We’ve been inundated with a little too much fluff lately. And, while we’re all about being happy and upbeat and feeling free, sometimes you need to slow it down and enjoy a good song for what it is: emotional, dark, intense, and equally as freeing. This is the feeling you get from the first chords of Nathaniel Bellows‘ new track “To Wait”, which finds its exclusive streaming premiere right here, right now. As the song progresses, a dark and beautiful love affair brims within its lines for those who happen upon it.
If nothing else, this track reminds you that patience – even when you’re waiting for dissonance in instrumentals and the next line of a brand new song – is a damn virtue.
We caught up with Nathaniel himself briefly before the release of this new track to talk shop. Check out our words below!
How is your new LP, Swan and Wolf, different from your previous album?
With Swan and Wolf, I left the city and went up to Maine to record all the vocals and guitar tracks by myself. Being in that secluded environment, I was able to spend more time organizing, layering, and experimenting with how the background vocals interacted with the main vocal, which ultimately—hopefully—gives the songs greater emotional texture and depth. Another main difference is that, with Swan and Wolf, I worked closely with a mixer, Brian Losch, who really understood the mood and tone I was looking for, and which resulted in a more cohesive, consistent overall sound.
While The Old Illusions featured two of my drawings as part of the CD booklet, Swan and Wolf incorporates more of my visual art: I created ten illustrations that correspond to each of the ten songs on the record, which are available to view on the album’s website, and in a limited edition hardcover book that I produced as a companion to the music.
How would you describe the sound of Swan and Wolf?
As with The Old Illusions, I was looking for a very direct, spare, open-room sound, but this time, with a more polished, professional sheen. There aren’t that many elements in these songs, but I was eager to have each component sit within the mix in an organic, but ordered way. Overall, I wanted the sound to be clean and immediate, with a slight tinge of rawness, and the distinct presence of human imperfection.
Where do you find the inspiration to write?
I grew up in rural environments, so I’ve always been very inspired by the natural world. I live in New York City now and have written most of my music here, so maybe there’s something to the urban landscape that particularly inspires this work—perhaps the pervasive, invisible rhythms of the city? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely given me a lot to write/sing about (much to the dismay of my neighbors, I think!).
You are a poet, a novelist, a visual artist, and a musician. What got you into doing music?
Playing and studying music has always run alongside the other disciplines that I work in. I took piano lessons for 11 years when I was young, and I picked up the guitar when I went to college. I started writing songs around the time I finished college and went to graduate school as a way to explore a different approach to poetry, which I was mainly writing at the time. Ever since then, songwriting has slotted in among my other artistic pursuits in a pretty seamless and satisfying way.
How do you differentiate yourself from your music and your writing?
There is a definite overlap in my music and my writing. But with the songs, I tend to include more vernacular language than I would in a poem—the rhyming is more forceful and structured, and there’s a more deliberate symmetry in a song’s verses and choruses, which are choices I don’t employ so overtly in my poetry. Sometimes I use quotations in the songs in a way I might when writing fiction, but the songs tend to be blurry, abstract meditations on emotion, memories, events or images, so I don’t feel any need to crystalize these spoken scraps into something more narratively realized, the way I do when writing a short story or a novel. In all my work, I aim for clarity, specificity, and vividness, but with songwriting, I like to explore the tension between exactitude and ambiguity.
What was the inspiration behind your first single, “Keep in Mind”?
It takes me a long time to write songs, because they evolve as a slow accrual of ideas, generated in fits and starts, over months and sometimes years. I’m also unable to write lyrics in the absence of the guitar—the lyrics and music tend to evolve in tandem. I practice a lot and record drafts of the songs on my phone, and walk around listening to them to try to figure out what the music is attempting to evoke and express. It can take a while. Given all of this, it’s a little hard to pinpoint what the inspiration is for any one song, except that they usually begin with a central image or phrase, around which the song slowly congeals. In the case of “Keep in Mind,” I think it was the image of the seabirds mentioned in the second verse—the idea that they have an innate sense of where they are headed, how they are meant to live, all in their own mysterious and unknowable ways.
What is next for your career?
I am looking forward to playing these songs live in the upcoming months, after the release. I have also been working on a new novel—a contemporary ghost story set on a small island off the coast of Maine—and I’m in the process of finishing my second collection of poetry.
I frequently collaborate with the composer Sarah Kirkland Snider—our first record, Unremembered, a song cycle for 7 voices, chamber orchestra, and electronics, based on 13 of my poems and illustrations—came out in 2015. We are now working on a Mass for Trinity Wall Street, about endangered animals and the environment, which premieres this spring, and we’ve also begun work on an opera.
Keep up with Nathaniel here!