Stop & Chat: Nathan Aronowitz Of Nashville Psychedelic Gospel-Funk Band Down Boy Talks Sophomore Album ‘…Let Go’ & More

In just over 30 minutes, Down Boy transports you to a realm of vibrant color.

Established out of the heart of Nashville while studying at Belmont University, Down Boy label themselves as a “psychedelic gospel-funk trio” known for their inventive arrangements and impromptu executions. Composed of Noah Miller (drums), Grayson Schweers (bass), and Nathan Aronowitz (guitar, keys, and vocals), the band sets the stage to a kaleidoscopic adventure in their newest album …Let Go, mixing the likes of funk, rock soul, r&b, and jam to a trippy 60’s aesthetic. 

Transformation. That’s this record in a nutshell. Exploring the ideas of “brokenness, addiction, struggle, and the search for a greater sense of peace,” Down Boy takes you on the cosmic ride of your life. Its opener “Broke” disguises a cry for help with a funky, head-bopping rhythm, chanting the lyrics “Praise the Lord, I better find my peace”, while its closer “Under the Light” ends with the solace of freedom as Aronowitz sings “Praise the Lord, I think I found my peace”. And in the midst of it all, you’re left with a sprinkle of everything. 

The slow, deep grooves of “Rising Tides,” “Save Me From Myself,” and “Can’t Help Myself” all uniquely bleed a mix of seduction and sedation, with Aronowitz’s voice drowning in a hypnotic state of allurement. Tracks like “Hypnotized” and “In the Shade” bring a sudden shift into a rock n’ roll spirit, where crunchy electric guitar riffs, an elaborate bassline, and booming drums call the shots using uniquely intricate compositions that offer a refreshing deviation from the basic and repetitive.

The band gets to show off just what they’re made of in fully instrumental tracks “Walk the Wire” and “Otherside,” both additionally illustrating a transition from one state of mind to another. If you’re wondering where the gospel aspect of Down Boy’s sound comes into play, “Sunshine” is sure to take you to church, the first song to openly signify the ‘letting go’ represented by the album’s title. Like I said, you get it all.

To all you music sticklers out there who declare that today’s rock can’t attain the expertise of the 60’s/70’s era, this band and this album will gladly prove you wrong. …Let Go predominantly breaks the boundaries of the mainstream, reintroducing the magnetism of spontaneous musicianship. After one listen you’ll be saying “Lord I can’t help myself” (pun intended) from replaying this album over and over and over again. 

We got a chance to chat with Aronowitz to learn more about the album, their artistic development, and more.

You guys are clearly exceptionally talented musicians. Where did each of you get your start in music?

Thanks for the kind words! Our bass player, Grayson Schweers, honed his craft in Dallas, TX at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, which gave him four years of intensive jazz experience alongside a peer group of world class musicians. Our drummer, Noah Miller, grew up in Pennsylvania’s Main Line School of Rock, which allowed him to tour the country with an All-Star cast of rock musicians. I’m Nathan, the dude playing guitar, keys, singing, and currently typing words on a laptop, and I grew up in Northwest Arkansas. I found a home in the Ozark Blues Society which gave me access to the rich roots of southern soul that thrives in the Arkansas music scene. 

With your style being rather niche – at least for today’s standards – how did you guys end up forming so easily? Or was it more of a challenge?

We all met in college, and immediately recognized that we could communicate with each other musically in an interesting and addictive way. We started off with an in-your-face, Zeppelin meets Rage Against the Machine sound, but quickly found that our exploratory jams led us to discover new flavors that we could start cooking with. Our style is a product of our chemistry together, and we think our chemistry is the reason why we formed easily as a band.

Your sound is very fitting for the free love 60s-era aesthetic. Would you say that the majority of your musical inspiration comes from that era? And if so, who specifically?

Absolutely! I’m embarrassingly obsessed with Hendrix, not only with his style and sound, but also with the way his spirituality and worldview comes through in his musical voice. However, our influences aren’t exclusive to that era. Noah is equal parts John Bonham and Danny Carey from Tool, and Grayson is like John Paul Jones meets Pino Palladino- or something like that. With this past album, you might be able to hear some Hendrix in the jams, some Herbie Hancock in the keys, some Zeppelin in the heavier rock tunes, some Ray Charles in the gospel songs, and some Zappa in the compositional style. 

How does collaboration come into play when recording? Do each of you hold a particular role in the creative process or is it much more blended than that?

I usually write the tunes and we flesh out all of the music as a band. That’s when the real process begins…with all of the pieces working together, we might tweak an idea to make it feel right, come up with more natural transitions, or even discover an entirely new idea while jamming. 

We wrote “Walk the Wire” together as a band over the course of a month or so, which started with a lick that Grayson played at the top of a rehearsal. We wanted the song to continually evolve, sort of like Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon”. By the end of the tune, we had gone from blues, to funk, to rock, to gospel all in one musical setting!

In contrast, one of the singles, “Can’t Help Myself,” was the first song we ever wrote. Over the years of jamming and performing live, it gradually evolved into the performance that we captured on the album. We’re sure it’ll be something else entirely 5 years down the line. 

For this new album, what was the overall creative goal?

We wanted to create a colorful concept record that narrates a journey from brokenness to freedom. It tells a story of someone who sees his or her demons within and, after a certain amount of struggle and resistance, surrenders to something greater in pursuit of peace. 

Do you each have a personal favorite track from the album?

Grayson says he really likes “Broke” for the groove and funk aesthetic, along with “Walk the Wire” for its many moving pieces paired with the collaborative effort it took to create. Noah likes “Otherside”, an instrumental that goes from an upbeat swing to a dark fusion jam that strips down to just the keys, drums and bass. I personally want to mention “Safe”, a song outside of our conventional wheelhouse that starts with a soft acoustic guitar, weaves between rock, funk and acoustic scenes, and finishes with a hairy, psychedelic fuzz finale. It’s such an odd vibe and a niche sound for us, so it’ll likely only be captured on this record. 

When concerts become a consistent thing again, what song or songs are you most excited about performing live?

We had been playing a bunch of the songs from …Let Go since mid 2019, so what we’re most looking forward to is diving into the tunes from the next album! Even so, I’d say the thing that excites us the most about playing live is all of the stuff we could never predict happening to a song- all of the jams and scenes that might spontaneously end up changing the way we play a certain song forever. 

Speaking of the times, were there any roadblocks/challenges you faced when making this album?

The pandemic happened in the middle of our tracking/mixing process, so we used the extra time to our advantage as we waited for the mixing engineers to become available again. A good amount of the overdubs on the album were recorded at our home studio, and the pandemic gave us enough time to explore territory that would have gone uncharted otherwise. On top of that, we were able to plan and budget for two music videos and also put into action a DIY release strategy. 

If you could only be perceived based on your sound, what do you hope that perception would be?

We hope people can hear the same reckless, spontaneous energy of a late Hendrix concert; a loud conversation of cosmic proportion that takes you on an unexpected ride, right along with us.

What sort of things do you guys like to do together outside of making music?

We honestly are having a hard time thinking of an answer to this one…everything ends up being about music with us at the end of the day! We wake up and listen to a tune with the morning cup of coffee, we come home after a day of work and enjoy an album together. Noah and I both work at the School of Rock, so after spending a day teaching kids how to play, for some reason or another we come home and just want some more music. All of our fondest memories from college involve discovering a crazy new tune with each other (albeit, most likely under the influence of unnamed substances),  perplexed by these profound sounds that would ultimately influence our budding style.

Do you have the wheels in motion for what might be in store for the band in 2021?

We have at least two albums cooking on the backburner and plan to release both in 2021. We put an enormous amount of everything into this past album,  “…Let Go”, and learned a great deal from the experience. Next time around, we’re going to take it eazy and try out a minimal approach. All recorded to tape, limited overdubs, everything riding on the organic sound of the band and the strength of the songwriting. Who knows when things will get back to normal, but until then you can bet we’ll be busy making something cool over in our little slice of the universe. 

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