Nato Coles: If the crowd outnumbers the band, I'm playing that show
Courtesy of the Artist
Every bar worth drinking at in these great United States has a character like Nato Coles. They know the jukebox so well that the reference catalog becomes meaningless. They're on first-name-basis with all the bartenders, spout trivia like someone's actually listening, and have a particular stool with their ass-print permanently worn in. But most importantly, they're storytellers, historians of low-culture, grizzled raconteurs that can effortlessly shake-out a cocktail of true facts and utter bullshit until it becomes as intoxicating as their "usual."
So it's probably fitting that Gimme Noise met up with Nato at one of the West Bank's most celebrated dives, the Triple Rock Social Club, to talk about his new album with the Blue Diamond Band entitled Promises to Deliver and why he's still chasing that wild goose in the night.
Originally from Milwaukee, Nato Coles is a journeyman of Midwest punk, getting his start in bands like Modern Machines and the Shrubbers. While he's now been away for longer than he lived there, Brew City still feels like home for Nato. "That's the city that taught me pretty much everything I know, " he elaborates, "learning how to tune a guitar, and learning how to avoid getting mugged."
Modern Machines made some splashes in the north-coast punk community of the early 2000s, building upon a strong local following gleaned from legendary house shows and other DIY venue spaces. Striking out on the highway with the "MoMacs," as they were known to their fans, gave Nato his first taste of the touring lifestyle and also his first brush with the Twin Cities. "There's a Hold Steady line about knowing Mary Tyler Moore and Profane Existence. I knew Garrison Keillor and Siberia," he says with a laugh. "I would come up here by myself and stay for week, go out and hang out every night and made a ton friends. I kind of realized that the Twin Cities has so much to offer."
While he was definitely enamored with Minneapolis and St. Paul, Mr. Coles had always been a bit of a rambler and wasn't ready to settle down yet. When Modern Machines broke up, Nato and bassist Danny Z picked up and moved to Brooklyn to form a few more projects, Used Kids and Radio Faces, that kept them occupied for almost three years. The time in Bucktown was a watershed experience for him, and Nato cites his late Radio Faces bandmate Jamie Ewing as a hugely influential figure in his musical development.
Some of those lessons included "Playing a song to make it the right speed, taking more time with the lyrics, no more throwaway lines," so it's not surprising that Nato's music began to shed some of the pop-punk tropes for more classic Americana sounds during this era. Flecks of country, R&B and folk began to find their way into the muscular, guitar-driven punk he had perfected in his earlier groups. "The Radio Faces and Used Kids were the first two bands where I look at the records and really that's what I'd wanted to sound like since I was 20 or 21" he says, "but I didn't have that mentality to go out and get that until I moved to NY and played with Jamie."
A few more years and a few hundred shows later, Nato moved back to the Midwest and landed in Minneapolis, where he formed the first group to exclusively feature his songwriting talents, The Blue Diamond Band, with a stable of local punkers to back him up. If the MoMacs were Nato's "basement band" then BDB is unquestionably his "bar band," with names like Bruce Springsteen and Thin Lizzy looming large in their list of influences. While he's quick to point out that their debut full-length Promises to Deliver "is not a Springsteen-clone album," Nato and the Boss do seem to share thematic interests.
Promises is full of grand stories about grizzled tramps and restless youth rattling against the cage of their existence, all set against the backdrop of high-revving guitar heroics. For Nato, the album's lyrical themes revolve around the mysteries of night time. "It's about chasing the wild goose, chasing the ghost at night, trying to find some answer to the question that your dreams are asking you," he pontificates. "I wanted to make a record that could serve loosely as an anthem, as at best a rallying cry, or at worst a safety net and an escape route for the people who are still, no matter what age you are, looking for the words to form that question, let alone the answer to it."
Engineered by Jacques Wait at the Sound Gallery Studios in Minneapolis in a deliberately old-school fashion, Promises to Deliver is easily the most cohesive Nato Coles record to date, weaving tales about characters struggling to keep that "death or glory" spirit alive when the former seems to be all around them. "Late Night Heros" is a fire-spitting uptempo rocker about the wildest ones falling by the wayside or settling down into a domestic stupor, and "See Some Lights" is the widescreen anthem for those that haven't lost their wanderlust yet.
The road figures prominently into Coles' narratives, especially on the love song for his touring van "Econoline." "I always get restless," Nato says, on the need to tour, "Even at home I still can't stay, I get cabin fever, and I still love meeting new people, or driving on a beautiful day in the middle of the summer."
But more than touring, it's the DIY communities that he's connected with across the US and around the world that draw him away from home. "We were playing a house in St. Augustine, and we have a song called 'Runnin' from the Law' that allows us to extend it at the end" he begins, "and I managed to climb up on the roof of the house and play a guitar solo. I think I can cross that one off my to-do list."
Nato's full of stories like that, he's got one about surfing on top of a minivan on the way a gig in Carbondale, or naked drummers in Chattanooga, and even playing in a group called "The Milwaukee Brat Fighters" in Japan. Like ever good barstool philosopher, he's got a manifesto, and he's hell bent on sharing it with as many people as he can. "I say the road is what I love, but my favorite thing is just playing a kick ass show", he explains, "If the crowd outnumbers the band, I'm playing that show."
Along with his cohorts in the BDB, he'll be once again crisscrossing the 'states, trying to keep spirit alive, but this time with a brand new record to show for it. As he finishes his beer, he muses on what's pushing him back into the Econline this time: "That party, the transcendental experience of uniting the band and the crowd, the wonderful party that starts when people are filing in for the night and ends when the last drunk guy rolls over gets his terrible sleep on the recliner."
Nato Coles and The Blue Diamond Band will release Promises to Deliver with two shows on Saturday, June 22: a free, all-ages performance at Hymies Records in Minneapolis at 3 p.m. with Lutheran Heat and a 21+ show at The Turf Club in Saint Paul with Frozen Teens and The Right Here. 9pm, $5.
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