRD – Why did you decide to start it & why are you thinking about ending it?

Nathan – Actually you were a big inspiration in starting it because of QRD.  I’d thought about it for a while & I was the only person I knew who went to the comic shop to look for zines, but you posted on the Low list back when your first Low issue came out & I got that & it kind of solidified for me that it was something that I needed to do.  That’s why I started it, & also to get free records in the mail, even though 75% of them are something I sell a day later.  Mostly I’m thinking about ending it because it’s really time consuming & there’s not a whole lot of outside interest in it.  The Low issue was pretty big; but the new one, issue four, which has some really great stuff I thought – like Scott Cortez, Jon DeRosa, Gorky’s.  The Scott Cortez one in particular, the way that he eloquates his vision & the way he sees things amazes me, personally I will go back & re-read that interview.  I think it’s really fascinating, but I haven’t gotten a paid order for that yet & that’s disheartening.

QRD – What do you geek out over that your friends don’t understand you geeking out over?

Nathan – I’m pretty fortunate musically, that people I know like the same music.  Zines are one thing.  When I get a zine in the mail I get excited.  I think print zines are viable alternatives to computers & the Spin’s & Alternative Press’s of the world & I think it really is where groundbreaking work is covered.  I do kinda geek out over that & I think that other people should as well.

QRD – What’s up with the Rivulets’ album? Will it be out by summer?

Nathan – I wouldn’t say that, it’s about half finished.  We’ve got about six songs done now & I’d like to go back & do a few more & then we have to finish some minor overdubs & from there we’ll see what label is willing to take it.

QRD – I knew you weren’t interested in releasing Rivulets stuff when you first started the project, why?

Nathan – I don’t know.  Did I say that?

QRD – Yeah, you didn’t want to put a tape out.

Nathan – Oh, yeah.  It’s like anything that I get really into; I’m kind of a perfectionist which is why I’m kind of cool with waiting another half a year for the record to come out if that’s what’s needed for it to come out right. Then hopefully I can go back & listen to it in the future & not cringe.

QRD – With Rivulets & Pretty Bruises you’ve ended up with a lot of people you admire looking at you as a peer, does it creep you out?

Nathan – No, it’s great, I love it.  I dig being able to interact with these people I look up to as a friend instead of a fan & be taken as that, as a friend.  What does kind of freak me out though is not having that almost rose-colored perception of people you really admire.  When you talk to them you naturally find out that they’re just people.  There are some artists that I’m into that I wouldn’t want to interview or get too close to because I want to keep that distance & I don’t want that image of what they mean to me to be shattered.

QRD – How different do you think the real Nathan Amundson is from the one people might make up in their heads based on Pretty Bruises & Rivulets?

Nathan – I don’t know….  I have no idea.

QRD – What superhero do you most relate to?

Nathan – I guess he’s not really a superhero, but the Invisible Man is who I relate to at the moment.  I always admired the Punisher though; my brother was a big Punisher fan. Julie Doucet.

QRD – What’s your favorite Swans’ song & what one would you most like to cover?

Nathan – Right now “Empathy” is probably my favorite, but all time would probably be “Amnesia.”  As far as covering, that would be one of those situations where if I couldn’t do justice to it or approach it in a way that honored the original I wouldn’t even want to mess with it.

QRD – You’ve got a new bass player for Rivulets, do you think it’s had a big effect on the sound?

Nathan – Yeah.

QRD – & do you let the bass players write their own parts?

Nathan – Kinda.  It’s different.  Old J, J Seckel, was kind of note-focused & played these melodic bass lines that were really fitting to the songs & new Jay kind of approaches the instrument not as a bass but as a generator to make sound, if I can say that without sounding too pretentious.  I really admire that about him, but it’s not so much that he writes parts as much as he kind of creates an atmosphere.  I think when people hear the record after seeing Rivulets with old J or hear us live now, a lot of the songs sound a lot different & it’s all due to him & the way he comes in & colors & shapes the songs.

QRD – How old were you when you first wrote something that you still feel like you can look back on & be proud of & what was it?

Nathan – When I was 19 I had a friend & I that we kind of fancied ourselves writers & we spent all hours of the night at Denny’s drinking coffee & smoking menthols & writing novels & I kind of have a half written novel that I looked back on & am surprised that it’s not as horrible as it could be.  That’s probably the first thing that I did that I would look back on & not be ashamed of.  I wrote songs earlier than that, but none that I would want anyone to hear now.

QRD – Do you think computer jobs or physical labor jobs are better & why?

Nathan – It depends.  I’ve kind of done both.  I did plumbing for a while & there was a satisfaction at the end of the day that you’ve worked & you’re physically tired & you’ve worked hard for your money.  & now I’m kind of doing e-commerce type stuff & it’s okay, but it’s kind of what everybody’s doing & you don’t feel like you’re making a dent or a change in the world or like you’re rigging someone up with the ability to have hot water in their house; there’s not that satisfaction.  I don’t know, I think unfortunately the opportunity for money right now is in the computer industry if you have the right background & know what you’re doing; but then there’s also trying not to get caught up in that & having it be your life, just doing that 9 to 5 Monday through Friday & then taking that money that you make & applying it towards what’s really important, whatever that is to you.

QRD – What are your top five dream cover songs you’d like to hear by different bands?

Nathan – I’d like to hear Aarktica do “The Eternal” by Joy Division.  I saw Cat Power recently & she started to do “Wonderwall” by Oasis, but she only played like thirty seconds of it & I’d like to hear her do the whole thing.  Lisa Germano doing “I’m a Fool to Want You” by Billie Holiday. Alan Sparhawk doing “Come a Little Dog” by Palace.  & I’d like to hear Spiritualized do the entire third album by The Velvet Underground, that would be a treat.

QRD – Anything else you want people to know?

Nathan – I guess you can find more info on things at rivulets.net about Pretty Bruises & Rivulets shows & what’s happening with the album & all that. & thanks.
Other QRD interviews with Rivulets:
Rivulets interview (July 2015)
Guitarist interview with Nathan Amundson of Rivulets (June 2010)

Rivulets interview (February 2007)
Rivulets interview (July 2002)