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An Interview With michaelnathan - September 2000

Who is michaelnathan? An easier question is probably who isn't michaelnathan? He is not predictable. With lyrics that dig deep and a musical net cast wide across many genres he is a talented one man show. We talked shop in September.

michaelnathan? A one man show? Do you play all your instruments?

michaelnathan is a one man show in theory... I write the songs, arrange them, and sing them. I play (or plan to) the guitar, bass, synth, and some percussion instruments. I also use samples when they fit. I say michaelnathan is a one man "in theory" because I can not take complete credit foranything I do (especially not the samples). I believe we are all connected from birth and everything creative grows from the soil fertilized by those before us. My goal is to become good fertilizer.

Your songs have amazing lyrical content, do the words come before the music? Describe your typical songwriting process.

When I think about it, I guess the lyrics always come first. Sometimes they don't have a melody or music and they have to wait patiently buried in a notebook somewhere, but they are definitely the main starting point for me. Occasionally I will write some music with no words in mind, but the lyrics I end upusing were there all along -- half forgotten and faintly scribbled, hidden under a stack of papers.

On a few rare occasions, words and melodies have come together, but thatis not common for me.

Uncle Jim. The guy goes gonzo when he's drunk and starts calling people at random. Is he real?

Uncle Jim was a composite of two very real people. One was a friend in college who would get drunk and call random numbers late at night. The other was a friend's father who would get drunk and call up people he knew and loved (and cuss them out). Both were ridiculous, but the combination gave the song more depth.

Got it. Just make sure neither "Jim" gets my number! One of your biggest digital hits has been Lovesong  (Hi Fi - Lo Fi) -- which hit #3 on the Experimental/Post Rock chart on -- how did that song come about and what does it mean to you?

Those are hard questions to answer... I have many confusing and complicated feelings about Lovesong. Let me just give a quick and vague rundown on this one.

The song is to me and you and everyone else in the world. If you can figure out who it's from, then it will begin to make sense AND you will be left with twice as many questions. The music and melody were heavily inspired by Radiohead. I was absorbing Fake Plastic Trees at the time.

You give your songs such texture, with enough local color to give Mark Twain a run for his money. Wondered (Hi Fi - Lo Fi) has to be based on actually seeing this old guy reflecting about life while rocking back and forth in hisfront yard? Right?

Here in Alabama, such a sight is not uncommon. I think it is a custom carried over from the days before air conditioning. A nice shade tree and a comfortable chair were all the ingredients needed for a relaxing afternoon of contemplation. The song was not written about any one such individual, though. It is pure fabrication.

My favorite part of the song is where the man kicks his slippers off side by side and "a burning loneliness" erupts from him in a sigh. The song doesn't really spell out what's going through his mind when he looks at the pair of shoes, but in my mind I am sure he is still grieving over his wife's death. I think that the way that verse is interpreted could change the whole meaning of the song and I often wonder what people wonder he is wondering...

My take? He's an elderly man who is almost embarrased in the presence of the youthfulness that surrounds him. Yet, deep inside he is still in touch with the child he once was -- while fully aware that his time has come and gone yet he is unable to control his passing. You know, Live (Hi Fi - Lo Fi) is one of my favorite tracks. What's the story behind that one?

I always say that this song took me 27 years to write, and I really don't think I'm joking. One of my good friends asked me to explain it and here's a copy of what I sent to him.

Here are the lyrics (in blue) with my current interpretation (subject to change hourly -- that's why I'm sort of hesitant about nailing down a complete, packaged meaning for this song. I think it was partially birthed from subliminal fodder).

isolation is not location

so much as the motivation

of those hiding inside

Is this line obvious? Basically it means that you don't have to move to the middle of nowhere to keep everyone else away and hide inside an invisible barricade. The opposite of this is opening up and taking a risk. Becoming vulnerable to people who may or may not be worth the risk. The opposite is being honest about who you are with people who could care less and who don't really deserve the insight into your character.

to make an amenity of anonymity

doesn't require any divinity

so much as something good to hide

Obvious again? I know you didn't ask about every line, but it's kind of neat for me to go through and dig out where I'm coming from [oooh, therapy!]. Being unknown can be very desirable (a situation that doesn't take a miracle) if you have something to hide. The word good here is not used in the moral sense...

and a lie isn't just a lie but a cry

for someone- anyone

to know without being told that you lied

In this cocooned state I believe thateveryone has a secret desire to find someone else who will know exactly where they are without having to have everything explained to them. Someone who will see past the barricade -- not because they are a great lie detector, but because they genuinely understand where you are coming from without judgment. Such a person would be no risk to open up to. They would be completely understanding and filled with unconditional love. This person would not misinterpret anything. This person doesn't exist here on earth...

it's a crazy maze, a lazy haze

a never ending stream of days

that makes hours drag while years fly by

I'm sort of catching my breath with this line. Pulling back and getting perspective on what's going on while the subject is in hiding. Sort of adding a touch of urgency to the whole situation because life is flying by and it doesn't promise to make any more sense 10 years from now than it does today.

so tie the knot, sing the song

you know we'll all sing along

everyone here knows all the words

Tie the knot... could be a reference tomarriage or to relationships in general. For some reason I always picture a noose as well-- again, could be marriage ;-)

You know we'll all sing along... I think everyone who lives a tightly guarded life secretly thinks that they are either unique or that others won't understand how they are the same (same as guarded person). In reality, I think everyone deals with the same stuff and most people are really willing to sing along. [This could be taken to the extreme and the analogy sort of breaks down there... I would have difficulty empathizing with a child molester.] Of course we all know the words. The song is life.

breathe and dance, break the trance

live your life taking the chance

that everything will turn out bitter and absurd

Breathe... sometimes my chest feels constricted and it spreads through my heart to my mind. I will breathe free in Heaven. I try to occasionally here.

Dance... meaning to stop waiting, hiding, and fearing what will happen if you did what you want to out on the dance floor of life.

Break the trance... escape the malaise. The everydayness. The stupor of an endless succession of routines. You know what I mean?

Part of the reason for the barricade is a lack of faith in our faith :-) We don't have guarantees on anything. After a few bad experiences, a disillusioned cynicism can result. This can infect the overall perspective of the BIG PICTURE. All of a sudden even our most holy faith has a drop shadow of doubt beneath it. What if all of this is for nothing? What if I look like a fool? What if I am a fool? What if my doubt nullifies by beliefs even though they are right? What if nothing that happens in this entire world matters and everything will be swept away in the end? Inductive reasoning would lead us to believe (after a short time living life on this planet) that fairy tales and happy endings only come true on movie screens IF the movie is made for children!! Hope is slowly strangled (especially hope for anything worthwhile in this lifetime). Love begins to decay in the sour swill of mistrust and defensiveness.

Faith slowly becomes incomprehensible. Why should we believe doctors, preachers, teachers, politicians, lawyers, and other "professionals"? How do we decide what to believe? God will not tilt the scales for us. If we demand Him to, we are more lost than when we began.

Let me start over... The short explanation of this line is that there is a real chance everything will turn out disappointingly meaningless (regardless of what "everything" is in reference to), but we can't let that stop us. If we do, where are we then?

kick the door and stomp the floor

we know that you won't find much more

to appease your senseless senses till you die

This is all there is. Like it or leave it (or- like it till you leave it). I think the fact that our senses are not satisfied here is evidence to the fact that we were created for something else- something better. If we could be happy and content here what would we need Heaven for?

consult your friends, confess your sins

change your world, begin again

we'll all watch in silent hope if you'll just try

A disillusioned look at conversion completely laced with a hope that we all share (converted or not).

Amazing stuff Nate. For someone who can marry deep philosophy with pop culture, you clearly have a lot to say. Why is the song for your daughter -- Ali's Song (Hi Fi - Lo Fi) -- an instrumental?

All the words I could find for her have been debased and blasphemed in common use. I can not use such words to describe her or my love for her. It is supernatural and metaphysical. The music is not enough and words would only push farther away from the divine truth I see shining in her eyes. That said, I am constantly trying to condense my feelings for both of my children into words. So far, the words justhaven't been good enough for them. Maybe I should just aim at simplicity?

Your newest cut -- The Seeker (Hi Fi - Lo Fi) -- is a raw hardcore contrast to some of your softer works. Your music is all over the map. I'm dying to know what you're going to try next. Well?

It's hard to say.  I love acoustic guitar, but lately I've had the urge to go more electric. Also, I'm going through a sample stage now and I'm not sure when that will end. And I can't forget about thesynthesizers! I'm working on a song right now that uses a combination of synth, drum loops, programmed drums, and string samples. It falls somewhere between Live and The Seeker. In the not to distant future I also plan on recording a bunch of stripped-down acoustic songs as well.

Since I don't really have to rely on music as a sole source of income, I am free to do whatever I want and that is really where the diversity comes from. I'm not aiming at a "target market" -- I'm justdoing what I love!


Crippled At The Table is michaelnathan's digital debut. It features the hauntingly mesmerizing favorite Lovesong and eight more gems. Just $5.99! Buy it Now!

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