Photo taken from Shannon Stephenson
You should know Nate for a number of reasons. The first being he is an excellent guy. The second, is he is the only person besides myself to play on Ilsa. And third, he is super tall and makes me look like a ventriloquist dummy when we are photographed together.
Nate and I met on New Years Eve a couple years back and quickly became friends, playing and hanging on the regular, which quickly led into some recording sessions the first week of February that year. He was only supposed to come in and track piano, but stayed to hang out, help and give feedback. Nate is a real actual honest to goodness musician who possesses mountains of technical ability and skill, which to be honest, made me pause when we started playing together. Massive amounts of proficiency often comes with some pretty defined rules, rigidity and an unwillingness to not play “the right notes” (translation; sometimes musicians that really know what they are doing are boring to me) but Nate has the unique ability to translate those notes into something more interesting and a willingness to "go for it" that never makes his playing boring. Knowing what everyone "should" play, he has no issues heading the opposite direction and making things ugly when the time is right.
When we began to make the new record, Nate took making Ilsa as seriously as I did, bringing notebooks of ideas to the sessions and taking a lot of time before we hit record to get things right. I clearly remember one particular instance where we were discussing a certain section, he said “so you want me to just pound on the keys?” I couldn't tell if it was horror, excitement or both that I saw on his face and heard in is voice in that moment but he figured out a way to make it work. Sometimes he'd suffer my rudimentary piano playing and would nod and say “oh, ok,” as to say "yea, I understand what you are trying to tell me, but really you mean this..." sit down behind the keys and make that idea one hundred times better than I could have imagined. It always felt like he took some ownership in the songs as he never just phoned it in or threw up his hands and said “thats good enough, I gotta get out of here.” He’d be positive that he could come up with something better, something more suited to the mood of the song, something that felt better. We were on the same wavelength, a rare and invaluable experience when making music with someone.
Ilsa was always supposed to be a dynamic recording, filled with noise and space and ferocity and beauty, and I think that without Nate, it would not have gotten there. He brought the goods and his playing pushed the songs into a better place than they would have been without him. Often, the end result was informed by his playing and pushed the sonic landscape closer to the vision and intension of what I wanted to final work to be. Thanks Nate.