with Nathan Amundson of Rivulets
February 16, 2007
Well, I guess I've done several interviews with Nathan/Rivulets over the past five years or so (just go to the archives). So most of you reading this probably already know him as a singer-songwriter. It is mainly about his new album You Are My Home. You can check out the Rivulets website if you need more info.
QRD – If people say your music is a cross between two bands, what bands do you want them to say?
Nathan – Their two favorite bands.
QRD – What song in your catalog do you wish you’d never released?
Nathan – There aren’t any that I wish I’d never released, but there are some that are hard to play without the people who played on the records & it’s hard to get the people on the records together to play live.
QRD – Which songs do you feel that way about?
Nathan – From the new one, probably “You Sail On,” “Win or Lose,” & “Happy Ending.”
QRD – What song in your catalog would you say is the furthest away from being a true story about Nathan Amundson & which is the closest to being true?
Nathan – The closest at the time was “You Are My Home.” I don’t know about the farthest. A lot of the earlier stuff is kind of obtuse. I don’t really understand what I was talking about when I wrote that stuff. So I don’t think of that as autobiographical or anything.
QRD – When you’re recording, do you still use your dad’s old guitar?
Nathan – Yeah.
QRD – How much do you think it’s a good guitar versus the tons of sentimental value it has?
Nathan – I think those things are one and the same. I have a Martin which feels nicer to play, but sometimes the Takamine sounds a little more like the guitar sounds in my head because it’s less pretty.
QRD – Why did your dad have the guitar?
Nathan – He was a musician. He had a band in Denver in his teens & twenties. Then he was a live session player for a lot of bands that came through town. Like R&B & Motown stuff. Like if Little Stevie Wonder came to town & his bassist was sick, my dad would fill in.
QRD – How many live shows do you think it takes for someone to get comfortable & natural & professional on stage & do you think it resets in a new band or it just stays once someone gets to that level?
Nathan – I think it just depends on the person. Some people are really natural about it. It seems like they’re born to do it. Like Joe from Elephant Micah; I can watch just him and his guitar every night for a month and still be excited to see the next show. It just comes through him. Some people are really trying at it & when it seems like they’re trying at it, it tends to suck.
QRD – You’ve had a number of different employment situations during your musical career. From good paying jobs, to low wage jobs, to working exclusively on your music. In the end which state do you find makes you the most productive with writing music?
Nathan – It doesn’t really matter. It just happens when it needs to happen & you do it whether you’ve been working all day or haven’t worked for a month.
QRD – So your new record came out a year or so late because of weird things with labels. Do you want to talk about it?
Nathan – I don’t want to name names, but basically it was recorded for a label – which means they paid for it; the recording, mixing, & mastering – & then the label & I kinda had a falling out & I didn’t have the money to buy the record back. So I had to wait until a label was interested that did have the money to buy the record back. That turned out to be Important & they saved it & they’re why it came out.
QRD – Important Records is generally kind of an experimental oriented label. How do you feel you fit in their roster?
Nathan – Not so well at first; but then I talked to somebody who made me see that though I think of my songs as pop songs, they are kinda left field. So it makes more sense than a straight label. A lot of the people who play in the band are in more experimental groups of their own & I don’t see this stuff as super radio ready. It’s not designed to be popular & what Important is great at is putting out stuff that nobody else would put out.
QRD – Would you rather be recognized for your guitar playing, voice, or lyrics?
Nathan – Whatever people latch onto & whatever speaks to them. Though I think it’s funny when someone picks guitar because I still don’t really know how to play it.
QRD – So you are part of Silber’s Vlor project. How was working on your part & how pleased were you with the end results of the album?
Nathan – Well, I did my parts up in Toledo at Jesse Edwards’ place. The plan was to go up there & collaborate live with Jesse & Jessica Bailiff, but that didn’t happen because they weren’t really feeling it that weekend, so I just laid down my parts & they added theirs a bit later. I was pretty happy with how it came out. I really like a lot of the stuff that everybody did, but it’s especially cool to hear Mike VanPortfleet’s stuff because in high school I would walk to & from school listening to Lycia & to hear his guitar on a record I am on is pretty amazing.
QRD – Did you get some flak about how rocking-ly some of the songs are arranged on the new disc?
Nathan – Yeah. Not a lot that I’ve heard so far, but there’s this Belgian review where the guy was like really personally disappointed with how it had gone. It’s weird because I don’t really think about that guy or anybody when I’m working on a song. I just make the music I’m hearing. If they don’t like it because it’s not like the old stuff, that’s too bad; but they can always go listen to the old stuff.
QRD – What kind of direction do you give a person who is going to play on your record?
Nathan – It varies. On You Are My Home the songs were really personal, which hadn’t been the case in the past, & it could’ve gone over into overwrought emo territory really easily. So I told everybody, “Do not be delicate with it & don’t step around it, just get in & do what you feel. Don’t think of this as a quiet record. You’re on it because I like what you do & I want to hear what you do.” That’s pretty much it. I don’t know how to write music so a lot of the time, like with the string parts, I’ll just sing the line I’m hearing and the person playing cello or viola or whatever will figure it out and take it from there.
QRD – Did you always record the drums first?
Nathan – We would record the drums, guitar & voice live. So Chris Brokaw would be out on the main studio floor playing drums & I would be in an isolated room with guitar & voice & we could hear through headphones & see through the window. We’d track it like that & then add the other stuff.
QRD – I kinda know the story behind the track “Greenhouse”, but I feel it’s worth getting the story out since that track both sticks out & fits in well in the middle of You Are My Home.
Nathan – It’s meant to break the record up into sides, because I always sequence records in sides. Originally I wanted the album to be on vinyl too, & have the CD version have something to break it into sides. So “Greenhouse” is meant as a lull between side A & side B. Just kind of a quiet breather before the second side which has some of the louder stuff. I’d worked in a greenhouse before making the record, jut moving plants around all day, and was really into the sound of it. Like all the fans and hum and it’s so loud but tranquil at the same time. I knew Brian John Mitchell could make this, so we just went back and forth a couple times until we got it.
QRD – Each of your records seems to get more & more complex to record. Do you think you could ever go back to a microphone & a 4-track & be comfortable?
Nathan – Comfortable, yeah. But I’m not so interested in it. I’ve done so many live 4-track recordings in bedrooms & bathrooms & efficiency apartments that I am more interested in other sounds now. I’m not even that interested in acoustic guitar or guitar at all anymore. I’m more interested in doing new stuff.
QRD – It seems you kind of have a thing where you live in a city & then kind of write a record about it & your experiences in it. Do you think moving around is directly inspirational to you or this is coincidental?
Nathan – It’s weird because you & I had talked about this once before & I hadn’t really thought about it, but I think it is directly inspirational. Not so much the first record, but the second record is very much a Duluth record. I was living there & it was recorded there. I don’t think of the new one as a Chicago record, but it’s all about stuff that happened in Chicago. & the songs I’m writing now are pretty much about Bloomington & people in Bloomington. So I think you figured it out & I’d never really thought about it.
QRD – What would be the requirements of a city for you to move to it?
Nathan – For it to be walkable. Lots of good vegetarian restaurants, that’s always cool. Walkable is really important. I would hate to live somewhere that you had to get on the highway to get anywhere & you couldn’t really walk around.
QRD – What’s the story about Rivulets being banned from England?
Nathan – I played a couple shows in the UK & then went over to the continent to play a couple weeks of shows, & then had to go back to the UK to get my connecting flight home to Chicago. I was stopped by the customs agent & he asked what I was doing there & I said I was there to catch a flight home from the other airport; I was at Stansted & had to get to Heathrow. He asked me what the guitar was for & I said that I just like to play it & he asked me if I played shows & I said no, I lied. Somehow he pulled me up & figured out I had played shows just a couple weeks ago in the UK & hadn’t been upfront about it, so from then on I was suspect. They kept me over night in a little white room & finally gave me a 24-hour pass to go to Heathrow & catch my flight back & not return for at least six months. Also they said they said they put a flag on my passport that will come up any time I go through customs. If I go over & say, “I’m just visiting friends,” it will show I was caught on that scam before.
QRD – You have some side projects your working on right now, what do you see happening with them eventually?
Nathan – I don’t know, there’s no real ETA on any of them, we’re just kind of going back & forth writing songs & sending tapes back & forth. Maybe the songs will eventually come out, but that’s not really what we’re worried about right now. Right now we’re just worried about making music.
QRD – Who is it that you’re mainly working with right now?
Nathan – The main one is with Jessica Bailiff. I guess eventually we hope to have a Jessica & Nathan record, but that’s far off at this point.
QRD – Is it true that you’re going to cover “Freebird”?
Nathan – That is one of the songs we’re working on. & actually, Jessica likes that one. We’re doing covers & I thought of the songs that I picked, that would be one she wouldn’t go for; but she actually said that she likes that & wants to work on it.
QRD – Anything else?
Nathan – I can’t think of anything clever