Nathaniel Rateliff is notoriously hard to pin down. If you wrangle a chat or live performance with backing band the Night Sweats you’re in for a helluva treat. Not that you can blame Rateliff for being one tough customer to corner. After all, the Missouri-born mover and shaker is a busier man than most. When we do manage to wrangle an interview out of him, it’s over the phone from Belfast. There, he’s just wrapped up the UK leg of his world tour in support of his latest album Tearing At The Seams
I’ve always lived for music; always had it in me.
“It’s a real blessing,” reveals the former missionary when asked about the response to his group’s new music. “We were surprised by the reaction to our first record [2015’s self-titled album, one that quickly went gold] as well, but it just keeps getting better.”
The Denver-based musician has worked as a carpenter, a gardener and at a trucking depot, but writing songs has always been his dream. His love affair with music began at the tender age of seven; he played drums in his family’s band. “I’ve always lived for music; always had it in me.” However, he admits he didn’t take playing music seriously until he was 13, when his father was tragically killed in a head-on collision on the way to church.
Despite now living his dream, Rateliff is the first to admit life on the road hasn’t been easy. Following the release of their debut album, the eight-piece played over 350 shows. Soon came loneliness, isolation and the freedom that being on tour brings. That experience, which included a whirlwind three days down the East Coast of Australia last year, not to mention a night fuelled by Adderall and mushrooms in Paris) led to the breakdown of his marriage.
I wanted to have the input of everyone, because over the last couple of years touring we’d changed so much and become a band – and made a lot of sacrifices.
In need of a change of scenery Rateliff packed up and caught a ride to the desert to sweat it out. “There is a big difference from our first album compared to this one. Last time I came up with all of the ideas myself and then took them to the band. But this time very early on in the writing process we all went down to New Mexico with Jamie Mefford, our front of house engineer, who helped produce the record,” Rateliff says.
“We needed to make an experience for ourselves and I wanted to have the input of everyone, because over the last couple of years touring we’d changed so much and become a band – and made a lot of sacrifices,” he adds. “I thought the way they approached their instruments would contribute to the way I write, and also help me to come up with different ideas.”
From the wide, rose-coloured landscapes of Rodeo, New Mexico, the Night Sweats headed to the lush greenery of rural Oregon, the home of long-time friend and producer Richard Swift (The Shins, Foxygen). “We’re really close and we don’t have to communicate that much about what we wanna have happen – it just sort of happens naturally and we have a really good time working together,” Rateliff says. “We laugh a lot.”
Indeed, despite the harshness of his music, Rateliff often looks like he’s having fun: his onstage shuffle and shimmy has been known to get whole audiences up and dancing. “I think that’s what I love about working with Richard and the guys in the band – we get along so well, we just have a good time. Besides making music that’s really all we’re trying to do, and we just hope people enjoy it.”
Tearing At The Seams is out now through Stax / Caroline Australia.