Nathaniel Rateliff is exhausted.
The night before we meet the American soul troubadour – and his beloved Night Sweats – had played a show at London’s Omeara venue. Seated and relaxing, his bones are aching and his ears are ringing.
It’s all done in the name of the cause, however. The band’s self-titled debut album emerged in 2015, a hard-livin’ record of gritty Southern soul that led to some hard-earned success. A near relentless touring schedule culminated in a show at Denver venue Red Rocks, an ecstatic, euphoric achievement. And then they had to work out what to do next.
“There wasn’t much decompression,” he admits. “I didn’t know what we were going to do. And I had a lot of personal pressure.” “We went to New Mexico and rented this little ranch in the middle of the desert and set up a studio there and just went to write together. I’d sit at a table by myself in the morning and work on the words, and sometimes structure, and then we’d just start writing.”
He paints an idyllic scene; something out of a John Wayne western, maybe. “It was nice ‘cos there were no distractions,” he shrugs. “We had every meal together. You had to drive 40 or 50 miles to just get a bottle of wine – there was nothing around.”
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A famously hard-drinking bunch – the band’s rider often includes copious amounts of fine, fine whiskey – the Night Sweats eased themselves away from the demon drink just long enough to focus on their new album. “I don’t think hangovers are conducive to working or writing well,” he admits. “The legends of people being fucked-up… I’d never write anything under the influence. The best thing for me was I’d wake up in the morning, drink coffee, and then go swim laps in this pool. And just kinda be like: what the fuck am I gonna do today? C’mon universe, what have you got for me?”
It sure was remote: Night Sweats’ drummer Patrick Meese was stung by a scorpion, while the only people who crossed the band’s path were staring out into the clear, clear skies. Nathaniel starts to laugh: “Just you and the UFO hunters out there… people searching for spaceships!”
Patrick isn’t so sure: “There are so many stars out there I don’t know if you can see any spaceships…”
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The legends of people being fucked-up… I’d never write anything under the influence.
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Gradually, new album ‘Tearing At The Seams’ came into being. The band work within a defined universe – raunchy R&B, elements of Americana driven melancholy – but this adds subtle new ingredients. Modifying the taste, sure, but only to strengthen it.
“Part of the whole process is discovery,” he says. “Discovering what’s going to work. Sometimes you’ll try something and you’re just like, ‘that’s not going to work’. I don’t really know how to describe the feeling – it either clicks, or it doesn’t.”
“This record is more of a finished record compared to the way the first one happened. We’re lucky with our group – we’re all friends, but we all agree on what is good together. It’s like a collective ‘yeah, I don’t know if this is working’. There are couple of times where it doesn’t click, but for the most part we all kind of agree.”
The chemistry that fuels Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats might be liquor-induced, but it’s also refined by friendship. The relationships that first brought them together were strengthened by spells on the road, by those frenzied live shows and the long hours in between.
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Clash caught the band at their first ever London show – at Angel’s Lexington venue – and we also saw them support Kings Of Leon in front of thousands of people in Hyde Park. They approach each show in the same way, and it informed the way those cheek to jowl sessions took place.
“We’re communicating with each other on stage,” he says. “Not just like goofing off and trying to make each other laugh while we’re playing… I want to have a good time. There’s moments where you’re laughing and another where the music affects you so much that you’re overwhelmed with emotion. I love all those experiences on the stage.”
A key figure in transitioning the band between their debut album and ‘Tearing At The Seams’ is producer Richard Swift. “He just does what he does when he feels like it,” chuckles the singer. “Since we’re really good friends with Richard, he can interject, and do what he wants to do without having to say anything.”
“We’ll be listening back to a song and he’ll be in the studio just hooking up a mellotron or keyboard or just be like: hey you guys go in there! Sometimes he doesn’t even say anything, you’re just like: I think Richard wants us to do that!”
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I want this band to be able to do different elements and be influenced by different styles...
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Somehow, it all seems to work. The success of the band’s debut was remarkable, gaining an international audience from humble origins. This time round it’s slightly different, but the Night Sweats are still driven forward by a shared vision, and a mutual respect for each other’s ability.
“When I first had a vision for what I wanted the Night Sweats to be, it was sort of like if Sam & Dave and The Band had played together. When you look at The Band’s catalogue, or even listen to one of their records, they can go from doing an R&B tune to doing a ballad or doing a country type thing or honky-tonk. I want this band to be able to do different elements and be influenced by different styles but still be a rhythm ‘n’ blues band, still be a soul band.”
It’s a simple message, and it comes from a very individual place. Each member has committed their lives to the project, and they are their own harshest critics. Put simply, they just want it to sound – and to feel – good.
“We’re definitely not trying to write songs that connect to the masses,” Nathaniel says, shaking his head. “It is just us, you know. I’m just trying to affect myself. Then hopefully affecting each other it will be contagious and spread to the audience.”
Given the wear and tear in Nathaniel Rateliff’s bones, and the dent in his hearing from the screaming and hollering, it seems that the audience is already firmly on his side.
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'Tearing At The Seams' is out now.
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