SXSW Music Interview: Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

Blue-eyed soul wunderkind keeps screwing his life up and writing about it

“We’re kinda stuck here in Nashville,” laughed Denver’s blue-eyed soul wunderkind Nathaniel Rateliff on his way to breakfast last Sunday. “We’re supposed to be doing this big weekend festival down in the Dominican Republic, but there’s weather. We’re trying to figure out how to get down there, and I forgot we had an interview!”

Easy for the 39-year-old to get flustered amidst a flurry of details and last-minute complications, though he’s maintaining remarkable composure. Five days from this interview, Rateliff’s third Stax LP with his band the Night Sweats, Tearing at the Seams, hits the shops. Two weeks after that, they will be showcasing at SXSW. And just the night before, the group debuted at the Grand Ole Opry with the new album’s more acoustic songs, “Hey Mama” and “Babe I Know,” before being surprised with a call for an unscheduled third number, which resulted in a standing ovation.

Rateliff gets the cultural friction at play in a white soul revue band appearing at the mother church of country music.

“This record is all over the place,” he says. “It’s what I wanted this band to be when we started: Have the influence of soul and R&B, but I also wanted to be like the Band. They could do songs like [Marvin Gaye’s] ‘Baby Don’t You Do It,’ and they could do ballads.”

He also notes the impact of modern singer-songwriters like Damien Jurado on Seams’ heavy emotional content. He was an indie troubadour himself 10 years ago.

“I really haven’t changed all that much,” he chuckles. “Fortunately, I keep screwing up my life enough to keep coming up with content for the songs. It’s hard when you realize you’ve been writing about the same thing for 15-20 years. Man, I guess I’ve had no personal growth!”

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Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, SXSW Music 2018

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