Interview: Nate Hall (US Christmas)
One of my three favorite active bands, US Christmas, has a new album coming out at the end of this month. It’s called Run Thick In The Night, and I think it’s their best album yet. Actually, I might like Eat The Low Dogs more, but if I do it’s not by much. After I reviewed RTITN (read it here), I inquired with the-powers-that-be about a possible interview. I was contacted by the band’s chief guitarist and vocalist, Nate Hall, who told me to send him whatever questions I had. I didn’t have any questions. Nearly a month passed. I still didn’t have any questions. I sat down yesterday afternoon and put about zero thought into the first twenty questions that came to mind. One of the things I don’t like about interviewing modern bands is that they still have years and years and years in which to hone their craft. Asking shit questions about their process and what it’s like being on tour has been done a million times. Instead I figured I’d just ask a bunch of silly questions, because bands love it when you don’t take them seriously…or so I’ve heard. Maybe this is why I still only work for myself, on a blog, instead of working for a known publication. Anyway, the point is, I’ve heaped so much praise on US Christmas since being turned onto them, and purchased so many copies of their albums to give to friends as gifts, that I don’t really need to ask fanboy questions. I can ask stupid ones and hopefully get stupid answers. It serves two purposes. First, you get to see a side of a band that you don’t get to see when people ask “how did you sign with (insert label)?” Second, it’s really easy for me to think of interview questions that aren’t good.
Without any further ado, here’s my interview with Nate.
NH: Nathan Hall
EL: Hey Nate, it’s Evan from the Swan Fungus blog. You said it’d be cool if I send you some interview questions. I think I told the girl who gave me your info to warn you that my questions might be a little bit…out there. Just have fun with it and if it sucks I won’t use it. Are you high right now? If not, go get high and then come back.
NH: I’m at 1,395 feet. That is pretty high.
EL: Okay, are you high now? If so, prove it.
NH: I think I’m still just as high.
EL: Is living in Appalachia as weird as its made out to be in the movies (see: Wrong Turn, et. al)? And by that I mean, are there crazy inbred cannibal mountain people roaming around murdering tourists and hitchhikers, or no?
NH: There are definitely some places I wouldn’t want to wander into unannounced. This can be a pretty violent place, but most of that is among people who know one another. That is a good question, actually. I was once in a graduate class discussing James Dickey’s novel “Deliverance,” and the professor asked if we thought the violent mountain characters were an unfair stereotype. A lot of the people in the class were not native to western North Carolina, and argued that of course these nice people here aren’t like that. But I was a reporter here for a long time and I know some stories that would turn your hair white. They were not amused by those stories.
EL: Uh…I think I need to hear one of those stories.
NH: It’s just some murder stuff, pretty gnarly though. Maybe someday.
EL: But I bet the drugs are pretty good. I can’t imagine how many people in the Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee mountains are growing amazing shit out in the middle of nowhere. Mushrooms, weed, pills — I guess you can’t grow pills, but we can all dream, eh?
NH: Man all that is for the hippies.
EL: Well, I don’t know if you read my review of RTITN, but I mentioned that a friend of mine saw USX in Austin for South by Southwest earlier this year. He claimed the percussionist was frying on mushrooms. True? False? If true, how often is a USX show aided by substances of one kind or another?
NH: You mean Tony Wyioming? Who knows, that dude is a gypsy and cannot be trusted. I take a BC headache powder before every show.
EL: Has this ever resulted in a shitty experience?
NH: Every show is fun. I hallucinate and see Richard Petty.
EL: Speaking of shitty things — what’s the worst thing that has ever befallen the band on tour to this point in its history?
NH: When I got a vomit virus in Nashville right before a show, and I had to play between bouts of vomiting. Good show. Pretty girls came to my rescue, even with the vomit.
EL: Now that I’ve asked 7 drug-related questions, do you care about being lumped together by lazy bloggers or journalists wither “stoner” rock bands? Similarly, do you care at all about the “space rock” label?
NH: God no. I don’t care about space. I just like the part we can see from here.
EL: Also, I don’t think of USX as a metal band really, yet you often get paired with such bands both by the press and on your tours — Weedeater and Barronness come to mind. Are you friends with those guys, is it a label-curated thing, or do you think your sound/style compliments those of the bands you’ve gone out on the road with?
NH: We are friends with those guys, and that is a big part of it. Again, we don’t really worry what people say about anything we do. We are really open to other musicians, and the same can be said for everyone we have toured with. We toured Europe with Saviours, and that was because they are great guys and basically took us on out of kindness.
EL: Now’s probably as good a time as any to ask, but I want to add to my “US Christmas plays one song, but it’s fucking amazing” comment in regards to the self-titled EP and Salt The Wound. What I meant to say is that all those those records flow together one long, crushing, minor-key dirge. I can see how in its original state that might be offensive…
NH: I’m not offended, I get what you are saying. I write songs I want to hear, and a lot of them sound the same. I am unashamedly self-indulgent. We actually just recorded a 40 minute song, which I will discuss later.
EL: Do all of your songs evolve out of jams, or are they written by one (or multiple) band members and then worked through with the group?
NH: At this point, everyone in the band is becoming more involved in the writing process. I write the words and a lot of the song structures, but there is a lot of depth to the songs and that is because everyone in the band has vision. It has been really cool to see eveyone put their own stamp on things.
EL: Needless to say, Eat The Low Dogs and Run Thick In The Night show how the band has evolved — especially the new record. Can you talk a little about your approach to writing the songs for RTITN? You can still sense the Southern dirtiness, but now there’s acoustic songs and some, well, not dirges. Is this the natural course the band is going to take? Constantly shifting and making alterations/adjustments?
NH: It wasn’t a deliberate thing, more like a gradual shift toward a complete idea. Both ETLD and RTITN took a long time to write, and both involved a process of thought and construction, with periods of inspiration that I cannot explain. I think it is a very natural course to take, the only valid option for any artist. Just go with it, “be the ball, Danny.”
EL: Speaking of the acoustic songs, are you worried that when the album comes out, the people who dig your whole gothic psychedelic vibe, or people who consider you a metal band, are going to be put-off by that? Will anyone in the band actually give a shit if fans say USX has gone soft?
NH: No, I’m not worried. They came out just like I wanted. Meg and I played them live, all first takes I believe. If people are put off by our albums that is their fault not ours.
EL: Are you still high? I don’t know if you went and smoked salvia or something that’s gonna wear off, so if whatever you smoked (if you smoked, if you took something else, kudos)Â has for some reason worn off, why don’t you take a break and get high again. Or, take a drink. You, drink right? What’s your drink of choice? If it’s bourbon (like mine is) what’s your brand?
NH: Um. Have you ever met a man named Evan? As in “For Evan’s Sake”?
[I can’t tell if that’s a Weedeater reference or an Evan Williams reference]
EL: I hope you didn’t answer: “Moonshine.” That would have been cliche. Although the one time I ever drank moonshine it came from a guy who was distilling it in his house in NC. It was pretty foul. I don’t think there’s a question in here. Sorry. Unless you have a memorable moonshine story you’d like to share.
NH: I lost interest after Popcorn Sutton died. I don’t really have a story, but you should look up Popcorn Sutton, he was a great character.
EL: Do y’all have day jobs? What are you doing when you aren’t blowing people’s minds? I’m having a delightful time imagining you all having a huge Thanksgiving dinner with all your families. It would be, probably, the greatest thing ever. I don’t know why. It just would.
NH: Yes, we all have day jobs. I teach some, we have to work to pay bills. We did all have Thanksgiving together last year with Wyioming’s family in Peoria Illinois. It was Lebanese food mixed with the standard fare. Grape leaves and such.
EL: ZZ Top’s First Record and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere are standing on opposing ledges, screaming to you that they’re going to jump to their deaths. Who do you save, and why?
NH: I would save Neil Young because he saved me.
EL: Do you have a personal favorite among the albums you’ve recorded? If so, why?
NH: I think RTITN is the best. We also just finished a new one called The Valley Path. It is one 40 minute song, really good stuff. We are working on all the art/details right now.
EL: That was a dumb question, but the reason I ask is because I wanted to see if you’d mention your first two CD-r releases. How do I get ahold of those? I feel like I’m missing something totally amazing, even if it’s just early versions of some songs you recorded on Salt The Wound. Are there plans to reissue or repress these in the future for us diehard fans who possess insatiable thirst for more USX?
NH: It would be really hard to find those now, and we don’t plan to re-release them. You might look and find them though, Prayer Meeting and Bad Heart Bull.
EL: If USX is to have a lasting legacy, what would you like for it to be? (You like howÂ I stuck one of *those* questions in there? There’s a reason no one reads my website…)
EL: Do I even need to ask the obligatory, “Is this the worst interview you’ve ever done?” question? Be honest.
NH: Far from it. Thanks man.
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