"I think it's important to think about the fact that a white man can openly carry a gun into a business and be celebrated and a black man can be shot to death for suspicion of having a gun" - Nate Allen
When people hear Nate Allen, they immediately reference the quirky, zany, off-beat, colorful interactive floor show of the folk punk band Destroy Nate Allen, and the feel-good love vibes of his relationship with his life-partner Tessa. What they don't expect is a social commentary on the hypocritical, mixed-up priorities of America at large and the stark differences between Nate Allen's personal life journey as a privileged white man versus the personal journeys of his American friends who are people of color. In Nate Allen's freshman solo album, Take Out The Trash by iamNateAllen, we find an honest and often uncomfortable reality check that America still has a long way to go in achieving racial, social and economic equality.
Reminiscent of Violent Femmes and Social Distortion, with a little Johnny Cash thrown in for good measure, Take Out The Trash is an eargasm of blues, folk and punk, with soul-wrenching lyrics that remind us of the days when the meaning behind the music actually mattered. Catching up with Nate Allen during their Kickstarter fundraising campaign before the album launch and subsequent tour, he let us in on what to expect from the songs and the motivation behind this unexpected album:
1) Your press release said this project started as a personal outlet to express your feelings about the racial issues/disparities surrounding you, and then it 'accidentally' became a full length album about social issues in general. Can you elaborate on that? What racial issues were you confronted with personally?
When I wrote the album I was a part of a church group that was very diverse and there was a conflict that happen to fall along racial lines. As my older black friends started talking about their experiences in Portland I realized their experiences were VERY different from mine. It was very eye opening what they had been through. It was like they literally lived in a totally different place even though we were friends and lived in the same city. I realized I had been blind to what they had been experiencing and to what they saw daily. The issue that confronted me personally was how blind I had been to things around me and how much I didn't realize how privilege and gentrification played a part in my decisions. I was amazed how I could live somewhere for 5 + years and then feel like the lights were one day "turned on". As I tried to understand where they were coming from, I started processing our discussions through songs and sharing a few with the group as they were written.
2) The album opens with "Open to Everything" as the first track. What exactly was going through your head when you wrote it? Is it about wanting to take the risk but being afraid of getting hurt when you let your guard down, or about releasing all judgement and prejudice and giving everyone/everything the benefit of the doubt and a chance, even knowing it makes you as vulnerable as they are? Both?
I would say "Open to Everything" was written as I wrestled with the idea of wanting to be open, honest, sensitive and understanding of all things while at the same time realizing that we all have limits and capacities.. such as you can only experience and process so much before life becomes overwhelming... or I can only drive so much before my muscles get sore and start to cramp. I was seeking to be as reflective as possible so that song has a lot of little references to many life experiences. This song, like the whole album, is all based on actual events.
3) Do you think social inequality is a pressing issue in this country that needs to be addressed in a real and tangible way, or is it blown out of proportion to the realities of the bigger picture?
I think it's important to think about the fact that a white man can openly carry a gun into a business and be celebrated and a black man can be shot to death for suspicion of having a gun. As far as the bigger picture, discussions of inequality seem to only exist when there aren't greater problems at hand (like survival in the midst of war, famine or natural disaster). Like most issues social inequality is complicated and has plagued humanity in one form or another since the beginning of time. I would say the bottom line comes down to each individual becoming more aware of how they perceive the people around them and where those perceptions come from.
4) Are there solutions you support or see being attempted?
Lately I've been into http://1Bluestring.org, which raises awareness for the one in 6 men who have been sexually abused as a child.
5) "Hunger Pains" talks of the need to always be on top of your game if you want to succeed. Have you felt the pressure of constant competition and striving? In what ways has it affected you and did you falter to disastrous results?
When I wrote the song I was looking for work and feeling like I had to be on my "A Game" at all time. I grew up with great pressure to always appear like I had it together and to work hard constantly, which did have negative results. I became a work-a-holic with an addiction to stress and deadlines. I couldn't give myself a day off. I have spent much of the last year working on getting to the root of what has caused these ingrained habits. I would say with some joy that I'm less anxious and less hungry for people's approval now.
6) You singled out "West Side Blues" as a recommended track. What does that song mean to you?
West Side Blues is really the telling of the situation I talked about in question one. I had as many of my friends from the group as possible sing-a-long on it to make it a community event. I also enjoy the bluesy nature of it. I'd never really played anything I would call blues before and I think "West Side Blues" became a song I really enjoy sonically.
7) I really love "Social Equality." The simple straight-forward lyrics and mellow flow carry an intense message relevant in today's society. Do you believe "white privilege" numbs/blinds white Americans to the struggles that still exist today for people of color, that their inability to relate to it distorts their ability to really see and understand it? That they don't believe it's real?
Yes White Privilege exists. It's kind of weird to talk about this as a white guy, because my perspective is limited. I was unaware of this privilege in many ways growing up in a 99% "white" small Oregon town but I've definitely benefited from it at times. When I lived in the Tenderloin of San Francisco, I remember a friend talking about how we were a "protected class," meaning there would be a stronger police response if we were harmed. On one hand it was comforting, on the other it was really messed up that it was a very true statement. I don't remember that even being on my radar growing up. There have been other times when I was definitely profiled for being the "different" person but I would say my experiences have been nothing like your average black man in the US. One element of white privilege is what is passed down to you. We all carry the baggage of our family line- particular fears, temptations, struggles, etc that somehow seem to get passed down (spiritually, psychologically, whatever) to us. The effects of slavery and discrimination (trauma, shame, etc) take their toll on people alive today. There are parents and grandparents alive today who remember seeing members of their community hanged or dragged to death through the streets. That sort of thing has a way of weighing heavily.
8) Is "Goodbye Letter" a song about friends who have died or about people who have given up and accepted their under-realized potential?
Goodbye letter is about many things that convey the same emotions the song references: friends who have died, friends who have been wrongly locked up, friends who have undersold themselves and friendships that have drifted apart over time or distance. I am a person who highly values friendship. On the scale of defensively detaching vs. internalizing emotions I am definitely a person who internalizes things as they happen. As I was thinking of all the losses I have experienced I found myself asking what keeps a person going and what would I want to pass on to someone struggling. I tried to think about what everyone, whether Christian, atheist, anarchist or capitalist could identify with. I narrowed in on Hope as one of the few things that I think everyone really needs to keep going.
9) "Photograph" is a contradiction of holding on and letting go as current realities change, with a nostalgic regret that you didn't appreciate what you had when you had it. But at the same time, it offers hope that something new can be built. Am I interpreting that correctly?
I think you nailed it.. it's also a gentle reflection about how much life just slips by and is forgotten.
10) Will you be touring with this album in addition to Destroy Nate Allen?
Yes. The plan is for these songs to be supported the next few times I am on the road. Either solo, with a band or playing alongside Destroy Nate Allen.
To check out iamNateAllen tour dates, you can go here: http://www.iamnateallen.com
11) Tell me about the Kickstarter campaign. What are the dates and can you give me the link to it? What are your fundraising goals?
I am using https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nateallen/nate-allens-solo-project as way for people to pre-order my new album and have a part in helping the album get pressed on CD and vinyl. I was looking into just doing a pre-order on our website but I've found kickstarter to be a very useful platform in the past so we decided to use it again. We came up with some pretty sweet rewards including laser etched mason jars and greeting cards that both contain lyrics from the album to make things more interesting. Also I asked over 30 friends to contribute a song to a compilation mixtape we are releasing with the kickstarter. Anyone who contributes to the kickstarter will get a download of the songs. During the kickstarter I am blogging about each artist so that our friends and fans get to learn about a wide variety of bands that have nothing or little in common except for knowing us. My goal is to raise $3,300 to finish off the album art, cd duplication, & vinyl pressing. If we raise more than that we should be able to make some colored vinyl and maybe pay some bills?