FRIDAY
November 13, 2015 | doors at 9:00pm
Sharing is Caring
The Bowery presents:
NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS
Caroline Rose
SOLD OUT
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats practically explodes with deep, primal and ecstatic soulfulness. This stunning work isn’t just soul stirring, it’s also soul baring, and the combination is absolutely devastating to behold. You don’t just listen to this record—you experience it. So it’s entirely fitting that the self-titled album will bear the iconic logo of Stax Records, because at certain moments Rateliff seems to be channeling soul greats like Otis Redding and Sam & Dave. But as this gifted multi-instrumentalist honors the legacy of the legendary Memphis label, he’s also setting out into audacious new territory.

Those who were beguiled by In Memory of Loss, Rateliff’s folky, bittersweet 2010 Rounder album, will be in for an initial shock when they spin Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. But when you delve beneath the rawboned surface of the new album’s wall-rattling presentation, with its deep-gut grooves, snaky guitars, churning Hammond and irresistible horns, you’ll find that same sensitive, introspective dude, who bravely tells it like it is, breaking through his reticence to expose often harsh truths about the life he’s lived, the people he’s hurt and the despair he’s struggled with. The difference between the two albums is that the Nights Sweats’ funkiness insulates the starkly confessional nature of Rateliff’s songs while at the same time underscoring their emotional extremes.

The place where Rateliff is coming from is intensely real and intimate. Doing what he does is an act of bravery. “These songs are about the struggles I’ve had in my life—drinking too much, that kind of crap,” he says with characteristic candor, punctuating the admission with a rueful laugh. “And then the relationships we all have. I’m not a great communicator in my personal life, so it’s funny to be writing songs that say the things that I’m never very good at saying. It’s taken me a long time to figure that out. I’m trying to be a better communicator, but it’s horribly awkward—it’s awful—to tell somebody something you know is gonna hurt their feelings. I’ve always been one to go, oh, I’ll just eat this one; it’ll be okay.”

As the band blazes away on the soul-rock rave-up “I Need Never Get Old,” the visceral “Howling at Nothing” and the supercharged “Trying So Hard Not to Know” (key line: “Who gives a damn and very few can”), which open the album with a sustained outpouring of torrid intensity, Rateliff is opening himself up emotionally as well as physically, the raw grit in his voice conveying anguish and hope in equal measure. The buoyant immediacy of the music makes the hard truths embedded in the songs easier to swallow than it would be in Rateliff’s other primary mode—a solitary guy with a guitar, the brim of his baseball cap pulled down, putting his heart and guts on the line without the protection of his simpatico cohorts. Make no mistake, these songs would stop you in their tracks presented in that naked way as well, but the additional layers of soulfulness provided by the Night Sweats—its core comprising guitarist Joseph Pope III, drummer Patrick Meese and keyboardist Mark Shusterman—bring a convergence of intensities, musical and psychological, to the performances.

“S.O.B.” sits at the dead center of the album, between the brutally honest confessionals “I’ve Been Failing” and “Wasted Time.” Thematically, the song is the album’s linchpin—partly a rebuke, partly a cry of defiance, “S.O.B” is the “fuck it all” anthem of a blue-collar kid from the Heartland whose conditioned idea of therapy is a shot and a beer chaser, and then another round, on the way to sweet oblivion. In live performance, Rateliff and the Sweats have been known to mash together “S.O.B.” and The Band’s “The Shape I’m In” as the double-barreled climax of their sets (you can find it on YouTube), the frontman high-stepping and boogalooing across the stage with controlled abandon, bearing a striking resemblance in his physicality to the young Van Morrison. These moments of revelry are also revelatory, singling out two of Rateliff’s biggest influences. Indeed, he hears distinct evocations of The Band on his new album, and he was listening to “TB Sheets” and the rest of Morrison’s The Bang Masters as he was writing it.

From there Rateliff contemplates some of the sustaining aspects of existence, from redemption by way of the forgiving love of another in “Thank You,” “Look It Here” and “I’d Be Waiting” to sexual heat in the N’awlins-style strutter “Shake.” The album ends on a hopeful note with the relatively laidback “Mellow Out,” which could certainly be heard as Rateliff admonishing himself to do just that. “Originally, I had it ending with a song called ‘How to Make Friends,’” he says. “The chorus is ‘When everybody knows you, nobody’s gonna want you.’” Another laugh follows, this one self-mocking. “But I replaced it with ‘Mellow Out,’ which is more of a release rather than a total bummer.”

When it came time to pick a producer, Rateliff went with Richard Swift, a polymath who has made records under his own name, helmed projects for Damien Jurado, the Mynabirds and others, and has played with The Black Keys and the Shins. Swift’s specialty is summoning (and capturing) inspired performances in the moment, and the synergy in the studio, first with Rateliff and then with his band, was instant and palpable. Rateliff and the Sweats already had the arrangements of the new songs down cold, having shaped them on the road. Swift, knowing a good thing when he heard it, set the mics, honed the sound, giving it plenty of space so that the studio itself served as an integral sonic component. Then he pressed “record” and coaxed it into happening organically. “Richard has such great ears, and he really knows how to play to the room,” Rateliff notes. “We have similar theories of recording: basically, you just need to play it right.”

Rateliff, who’s 36, traveled a long road to get to this point. He left school after his dad passed away at the end of 7th grade, left his home in the small town of Herman, Missouri, where his future would’ve likely involved endless shifts in a nearby plastic factory; and worked as a janitor for a high school. Not long afterward, he followed some local missionaries to Denver, thereby escaping what he describes as “the Midwestern lifestyle of working and growing up too fast.” He soon outgrew his childhood understanding of religion, realizing that “there are so many books out there besides that one,” as his worldview expanded exponentially. Rateliff spent the next 10 years on the loading dock of a trucking company before becoming a gardener and getting married along the way. But as the years passed, he became increasingly focused on writing songs and performing them at any watering hole that would have him, in time becoming part of the city’s burgeoning folk scene. “I got kind of a late start making music,” he says, “but eventually I went out on the road,” first with Born in the Flood, which he’d formed with Pope, and then The Wheel, the forerunner of the Night Sweats. By then, he’d overcome his longstanding discomfort at playing his songs in public.

“Writing at home is one of my favorite things to do,” says this constitutionally solitary man. “But for years touring was really hard for me—being alone, being married and having my relationship run through the mire, because a lot of my songs are about that. Sometimes it sucks to sing those songs and have to relive those situations. It leaves you pretty exposed, and your partner too; it can be unfair. But now I love being on stage and cracking jokes, trying not to take myself too seriously, even if the material is about failed relationships and alcoholism, that kind of stuff”—there’s that rueful laugh again.

“I try to be lighthearted,” Rateliff continues, “because, although the songs are heavy, I want it to be a release for people. I’m trying to do something that’s emotionally charged and heartfelt, and I want the experience to be joyous, for people to feel excited and dance around instead of being super-bummed by reality—I mean, things are hard. But I can remember dancing around to some song that was breakin’ my heart, dancin’ with tears in my eyes. I love that feeling, and I wanna share it with people, and hopefully they’ll feel it too.”

—Bud Scoppa
Caroline Rose
An obsession with money, an unfaithful lover, a friend’s accidental pregnancy, misogyny, loneliness, death… This is just some of the lighthearted subject matter that make up LONER––the darkly comedic second album from songwriter/producer Caroline Rose. Armed with an arsenal of new instruments and equipment, an ever-growing sense of “ahhh fuck it,” two years of exploration, and a wicked sense of humor, Rose delivers a set of serious songs wrapped in a sprightly, angsty pop burrito. Because, as Rose puts it, “Sometimes sad songs just need a cocktail.”

LONER captures the cheeky satire, comical musings, and often jarring mood swings––sometimes goofy, sometimes emotional––that make up much of Rose’s personality. “I call it Schizodrift,” she says sipping on a martini with her pinky out. “I want to make music that sounds as manic as I feel.” Filled with catchy synth hooks, Ray Manzarek-esque Farfisa, surf guitar, depth of thought and a punk attitude, LONER captures the energy of bands like Le Tigre and The Cramps, and nods to the styles of Blondie and DEVO, the pop hooks of icons like Justin Timberlake, all the while being inspired by the artistry of Kate Bush. “I’d say this album was as much inspired by Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears as it was late 70s punk.” How did she get here? According to Rose, the transition was natural.

LONER began about three years ago. “I was 24, lonely, and realizing life might actually be as hard as people said it was. Gandalf had yet to raise his staff and part the seas for me,” she says with a straight face. “I felt a bit disillusioned with my music; it didn’t sound like my personality. I hadn’t dated in years, I was going to lose health care. I felt detached from the modern world.” So what did she do about it? “I joined Tinder. I turned 25 and rented my first real apartment and painted it bright colors. I started socializing more and little by little, weeded out all my clothes that weren’t red. I embraced my queerdom. I had a girlfriend, we traveled the country, we broke up. I discussed politics, capitalism and Rihanna. For better or worse, I became a member of the modern world. Turns out the modern world is terrifying,” she says attempting to pluck an olive out of her glass.

When it came to writing about all of it, what followed marked the beginning of a fully formed Caroline Rose. “I needed to get more personal, more aggressive. more humorous and more sonically diverse than my older material,” referring to 2014’s slinky indie-folk-rockabilly-tinged album I Will Not Be Afraid. The record was penned over four years ago while Rose was living in a van traveling the country, and received critical acclaim from national press outlets like NPR and Rolling Stone. LONER, however, marks a significant leap forward both sonically and emotionally, unleashing a burgeoning confidence teeming with character. Asked how she’d describe the transition, Rose responds, “It just felt like a bubble inside me that had been growing and was about to pop.” In a burst of creative energy, she penned and produced a slew of songs that began circulating among labels and press, resulting in a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR Music.

Over the next year and a half, Rose “got super into production and mixing––I was working 10-hour days creating new sounds, finessing EQ, blending tones, sampling basically everything. Having an apartment [rather than living in a van] gave me the space to have more instruments than just a guitar. I started collecting synths and recording equipment and tracking my material. I signed with a label that gave me a lot of creative control and resources.” After sessions and meetings with over a dozen producers, Rose chose to co-produce alongside Paul Butler (Devendra Banhart, Michael Kiwanuka, Hurray For The Riff Raff) at Panoramic Studio in Stinson Beach, California and the studios of Butler and Rose. A multi-instrumentalist and producer herself, Rose brought to the sessions pre-recorded work the two used as a foundation off which to build, having written and arranged strings, played and recorded keys, guitar and bass, sampled layers of found and recorded sounds, and programmed synths and drums. “The rest was a lot of experimentation in the studio, trying out different sounds and getting weird,” She adds. “Paul added a lot in that way. Neither of us are afraid to try things and throw a bunch of sounds at the wall.”

Another thing that drove Rose to pursue production more seriously was the blatant lack of gender diversity in the music industry. “I noticed over the course of all these meetings there was not a single female or nonbinary producer. Then the more I read up on why, the more I realized there actually are a lot of us, we just aren’t taken as seriously and either don’t receive or don’t demand the credit that we deserve.” In response, Rose stepped up across the board, having a hand in mixing as well as directing creative control over all aesthetics regarding the album. “I wanted to make sure everything was as me as it could possibly be.”

According to Rose, the visuals and aesthetics of LONER are an important vehicle in bringing out her personality, as well as a lot of the more sarcastic elements within the music. “I’ve gotten really interested in the visuals over the years, from producing videos and creatively crafting the images to how I express myself via what I wear.” The video for “Money,” for example, written and directed by Rose and Horatio Baltz, depicts Rose playing all of the parts––a sort of maniacal, Coen Brothers-meets-David Lynch two-minute story involving three people (perhaps the same person?) that leaves viewers asking…What just happened? Not too different a feeling after listening to LONER, in fact. And this, is precisely how Caroline Rose wants you to feel.
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