A Chat with Nathaniel Paul (10.12.2020)

The last year has been a chaotic one for most people. However, for Nathaniel Paul it has been a rather productive one that is leading up to an equally productive 2021. Releasing solo music that captures the heavy topics of the past year, working on music with his band and filming a documentary, the last year has been full and next year looks to continue the trend. We sat down with Nathanial Paul to talk about his solo album, The Bergamot, films, future plans and much more!

OSR: What is your earliest music memory and how do you feel this influenced the music you make?

Paul: Listening to Pink Floyd ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ in full surround with my father in my family living room. Right about that time, I got my first record player and purchased records by Billy Joel, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Bob Dylan. So I think right away, I was into the technical side of music, but the lyrical as well. I just loved the way that the sounds and lyrics could sweep you away, to another place, another time. For me, music has the ability to transport like nothing else. I’m just trying to do my best to make some music that can transport others out of this whole mess we’re in. Let’s get out of 2020 for a half-hour or so. Right?

OSR: Your second solo single ‘It’s All A Rage’ captures the chaotic energy of this last year. What was your creative process for compressing the feelings of the year into a single?

Paul: It all began when our 2020 calendar with The Bergamot vanished in a matter of 3 weeks at the beginning of March. I had some time to reflect on our drive from Austin, TX to Sedona, AZ. During that 12 hour drive, I realized that for some reason 2020 was not our year. When the calls for cancellation came, I was inundated preparing for our first-ever stadium show opening for OneRepublic. A dream realized, completely vanished.

That led me down the path of thinking about the things in life that succeed amidst the most daunting conditions: when the world is stacked against you. Who or what actually makes that a point of growth? Success even? I began thinking about weeds, the gnarly little plants that when you rip them out they just keep coming back. No water – no problem. No sunlight – they push through. They flourish with little to no help, even when being pushed back. This is not the year of the rose, sorry. It’s time for a little more resilience.

Overall I think it was a sign when I walked into the grocery store after collecting my first unemployment check when I was approached by one of the store attendants. We got to chatting and he said, “What do you do?” I responded with the usual musicians musings expecting a bland response from him. Rather he surprised me and said, “Wow. You are a musician, an artist just like Shakespeare? You know he wrote some of his greatest work during plagues?” I was honestly taken back. Usually, I get the pity of “how much do they pay you at the bars and do they throw shit at you?” So, I took a moment and said: “Yeah, I guess, kinda like Shakespeare”.

That moment set me on a path to conquer this shit we are going through. Period.

‘It’s All A Rage’ started with a bassline that I wrote in about 5 minutes. Just hummed the whole song out. No instruments, just some melodic thoughts. Then came the layers. The song was my attempt to put the weeds concept to execution. It was all written, recorded, and mixed in 2 days. I played all the instruments and I just had loads of fun making it. No rules – rules are so 2019. But it just came to me in a bit of a mania. I was just loaded with emotions from the whole experience of 2020.

So it was just pen to paper. I locked myself in a closet and only emerged when it was done. That track really feels done to me. Chaotic and complete, I’m very pleased with the way it makes me feel when I listen back.

OSR: You are also the frontman of the Emmy Award winning duo The Bergamot, how different is releasing solo work?

Paul: The whole quarantine process began writing a new record for The Bergamot. I had a lot of thoughts in my head when I was writing that record, which will drop in April 2021.

Then the songs just kept coming, I was having loads of fun in the studio. The songs ranged from really buttoned-up to all complete chaos.

The whole solo project just developed as a necessity to the whole writing process. I was writing so much that I just needed an outlet to release the material. Jillian and I sat down and talked about it and it seemed like the perfect time for me to do a solo project for all the tunes that were not going to be The Bergamot tracks.

OSR: How do you feel ‘It’s All A Rage’ compares to your debut solo release?

Paul: ‘Virtues’ is an apple tree and ‘It’s All A Rage” is dodder.

They are so very different yet interconnected. They fall under this category of songs that challenge the listener. ‘Virtues’ challenges the listener mentally. With lyrics and strange winding rhymes and structures. ‘It’s All A Rage’ is basically trying to completely break down the ‘formula’ of pop music. It’s spite; homogeny. I wanted to make a track you could hum but also make you say “what the hell?” at the same time.

Speaking of which, I just read a New York Times article talking about how weeds and low lying forestation actually help trees communicate. We are still learning about this stuff and it actually might be helping us, not hurting us. How fucking cool is that?

This thing we are taught to hate could actually help us understand each other better. Who would have thought?

OSR: You are set to release your debut solo album in early 2021, can you tell us more about it? What can we expect and is there a theme to it?

Paul: I think the first two singles have laid this ground level of what is going on. I wish I had some major plan for the whole record, but I don’t work that way. Not these days. Each new song, each new lyric is showing and teaching me something. I am as much on this ride (and enjoying it!) as I am directing the ride.

I think thematically though, you will see a man grappling with his own existence during these bottomed-out times. Being stripped of everything but the one thing he loves: songwriting (and his wife Jillian, more on that later). It started there and will probably end there as well. I’m really happy with some of the musical moments happening on this record.

OSR: Next year is not only busy for you as a soloist as The Bergamot is also releasing a new album. Could you tell us a bit more about what fans of the band can expect from the album?

Paul: At the beginning of quarantine, when I sat down to write for The Bergamot, I wrote a song called ‘Tides’. I felt that if the world gives, it can easily take away. The main theme lyrically, “Oh my God. Don’t forget me. Not right now. I’m feeling weak right now.” Just like the tides roll in and out from the gravitational pull. So was life in 2020. We had taken a lot from this world, this culture, and just like that, it was time to pay the piper.

The Bergamot’s new record will be intimate and full. I am really excited about it. Some of the best songs I have ever written – in my opinion. Really fun, really salty, and raw. The lack of access to in-person collaborations really pushed me to go deeper with my work. I think it will be the perfect follow-up to our previous LP Mayflies which was already changing our lives.

Can’t wait for the next The Bergamot record.

Nathaniel Paul
Image Credit: Jillian Speece

OSR: There is also a new documentary film being released next year. What is it about and how does it compare to your Emmy Award winning debut film?

Paul: Great question. The Emmy that our team won was for a piece called ‘Trailblazers: The Bergamot’, which was produced in conjunction with The Grotto Network based out of The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN. That piece was produced about the documentary that will be released next year. The film will be the long-form of that piece. So in a way, they are connected, but totally different if that makes sense?

The documentary has been years in the making. We only want to release it when it’s done. 2021 seems to be that time. It’s all coming together and it seems like the world at large (or at least here in the US) is starting to look at ways to come together. So it’s the perfect time for a film titled ‘State of the Unity’.

OSR: How do you find time to create your solo music, create music for The Bergamot and make a documentary film?

Paul: It’s every day. All the time. Sleep, eat, work. Do it again. I’m a pretty boring dude. A closet is a very peculiar space that I am very intimate with. I know every little mark in that room.

Let’s get real though, I have to say a massive thanks for my wonderful wife, Jillian. She is enabling this madness. We constantly ask ourselves what would happen to me without her, truth is the prospects aren’t good. I guess that’s a sign of a great marriage. My survival depends on it!

OSR: Where do you get your inspiration for all your projects?

Paul: I love the quote of Maya Angelou, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” That resonates with me now more than ever. I can attest that this theory does hold true in its execution.

There are no blocks, there are no boundaries, there are just endless streams of creativity. I just tap into that thought every time I sit down. It’s not always a hit, but the process is always there. I just have to sit there and try.

OSR: If you could have people remember only one thing about you, what would you like that to be and why?

Paul: A great songwriter. That is my highest calling – above all.

OSR: Do you have a message for your fans?

Paul: We are all going to be better on the other side of this. First, we have to choose to be better regardless of how tough it gets. Let’s support each other in that journey, for none of us go it alone. So I am here for you and I hope I can count on you to be there as well. Go on a walk, listen to a record, watch a movie, but be supportive and constructive. It is in our nature deep tucked away, and it takes time to cultivate an echo system of positivity. But let’s start building it together. Right now.

Ever Upwards and thanks for supporting indie music and musicians. Means the world during these times.

Thanks to Nathaniel Paul for chatting with us! You can find more about him on his website, Facebook, Instagram and Spotify.

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