Artist Feature: Israel Nash

Earlier this summer while we were at KAABOO Texas, we had the amazing opportunity to sit down for a short interview with Israel Nash.For more on our KAABOO experience in general, check out our full recap post here.

Normally, we get these interviews up a lot faster. With our festival season in full swing we wanted to really process the conversation but also to give our written reflection the time it deserved. So it took a little bit longer to “cook” this one. This wasn’t one that could be rushed and we think you will see why. The main stage at KAABOO Texas is setup on what would be the football field at AT&T Stadium (where the Cowboys play). For our interview, we headed up a ginormous elevator to the top level suites. Overlooking the main stage, and surrounded by Cowboys gear – we sat down with Israel and had a really genuine chat.

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I usually try to record or take a ton of notes – but in this case it quickly became apparent that this interview was going to be different (in a great way) and much more like a conversation. I tried to soak up the energy and what he was saying instead of taking too many notes.

Before every interview, I always try and learn as much about each artist as I can. In this case, I spent awhile looking at Nash’s website – reading about his background and listening to songs from his newest album, Lifted. Nash is originally from Missouri, but has spent most of the last decade in the Texas Hill Country, and now resides and produces most (if not all) of his music on his ranch in Dripping Springs.

In preparing for the interview, it stuck out to me that Nash’s website mentioned words that I would associate with meditative concepts (sometimes directly and sometimes subtly). Things like “needing to put aside the mess of the daily grind” or describing how his relatively new studio, Plum Creek Sound, has become something of a sanctuary and a place to develop and allow a creative outlet. I am going into detail about this because I hope it explains some of the angles I was considering in my questions, especially the first one.

Your website mentions lots of things that seem consistent with meditation or mindfulness – do you formally practice meditation, and if so, what impact has it had on you personally/professionally? 

Nash explained that he doesn’t really formally practice a particular avenue of meditation or mindfulness. Instead, he likes to appreciate and implement informal ideas of travel, making sure there is reflection, actively listening and being balanced – instead of committing to something more formal. That said, he pointed to a couple specifics that have influenced his thought in this area. The first was British American philosopher Alan Watts – who Nash said was the source of lots of ideas that he likes. He also mentioned looking to Plato for ideas, especially with respect to concepts of imagination and perspective.

As someone who studied philosophy, these were pretty unique things to talk about in an artist interview. This kind of thoughtfulness and philosophical stuff is pretty rare these days.

Although these concepts play heavily in a lot of the descriptions for the new album and his recent work, these philosophical theories and Nash’s ideas on his informal mindfulness aren’t new. He says they impacted him and the music before this record as well.

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From the artist perspective, how does playing a festival differ from other shows?

Nash said that playing festivals is like “summer vacation.” You get to see friends and it’s a more relaxed environment for a show. The changeover between sets happens much faster and it isn’t necessarily the kind of all day process playing a standalone show might be.

Like many artists, it sounds like Nash and his bandmates planned to hang around and enjoy some of the other performances that day as well.

Can you tell us a little more about “found sounds” and using them in your new album? Is this something you have always done or was there a particular sound moment that inspired you? 

If you don’t know what a found sound is – you are in for a treat on this answer. Nash said that he was inspired by John Cage, an American composer and music philosopher. He pioneered…well he pioneered and experimented a lot. One of Cage’s most famous and interesting “experiments” was a composition called 4’33. First performed in about 1952, it involved the complete absence of any deliberate sound by the performer. Some think of it as four minutes and 30+ seconds of complete silence, but it was intended to be thought of as finding music in the sounds of the environment present in the audience.

From our discussion, randomization and found sounds is one of the areas of his music where Nash took his inspiration from Cage. Among the cool things Nash has done on this album and his work lately is to come up with a list of things that he thinks would make interesting sounds. Some of the things he listed off for me that day were frogs, thunder, rain collection in drums, and leaves of particular trees or plants. Once he thought of something that he thought had an interesting sound, he set out to record it and see how it would come out. Nash explained that some sounds were harder to catch or didn’t sound as good captured as he might have expected. It also sounds like some of his ideas, such as drums played in a rain collection tank, came out better or maybe different than he expected.

A lot of this creativity seems to be inspired by the new studio space. Nash said that this was the first time he got to write, pre- produce and develop the music in this studio. So many of these sounds make it on the record – so it was pretty cool to go back and re-listen after having this conversation.

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Who or what do you consider to be your biggest musical influences? 

Nash explained that his biggest influence generally is singer/songwriters. He then turns to a few specific names: The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Bob Dylan – then Born in the USA from Springsteen. His main goal, he says, is “telling a story” and making a “marriage of energy and the story.”

For this particular album, he wanted music that reflected the Hill Country landscape – but also mentioned that he has seen a lot of development of his influence with age and with time.

I ended the interview with a question that I love to ask, because it get’s such a variety of answers – What is something you want fans to know about you or your music? 

I should have been prepared for the awesome and genuine answer I got from Israel, but I was still surprised and very refreshed to hear what he said. He explained that he didn’t want their to be a division in music – going on to clarify that what he meant was that he wants to connect to people and to be approachable to fans. One of his favorite things is sharing the feeling of joy – especially when releasing and playing new music for other people for the first time. From the moment the music is out there – the fans get to take it (and the energy) and feel it and take it home and continue to create new things and feelings from it. Israel described how sometimes, a song he writes with one thought or feeling in mind, inspires fans or someone else in a different way. He doesn’t mind that, explaining how interesting it is to him and following up by saying that once it is out there “it isn’t just mine anymore.” He wants people to cherish the moments with the music and to know that music isn’t judgmental  – from that I took that he meant you are free to take the music and the energy and take you feel and understand from it.

Nash was definitely a cool guy to talk to and it has been fun to see him perform all over the place this festival season. Just last week, we got to see him perform at Forecastle Festival in Louisville Kentucky. Once again, the guys put on a great show and it was fun to see things kind of develop and change over the course of the months. If you haven’t check out his music you definitely should. We know we are looking forward to seeing more of him this year.

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