In The Middle with Nathaniel Rateliff

After an extremely stressful day, the sweet call of Leeds’ own Belgrave Music Hall hosting the prodigious Nathaniel Rateliff with his latest project, ‘The Night Sweats’, was just what the doctor ordered. Described by the Guardian as “beefy, breakneck rock’n’soul” and Rolling Stone as “folk troubadour to funky soul bandleader”, Rateliff has impressively built up and created a new and more soulful, hip-shaking sound, capable of making even the most miserable sod get up on their feet and start dancing. With this in mind, I couldn’t wait to meet the man himself; settled at the bar amongst the busyness of a Friday night crowd, we began to talk dancing, gardening and everything musical.

Only a couple of days into the tour, the band made an appearance on ‘Later with Jools Holland’. After one solid performance of ‘S.O.B’, the self-titled album soared into the UK album charts. Remarking on a similar phenomenal reception from just one song on a recent US TV performance, Nathaniel tells me, “We watched it happen over night. Pretty much straight away our record label people said your record just went into the top ten.” He rather sadistically adds, “Still broke though.” Despite Nathaniel’s easygoing attitude to their rapidly increasing success, the impact that just one song had on nations clearly illustrates the brilliance of both Nathaniel as a lead man and his band as the talented bunch of musicians they are.

Reflecting on his approach to writing more soulful songs, Rateliff observed: “I think it’s the same it’s always been. It’s usually right in the morning, when I’m not hungover, the house is clean and no one’s around.” Dancing amongst a drunken crowd and being taken in by the soulfulness of Rateliff’s voice against the accompanying brass section, it’s easy to sing along without fully being aware of the depth and sadness of his lyrics. For example: the iconic ‘S.O.B’ whilst being one cracking tune, has a clear undertone of melancholy and a hopeless dependence on alcohol: “Son of a bitch, give me a drink / One more night escaping me / Son of a bitch / If I can’t get clean, I’m gonna drink my life away.” Meeting a calmer and reflective Rateliff before the astounding gig, really helped me to see this contrast between the frontman and the musician and, without being too cliché, the man behind the music. “I’m usually in a pretty good mood when writing songs, even if they’re like depressing. Sometimes you just write a song and you don’t really know what it’s about until months later.”

Other than a love of all things musical, Rateliff also has a passion for gardening: “I like to work with my hands. The nice thing about gardening is it’s not strenuous.” Rateliff’s garden, all the way in Colorado, consists of mostly vegetables and, much to my amusement, marujana: “It’s legal so. I’ve got like six plants.”

With all this talk of the therapeutic attributes of gardening, along with Rateliff’s laid back attitude to his continued recognition as an incredible artist, it’s hard to imagine the man who performed on the stage a couple of hours later, was in fact the same person. His epochal dancing around the stage sends the crowd mad and his soulful voice fills every nook and cranny in the room. In between songs, he doesn’t however neglect his humbleness and thank his loyal fans for their continued support: “We appreciate and need you guys much more than you need us. So thank you; we’re all in this together.” Looking past the sickly sweet cheesiness of this statement, the clear appreciation and respect that Rateliff has for his audience is more than evident. The crowd is captivated by the ‘Night Sweats’ leading man for something other than his warm stage presence. What exactly it is however, is hard to pinpoint. Is it his complete and utter harmony with the rest of his band mates to create such a great sound? Is it his iconic beard and American persona? Or, as I have blabbed on about for the majority of this interview, his warm, approachable and humble nature? Maybe it’s a combination of all three! What no one can deny, no matter which way you swing, there really is something gorgeous about him. Next time you’re in the mood for a boogie and a giggle, whack some Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats on; he’ll always be your man.


Stasi Roe


photo: Stefan Hoederath/Getty Images

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