Michael Nau released his critically acclaimed album ‘Mowing’ to us UK folks back in November. Summoning the bygone sounds of AM radio – golden oldies, antiquated Nashville country, ‘70s chamber pop and dusty folk songs – ‘Mowing’ was written whilst on the road, with tracks penned from Burlington, Vermont to Connecticut, to a back porch in Nashville, and others back in the tiny Appalachian city of Cumberland, Maryland, USA, which Michael Nau currently calls home.
After giving the album rave reviews GIGsoup caught up with the artist while on the European leg of his promotion tour to discuss family life, new labels and longevity in the music business…
So you were touring with Okkerville River last month. How was that?
It was good. We did four shows with them. I liked it.
The band set up that you have currently, is it new for this tour?
It’s the same as it was last track –just a drum and bass. It’s pretty stripped down, like the record.
Have you played with them for a long time?
Yeah, I’ve played with Greg, the bass player, for a long time and I’ve known Grahame, the drummer, for a long time, but this is the first time all three of us have played together. And we get along really well. So you’ve already toured the U.S?That’s right, yeah. But the album came out the day after my wife had our baby, so I couldn’t really commit to a lot of stuff.
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Was that unexpected, the baby coming simultaneously?
Well, we knew it would be close, but we didn’t know it would be like the same weekend. It’s like I knew that record was coming out, but it was not important for a few days. So this is almost like the first time we’ve done a full band run on this record. I’m going to try and make next year like this. Like, all-inclusive shows. Do more touring. Have another record out. And, you know, just try and time it out a little better!
I suppose, in that way, Mowing has had something of a culminated release. Am I right in thinking this is your first headline show in the UK?
Yeah. The last one was pretty rushed, like the open set they tend to get a little rushed. Figuring out how to collect your gear, etc. Hectic. This is a similarly hectic day, but we’re all together, and we’ve got time.
You said your wife just had a baby – that’s your second child, right? And it’s your first son on the cover. What’s it like touring at this stage of life?
It’s different. I used to tour and not really worry too much about not coming back with money. And it’s tough to be away. But it means that when I’m here, I view it more as work and I try to make it work out the best I can.
The first line of Love Survive is ‘This is my conquering song.’ For an outsider, that rings true. How true does it feel to you?
I don’t know. I never viewed it as anything more than words within a song; not this grander thing. I like that song, especially because it’s one of the first songs that we recorded live as a band. I just had it written on a guitar and then immediately the band turned it in to what it is. I enjoy it because there are a lot of hands that made that song. I think, whenever that happens to one of my songs, I like it for longer. It has more lasting power.
It seems that’s the nature of Mowing as a whole, that it’s a tapestry.
There were very different processes at play from song to song. In the end, a large group of songs got sized down to what it is today. Probably, if we had chosen the songs on a different day, it would have been a totally different album.
I love that. It’s like life: you make a decision one day that you wouldn’t make another day, and so your path is formed.
I think that’s the reason that the songs work the way they do, because people came together and we had a day or two to work, so the decisions are on the fly. We wanted to get as much stuff done as we could, so we just played the songs and that’s what stuck. We didn’t put too much time into worrying about it. That’s why, now, I can listen back to the album and still be surprised by it.
As opposed to something that’s contrived.
Yeah, I mean, in the past I’ve recorded a lot of stuff myself and it’s really easy to let self-doubt creep in. How you feel about a song is so based on the mood of the day. But when we’re doing it together, it takes three and a half minutes to record a three and a half minute song. And then you move on. That’s something I’d like to take forward.
You mean for songs to be enclosed in the moment they’re played, and then to move on?
Yeah, I like that. The live thing. That’s where it’s at for me. Maybe it’s because of the sound, because it sounds and feels better. But actually, it’s probably because I waste less time. We got eight songs done in two days. Sometimes I’ll spend a week working on one song, and by the end of the week I’m not even sure if I like it. It’s like – why am I doing this?!
So I’ve reached a point where I’ve realised, shit – if you surround yourself with the right people, it’s really easy to get it right and get it moving.
In terms of genre, the way that your music’s described wildly differs from place to place. You try to avoid explaining your lyrics. Are you intentionally avoiding definition with your music?
I think that I’ve just been trying to figure out what I’m good at. I listen to all kinds of music, and also, the sound of the song is a result of who’s playing on it. I don’t think it’s intentional, but I like that my next record doesn’t have to sound like anything. There’s no expectation, and I like that.
You’re signed to a label on the West Coast, you’re originally from the East Coast and you’ve been living in the South. Do you feel like your music has a home?
Whenever we’re on tour, and we’re playing, it feels like it makes sense and it has a place. I’ve never thought of it as having a home. The people that work the records care. I’m really grateful for that.
You’ve been in the music industry for almost a decade. What do you see as exciting about being in the music industry today?
When we started playing wasn’t even that long ago, but so much has changed. There’s a lot of opportunity – you can do it however you want. You can be in control of your own stuff. I’ve tried to stay true to what I enjoy.
What is it that you mean by control?
Maybe there are certain decision that you could make that would help you get somewhere a little easier, but for reasons that don’t feel right. I’ve always been able to focus on playing music. I don’t have to think back on making a bunch of bad decisions. I’m sure there are things I’d do differently, and records maybe I wouldn’t have made if I was making them now, but it’s all been a vehicle to continually live off playing music. It’s amazing how many different ways it can work.
It sounds like you’ve always known yourself quite well as an artist.
Yeah… That’s probably not true, though. More so than anything, I just realized recently that it’s not as big of a deal as I used to make it. Putting out this record was kind of a mountain. I was thinking over and over what I was doing and why I had to make all these songs into a record. But when I finally put it together, at that point, I stopped thinking about it and was able to move on the next thing.
I think I’ve just got better at moving on, and not worrying about what’s behind, whereas in the past I wasn’t very good at that and was always trying to correct my mistakes.
So, not that I’ve always known myself as an artist, but that I’ve gotten better at not knowing myself.
It’s interesting to think about life in that way: you have to close something in order to enjoy it.
Yeah, I think that’s the healthiest for me. A lot of the songs on that album are pretty old, so I’m hearing them from a zoomed out perspective. Now, they’re just songs and nothing more.