As he sits backstage at Coachella Nathaniel Rateliff is talking about his most dedicated audience. “In Canada I am catnip for women over 40 cause they grew up with rock and roll I guess,” he tells Billboard. That could turn out to be a good thing for him if Donald Trump gets elected because Rateliff tells us that’s where he’s going if Trump wins the presidency. “If Trump gets elected that’s where I will be, where we all will be, the Great White North,” he says. “We’ve been trying to be honorary Canadians and we grew up watching Strange Brew so we know the language.”
At least for the next seven months though the Denver-based Rateliff and his Night Sweats are safe triumphantly touring the U.S. in support of last year’s eponymous debut. After a decade of working towards the type of mainstream success he is now enjoying Rateliff will do all he can to thank fans for their support, including releasing an upcoming EP he tells us his label is not aware of yet.
Rateliff, Joseph Pope and Wesley Watkins sat with Billboard in a trailer backstage at Coachella weekend one and spoke about how he had to be convinced to record “S.O.B.,” and the song that makes him bawl every time he tries to play it.
How does being around all these artists at this point inspire you?
Nathaniel Rateliff: I’m not necessarily a festival goer, but it’s nice to run into people you know and then meet people you don’t know. But that’s mostly backstage. That’s an interesting way to not necessarily network, but make new friends essentially. It’s a really small world when it comes down to it in this industry. So you end up spending a lot of time with people in random places or very small limited space. But as far as the culture of festivals and how big things get, even on stage today I was like, “Thanks for standing out in the sun. I would never do that for a band that I like.” Maybe Wes has a different opinion.
Wesley Watkins: I am the dork who stayed up in excitement all night the night before we got here yesterday just to listen to artists I hadn’t heard. Now I have a playlist of thirty new artists.
Are there people you learn from in these environments?
Watkins: We’ve done a handful of shows with Leon Bridges, I just saw Leon Bridges’ tour manager, that man is always on point, he is always professional and always has lots of great advice, but he’s just a gentle soul too. He can connect with anyone, so I think that’s just it, the human connection can water any seed.
Rateliff: I feel the same way, music means a lot to everybody and it can go over the boundaries of just being music and actually have a connection. We all have a shared experience and that’s a pretty amazing thing to be a part of. It’s not just about your ego, once you write the song and people start to listen to it it’s no longer your song, it’s everybody’s thing because people relate to it in their own personal lives and they have their own interpretation of it and they carry that with them. On the other end, if you wrote it and they’re playing it, to see people be a part of that is just always humbling. I think the really important thing to remember is it’s not you that did that.
Joseph Pope: Well, the thing about a festival is you end up being on the bill with a variety of different kinds of artists. But people that come, they’re opening themselves up to all of that exposure, to our band, to other bands that play completely different music. And that’s kind of cool for us too to see a crowd that came to see us is going to see a completely different kind of music and have this insane meta experience where it’s all across the board.
Are there stories you’ve heard from people about what your songs have meant to them that blow you away?
Rateliff: I’ve heard a lot of different things over the years from when we were doing the singer/songwriter thing up until now, even people being excited about “S.O.B.,” which is a song I never even thought I would record. So it was the last song we did for the record with Richard Swift and he kind of convinced me. But, I’ve had people come and be like, “Hey, my husband was a father and alcoholic for this many years and this song has brought up a lot of emotions and a lot of conversations in our family that has been a really healing this for us.” That is not what I expected the song to do at all, but at the same time at least that happens. I’ve been trying to cover the Band’s version of [Bruce Springsteen’s] “Atlantic City” for a while and I’ve been playing it at home to try to figure out how I want to do it and I can barely get through the song without crying. When they get to the part, “But I bought us two tickets on that Coast City bus” I just start bawling. I’m like, “How are we ever gonna cover this song if I can’t f—ing make it through?”
What is coming up the rest of the year presuming you do not move to Canada?
Rateliff: We’re just working the whole time and trying to put out a couple more records, at least an EP and then working the full length and while people are excited about what we are doing I feel like we should work as hard as we can.
Pope: The longest break we have this entire year is about 22 days next month.
Rateliff: So May I’m focusing on finishing the EP the label doesn’t know I’m gonna try and put out yet, which will be a surprise to them. It’s exciting, we’ve all been doing this such a long time for anybody to give a shit about it is just humbling and really an honor.