Well, Nate Hall has been someone that I have followed off and on for the past three or four years. The main reason is because I fell in love with US Christmas’, now USX, sound long before I became active in the music scene online and locally. It really can be interesting how things pan out from me working with Nate in a small way in the past to me finally interviewing him. It was truly a pleasure to be able to do this interview. Hope you all find it to illuminating in some way since it speaks for itself.
I have been a fan of USX back when it was just known as US Christmas. Your sound is a bit different from most drone and doom bands. Reminds me a bit of Earth in some ways. Where did you guys draw inspiration from for that particular sound?
Well, there have been a lot of people in the band through the years that have contributed to it. But as far as the guitar tone and concept goes, I guess it is just what I always wanted to hear. I like simple structures that give me the freedom to play what I want in the moment.
I have a pretty unique tone that is specific to me and my hands. A lot of guitar players have that. I guess it is the way I hit the strings, I use a heavy pick. Like, the heaviest I can get. I like a lot of open chords too, which Dylan from Earth is also partial to. Brett Netson and Neil Young are also fellows in that vein.
That is true. It's one of my favorite things about the band. Is there any particular line-up that you guys had that you felt worked the best for what you were looking for at the time? Or did you just feed off of the energy of the people playing with you at the time?
Honestly, I have liked every lineup for certain reasons. However, I think everyone involved would agree that the 8 people in a van with two drum kit tours were brutal. There are only four of us now, Josh, Meg, Billy and myself - and we function much better as a band. The stress is pretty much nonexistent now, and we are all working toward the same things. In sonic terms, now is the best time ever because we communicate naturally and without barriers.
That can be felt in the music too by fans, I think. What plans do you have for the band now that you guys have found your center? Well, the stuff that you can disclose anyway.
We have a tour coming up in April, hitting all the major east coast spots. We have a festival here in NC this summer. We have the concept and basic structures for a new record, and we will probably be working on that to some degree on our tour. Josh and Billy are busy with Generation of Vipers and A Storm of Light, and Meg has her solo thing Divine Circles which keeps her busy. I'll be touring solo in the US over the next few months and then I'm headed to Europe in the fall.
Pretty busy schedule you have going there. I remember first stumbling across your solo work when I was still co-founder of Domestic Genocide. What started you along the path of a solo acoustic project?
Creative need. I was really frustrated with the creative pace I had to keep during a lot of the touring and turmoil years ago. I am much happier now that I can just go forward with a recording whenever I feel like it. A Great River was sort of an accident. I had no money and traded favors with Travis to record a few songs which I thought would be a 7 inch or something. But all the ideas I had just manifested right then and there and it was done. I love creating in the moment. I can't wrap my head around working on a record for weeks, months, or years. I'd go nuts.
I remember being blown away by the track you sent over to Trevor for the split with Scott Kelly. They went together so well. Shortly after that, all of the big names in the underground started to come out with their solo projects and tours. Mike, Scott, Steve, Wino. It was pretty cool to see you work your way up to touring with those guys and eventually contributing to the Townes Van Zandt cover album project. How did that all come about?
Since I know all those guys we just sort of took note of each other. Scott and Steve had solo records out long before, so they were definitely an inspiration to me. Mike and I sort of have an unspoken familiar connection, we do things in a similar way without ever communicating about it. I believe that generations of humans are meant to create certain things together. History is full of examples. Some cynics might see it as deliberate, but I can assure you that there have been way too many eerie coincidences in my life. When I met Mike, Steve, John, Scott, Brett and other people I work closely with for the first time it was like I had always known them. The TVZ thing is a perfect example. I mean, we all came to that guy's music independently - which isn't that unusual. However, the natural way things worked out with it at the perfect time is pretty special.
I also see the similarities with themes. A lot of reverence for nature in the writing and artwork for each band's work and the solo projects. I remember Scott telling me that he had a big affinity for trees when I had met him once and I can just sense that from Mike. You used to post some of your poetry on your solo project's Facebook page and I noticed it there. Where that affinity for nature begin and how does it manifest itself in music for you?
Sadly, it is probably a reaction to the mindless destruction all around us to some degree, but that natural world is just a powerful symbol. I am greatly affected by symbols of any kind, I find it easier to express myself when they are part of the equation. Natural symbols are the universal language among humans. Trees are stable, they don't move or change rapidly. They have seen a lot of change though. I like things that endure, that remain when all else is gone. I don't write about modern or material things. I don't really enjoy any music with that theme. As Faulkner said, "Not of the heart but of the glands." Those things are "ephemeral and doomed."
Beautiful and I agree with that. So, am I to take it that you did most or all of the writing for USX's lyrics and themes?
Yes, as far as lyrics go. All contribute to the themes in some way, either directly or by being part of my life.
Very nice. How did USX first come about? What was its birth like and did you think it would turn out to be what it is now back then?
We started in a trailer in Marion, NC about 13 years ago. Not in my wildest dreams. I couldn't have ever hoped for something this special, good times and bad.
Do you have any religious or spiritual beliefs aside from your view on nature that bleed into your creative work?
I believe in a benevolent creator that works with and through the natural world. I believe we exist on several planes and in parallel universes, and that we ultimately go back to our families and loved ones, friends and animals in the end. I was raised in the Presbyterian Church and both of my parents are Presbyterian ministers, so that is a major influence on my life. However, I am interested in and open to many forms of spiritual philosophy and thought. The central tenents of Christianity are: Love your fellow man and treat them how you want to be treated. I try my best to follow that code, but of course I often fail. These tenents are not unique to Christianity of course, and I view most religions as humans' interpretations of true inspiration and holy people throughout history. Even though people do many terrible things, I think that we are all here as a spiritual exercise to strengthen our souls. I don't believe in hell or eternal damnation, but I do believe that if someone leads a terrible life they have to rebuild their own soul here on earth. As we all know, this world is a terrible place for many. I am thankful that I have been able to know and learn from many good people. I agree that religion is often a tool used for evil, but that does not detract from the original message that humans have received from other planes and universes. Religion is a human thing, used for good and ill. But the source is, I believe, something good and pure and true. It's a shame that so much harm and pain has come from cynical, shortsighted people who have used it as a tool to steal and kill and oppress.
All of these ideas run though the music I make.
That is a nice way of looking at it. Did your parents encourage your musical journey?
Well, they love me. I am hard to understand. They are happy for me now.
That is good. It's always nice to have their support. How did you start into playing music? Was guitar the first thing that you picked up?
I started with guitar about 23 years ago. I do remember sort of realizing that it was something I would always do, kind of like I had forgotten about it or something. Like when you forget to do something and realize it a few hours later. I remember that I felt a huge relief the day it occurred to me. I went out and bought a pawnshop special.
So you were largely self-taught?
Yeah. I started out playing gospel/folk with my friend Jonathan. At the same time I would watch the fingers of guitar players on TV. This was long before the internet and I was in rural NC - so no live shows. This was during the Nirvana takeover, so there were some cool guitar players to watch on SNL, Letterman, and so forth.
Was Nirvana and the "grunge" bands the first heavy stuff you listened to?
No, there was metal before that. I had some pretty righteous metal head friends in high school. They introduced me to Slayer, Metallica, Obituary, Morbid Angel, etc. I do remember hearing Nevermind on a school bus and knowing that things would never be the same for me. That was pretty cool.
That's pretty awesome. A lot of people tend to dismiss that era of music, but it has its own vibe and contributions. What do you think you would have ended up doing if you didn't feel your calling with guitar? Did you always write poetry too?
I don't know, I wouldn't be me then. I think we are here for a reason - all of us. I never wrote poetry until I was in my 30s. I didn't have anything to say until then. I hadn't learned anything, hadn't made enough mistakes. Poetry is just honest, true words. It takes a while to earn the right to write it.
What was your most rewarding experience to you since the moment you picked up a guitar? Something that put a lot of things in perspective for you.
I've had many great nights and days, so that is hard to answer. I guess the best thing is looking at my life now and knowing that even though I have acted like a total jackass a lot of the time and created a lot of unnecessary drama, I have still done everything I ever wanted to do and made a lot of people happy. Once I felt personally satisfied I was able to put that aside and realize that we are all essentially one in the same, and that my self is only a part of a larger living thing. On a more level note, it was playing with Neurosis. Many times.
That is badass. Hopefully your success is not short lived and keeps on compiling. Are there any stray thoughts or stuff a lot of people ask you that you want to answer here?
I'm sure there are. I am at a point in my life where the obvious is kind of blurred but the big picture, distant stuff is kind of clear. I'd like people to know that I am happy to make them happy. I'm glad I can offer some hope and inspiration. I'm sure others will continue to do the same. Also, don't hesitate to pick up an instrument if you ever feel inclined. There is no need to be shy about it. You can't be great if you haven't failed...hard. Also, feel free to hit me up. I am a teacher at heart and I enjoy sharing any knowledge I have.
Can you teach me how to play bass? That's pretty awesome and I am sure some people will take you up on that. You seem like a really peaceful person. I am sure that there was a time when you were not. Am I right?
Sure thing. I'd be glad to. I have a peaceful outlook, but I can be a real hothead too. That's the Scots Irish human in me.
Oh, I bet and thanks! What's the funniest and weirdest thing that you have witnessed at a live gig? I'm sure you've witnessed a lot so I am just curious.
Dixie Collins has to be the funniest. On one tour he set up his rig to be turned on by remote control then we scared people, sound guys I guess. We just hid in the back and kept turning it on full blast whenever people got close.
Ha! At least you guys had fun. Thank you for the interview, Nate, and for being patient with me. I enjoyed it and hopefully I can catch USX or your solo project live some time.
No problem. Be well.