Far Out recently caught up with Michael Nau. If you don’t know his name you might know of the two folk bands he fronted; Cotton Jones and Page France, and if you don’t know them you’ll be in the exact same position I was about 6 weeks ago.
I’m not going to say what is probably required of my profession and declare that I knew about Michael Nau, and his undoubted talent, years before Michael himself, but that wouldn’t be true. What would be true, is to say that since discovering Michael Nau I have found it hard to put his work down.
Previous work with the aforementioned bands is varied and far reaching, Cotton Jones’ ‘Blood Red Sentimental Blues’ is a particular favourite, but Nau has really come in to his own in his solo work. Latest album Some Twist, which was released earlier this year, was another starling step towards the hearts of many following the equally charming Mowing released in late 2016.
I’ve spent a fair while trying to place the sound. Simple as it may sound, the music has touch points across every human genre and feels wholesome and fire-born, like the ancient bread of the singer/songwriter. When asked, Michael wasn’t quite as serious as me “probably…cosmic house country, sour patch jazz”. But, to my credit, it’s all I’ve listened to for 6 weeks straight – I was bound to be hyped.
Having soundtracked by last 42 days or so, I was keen to see if Michael had always had a set road mapped out for the latest LP. “It always starts with a plan, but goes off course pretty early on.” He continued “Once other players get involved, it starts to come together on its own. The plan is more of a place to start. Then it’s anybody’s guess.”
Ahead of his UK tour, which kicks off on Thursday 21st September in Brighton, and leads on to Europe, Nau went ahead and released The Load EP, just three months after the LP. The seven-track EP contains many of the tracks that didn’t make the LP, but with such a complete album, was there any need? “Well, I just didn’t want to see those songs get lost. It’s happened before. And these do feel like they are in the same spirit as the last full length. All of these things were happening at the same time, so the EP just widens the view a bit, I hope.” A prolific artist, it seems to us that Nau isn’t particularly worried about the songs drying up.
What is the most alluring prospect of this LP Some Twist, and indeed Mowing, is that although the music travels across many different roads emotionally and sonically, it feels quite singular. ‘Love Survives’ for example, taken from Mowing hits so many notes of soul, traditional indie, pop, 60’s doo-wop and americana folk, that it’s incredibly hard to pin down.
But what Nau tries to make clear to me is that this and all his work is truly a crucible of sounds. “Everybody comes at the songs from a different corner. I think the drum & bass on a lot of the live songs were coming at it from an angle – with soul – and everything else fills in, and just chases that groove.”
Whatever the genre or label you wish to lather up for the sticking on Nau, one thing is certain; Nau proposes a distinctive mood with each note, something which seemed a purposeful act. “Those records were recorded all over the place – living rooms, porches, basements, studios, motels. It’s hard to tell what’s what at times. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of making it work regardless. It’s made things interesting – there are surprises along the way. I haven’t too well figured it all out.”
With Michael now working on his solo material I wondered whether writing an album was an easy holistic process, or something chipped away at. His response was typically gentile, “It’s happened both ways. I used to demo pieces for a month, then make songs out of those pieces and record it right before a deadline. Now we work in more of a group, so I’m trying to bring ‘songs’ to the table, and record them all at once. That’s been new. I think some of the songs on Mowing were the first ones I’d ever completed on a guitar, without the help of a recorded landscape. I don’t know which I prefer, really.”
With the tour approaching, quite bloody rapidly, I was curious whether having been in so many groups before, including one with his wife, did he miss the camaraderie of band life. “I prefer to have a larger group. I don’t do it alone much. It’s not much fun that way. This group is a trio. These tours in Europe are expensive, so that’s the most we can do right now.” Ever the artist, that hasn’t deterred Nau as he sets his sights on Europe “I’m looking forward to playing, most of all. Each tour is different, musically, and I’m excited to see where this one goes. I’m looking forward to Paris. I like it there.”
So there you have it, not only is Michael Nau an incredibly gifted musician, an eclectic and emotive lyricist but he is also a blood nice bloke. I can not recommend his work highly enough, but if you’re not sold on the nice guy bit yet then please read my last question to Mr Nau and tell me I’m wrong.
JW: “I’ve recently struggled to enjoy a Sunday afternoon without your music… what is the ultimate Sunday afternoon album?”
MN: “There’s an album called Ukelele Magic – I don’t even know who plays on it. But it seems a good Sunday afternoon ride.”
Make sure you see Michael Nau on tour. Details are below.