As the name suggests, American roots rockers Nahko and Medicine For The People aren’t messing around. Armed with their self-proclaimed “real talk” music, they’re on a mission to inspire positive change and spiritual harmony.
“Our focus certainly is to make music that tells the truth,” says the group’s leader, Nahko. “I’m a big fan of hip hop, I’m a big fan of pop music, but in pop music and a lot of other music the melody is a cloak for lyrics with just no content. A lot of the stuff that is out there on the radio, it’s music that’s just passes the time. It makes me dance in my car sometimes but I’m not really listening to it going, ‘Oh wow, this is changing my life right now.’”
Nahko and Medicine For The People have independently released two albums since coming together in 2008. On both records, the debut LP On The Verge and last year’s Dark As Night,Nahko’s wordy expositions sit front and centre, amply supported by acoustic instrumentation and vocal harmonies. Striving to fill each sonic moment with a firm, pro-activating purpose could scare off casual listeners, but that hasn’t softened Nahko’s creative agenda.
“I absolutely do not feel like I’m ever going to filter it for the audience’s standards,” he says. “As a poet and as a storyteller, I certainly feel like it’s so important to speak your mind, to explain how you feel about something or to tell a story to its fullest point.”
Thankfully, placing such fundamental emphasis on the pointed messages within his songs hasn’t given Nahko a superiority complex. He makes sure not to dismiss other artists’ efforts in any genre. “Whether it’s Justin Bieber or it’s Angel Haze or it’s Medicine For The People, it all has its purpose. I don’t feel like anybody out there who’s making music right now needs to change the way they’re making music, at all. Their process is their process and certain people are being changed by those artists in their own way.”
While Nahko doesn’t elaborate on Bieber’s artistic credentials, he actually identifies the rising New York hip hop artist Haze as another contemporary exponent of “real talk” music.
“There’s a lot of stuff that some people wouldn’t want to listen to necessarily, but her story is inspirational and, what she’s come through, I can understand why she’s angry. As an artist she’s inspired me and as a poet she’s inspired me.”
Medicine For The People were in Australia just six months ago touring with spiritual counterpart Xavier Rudd. They’ll be back in the country later this month for a national tour that includes a couple of appearances at Byron Bay Bluesfest. Anyone who caught them opening for Rudd last year will know the music’s earnest core doesn’t get in the way of a damn good time.
“As musicians we jam hard together and we’re always just having a blast,” Nahko says. “Honestly, we play acoustic rock but we rock out. We’re just rocking out all the time.”
The fun isn’t restricted to the onstage area, either. Nahko’s already built a reputation for rousing rooms full of people into choral unity. “When you go to a show where you can laugh, cry, mosh – whatever you’re going to do – you want to be part of the whole event. We encourage participation on the highest level. It seems like, almost involuntarily, it just happens that [at] most of our shows people will end up singing along with us and getting down with us.”
Nahko and Medicine For The People are at Oxford Art Factory on Friday April 25.
Dark As Night out now through Hundred Handed