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In the Studio: Nathaniel Rateliff Ventures into Soul and R&B with the Night Sweats

Last year was a busy year for Denver-based singer-songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff. He officially released his latest solo album Falling Faster Than You Can Run, an album that Relix, in its review, found plenty to like in the “singer’s ability lyrically to come out of nowhere with a emotional wallop of a lyrical punch.” But even before that record came out, he had his sights set on creating his next project: new band Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats.

While his longtime band the Wheel and others have largely supported his folk and singer-songwriter ventures, the Night Sweats have given him a chance to expand more into soul and R&B music. The band features some longtime collaborators like Patrick Meese, who is also in the Wheel, as well as other friends Rateliff’s made while in Denver. Some of the band members, like Rateliff have other projects and experience touring the country. Rateliff says he wanted to keep his creative juices flowing after his solo album.

“I did that last year after I finished mixing the Falling Faster record,” Rateliff says. I kind of put a band together just to give myself something to do. And it’s something I wanted to do for a long time, R&B and soul music.”

Relix caught up with Rateliff to find out more about his new band, recording a new album with Richard Swift and how the band figures into his future plans.

First of all, how do you know the rest of the band? How did that get started?

They were a bunch of mutual friends here in Denver. I made some demos at home and had a couple horn player friends come over and shared the music with people I thought would be interested in assembling a little team or band that way.

Did you want something more band-oriented rather than the singer-songwriter type?

I’ve toured alone as a singer-songwriter but I’ve toured with a band a lot in that project. So it wasn’t too much of a difference. There’s sometimes eight pieces in the Night Sweats so there’s a difference there. With my solo stuff I usually had a band of five. So I’m used to playing in a band and working in a band. And it’s still the same principle; I’m still writing the material and writing the majority of the parts.

Why did you pick the name the Night Sweats?

I just thought it was kind of funny and it’s kind of a joke about having alcoholic withdraws, too. Kind of alcoholism lighthearted, which it isn’t, but you know?

How would you describe the typical recording or practice session?

Well, recording is different. For rehearsals we’ve been splitting up the rhythm sections and the horn sections and trying to get it really tight. For the recording I do a lot of it myself and also Patrick Meese. But we did do some recording here at home that was kind of sectioned off and recorded to 8-track tape. It varies.

Is it more or less demanding than past projects?

I don’t know. I put equal work into everything, which is sometimes not a lot because I don’t really like to rehearse. Everyone needs to rehearse so that’s kind of an arrogant thing to say. Not my favorite thing to do, trying to find the love for rehearsal versus performing. But you know, it’s just hard work.

What are some interesting or new things you and the band have done while practicing or in the studio?

We just keep working on…it’s still kind of a young band so we don’t have tons of touring dates under our belts. So this time in our young stage as a band, it’s not so much interesting as it is figure out everything out and trying to get people to play less and play appropriately; it’s kind of a playing when you need to and don’t play when you don’t need to kind of thing.

How would you describe the chemistry?

As far as us personally, like I said a lot of us have been friends for a long time. So there’s a chemistry there and everybody enjoys hanging out with each other and we like being around each other, so that’s nice. On stage, it’s just trying to have a fun time. So I think it’s a good chemistry. I think playing with your friends is always a good way to make good music.

What are the favorite go-to instruments and equipment for the band?

Well I think if we had our way we’d have a B3 [Organ] on stage or some kind of Hammond. For keys we’ve just using a Wurlitzer Organ or an Organ out of convince sake. And I’m sure the bass guitar player would like a better bass but it is what it is. Then two guitars and horns, it’s pretty simple stuff. But yeah, no crazy gear as of yet. Someday. But right we’re all moving it ourselves so it makes a big difference. I don’t know how nice it is to bring a bunch of really heavy equipment on the road or other people to have to move. So trying to be considerate.

What are some musical inspirations for you in terms of this band?

Well I was listening to a lot of Junior Walker and Sam & Dave, Otis Redding and Sam Cook and The Band. Those are kind of my inspirations for the project I would say.

Do you currently have a permanent place to rehearse or record?

I have been practicing and recording out of my house. We just made a record with Richard Swift for this project. It just won’t be out for quite some time. So we used his studio in Cottage Grove, Oregon. But we’re trying to find another space other than my house here in Denver and trying to have a nice set-up that can be for rehearsal and studio space, for us and other friends.

How did you like working with Richard?

Well, we had a lot of mutual friends that said we should hook up and hang out and work together. And he kept on coming up and we’d run into each other more than once. And automatically we were really friendly. But when I went out there, since we had never worked together, I didn’t know what to expect. And we hit it off right away. Worked really hard. I think I laughed more than I ever had. He’s a funny guy. He’s a sweet dude. We hit it off really well and hopefully we’ll do more stuff together and continue to be friends and whatnot.

It must have made it easier working him since this is a younger band.

Yeah it was easy. We just did a song a day, start to finish, which is kind of the best way to do it.

When you practice or record are the sessions more structured or is there a lot of jamming?

No, I try to go in prepared and know what I’m going to do. There generally is a little moving around as far as parts or keys or tempos. Rich and I would talk about that kind of thing. We have a system the way we’re doing things that’s worked really well. It’s pretty easy. I was recording a lot before I went in at home so I was used to recording every day. And that really helps too. You feel comfortable in the studio and it doesn’t need to be a big deal or nobody has to throw a fit. We just have to get work done. Just put into it what you want out of it.

You released a 7 inch record last year with a couple songs by yourself and the Night Sweats. Could you talk about that?

Those are some recordings I had done at home. We just decided to put out a 7 inch just for the hell of it. That and to get it in time for Record Store Day here in Denver, not everywhere else. So we put that out and those songs will reappear on the record. We did a short run of those 7 inches, so not everyone has them.

Do you think you’ll be touring with them more next year?

Yeah, hopefully in the spring and summer and through the winter. I’ll probably still do the folk and solo tunes but I think the focus next year will be on the Night Sweats.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned through this band?

Like all projects, when you first start you have to learn to create more space within the songs and everybody playing. And that’s pretty important with this music. You need to have space and tension in everything. Just continuing to learn that mostly.

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