Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
with Special Guest Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
”For a long time I always had to go off on my own,” says Nathaniel Rateliff of his creative process. “For the first Night Sweats record, I demo’ed everything up and created most of the parts. But for this new record, I felt like we’d all spent so much time on the road that we should all go off somewhere together.
We should have that experience together. I wanted the guys to feel like they were giving something to the project beyond just playing.”
In other words, the Missouri-bred, Denver-based frontman wanted to make the band disappear along with him—out in the middle of the desert at first, and then deep in the woods. The result is the aptly titled Tearing at the Seams, a vivacious and inventive full-band record, with significant contributions from all eight members of The Night Sweats. These songs are grounded in old-school soul and r&b but are far too urgent for the retro or revivalist tag. There are familiar elements of soul and garage rock, but also jazz and folk and even country: the crackling energy on opener “Shoe Boot,” the cathartic sing-along of “Coolin’ Out,” the melancholy folk of the closing title track. “The future of this band is to take everything we’ve ever done in the past and just do it with our own little twist,” says Rateliff. “I hear that in my favorite bands. They just sucked everything up.”
Like his heroes, Rateliff has always been an omnivorous listener and player. Growing up in Hermann, Missouri, a small town with a booming tourism industry as well as a rampant meth epidemic, he started his music career playing in his family’s band at church, but that came to a tragic end when his father was killed in a car accident. Music became an obsession for him and his friends. “We would walk around these deserted country roads and talk about music all the time, how it can change the world and how it could change our world,” recalls Night Sweats bassist Joseph Pope III. “Music was what we thought would save us.”
In 1998 Pope and Rateliff moved to Denver where they worked nightshifts at a bottle factory and a trucking company while testing out their songs at open-mic nights. Their first band, Born in the Flood, attracted some major-label interest, but the pair had moved on by then, gravitating from heavy rock toward a folksier sound. Rateliff released an album on Rounder Records with a backing band called The Wheel, but despite the critical success of that and subsequent albums, he was still trying to find the right sound, the right outlet for what he needed to say.
A set of rough demos recorded in the early 2010s and based on old Stax and Motown records pointed Rateliff in a new direction. “That old soul stuff meant a lot to him when we were young,” says Pope. “Of all the projects we had done and all the different genres we had played, this was the most natural thing I’d heard him do. It sounded like it came from a really deep place in him, but it took this really meandering path to come through.”
Those demos eventually developed into the band’s 2015 self-titled debut, which became a massive hit and pushed them out on the road for two long years. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats blasted their way through hundreds of shows in North America, England, Ireland, and Australia, and they played Coachella, Farm Aid, Newport Folk Festival, and the Monterey Pop Festival’s 50th Anniversary. The crowds grew larger with every show and The Night Sweats grew tighter and more vigorous.
In May 2017, they brought that same boundless energy to the opens plains and prickly cacti of Rodeo, New Mexico, where the entire band disappeared for a week to write songs for their follow-up. “We just did what we like to do best,” says Rateliff, “which is hang out and be a family.” They recorded a number of demos, some complete songs and others fragments or just ideas, but all were anchored by the preternaturally tight rhythm section of Pope and drummer Patrick Meese, then buoyed by the rambunctious keyboard runs from Mark Shusterman and the textural guitar riffs of Luke Mossman.
It was a sunny setting for emotionally overcast music. Together, The Night Sweats created a set of songs that comprise both an r&b party record and deeply personal confessional from Rateliff, who penned all the lyrics. The album recounts moments in the last few years of his life, some good and others not so much. “I remember finishing one song and just losing my shit and breaking down. These songs are so personal, but not everyone will get that. I get to leave little secrets in there for myself, so that everybody else gets to have their own individual interpretations of the songs.”
From New Mexico, The Night Sweats headed north to rural Oregon, specifically to the home studio of producer Richard Swift, who has helmed records for The Shins and Foxygen in addition to The Night Sweats’ debut. “He’s like a brother to me,” says Rateliff. “We hit it off during the last record. I feel like I get what Richard’s trying to do and he gets me. And his studio doesn’t really feel like a studio. It’s in this little building behind his house. That’s why I like it so much.”
In that tiny space The Night Sweats jammed hard, building off the demos they’d recorded in Rodeo. Often Swift would get dynamic takes without the band realizing he was even recording, which creates a loose, live sound on Tearing at the Seams. “Sometimes it just takes time for songs to reveal themselves to you,” says Rateliff. “You try not to get in the way of the songs and just let them be what they need to be or what everybody understands them to be.”
That’s how “Hey Mama” evolved from an acoustic guitar riff Rateliff devised in one of hundreds of green rooms the band has occupied pre-show into one of the catchiest songs on the album. He admits he wasn’t satisfied with his first stab at lyrics and melody, but “everybody in the band would walk around singing that melody and I’m like, Goddammit! I have to write a new melody! But if everybody’s singing it, it must be okay.”
The band took several cracks at “Intro,” a showstopper that opens the second side with a pretzel horn riff courtesy of tenor saxophonist Andreas Wild and trumpeter Scott Frock. A few measures later, Jeff Dazey unfurls a blazing alto sax solo. “We played that song live for a while,” says Rateliff. “It was a jam we came up with before we were really a band. We tried to record it so many different times in so many different places, but it never turned out the way we wanted it to sound. Finally, we just put it together at Richard’s one night. It was a drunken mess, but we got it.”
The album shows The Night Sweats tearing at their own seams, at their own sturdy sound, at their long-held definitions of friend and family and band. It’s an album that builds on the sound of their debut but dramatically redefines what they can do and where they can go next. Says Rateliff, “I want—and I need—everybody to feel like they’re a part of this band. I want them to feel like they’re contributing artistically and emotionally to the experience of writing and creating this music. We’ve all had to make sacrifices to be in The Night Sweats, and I want them all to know that it’s worth something.”
Lukas Nelson knows all about legacies, indeed he's been hard at work carving his own for most of his young but extremely eventful life. Balancing his work as the front man of Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real -- an emergent and vital force in American music -- with his regular gig as Neil Young's band leader and lead guitarist -- and of course, the never-ending road alongside his father in Willie Nelson & Family -- in song after song, on stage after stage, Lukas has sharpened the edges of his singular sound, one that nods to his influences while also pushing forward into uncharted territory.
That original sound, straddling rock and roll, country, soul, folk and R&B, reaches a new high-water mark with
likewise arrives on the heels of Lukas’ high-profile collaboration with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper on 2018's blockbuster film and soundtrack, . Lukas not only co-wrote and co-produced much of the film's multi-platinum, Oscar-winning soundtrack, he also worked closely with Cooper in crafting Jackson Maine’s musical persona. In a classic case of art imitating life, Nelson, along with his real-life cohorts in Promise of the Real appear in the movie too, performing as Cooper's (Jackson Maine’s) backing band just as they've performed with Young for years. Lukas, Gaga and Cooper recently won the BAFTA Award for Film Music, just one of the many accolades bestowed on the acclaimed project since its release.
That collaborative spirit runs throughout , whose songs include guest turns from Young, Margo Price, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, Micah Nelson, Kesha, Lucius, Madison Ryann Ward, and Hunter Elizabeth. Yet, whether it’s the sweeping, Roy Orbison-influenced production of "Where Does Love Go," the Traveling Wilburys’ rootsy resonance on the irresistible, "Bad Case," the cosmic country-trance sound the band crafted for "Stars Made of You," the 60’s infused sweet R&B of "Save A Little Heartache,” or Willie’s unmistakable guitar licks that grace the gorgeous, "Mystery," ultimately it’s Lukas’ indelible songwriting that makes this album so special.
"Our trajectory has been similar to that of The Band," says Lukas, who pulls quadruple-duty as Promise of the Real's vocalist, songwriter, lead guitarist, and co-producer. "They supported so many incredible people throughout their career, but they were also focused on their own music. We're the same way. We want to see good music and great artists succeed, because a rising tide raises all ships. We're cheering for our friends, just as they're cheering for us."
Recorded at Shangri-La in Malibu and the Village Studios in West L.A., features co-production from Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and John Alagia, who helped produce the group's self-titled debut for Fantasy Records in 2017. The group worked fast, recording 30 original songs during brief breaks between tours. They tracked straight to analog tape, too, keeping overdubs to a minimum and, instead, focusing on live performances. The result is an album that packs the same punch as the band’s live performances, while also delivering a message of awareness and togetherness.
"We wanted these songs to be fun and upbeat," says Nelson, "but we also wanted to have something to say. Rock & roll began as a countercultural movement, so in the true spirit of rock & roll, we're trying to encourage a lifestyle where people can be active in their local communities, rather than glued to a device. We listen to so many artists -- the Byrds, Tom Petty, Al Green, Neil Young, Little Feat, J.J. Cale -- and this album carries forth an ideal that they all represented, which is the idea of turning off the news and doing something constructive. It’s about living your life with your heart leading the way."
Lukas began listening to his heart in his childhood hometown of Maui. He was a creative kid, writing his first song at 11 years old and sharpening his guitar chops with eight to 10 hours of daily practice. He headed to the mainland in 2007 to attend college in Los Angeles but found it difficult to shake his musical dreams. After meeting LoGerfo at a Neil Young concert in 2008, he dropped out of school and formed Promise of the Real, taking the band's name from a line in Young's 1973 song "Walk On." By the time Young caught the band during a fiery set at Farm Aid in 2014, they were a proficient, well-oiled machine, playing with a skill and swagger well beyond their years. He asked them to join him in the recording studio, and the result -- 2015's -- became the start of an ongoing collaboration that has included two additional albums, multiple tours, and countless hours of inspired performances onstage.
Since leaving school in 2008, Lukas Nelson has held fast to the things that he loves most, be it making music, traveling the world with his friends, or collaborating with the legends that inspired him -- for Lukas, it’s about cultivating an insatiable curiosity and learning. As a singer/songwriter, he’s learned to roll his unique experiences into a catalog of original music that is spiritual, dynamic and endlessly absorbing. marks the latest chapter in that ongoing story. This is Lukas Nelson at his best: involved, inspired, and eager to share his point of view, backed by a band of fellow road warriors who've haven’t skipped any steps on their rock and roll journey and have the chops to prove it.
The album's title says it all. Turn off the news. Tune in to something more meaningful and lasting. Get involved and, as Lukas suggests, let your heart lead the way.
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