- October 2015 -
HAVE A BEER WITH ISRAEL NASH
Following his critically acclaimed 2013 album "Rain Plans," Israel Nash’s "Silver Season" was written and recorded on Nash’s 15-acre ranch in Dripping Springs, Texas, where he and his band built Plum Creek Sound, a 1,400 square-foot Quonset studio. Recorded to tape with Grammy-award winning engineer Ted Young (Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, The Rolling Stones) back behind the boards, Israel Nash makes a bold return.
Influenced by the peaceful Texas hillside, the nine-song album ventures farther down the acid-soaked trail blazed by "Rain Plans," arriving in lush and expansive territory. Here, Nash sounds more assured than ever, supported by his highly capable band and production inspired by psychedelic greats.
We caught up with Israel and his band in Chicago before their show at Schubas Tavern, where we discussed the process of building their studio, the concept behind "Silver Season" and how they spend free time on the road in their RV.
The Gig: Israel Nash at Schubas Tavern // Oct. 28, 2015
Drinks of Choice: Israel Nash (white beers); Eric Swanson (Belgian tripels); Joey McClellan (Belgian sours); Aaron McClellan (white beers); Josh Fleischmann (martinis).
Kristen: Across the board you guys are beer drinkers...
Israel: Yeah, for the most part. Honestly, though, my favorite drink is iced tea. I drink copious amounts of Lipton Fresh Brewed Unsweetened on the road.
Kristen: I've tried to get into iced tea, but I always have to add so much fucking sugar to it that I might as well drink a can of Coke...
Israel: I went from drinking the sugar to really liking the unsweetened.
Kristen: Do you drink regular hot tea?
Israel: No, well, maybe when I’m traveling in Europe when it’s cold. That sounds stupid, but there’s tea everywhere there.
Kristen: Speaking of traveling, the concept of time travel was brought up before our interview. If you had the chance, what era or place would you travel to?
Israel: I think a lot of it comes down to the philosophy of time travel. There are a number of different methods of time travel.
Kristen: I’m talking in the strictest sense, like in “Back to the Future.” You hop into a machine, push a button and you’re in a completely different place or era.
Israel: Well…we talk about a couple of things. We talk about going back and killing Hitler, then we talk about going even farther back and killing baby Hitler. That was my choice.
Israel: You know, it’s not like we just sneak into some bunker in World War II. We take it a step further. We ask ourselves questions like, “Do we take Hitler and raise him…and show him what he has done?”
Eric: I think if we could get to child Hitler and show him the future, we could tell him, “Look! If you don’t change your ways, all these people are going to die!”
Kristen: You guys have gotten very philosophical about this. You’re not like, “I want to go to Miami in the ‘80s.”
Israel: We’ve become very moral about it. It hasn’t been about going back in time and somehow making a bunch of money. But I guess we could double up on it…like, “Okay, I killed baby Hitler, and I prepped myself for success.”
Eric: “I deposited $10 dollars in JP Morgan Chase in 1935. And now I have millions of dollars.”
Israel: What if you just took all of your friends to a simpler era? Like, maybe the ‘70s. If you took all your friends there, maybe you wouldn’t want to leave.
Kristen: “Hot Tub Time Machine” in a nutshell. Have you guys seen that movie?
Kristen: It’s a really stupid movie, but also a really good movie.
Aaron: The ‘80s would be fun to visit as an adult.
Israel: Something else we were talking about was going back to the times of Cleopatra. Eric would go in with a cell phone that’s fully-charged and say, “I’m here! Let’s take some selfies!”
Eric: That was another one: go back in time and take selfies with famous people. You come back and have the best blog ever: “Here’s my Instagram feed with Cleopatra.”
Israel: Yeah, talk about setting yourself up for success.
Eric: This wouldn’t be your singular goal, though. You could go back and do all that stuff with Hitler, and then also just have a really cool blog about time travel.
Eric: “I also married Cleopatra and I have an awesome blog. And you should check out my Instagram feed. It’s sick.”
Kristen: If you could blog about anything – not music related but something related to your personal interests, what would it be?
Josh: Pizza. I would go back to my homeland, to the heyday of pizza in my time travels. Back in Italy…make friends with the guy who created pizza.
Eric: When all the nation states came together and formed, Italy came up with the red, white and green flag. And then they held a contest to see who could come up with the best national dish to represent their country, and Italy came up with the margherita pizza: the tomato sauce, the basil and the mozzarella.
Joey: Nerd alert! I would write about cocktails.
Kristen: Are you a bartender?
Joey: Yeah, actually Aaron and I are both bartenders. We’re in the process of opening a bar right now.
Aaron: It’ll be in Denton, Texas, which is where we live. We don’t know when it’s going to open yet, but we’re locking down a location right now. It’s in negotiation with our broker…Could be in a few months.
Kristen: Let me know when it opens. I’ll come to Denton, Texas, and drink a cocktail. What about you, Israel? What would your blog be?
Israel: I think my blog would totally be about how to outfit the Quonset hut. It’s like 3,500 bolts – all these pieces of metal that form arches.
Eric: It looks like a military barracks or an airplane hangar.
Israel: The huts were designed to be mobile and easy to put up. That would be what I would write about. When you want to build one, you can’t really find that much information on how to do it. You think it’s really fucking easy, and then it’s not fucking easy. It’s 16 feet tall. It’s massive and you have these arches…
Eric: The steel-building world could benefit from a blog about it, too. Before we built it, we’d go online and try to look up all this information – like tips and tricks and stuff. And it was very hard to find stuff on it. There’d be some guy who took a really shitty video...
Aaron: ...Or a time-lapse video that moves really, really quickly.
Eric: Yeah, and you watch it and think, “Oh yeah! This is going to be easy!” We originally thought we could be the people who properly document the process for posterity. But after about one day of trying to put the building up, you say, “I’m not doing that at all.”
Israel: It would just be another task to complicate the process.
Kristen: Was that building process super frustrating?
Israel: Yeah, there are a lot of steps and you’re working in this median where you have to have one person hold something and someone else has to screw something in. It takes a lot of hands.
Kristen: Can I ask a stupid question? Why did you decide to embark on the project? It kind of sounds like an awful process.
Israel: That’s not a dumb question. It was the most expensive and the nicest thing on the market.
Israel: No, it’s the most inexpensive structure for that size. It’s 1,400 square-feet with 16-foot tall ceilings. And you can get the metal kit for under $10,000. It’s a massive amount of space.
Eric: You do have to build a foundation and all the other stuff, too. But all in all, you can have a livable space – which is what we have now.
Israel: It has just taken a long, long time to complete. By the time we were to start recording “Silver Season,” the hut was supposed to be finished. We had a lot of rain, and a lot of hold ups with building it. So when we recorded, we only had electricity. We didn’t have AC; we had tarps on the wall. We recorded and mixed, and in between stuff, we worked pretty non-stop down there. Now it’s got plumbing and air conditioning.
Kristen: So, creatively, what was that process like? Working in an unfinished space?
Israel: For Texas in late May and early June, surprisingly it wasn’t 100 degrees. We had doors open and stuff. But all in all, making records is something that's always hard for me to remember…
Aaron: You kind of have to see the land that surrounds it out there…It’s breathtaking.
Kristen: I read that it’s on 15 acres.
Aaron: Yeah, it’s high up on a hill. You can see everything. It’s beautiful.
Eric: That was a big part of the experience. You’re able to look out at the space – look out at all this open country while you’re recording and take it in while you’re actually playing your instrument.
Israel: We also had so much water during that time. There’s a pond out back that’s usually dry, but it was completely full. It was a glorious-looking pond. The first four days of recording were actually dedicated to cleaning up because there was a flash flood on Memorial Day. It was a collective effort of getting the space just right.
Kristen: Let’s talk about “Silver Season.” The name of the album isn’t at title track. Where does that name come from?
Israel: This songwriting and recording process was very tied to touring on “Rain Plans” and being on the road and stuff. I’d been thinking a lot about the concept of time. I got obsessed with the reboot of the “Cosmos” series with Neil deGrasse Tyson. The show talks about the cosmic calendar a lot. There’s this idea that we put so much importance on things like our careers, but in the grand scheme of things, they mean so little. And not that it means nothing, but just that we take things too seriously. That was the idea behind the title “Silver Season.” Season is a reference to the length of time that we’re in this part of our lives…And silver: that’s a reference to the time before the golden years. This is a time in my life – and in our lives as a band – that are the silver years. We’ve been doing this now for a while…There are a lot of references on the album to family and looking forward. Lyrically, there’s some peace of mind. I think we all, as musicians, get a peace of mind when we meet other musicians – older musicians – that have been doing this for a long time. It becomes about acceptance. There have been points earlier on in all of our lives where we asked ourselves, “Am I really going to do this?” And you meet friends on the road who used to be in bands and they’re not doing it anymore. But at some point in the last few years, we all knew that this is exactly what we were going to do: be musicians. This record has a feeling of finally being on the other side of the fence. We have more confidence about the future, or more acceptance of it at least.
Kristen: Was there a defining point then, as a band, where you said, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do.” Or did you slowly come to the realization that this is what you were meant to be doing?
Israel: I don’t think there was a defining moment. When we started playing music together there was something cool going on and something special. Now this is the third record that we’ve made together and it’s totally the amalgamation of these experiences that we’ve had and discovered together. We all moved to New York for the same reasons – to play music, to get out of where we were from and find something else.
Joey: I would say that there are defining moments for each of us, but they happened all around the same time. There was a definite change that happened when we moved to New York and started working with Israel and other bands. We were able to get rid of our day jobs and move in this direction. We kind of decided, “Okay, this is what we’re going to be doing.”
Israel: Yeah, I see that. I think it’s just hard to find one exact moment.
Eric: For me it was when I decided that it was okay for me to be poor.
Kristen: Seriously. So true.
Israel: Hey, single ladies!
Kristen: I think with any artistic endeavor you eventually have to draw that line. If you’re trying to create, working a full-time gig can be really distracting. It drains all that creative energy out of you.
Eric: One of the struggles we have as working musicians is that when we go on tour, we’re gone for three weeks or a month. And what do you do with the time in between? You can’t have a regular day job because no one’s going to hire you when you say, “Oh, by the way, I’m going to be gone six months out of the year and I don’t even know when that’s going to be yet.” You have to get creative and find other things to do. People talk a lot about the creative class that exists now, and I think that’s a real thing. We’re all a part of it to a certain extent. Hopefully it will get better.
Israel: That’s why I mentioned meeting older musicians who have been doing it for a while and have had similar struggles…They show you that it can work. You have to think of the big picture. Even greater than just being an artist is pursuing something that everyone in the fucking world will tell you not to do. But you know that you’re supposed to do that. I heard a lot of people having opinions about what I wanted to do, but I always felt that this was the best thing for me. I could do other things fairly well, but this is what I was meant to do. Down the road, the whole thing becomes a crazy amount of experiences that end up being worth it.
Josh: It comes down to committing yourself. You meet people now who were in bands before, and they were committed to it at one point, but something in their heads made them think, “I’m going to go this route instead of this route.” You either commit or you don’t. You can’t really pussy foot around. You either do it or you don’t.
Eric: Yeah, and I mean you talk about defining moments...That was kind of it for me in New York. This was four years ago, but I was working at an engineering firm in a job that could have been a career with pretty decent pay. I had to make a decision: “I’m not going to do music anymore,” or “I’m going to quit this job and take the plunge.”
Aaron: I actually lucked out because we were all doing the same thing – juggling music and a day job – but the owner of my company forced me to make a decision because he said it was affecting performance. You’re out late playing gigs and stuff, you know? It was a breath of fresh air being forced to make that decision. He gave me a month to make a decision, but I took 20 minutes. And I quit.
Aaron: It was like no time at all. I was like, “I don’t want to fucking work here for the rest of my life.” And that was it. I was done.
Kristen: Classic. What was being a musician in New York City like? What years were you guys there?
Joey: All different years, right?
Eric: Four of us were there simultaneously from 2008-12, and Israel was there a little before that. Josh has been there the entire time. We all co-existed there for about four years, and that’s when we met Israel. We had various formations…
Aaron: You can get as knee-deep as you want when you’re in New York. You can get so busy. I know I was actively playing or recording with five to six bands at one time and working on top of that. It just kind of happened. You tell yourself, “Okay, I’m just going to put myself out there and try this.”
Joey: You can end up hitting a wall though, because there’s only so much time in the day.
Eric: You have to get rid of stuff. Eventually you have to prioritize. When you start playing with a guy like Israel, it becomes clear. You end up having to tell other bands that you can’t play a gig, then they have to cancel that gig, and after a few times of that, they start thinking they need to find another bass player. You can be a working musician and do alright, but to actually commit to a project can be a little bit difficult because you’re not available all the time. If you’re a crucial member of the band, eventually something’s gotta give.
Joey: It’s cool being in a place where all these creative minds that have uprooted their lives and relocated to pursue their dream – whatever that dream may be.
Israel: You definitely find “your people” in those cities. Where I’m from in Missouri, people would say, “Oh, you’re not going to make it in New York City.” It’s funny, though, because we have a lot more fans in New York City now than when we lived there. But that didn’t matter because we found each other. And then we started touring in Europe heavily.
Kristen: Hence the tea reference earlier.
Israel: It’s actually really hard to get iced tea in Europe.
Aaron: Yeah, Israel always ordered several drinks at the table at any given meal.
Israel: Hot tea, a glass of ice…I’d have to make my own iced tea. But yeah, Europe...We got to experience so much stuff. Not touring in the States, but going to Europe and starting to tour massively in these new places with a completely different world… Experiencing that was such a party. Finding fans across the pond who were really into what we were doing…And that’s a cool reward now, honestly, to come back to New York City and see that growth.
Kristen: You guys travel in an RV. What do you do to pass time when you’re on the road?
Aaron: We’ve been listening to this podcast called 99% Invisible. On the way to Chicago we listened to an episode about the last flop house in the Bowery. They’re all 15-minute awesome stories about things that you never really knew about.
Kristen: Only in New York?
Aaron: No, it’s about everything. It’s about the world.
Israel: We heard about the automation paradox. We heard about the last flop house. We heard about the reefer containers.
Aaron: Fun fact: Refrigerated shipping containers are called "reefers."
Kristen: What? For real?
Israel: Yeah, the containers were named in the ‘70s. They thought it would be funny for someone to be called: “The President of the Reefer Organization.”
Aaron: Yeah, there's this woman who's in charge of reefer engineering.
Joey: She makes the best reefers.
Aaron: But it is true. She ended up helping to engineer the best reefers in the world. Everything that we consume comes from her reefers.
Kristen: So, what else do you do in the van, aside from talking about reefers?
Aaron: We do everything you can think of to stay entertained…movies…jokes, time machine travel discussions…
Kristen: What’s the strangest thing you guys have come to do out of boredom?
Aaron: We made an international spy thriller. It’s a 20-minute movie. It’s a short film, if you will. It’s called “The Drone,” and we filmed it over a nine-week period in Europe.
Israel: We had a very loose plot inspired by Kubrick…
Kristen: Oh man. So is this something you’re hoping to release to the public?
Eric: No, we will never show this to anyone. But we’re talking about shooting a sequel. I guess it has become sort of an internal thing.
Israel: There’s a scene where I’ve got ear buds in my nose to represent a hospital scene. We really used what we had – props wise – to our advantage.
Eric: We all practiced different accents because we only had five or six people to play a bunch of different characters. And there were wardrobe changes.
Aaron: Eric’s character was a pimp at one point.
Kristen: Was that assigned to you?
Eric: I think it was probably just a natural thing.
Eric: I get killed at one point. Josh assassinates me. Comes up behind me and chokes me out.
Israel: Everything is an allusion to something else. That scene was supposed to be like “The Godfather,” when Sonny gets shot.
Joey: And then there’s a scene in a parking lot where we pull up – I wasn’t in this part because I was on Israel’s side in the movie – but they kidnap Israel and throw him in the van!
Kristen: This is so funny. If you ever decide to show this, can I be invited to the premiere?
Israel: Of course, but you might want to smoke a little bit of weed beforehand.
Kristen: I will do whatever is necessary to enjoy. One of the staple questions we always ask is: What’s the least rock-‘n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past year? But I feel like you kind of just answered it with the making of an international spy thriller movie…
Eric: I mean for us, it probably involves something with studio building. We had to dig ditches with a rock saw. That’s definitely rock, but maybe not rock-‘n’-roll.
Kristen: Good one!
Israel: Working on the studio….It’s tough and I’m not trying to complain, but it was just such physical labor and it felt like it has nothing to do with music, but at the end of the day it had everything to do with music. There was this period where we were down there for so many weeks in a row just exhausted. And there was a video premiere of us on Paste, and it was like, “Oh yeah! That other thing that we do!” It was a nice reminder of why we were putting in all that hard work.
Aaron: We also had a band date night the other night.
Joey: We went to a nice dinner – P.F. Chang’s – which is a really nice restaurant…
Israel: Yeah…I don’t know if you’ve heard of it...
Israel: And then we went back to the hotel to watch “City Slickers.”
Aaron: We had planned for days to watch “City Slickers.” We get pretty serious about movies.
Kristen: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Israel: As a musician, when I was first putting records out, I remember someone telling me to not get discouraged – that the cream always rises to the top. And it goes back to that big picture. For some people that success happens really quickly and for others it takes a long time. You have to have that confidence and know that what you’re doing is important. You have to have patience. It’s such a simple and common piece of advice, but it’s something that has really stuck with me as a musician, and it’s something I tell other younger musicians: Just do it and know that it will be alright. It might not be what you were expecting, but it will be alright.