Nathan Eliot is not like anyone you have met before. The singer-songwriter's intense energy is enough to fill a room. On his debut as a solo artist -- Eliot has written many pieces with other musicians in his long career -- Nathan has immersed his music in the same energy as his personality. Aptly titled, Universe in Me is a scientific journey in ten songs and creates bewitching melodies of heartache and beauty.
Before his album release at the Aster, Stephen Hawking fan Eliot explains how the 12 years it took to make Universe in Me felt like quite a bit longer.
Gimme Noise: Tell me about the mandola and how you came to play it.
Nathan Eliot: I was mandolin shopping about five years ago at the Podium (RIP) and tried out a bunch of mandolins. There was a mandola on the wall in the basement. It was less than half the price of the fancy mandolins upstairs. It had kind of a mysterious tone, lower range, wider frets, and greater resonance than the mandolins. I went ahead and purchased and started writing new kinds of songs. It was a smooth transition from being primarily a guitarist. It opened up a lot of new song possibilities, being in a different tuning, different strings than guitar made me approach melodies differently.
Singles are pushed more than albums. How do you feel about that? Why put out a full album when music is being listened to so differently these days?
If there is an artist I am really interested in, I will listen through the entire album if possible. I am old-school and don't often pick and choose individual songs. In fact, I am mostly inspired by jazz and classical music so I am pretty naive when it comes to popular, indie, songwritery music as a listener.
I buy CDs with extensive liner notes, particularly in classical music realm. That way, I can fully appreciate the context, theory and period of life the composer was in when the works were written. On my album, I've included full lyrics, track info and an "Author's Note" on the CD. One reason I chose to put out a full album was simply because I had a lot of music. Also, the concept was a good motivator, especially when the album art was completed by Kaley Moradian. I saw real art, and wanted the music and production to live up to it.
How did you meet Andy Thompson, and how did you come to choosing to work with him on this album?
Talking Tree, a comedy-folk duo I was working with opened up for a band Andy had produced and played drums for. He was excited and impressed with our performance. We did some recording with that group that has yet to be released, but when I had the idea for this album, he was all in, being a bit of a science-geek himself. I mean, he's an engineer. That's what Bill Nye said we need more of! Also, (geek alert) I'm not sure if he took this to heart, but I told Andy to think of himself as Dark Matter. The elusive high-gravity substance which clusters galaxies together. He provided the perfect subtle textures throughout that absolutely made the songs complete. I am in awe of his abilities.
What's it like for you to release music that you've been holding on to for so long?
"14 billion years in the making" is an exaggeration. But I did I have a pile of 53 tunes I had not presented to any of the half-dozen or so bands I've been writing with over the last 10 years. I felt it was time to purge. The funny thing is, most of the songs ended up being recent compositions. I couldn't actually tell you how old the oldest song is, but I'm pretty sure they'd all been written in the last three years.
Why do you feel now was the time to share these pieces?
I am feeling more confidence in my musical self as a vessel to communicate some big ideas in an entertaining way. I'm not a scientist, but I feel compelled to share my enthusiasm for nature and scientific thought. I am inspired by a lot of science communicators speaking out about the importance of science literacy and dispelling the stigma of science as a dry and boring subject that couldn't possibly be utilized to guide our values or inspire our creativity. Also the reboot of Cosmos this month with my favorite astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse is a convenient sign that everyone is ready to learn more about the universe!
Any favorite tracks?
"Ever-Expanding (We)" sums up the concept of the album in hopefully an honest and humble way. It's one attempt to entangle our expanding universe and the evolving human race. As our brains and societies grow toward greater complexity, the universe gets bigger.
What can we expect to see at the album release show?
I will be joined by some awesome musicians: Verskotzi and Lynn O'Brien Trio will open. My set will include some of my favorite musicians on the planet: Steven Hobert on Keys, Cory Grossman on cello, Andrew Foreman on upright bass and Alexander Young on drums. We will have CDs available from all three bands.
Nathan Eliot will release Universe in Me at the Aster Cafe on Friday, March 28, 2014 with Verskotzi and the Lynn O'Brien Trio.
21+, 9 pm, $8