A Conversation With Israel Nash
It’s October, and last time I made plans in the rain with an Israel Nash record, it was pure gold. As a follow-up, this time Nash went Silver with a new release titled Israel Nash’s Silver Season.
Silver Season has a similar vibe to his last effort, Rain Plans, but with a noticeably more psychedelic feel. The album was recorded “at” Nash's own studio, Plum Creek Sound, outside of Austin on his 15-acre ranch in Dripping Springs, Texas. Nash and his bandmates built the studio outside, which almost did not survive the historical Texas floods. Like the weather and most of Nash’s growing catalogue, Silver Season is full of lush, whirling sounds that are nearly impossible to imitate, but sound equally atmospheric whether you listen alone on a porch or through high quality headphones.
A day before the release of the album, Nash was gracious enough to take some time to talk about it, as well as his music ideology, his desire to compile a body of work, and his love of the art form. The meat of the conversation is below, but you can listen to the full audio clip and stream Israel Nash’s Silver Season at the bottom of the page.
Ian Bremner: Silver Season, no question, has a vibe similar to the last album, Rain Plans, but I’ve heard it described as “acid-soaked” or “psychedelic.” Is there a root to that, or was it just the sound that came out at the end of it all?
Israel Nash: A lot of it evolved from our live presentation of Rain Plans, I guess. I wanted to make transitions in the live performance, very musical, very mood-setting. We wanted to pull that off live, so we made new pieces of music to flow through so there wasn’t silence. So, in some ways, playing Rain Plans and being on the road ... it sort of evolved in the studio in this idea of wanting to have that experience portrayed. The live experience is way different than an album, so it was a challenge for me to have this piece of music that was a little headier and have these segues take you to a place, then bring you back to the song. Really, [we're] just trying to make a marriage between the song and the music and bring imagery and space to people.
Speaking to that, music can be ingested and consumed so many ways, and I find yours, like most folk or psych records with so many sounds, I get an outdoor barbeque vibe or ... [the sense that] Silver Season could be considered a “headphone record.” Are you conscious of that when making a record?
Yeah, I guess it’s become a big goal of mine since I started writing Rain Plans, and into Silver Season. I have always loved my first few albums, and since then I’ve started to evolve between a songwriter and a lover of music, which are two different things. My whole life has been records -- a full album -- and I don’t think there’s a lot of that anymore. It’s a very single-serving world and I don’t have any problem with that. Just, for me, I love the idea of not just listening to one of my songs on the train on the way to work -- which is fine! Please do listen to my songs on the train. I just mean, I like the idea of sitting on the porch by yourself maybe ... and listening and being in another place for 49 minutes, and what that evokes. [It requires] a quietness and reflectiveness from you. That’s what I wanted to create not only for listeners, but for myself and the band.
Your band is incredible, but is it hard to recreate that same vibe during a live set? Especially with the difference between clubs and outdoor festivals?
I don’t think it is at all. It comes down to the band and the people. I’ve been with these guys for six years, and we started in Europe. We toured all around Europe and we had never been to Europe in our lives, so it’s a real brotherhood, a real family. The things we do, I don’t want to say they are simple, but when things are 'meant to be,' people come together. We have a power and belief that what we can do together is pretty great. It doesn’t matter where. It can be a guitar in the middle of the woods. We have done it for so long and have so much joy doing it.
You just mentioned spending years touring Europe without much airplay here in the States. You’ve given KEXP a lot of credit in helping spread the “Israel Nash name,” and your music, stateside. How did that happen, exactly?
Well, Rain Plans came out a year earlier in Europe and I knew we needed a US label, but I wasn’t even playing in the US. The Europe thing had grown into the point where we were paid well, could fly people out and I just couldn’t play that DIY in the States. We just had to wait and stay patient and somehow it would be heard in the States. Then KEXP followed a year-end list from UNCUT in the UK which had us listed as Top 10 Americana albums of the year or something. So Kevin Cole from KEXP was like, “Oh, why haven’t I heard this.” It was one of those things where, in Europe my name would be on these Americana lists and everyone else’s name you would know from America, but I wouldn’t be on that list in America.
So [Kevin Cole] started that opportunity and [KEXP] started playing it, and we became friends. Now other radio [stations] throughout the country play it, but I guess it did start with KEXP.
It really comes back to, no matter what you do for a living, how much money you make, no matter where you’re going tomorrow, no matter who you’re talking to, you meet these people that just love music and love the art and are just a part of it. A part of that fabric. It was like that 40 years ago and you can read about the '60s and it’s so romantic and awesome. But if you step back, you realize you are doing that same thing 40 years later. You are a part of this thing. Radio stations -- all these people -- are just music lovers that somehow find each other. People need each other. The radio needs songs, the songs need the radio. You need fans. The whole thing is just this marriage, and I like to be part of it.
I am really interested in the story of your new studio, Plum Creek Sound. You and bandmates built it out at your ranch in Dripping Springs, Texas, but it was during those huge floods and everything. Were there any close calls as to whether you were going to be able to finish the thing?
There were. The album started in that space you don’t really want to be in. That nervous, “Is everything gonna be alright?” space. It wasn’t just “Oh come on down to make a record.” It was planned, scheduled, people had to travel so we couldn’t just move the record back. Our drummer, Josh, had to come in from New York. So that night, everyone got there, then the Memorial Day flood happened. It was the most water ... I mean Texas has been in a drought for years, so it was like the 100-year flood, and water like you’ve never seen. I have this pond, which is always empty because it’s always dry. The rain maybe adds a foot or two. But this thing, [the waterline] was 15 feet tall. The amount of water was not what we were used to or familiar with. It had been raining that month so much anyway that the building got delayed. When we got there, there was one in-wall completely missing from one side of the building.
It was pretty rudimentary. Covered in tarps ... and water had run through the entire studio. We had to dig ... I mean, I was just moving sandbags yesterday. We had this moat around the studio with just creeks pouring into the pond right behind the studio. The first three or four days, we couldn’t record, and we were preparing for more rain in the forecast, so Joey was on a ladder putting in some screws. Eric was building a trench around the studio. ... It was really a testament to the band and teamwork. “Let’s do this.”
It was basically just a barn -- no air conditioning, doors open for some breeze. I gotta tell you, this is fitting: today the band is coming down and doing rehearsals. And since all that happened, the studio is to the point of where we wanted it to be when we recorded. The press will say, “recorded in Israel’s studio” but really, there was nothing in it and now it’s a different place. Today is the first time the guys get to come back and play in here since the rain and the flood, so it’s kind of a big deal for me.
Well congrats, man! Speaking of wet and rainy, as a Seattle native, I always wonder what national touring bands think of Seattle. It’s not necessarily the grunge/Nirvana hub anymore, for better or worse. It’s changing. But what is the national perception?
It happens all over the place. People say the same things. Culturally, like “this town 10 years ago”… but people were even saying that 10 years ago. That’s just what happens so it’s hard to make judgments.
[Having been] in so many towns, I feel like I have a decent ability [to gauge]. It’s not about Nirvana or donuts or coffee, but you can tell, [Seattle] is a cool city. Austin, Denver, or Seattle ... there are these pockets with cool things going on and I can find my people in these cities. Drop me in there and, if I didn’t know anyone in there, over time I would find my people there, they’d be there. It’s small enough to have a collective identity. I love Seattle. I love the Pacific Northwest. It’s a good vibe, good people. Meeting these people from all over, it just makes the world so much smaller.
Well, I’ll see you here in December then. I’ll leave you with this, and hopefully not offend you. You get compared a lot to Neil Young. He’s such a legend, so that’s good company, but do comparisons like that bother you or do you just embrace it?
I have no worries. Most everything I see or read about the Neil young comparison, it’s never a copy-cat thing. I’ve thought about it more and more. People like to talk about Neil Young. It seems like it’s not really these sonic qualities, but also about the space and philosophy and time period. When I think of these older songwriters, not to say I am those people, but I feel like I share a role and some similarities, and I feel like people might hear that. So it’s not like, “this sounds like Neil Young,” but, “this might be how Neil Young would do it.” I guess I take it as a compliment. [It's] not so much about my art, but a facet of the art. Neil Young represents what a songwriter is to a lot of people, so sometimes I take it like that too. Maybe it’s not about the music or chord choices or singing, but it’s something bigger than that, which to me, is a bigger compliment.
In that case, I lied. The nerd in me wants to know what your favorite Neil Young record is.
You know how albums are. You go through a period of time with this album, then you love this other album. That’s what music is about. That’s what a body of work is about. Up until this [Silver Season] album, actually, we were just trying to get into the states, so now it’s less [about asking,] “Is this album the one?” It’s more about the body of work. It’s bigger than just an album.
So my favorite Neil young? Harvest is always a staple that I can go back to, but I fall in love with different elements of musicianship. I have been really locked into Zuma for a while now. That’s what music is -- you listen to some albums so many times, and then you go back to them. Someone told me, “There are singles that come out, that I’ll listen to for two weeks straight, and your music doesn’t do that. But I want to hear these songs for the rest of my life.” That was a big compliment to me, and that’s my experience with Neil Young. I am gonna go through phases in the next 30 years where I’m gonna be listening to Comes a Time or a different phase. Right now I’ve been into Prog stuff and just appreciating it all and loving music, so its hard to say my favorite record.