Wild Mind, Bittersweet Acoustic Music.
This is the mantra on Philly folk songwriter Aaron Nathans‘ artist page, and I’ll be damned in listening to his songs if this doesn’t ring true.
It’s clear Nathans has a unique and often singular approach to his stripped-down style, and in a world full of digital effects and synthetic sounds, he remains true to his craft. Nathans effortlessly maintains originality, humor, and dark, almost medieval campfire elements in his music and lyrics. There is no cookie-cutter repetition or lazy lyrics with this guitar picker.
“Aaron Nathans’ mission is to write songs about things no one else has written about before. Like a song about male bonding between a guy and his barber. Or the onslaught of the outside world upon a new parent. Surely somebody’s written that song, right? Ok, find it.”
Case in point.
Nathans and his beloved six-string often play solo, but in the past decade, Nathans has grown akin with brilliant cellist Michael G. Ronstadt. The two are mere days away from releasing their new album, Shadow of the Cyclone, which will greet the ears of listeners abound Thursday October 1st. This 11-track collection of lyrically-driven songs, stories, and fables delights with unique folk storytelling that invites the listener on a quest that steers you on all kinds of wild sonic journeys.
“This collection of songs is a journey through the dark times in which we live, reflected back with perspective, understanding, even humor and beauty. This is the guitar-cello duo’s most intricate work yet, with a sound both familiar and new.”
“Ghost Writer” kicks things off with its minimalist charm and subtly spooky Sleepy Hollow-esque sound, and the theme remains (though often injected with his signature humor) with songs like “Haunted House” and “Sinner’s Bible.” The album carries on with a Folk-Renaissance essence, with some semi-psychedelic and ethereal sounds weaved in, and as stated above, oozes originality.
We had the chance to chat with Nathans about the album and much more.
So I see you were born in Paterson, New Jersey, and grew up in Bexley, Ohio. Did you like growing up in a small town, and do you feel it aided in your creativity?
Bexley is a small suburb completely surrounded by Columbus, home to the governor’s mansion, the historic Drexel Theater and Rubino’s Pizzeria. It was a close-knit community with good schools and good teachers who encouraged my creativity and curiosity. Paterson of course is legendary, and I heard many glorious stories, but I never lived there.
And who or what got you into writing and playing music?
I’ve always been a creative writer, a poet. I always wanted a guitar, but didn’t have the money. The universe needed to give me a push. One day when I was 22, I visited a riverboat casino in Lake Michigan off of Indiana, and dropped a five-dollar coin in the slot machine. Out came enough for my first guitar, a Washburn. I quit gambling while I was ahead. There’s enough danger in life already.
“I’m always careful about meeting my idols. You never know when they’ll look at you the wrong way and break your heart.”
Piggybacking off of the previous question, who are your primary influences when writing songs?
Everything I’ve ever read or heard gets thrown into a blender, and out comes something resembling originality. Phil Henry and I once wrote a song about that, “Green Song,” how everything gets recycled in some way. I’d like to think my influences include the poignant humor of Dar Williams, the insight of James Taylor, the storytelling of Garrison Keillor and the dark laughs of Leonard Cohen. But, even though it may not be cool to say it, that unplugged album by Eric Clapton, coming out when I was most impressionable, sent me in a certain direction.
Who do you think is the funniest folk singer-songwriter, whether it be in their banter or songs themselves?
Vance Gilbert. No question.
I see you have your new album, Shadow of the Cyclone, featuring Michael G. Ronstadt set for release October 1st. What are the primary influences and inspirations behind this collection of songs?
Michael and I wanted to create an album that reflects the times in which we’ve been living. These days you don’t make a full album unless you have something to say. This isn’t a political album, it’s not a rant, it’s not a piece of journalism. It’s about how the darkness that surrounds us these days seeps into our everyday interactions. There are stories, there are observations about privilege, the coursening of our discourse. But this is not a depressing album. Even if it has a tornado on its cover. Dare I say it’s fun.
Where was it recorded and who helped produce it?
It was recorded under the steady hand of Gregory Hugh Brady at Studio 1311 in Chester Heights, PA. We recorded vocals with the great Glenn Barratt at Morningstar Studios in East Norriton, PA.
How do you plan to maintain momentum for this release? Any unique marketing avenues aside from maybe livestreaming?
We are making videos for every song. This is not easy. But it helps that I know my way around a camera and editing apps, that Michael’s no stranger to making videos, and that we have some talented friends making videos for us.
What was the most challenging part about making this album?
When the Lysol came out in March, we were almost finished with the recording portion. So thank goodness for that. But we missed the in-person interaction during mixing once everything shut down. Don’t get me wrong. Everything needed to shut down. We made it work, in no small part thanks to Greg’s persistence.
How did you and Ronstadt get hooked up?
My duo was on a bill with Michael’s family band in 2010 at the late great Barrington Coffee House in New Jersey. He sat in on our finale, and I knew there was chemistry. We played a farmer’s market a few weeks later. He’s a terrific musical partner, a musical genius, a great songwriter, and a generous spirit.
What’s your songwriting process like?
I write most of my songs in a burst in February. I just throw everything at the wall and a few of them inevitably stick, though most don’t. I collect song titles year round on my phone. They serve as concepts- jumping off points. I write a few songs during the balance of the year, but my mind and body are attuned to the rhythm of writing in February. I can feel the songs starting to come late in January.
If you could have a drink or a smoke with one of your living idols, who might it be?
I sure would like to meet Bob Barker. That man could command a stage. Then again, I’m always careful about meeting my idols. You never know when they’ll look at you the wrong way and break your heart.
Can you leave us with one of your favorite jokes?
I thought I needed new glasses, so I went to an optimist. He told me I didn’t need new glasses.