Before he and the Night Sweats stormed onto the national stage in 2015 with a foot-stomping, self-titled record, Nathaniel Rateliff was a solo artist with a softer sound. Those folksy acoustic songs earned him high-profile admirers in Colorado, such as then Governor John Hickenlooper, but didn’t garner much play outside the Centennial State. Now, after two successful albums with the Night Sweats, Rateliff returns to the role of solitary crooner on And It’s Still Alright, which will be released February 14. Here, Rateliff spoke with 5280 about the misfortunes that inspired the music, going solo again, and why he’s keeping his trademark wide-brimmed hat in his closet.
5280: It sounds like you’d been contemplating a solo album for a bit. Why?
Nathaniel Rateliff: My producer and friend Richard Swift died [in July 2018]. This was a record that he and I were going to make together, and some of the material has been around since I was making the second Night Sweats album with him. Songwriting is the way I learned to deal with and get over certain things in my life. It just felt like it was time to let go of some stuff.
Not only did you lose Swift, you also recently got divorced. That’s some heavy stuff to have to work through.
It was certainly a challenging time, and a lot of songs on the album touch on those topics. I guess you can look at the title, And It’s Still Alright. The idea was that even though all of those things were happening, I can continue to find joy, persevere through all those situations, and not let that define my life.
Many fans only know you from the Night Sweats. How is this music different?
I feel like it’s still me. I guess the content is always kind of the same because it’s me writing about the way I see the world. But it’s certainly sonically very different. It comes from a different place, with a different intention as far as delivery. The Night Sweats stuff is always about big energy. This is more about subtlety.
Is it exciting to throw something completely different out into the world?
Yeah! I like it. It will probably bring in some fans. Some other fans will probably be upset that we don’t have a new Night Sweats record coming out. We are already working on that, though. I think it’s healthy and best for me to continue to challenge myself, push myself, and try new things out. Also, most of the Night Sweats are in the band that will tour with me. It’s really just an opportunity to let people know that we are capable of doing whatever sound we feel like. There’s a lot more to us.
You performed solo early in your career. Was it difficult to get back to that place?
Not really. I always feel like that has been there waiting. In the last few years, I’ve revisited some of the older material or done shows by myself. I did a few concerts with John Prine. So, I kind of returned to it. I do want this record to be a departure from those earlier days. The writing is slightly different. Those previous songs are a little more easygoing. Experience can’t help but make me a different musician than I was then.
I noticed you weren’t wearing your favored wide-brimmed hat during the first video for the record. Was that on purpose?
It’s nice to let my locks out. It’s also good to let people know there is a separation between this and the Night Sweats stuff. Sometimes the easiest way to do that is by changing the visual appearance. I don’t get recognized as much without my hat. That’s nice, too.