WE TALK OCCASIONALLY: AN INTERVIEW WITH DESTROY NATE ALLEN
My friends Nate and Tessa are at it again! Today marks the release of their new full length records, “With Our Powers Combined“. For this release they have taken their unique brand of “interactive sing-a-long fun punk” to a new level by enlisting the help of Asian Man Records’ Gnarboots to serve as their back-up band. Usually performing as a two-piece, Destroy Nate Allen has evolved from a solo act to a husband/wife team constantly putting out new records and travelling the country. They are one of the sweetest/hardest working couples I know. I love them and you might, too.
Check out what Nate had to say about the new record, the importance of community, and their upcoming plans.
1. Tell me a little bit about your journey from being a show promoter to a nearly full-time touring musician.
Haha. I liked that you used the word nearly. There is too much truth in that. I started promoting shows when I was 17. It quickly became a passion and something I very much enjoy to this day. For many years I was mainly a promoter and thus I grew to approach music from a very business-y standpoint. I never thought I’d be touring musician in fact I don’t even really remember it being a pipe dream. From 2002-2004, I ran non-profit just focusing on all-ages events and I thought I would do it forever, and then I decided to move to San Francisco.
Over the course of my first few months there I plunged into a severe depression and playing music took on a new role in my life. I stopped playing music as a hobby and started playing it for survival. After a while I had a sort of light bulb moment, I realized through prayer and circumstance that I’d built my life’s foundation on bitterness, fear, and reaction… and that bad fuel was running out. I was challenged by a friend to stop performing music for a season and focus on personal growth. I took his advice. Looking back it was one of the best decisions of my life.
Not playing shows for a year allowed me to focus on deeper core issues… and in a strange twist when I started playing guitar again everything was different. Before my songs just sounded like crappy Johnny Cash rip offs… now people sang-a-long. It was weird. I decided to add Destroy (in front of my current performing name of Nate Allen) and recorded an album.
As fate would have it I decided to get in a van and try my hand at touring… I tend to be an all-or-nothing sort of guy so my first US tour was 6 months long. I was alone for most of it. I came back a different person and nearly full-time touring musician.
2. You started out doing Destroy Nate Allen as a solo act and later, after you got married, added your wife Tessa to the act. Can you tell me a little bit about that evolution? What have you learned from collaborating with your wife in music and on the road?
To be quite honest you are partly to blame for me adding Tessa to the act. I’m not sure she would have ever been allowed in the band if we hadn’t spent a week playing shows together. During that week, I witnessed your evolution of allowing Lisa to play music with you. I don’t remember if you actually said the words but I recall some sort of dialogue along the lines of you realizing you were just having fun in a crappy little band, and there was no good reason Lisa couldn’t have fun right along side you.
That made an impact and when we got married I invited Tessa to join the band. We figured we’d just learn to make it work for our crappy little band. She likes to say that the first year she learned to play tambourine and the next year she learned to sing, but the important part was we were living out our adventures together. It has been priceless.
We like to say that being in band is harder than being married. Having to learn how to construct art together has been difficult. We are very different people. We’ve spent nearly half our marriage together in a van and working in very close quarters… I think that can be exhausting to Tessa because I have a pretty big appetite for conversation. I can confidently say though that the process has been well worth it. We are a stronger couple because of the decision to travel together. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone but more artists should be traveling with there partners and not leaving the people they love most behind.
3. What is it that keeps pushing you along making music and touring? Why do you do what you do?
I’m a workaholic. Ouch that hurt a bit even to say… I’m honestly working at slowing down but it never seems to be in the cards. I really do love touring and playing music. It is better that any job I’ve ever had and I feel alive when I make music. We also never know what will happen on any given night during our performances so things tend to stay pretty fresh even when we play the same set of songs every night for months on end.
There is also a large part of me that feels called to play music at this point in my life. I believe that music is the most effect way I can make a difference in the world, at least for now. I also feel time is limited so it’s not worth doing things half-way. I guess we try to fit in a much as possible so we don’t have any regrets (except for doing too much I guess).
You never know when everything will change, I know after our next tour (which will run from June through December) we plan to take some time off and allow the rest of our lives to catch up a bit. Playing 700 + shows in the last 5 years has changed us in good ways but is also pretty tired. I’m not sure if we’ll do any touring in 2013.
4. Can you share a little bit about the role of community in your life and art?
We tour so we can meet people, we thrive off the conversations and being able to speak life into people. I know for a fact we wouldn’t even be able to stay on the road without the support our friends and there various communities across the country. I know every time we tour we lose a little bit of Portland community just because we are gone so much and that hurts. Community is key in everything we do but we still don’t have enough community around us.
5. You enlisted the help of the Asian Man Records band Gnarboots to play with you on your latest record, “With Out Powers Combined…”. How did that come about? Was it difficult to work with a group after playing solo and as a duo for so long?
We’ve been collaborating with Gnarboots since we met a few years back…. because they are freaking AWESOME, to be quite honest. They approach music in a very fun disorganized, chaotic, beautiful way. When we were trying to sort out the songs that would become With Our Powers Combined we exchanged a few emails with the Gnarbootys and they pretty much read our minds creatively through their (assumedly) physical abilities and then they offered to be our backing band. Looking back it was pretty crazy. Aaron from Gnarboots doesn’t even own his own drum kit, but we knew we couldn’t pass on there offer. Simply put, I couldn’t think of a better team to be shoved into a studio with for 48 hours. They all took time out of their family lives to work for burritos and we are so very grateful.
It was hard to collaborate just because at first I was timid – we were the worst musicians in the room and I had to learn to make strong decisions and be confident in my abilities. Adam was particularly good at encouraging me in this. It was also hard because I’m very used to keeping my own rhythm so I had to learn to let Aaron set the pace. It was very good overall and I know at least I am a better person for it.
6. What are some of the things shaping your outlook on life these days? Music, books, people?
Let’s see… I just graduated with my Bachelors in Science in Business so I’ve been getting in to reading business books of all shapes and sizes. I don’t listen to much music, but I do listen to a lot of sports talk radio. The most eye opening thing I’ve probably experienced lately was attending a spiritual retreat… I got to turn off my phone for a week and disconnect from a lot. The retreat allowed me to see to some of the causes for my negative patterns (such as people pleasing or extreme fear), and gain perspectives that I think will help me for years to come.
7. I know you dig the board game Settlers of Catan. Do you get to play board games on the road? Do you have any cities or towns that you play in where you look forward to playing games, aside from Flint, of course?
I dig any chance I get to play board games. I don’t really take any convincing. Unfortunately, I can’t think of any other destination towns for board gaming. We definitely have destination houses around Portlandbut I need to work on getting a few more days off to just play German board games on tour.
8. What’s next? Do you have big plans for Destroy Nate Allen this Summer?
YES! We’ll be putting out our brand new full length (With Our Powers Combined), and a split 7” with some of our personal heroes Blaster The Rocket Man on June 5th. Both will be coming out on our own label High Endurance Records. We’ll also be releasing “The Eureka Recordings” which is essentially an acoustic version of Powers that sounds a decent amount like The Violent Femmes and should very much please our fans who dig our folky punk. That album should also be out in early June. In the fall, we plan to release an LP of a lot of our old acoustic songs as well. So it will be a busy year release-wise.
To back that all up we’re planning to tour the US (and maybe more) from June through Mid-December. After that we’re planning a good long break. I’m no really sure what’s next after that but I guess I have enough to keep myself more that busy.
Learn more about Destroy Nate Allen here.