US - Colorado - Full Moon 222 - 10/08/14
- a conversation with Nathan Amundson
"I never wanted to do anything else, really." - an interview with Nathan Amundson
For 15 years, Nathan Amundson aka Rivulets has been primarily known for his wonderful slowcore songs, minimalistic and quiet, the kind of music, a Red House Painters fan would die for.
But for his new album I Remember Everything, the American singer/songwriter is changing gears - and it sounds fantastic. In fact, it's a record that has "album of the year" written all
In the past, Nathan heavily relied on acoustic instruments, now he is broadening his sonic palette. He may have used the odd electric guitar and a more band-oriented approach here and there
in the past, but never with such dramatic effect as on I Remember Everything. Yes, there's still a lot of melancholy in these new songs, but on songs like "My Favorite Drug Is Sleep",
he manages to mix fragile Nick Drake folk with a kind of catchiness that's almost reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The incredible seven minute epic "Ride On, Molina" on the other
hand just builds and builds both in terms of volume and intensity and serves as a perfect tribute to the late Songs:Ohia and Magnolia Electric genius Jason M.
Maybe all of this shouldn't have come as a surprise. Over the years people who most definitely have inspired Nathan along the way became friends and collaborators, among them Low's Alan
Sparhawk (who helped making the 2002 Rivulets debut album and put it out on his own Chairkickers label) or Chris Brokaw of Codeine, who drummed on a Rivulets release and was instrumental
in finding a home for I Remember Everything. Elsewhere, members of Shellac, The Magnetic Fields, Rachel's or Swans have lent their helping hands, too.
We caught up with Nathan at his home in Denver, Colorado, where he answered our questions sipping a cup of tea and listening to the Psychedelic Furs in the background.
Luna Kafé: What's it like to be (in) Rivulets in the year 2014 - and what is the biggest difference to being in the band in, say, 2002, when your first album came out?
Nathan Amundsen: I suppose it's a lot different. I live in a completely different part of the world, the line-up of "the band", when we get together, is completely different. A lot has changed but
I'm still writing the songs. That stays the same.
LK: For the uninitiated - can you quickly walk us through the history of Rivulets in a few short sentences?
NA: Guy writes songs in his bedroom, forms band, makes records and tours the world. He's still writing songs in his bedroom.
LK: Was there a specific turning point when you realized that you wanted to become a musician?
NA: There is not a specific point that I can remember. When I was a kid would mime along to songs and albums I liked, even perform in front of audiences made up of my toys and stuffed
animals. I never wanted to do anything else, really.
LK: What would you say was the most important influence while making I Remember Everything?
NA: Hmm. This is a tough question. The recording process - as opposed to making We're Fucked - was just smooth and easy. Fun even, if you can believe that. It was just a very creative
and productive few days and I think that energy comes through. We had a good time making this record.
LK: Is there anything specific you look for when it comes to writing songs and making records?
NA: No. Well, I have my little rules. For example, unless you're Stars of the Lid, there's no reason for your album to be longer than 40 minutes. 40 minutes is plenty of time to show
me the best songs you've written since the last time. No-one has fucking 80 minutes to sit down and listen to an album (bye bye, CDs. Good riddance).
LK: Obviously, your music has evolved from album to album, but it seems that with the new album you are moving into a new direction. Was there anything in particular that brought
on these changes?
NA: This is such a pansy answer but it's just a natural progression. For a long time I made primarily acoustic records because I only had acoustic guitars. Now I have some electric
guitars too, so you're hearing them more.
LK: The simplicity of your new songs is simply staggering, especially considering the emotional depth - does writing this way just come easy to you actually spend a lot of time and
effort to strip the songs down to their emotional and musical bare bones?
NA: It's less stripping away and more just not adding anything extra the song isn't already calling for. I'm very limited in what I can do on the guitar, I just write how I write and
that's how it is. Believe me I would love to be able to rip a killer solo.
LK: Does the move to a more band-oriented approach imply that you're more willing these days to let go some of the responsibility - having had the chance to do things your own way
in the past?
NA: No, I still write the songs, ship the orders, work with bookers to book the tours etc. There's no manager here. If there is any kind of Rivulets business to be done, I'm still the
one who's doing it. As far as the band goes, they create their own parts by and large. I give some input but the reason I choose these people is I love what they do. It's enjoyable to see what
they bring to whatever I bring them.
LK: I do have to admit that I was so - in a positive way - overwhelmed by the music that I haven't really immersed myself in the lyrics. So sorry for the wide open question, but:
Would you be willing and able to shed some light on the lyrical side and maybe also tell me how you feel you've evolved as a lyricist over the years?
NA: Hmm... Maybe the lyrics are less obtuse now? More direct. I think I sing more directly about or to specific people, whereas in the past, "you" could be a composite of any number
of people, or no-one at all, a fictional character.
LK: Maybe it's just because I'm not a native speaker, but it seems that lately the sound is becoming more important, while in the past the song itself seemed to be center stage.
Would it be okay to put it that way that or am I am just completely wrong about that?
NA: It's again just me having more tools. I have a few more guitars, effects units to play with. One of the reasons I chose the name Rivulets was it seemed like it could be quite broad.
Like, SWANS have acoustic records, industrial records, ambient pieces etc. I thought a name like Rivulets could accommodate some changes like this over the years. I think I'm just finally getting
around to beginning to fulfill that original intention.
LK: The physical release of I Remember Everything is handled by the small German vinyl-only boutique label Jellyfant. How did you hook up with them?
NA: My friend Chris Brokaw, who has worked with Jellyfant, suggested I contact Hans (the label owner). Hans has been very supportive of and super into the record and my work in general.
He comes up with cool ideas, like to release the 10" of "Ride On, Molina" b/w "I Told Jesus..." That was his idea.
LK: You've released your music in a variety of formats, but I believe I Remember Everything is the first of your albums to come out on vinyl. Just a mere coincidence or kind
of a big deal?
NA: You are right. For years people have been asking - myself included - when there would be some Rivulets vinyl. So, yeah, for me it is kind of a big deal. Taken care of, these records
will still play in 50, 100 years. You can't necessarily say that about CDs, mp3s, etc. Plus, it's the full audio as it was recorded, not some shitty downgraded digital file coming out of tiny
computer speakers. Makes a difference. I don't think people are even used to hearing full-quality audio anymore. It's what makes even a mediocre live concert sound pretty great. Waves hitting
you in the chest. Can't beat it.
LK: What is making you the happiest as a musician right now?
LK: The record has just been released - and now...?
NA: Well, I hope to tour, especially with the band. That's the big project right now, getting a band tour out on the road.
LK: Any famous last words? Do we have to mention your recent tweet: "What's up Twitter. I am single again. Do you have Jennifer Lawrence's number?
NA: She seems delightful to me. Call me, Jen.
Photo credits © Laurent Orseau
Copyright © 2014 Carsten Wohlfeld