Little kids playing in the yard, the sun shining through the green of the sky-high leaves into the glowing grass, a dog playfully asking for attention: it could be the end scene of a romantic movie but instead it’s the background of our interview with Nate Hall, singer/songwriter, guitar nerd and dreamer, here undressed of hisUSX outfit. With his Amplifest performance as the perfect excuse, we had a little chat about past gigs, present expectations and future adventures.
We only need a quick look at your Facebook page to acknowledge that since the release of “Fear Of Falling” you haven’t really stopped: between new songs and concerts you even had time for an USX mini-tour.
Yeah, I think it was May and I did some solo tours before and after that, too. We also played with Neurosis a couple of weeks ago and it was cool, we played well. [laughs] I have a lot of new solo stuff too. USX hasn’t done a lot because it’s hard to have everybody on the same schedule. We live kind of spread out and we don’t hang out that much so it’s hard to get everybody to record at the same time. It’s expensive and a lot of labels don’t want to pay up and make it easy on you. It’s easier to work on my own. Next week I’m going to record my fourth solo release, as I want to do it before going to Europe, and that’s easy because it’s just me and my own schedule. That’s why the solo work is more appealing to me.
Wonderful news. Can we assume you will be presenting us some new songs during Amplifest?
Sure, lots of them. I’ll probably play some of the USX stuff, maybe from “Run Thick In The Night”. I usually do that, I like those songs. I don’t worry about which band it comes from, those are my songs and I’m going to play them if I want to. [laughs] A lot of people are kind of weird about that but they mean a lot to me and I like to play them. That’s all that really matters.
You are known to be connected to the mountains and the Appalachian history and many use those to describe you and your music. Do you let other cultures influence you, for example when on tour?
Yeah, I do. Here in the mountains, the people and the culture here, they are really xenophobic, they never got out of here and they don’t think about anything other than people of this area. But then you travel and you meet people. I’m pretty educated, I’ve learned about Pangaea, the supercontinent, how everything split apart. You learn that things were closer than they are, everything is literally the same but split apart. I’ve been able to get things together over the past decades, in terms of where ideas come from and the American norms, what caused them,… I see things are a lot more connected than what most people think. I don’t have any political handcuffs like most people do. People are just people, they mustn’t subscribe to the weird politics of their countries, I surely don’t subscribe to the one of this America, I don’t like it. With music you are sort of outside that, you don’t worry about that.
You are very outspoken on your Facebook page regarding civil and human rights.
Yes, but a lot of people I know are like that. We don’t even talk about that because we know we all have the same opinion. There are so many people in this country and so many people that believe in the complete opposite of what we do. I grew up hearing a lot of racism, misogyny and homophobia and I was always bothered by it. It’s easy to be outspoken, there’s nothing for me to lose, I’m preaching to the choir, I don’t know anybody who disagrees with me: homosexuals must have the same rights as everyone else, black people shouldn’t be murdered by police every day, it’s common sense. It is stupid that it is even an issue, it is horrible that in America things are like this. I’m glad people listen to what I say and I hope I encourage them to do the same like others have encouraged me. The people I looked up to, they all did the same: Neil Young never keeps his mouth shut, Bob Dylan is always talking about what is in his mind and those are the people who make the biggest difference.
Back to music, are you still playing with the guys from Poison Snake? Will you come with them on tour or will it be just you and the guitar?
Yes, they live fairly close to me so we collaborate a lot. I think we will be playing together before I leave to Europe. It is really easy, we rarely practice, they know what they are doing, they are a really good band. That’s why I didn’t want to start another band, I just wanted to have the option of being able to collaborate in whatever kind of music I wanted to play and those guys are perfect for that. They don’t need me, they do their own records from time to time, play their own shows. I want to be able to play when I want to play, wherever it is just me by myself or with a band. In Europe I will be by myself with an amp and a guitar.
I generally play several of those songs. I don’t write anything down, like a setlist, I just play what comes to mind. But I think that being an American playing in Europe and since it’s not that frequent to travel there I might get to play a bit longer than usual. I can play for how long people want me to play.
Besides Townes Van Zandt and the already mentioned Neil Young and Bob Dylan: can you tell us a bit more about your musical influences?
Bruce Springsteen has been a big influence in the last 15 years. I think he gets overlooked a lot but he is a pretty good songwriter. A lot of the early blues as guitar goes like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Johnny Winter, they were really good guitar players. Brett Netson with whom I work a lot, he is on Built To Spill and he is one of my guitar heroes. Guys that really didn’t play by any kind of rules like Junior Kimbrough, guys that improvised. I like that because I don’t really know what I’m doing with the guitar. [laughs] I think I have a more relaxed approach to it. I don’t care if there’s somebody taking my picture or if there’s somebody behind me, I just play what I was going to play anyway. Things just happen.
Your approach to music writing and playing is indeed very personal. You once said that your songs are some sort of slideshow from your subconscious or things only songs can say…
That’s true as far as old USX stuff and “A Great River” goes. The newest stuff and the new record I’m working on is more about women and my feelings for certain women. These songs are for them and for her and are sort of an unexpected detour from what I was doing as I never thought I would write songs like that. They came really quickly and they were good and I’d much rather write about that than the horrible depressing stuff of my earlier career. Because that stuff will kill you, thinking about negative stuff all the time, being angry all the time. I’m not a terribly angry person but the older USX stuff in particular is very rough. It’s good to have something beautiful to write about.
Does your writing process change according with yourmood?
I don’t really have a writing process, I basically have ideas and when they are ready to become songs I just know. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to have a guitar with me and I write them really quick, as I’ve never spent a lot of time writing a song. I record stuff on my phone now and with that I can get a song recorded and then listen to it and share it with people before I do a proper recording. I would have been happy to have the quality I can get from this phone recordings ten years ago from a professional studio! But now there are things that the guys I record with can do to really bring out the best of my songs. Travis Kammayer, with whom I’ve always worked, I know he will make it even better than what it is.
To finish with a see you soon note, what can we expect from Nate Hall, solo, and USX in the future?
I’m working with a label called Domestic Genocide and they are putting a lot more support behind me compared to what I had in the past so I hope this new record (that I’ll finish before I leave to Europe) will see the light of day around Spring time. Sometimes it takes years before a record comes out and it is a long time to wait. I’m not sure about my other tour plans but I would like to play the UK and Scandinavia. I put new music on my Bandcamp page all the time, stuff that I just do in the moment. And that’s always something.