with Nathan Amundson of Rivulets
I think I’ve been friends with Nathan Amundson since before he started Rivulets. At the very least since before his first demos came out. I’m a fan of his music & of him. He’s had a bunch of new material come out lately, so it felt like time to do a formal interview to catch up.
QRD – You’ve had a surge of releases in the past year, is there some particular thing that was the impetus?
Nathan – Not really. I tend to have a few projects in the works at any given time, in varying stages of readiness. This year a few things just happened to coalesce more or less at the same time.
QRD – Is all the recently released material newly written & recorded?
Nathan – Pretty much. The exception to that is Upsetter. Upsetter has been in the works for several years. It took a long time, including long breaks away from it, to wrangle it into the shape I wanted it to be.
QRD – ”I Remember Everything” has you rocking out quite a bit more than previous releases. Is that an intentional change or just a natural progression from playing live as a full band?
Nathan – It’s the band. It’s also the songs. The songs call for certain arrangements. “Ride On, Molina” for example. I wanted that to be a celebration of Jason Molina’s life & work. It would have been a total downer to play it as a dirge.
QRD – Why are some of the new releases under your name instead of Rivulets?
Nathan – I’m more concerned lately than I have been in the past with protecting Rivulets as a “band”. If I had my druthers, we would always play together as a band, a rock band. & I want a new Rivulets release to be an event. The last thing I want is for some 16 year old My Chemical Romance fan to be stoked for the new Rivulets album & it turns out to be a punishing 43 minute hellscape of noise. Maybe she’ll dig it, but she also might never listen to us again. So, Rivs is Rivs. The weirder, more esoteric experimental & drone stuff that I do for my own personal enjoyment will be released under my given name.
QRD – Were Western Songs & Upsetter written & meticulously planned or more improvisational?
Nathan – Western Songs was improvisational. That album is just you sitting with me at 2 in the morning while we’re a bit drunk on wine & I’m playing guitar. There are a couple overdubs on that one, but it’s pretty much live. The basis of the songs -- each side is one continuous take. There’s no editing.
Upsetter was years in the making. The original tracking was done with Bob Weston at Electrical Audio in Chicago. Some years later I began to rearrange it & shape it into a sort of rough draft. Then I sent the tracks to Eric Swanson at Sacred Heart in Duluth to re-amp the tracks in the cathedral there. All the while I am taking breaks from it for weeks, months at a time. Then coming back to it, tweaking it a bit, going away again. Finally Michael Anderson at BlueSanct reached out & asked if I’d like to do a limited cassette release on his sub-label Orphanology. Immediately I thought “I have just the thing.” That was the impetus to finish it up & get it out into the world.
QRD – Is the “western songs” referred to in “Ride On, Molina” a reference to the Western Songs release?
Nathan – Yeah. These concepts tend to bleed over from project to project. There are a couple of other instances of that happening between my songs, albums, etc. but I don’t remember them right now.
QRD – You’ve generally chosen to work in professional studios rather than make a home studio, what have been the benefits & deficits of that?
Nathan – I don’t want to have to think about the technical aspect of recording. When I’m making something, unless it’s something fairly simple like “The Fire” or Western Songs, I want to be able to focus 100% on the performance. & I want my bandmates to have that luxury too. I can’t imagine trying to run around between the board & the computer starting & stopping takes, while still having the presence of mind to get into the performance. Honestly the technical side of things is mundane to me. There are people who are aces at handling that stuff; I’d just as soon let them do it & not have to worry about it. Also, studios have more options. Those guys know all about the different mics & pre-amps & all that pro recording nerd shit. Let them handle it.
QRD – You recorded Western Songs yourself. What equipment & software did you use for it?
Nathan – Custom Epiphone Dot guitar into an MXR Carbon Copy delay into Boss OD-3 overdrive (or the other way around, I forget) into a Magnatone Estey 411 tube amp. I mic’d the amp up with some kinda floor mic & that signal went directly into ProTools LE on my Macbook.
QRD – You’re a bit of a minimalist in life as far as owning property. What’s your take on vinyl as a consumer versus as a producer of music?
Nathan – Personally as a listener, I find it very satisfying. It requires a level of attention -- & attention span -- that digital just doesn’t. However they try to package digital, whether it’s downloadable files, or on some streaming service; it still just seems ephemeral somehow. It doesn’t have the immediacy of vinyl.
As a producer of music I like it because you get to be a bit more grand with the packaging. The canvas is bigger. & also, it’s desirable. People want vinyl. CDs -- outside of a souvenir to sell at shows -- they’re pretty much worthless. Even myself, I’ll buy the CD from a band, rip the files to my computer & immediately throw away the CD. It’s garbage.
QRD – What’s your preferred release format if you didn’t have to worry about sales at all?
Nathan – Hmm… If I didn’t have to worry about sales at all. After just ripping on CDs, I’m going to be a hypocrite & say the slip sleeve CDs, like the CD version of I Remember Everything. They are super light & easy to move around. Vinyl is cool & all, but it is heavy as fuck & a bitch to move hundreds of copies around from place to place on tour.
QRD – These days it seems most physical releases from bands are limited edition. Do you think it’s kinda bogus for things to go out of print quickly?
Nathan – I think if you are milking your fans by intentionally pressing less than you know there is demand for, yes. But I don’t see any of my peers doing that. For me personally, if I drastically underestimated how many of a certain release there would be demand for, I would be thrilled to press another batch. I want people to have my music, from me. You know, when you order off the shop at rivulets.net or at Bandcamp; I get those funds immediately, & in turn I personally package & ship your order to you. That connection is valuable to me.
QRD – What are the advantages of working with a label over just doing things on your own with Bandcamp & crowdfunding?
Nathan – Capital. There are simple start-up costs to pressing a run of CDs or vinyl that a competent label is set up & has the funds for, that I might not necessarily have. Also promotion. Hopefully a label is going to get your music to ears that have not already heard it. Distribution, too. I don’t have any way to make sure a release gets into record stores. A label should be set up to do that, too. That said, certain things like one-off singles can be fun to drop digitally without notice.
QRD – Why do you use Twitter & Instagram for Rivulets, but not Facebook?
Nathan – This is funny. People ask this a lot & I don’t have a personal beef with Facebook. It’s just not for me. I signed up for it one day at 11am & by 1pm I had deleted it. It just seems creepy to me. What does bother me -- for a while there was some kind of “fan page” or whatever on there & people were leaving messages for me, then coming up to me at shows asking why I don’t respond there. & then, sort of not believing me when I’d say I’m not on there. So yeah, I’m not on that website. You can be on that website, that’s fine. I will never see or be able to respond to anything you say there.
There’s also the aspect of: How many different ways do I need to be available to people? I’m on Twitter, I’m on Instagram, I’ve had the same website (rivulets.net) for 15 years. If you write me on any of those platforms, it goes directly to me, & I do my best to respond to you.
QRD – When touring do you prefer to return to cities you’ve played for years or to go to new cities?
Nathan – Both. New cities are exciting to discover, but it’s also nice to see the same people time after time in cities you’ve been going to for years.
QRD – Do you write any differently since Rivulets is more of a band than just yourself with minimal accompaniment?
Nathan – No. The songs tend to be arranged differently in the studio, because there are more moving parts to access & experiment with & utilize. But the basis of the songs is almost always me sitting down with a guitar & writing a song.
QRD – Your songs always come across as intensely personal, even when you are doing a cover song. What is the secret to that?
Nathan – I don’t know, man. I just do me.
QRD – How far are you removed from your songs as far as the songs being about your life?
Nathan – Sometimes more removed than I realize, sometimes less. Sometimes I’ll be singing a song & I’ll realize “Holy shit this is totally about xxx…”, you know? Like my subconscious at the time of writing the song was working things out in the song that I wasn’t even aware of at the time. This lends credence to the notion that the songs don’t come from me anyway. They come through me. I just have to be ready for the transmission.
QRD – I find my super personal songs end up a bit of a tribute to my own stupidity & a caricature of myself & by the time they are recorded I don’t really want to revisit them. Do you have that same feeling?
Nathan – Not at all. In the past I’ve at times felt put off by others’ perception of me based on the songs. Like they expect me to be some wilting fucking flower or something. But there’s nothing you can do about that. People invest their own ideas & concepts into the music. Hopefully it becomes theirs. So if that’s how they want to experience it, that’s totally fine.
QRD – I think of Minnesota as your home, probably because you lived there when we first met, even though you’ve probably spent more of your life in Denver at this point. Is there a place you think of as home or would like to live in?
Nathan – Denver feels more & more familiar to me all the time. I was born here, but we moved away when I was 4 or 5, so I don’t remember it at all. Coming back here was like moving to a brand new city for me. But there’s a part of me that will always hold on to Duluth. There’s nothing like it & I miss the brutal unending winters.
QRD – Anything else?
Nathan – Just thank you, as always. Keep up the good work.
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)
Rivulets interview (December 2000)