Foofer Friday: Chatting with Nathaniel Noton Freeman

I’ve been following Nathaniel Noton-Freeman and his music since he posted his debut solo album on Reddit. And with every release, his music‘s been getting better and better. This week I had the privilege to preview some tracks from his upcoming album Cloud Machines and interview this magnificent example of manliness about it.

Let’s start with first impressions; Where did you come up with the name “Cloud Machines”?

I absolutely love Vice documentaries and watch nearly every one that I can. There’s one about a chemical valley in Canada that really resonated with me, and the title is loosely based on that.

Do you inject your political views into your music, like Godspeed You! Black Emperor does?

Not in any way until this album, if you’d even call it political. I could see myself being a little more overt about world issues in the future, though. I’m extremely passionate about the environment, race equality, and LGBTQ rights, and I follow current world events quite closely.

Your music and instrumentation has changed drastically since “Whorl”. In what way have you made changes to your creative process?

This album was created in a fairly similar way to Whorl, actually. I write the whole album as I record, decide I hate the entire thing, don’t listen to it for three months, listen again, can’t believe that I wrote something that sounds so good, polish it up, and release it.

Dream was the different one – I had most of the songs written beforehand, but that was because all but one track were written as single guitar pieces, and I then broke them into multiple parts. I think both writing styles really work for me, and yield drastically different results.

What would you say influences you the most with your music?

People are sometimes surprised by what I claim to be influenced by. I’m always listening to heaps of metal (Cryptopsy, Septicflesh, Deafheaven, and Botch to name a few), and lots of electronic stuff (Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, Pilotpriest, Tycho). I’ve also been thinking a lot about Miles Davis, Bill Frisell, Erik Satie, Brian Eno, and John Adams.

The metal influence is probably the hardest to explain (I think I’m inspired by metal band’s senses of rhythm and disregard for conventional time signatures), but the others are a little more obvious, and generally share a dreamy, almost surreal quality that I find to be very appealing.

Is there any specific music you listen to more than others while making Cloud Machines?

Bill Frisell, Miles Davis, and Boards of Canada were probably on my mind more than anything. I had a few times where I was listening to Davis in the car and just thought, “I need to be home to make music NOW.”

For the gearheads – What sort of equipment do you use on a regular basis for your music, and what guitars do you keep handy?

I recorded almost all of Cloud Machines with a Pod HD500X. I like the thing, but I find that it’s limiting in terms of processing power and routing options. I’m pretty sure I’ll jump aboard the Fractal Audio train eventually, but I’m in no particular rush. Otherwise I run into a Focusrite Scarlett 2i4, Logic Pro X on my MacBook (THANKS to my Kickstarter backers!) and out to a pair of KRK Rokit 6’s.

As for guitars, I usually use my trusty Guild D40, but it took a back seat this time around for my beaten up Fender Mexi Telecaster (‘52 Nocaster pickups) and an Ibanez S-Classic (Seymour Duncan JB & Jazz pickups). Few things seem to top a Tele bridge pickup when it comes to making ambient sounds.

(That’s like erotic literature for guitar nerds. Mmf.)

Speaking of Kickstarter, what was going through your mind during that process? Were you nervous about leaving your next project in the hands of your fans?

I have some interesting feelings surrounding Kickstarter. I’m enormously grateful for the contributions of the many people who miraculously seem to care about my music, but I must confess that having some kind of monetary obligation to my fans is a bit stressful. I like to make music at whatever pace I feel to be right for me, and the Kickstarter adds an element of guilt when I don’t feel like recording for a period of time which is otherwise completely normal to my creative process. I don’t think I’ll be doing one again, but I do think that it’s a fantastic way to jump start any project and I’m psyched that it helped me so much.

Do you do everything on your own, or do you call up some friends for things like drumming or mastering?

I do everything myself. I like being accountable to only myself for my music – I can work as quickly or slowly as I need to, and that’s always okay when I work alone.

Do you think you’d ever join a band after doing so much solo work?

I’d love to play in a band. I play by myself for a variety of reasons – firstly, I haven’t found anyone with a creative vision that is similar enough to mine that it feels completely natural to write with them. Secondly, I have nobody to be accountable to for my music other than myself. Thirdly – and maybe some people won’t like hearing this – but playing alone allows me to keep 100% of the profits from all of my gigs and merch sales. When I don’t have to split what I make two or three or six ways, I can actually use music to pay for things other than gas and guitar strings. Music pays for my car, my student loans, and my general act of existence, and in this way it’s gone way beyond just being a hobby. It’s a full blown career. I think there are a lot of things that I would like to do with a group that I simply cannot do by myself, but I think that’ll be saved for another point in my life.

Almost all of your albums have been given some love in the form of a physical DIY release, do you think that helps get your name out there?Seabirds cover art

I sell SO many physical copies of my albums. I keep them in my car, my backpack, and everywhere else that I can. Selling someone a physical album is way better than giving them a card or telling them to go to your website; it gives them immediate access to the music, keeps them from forgetting about you, and sort of ropes them into the fold immediately. I think it also adds an element of care and legitimacy to your music that isn’t present with solely digital releases. People love the hand-made feel of my CDs. It’s really easy to just throw an album up on iTunes and forget about it, and I refuse to do that with my work.

What sort of advice would you give to other musicians trying to make a name for themselves?

Think of music like a business. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be fun, or be an art form, but if you want to be successful, you need to set yourself up for success.

Firstly, you need a good product. This is the easy part. Anybody can make music that sounds good if they really, really invest the time and want to be good enough. Practice = skill and polish – it’s as simple as that.

Once you have a good product, you need to sell yourself. This is the hard part, and the part that I’m still figuring out. You need to make people care about your music, and this seems to come in a lot of ways. If the music is good and you’ve branded yourself in a compelling way (good artwork and presentation is essential), then the next step is to make people hear your music. Firstly, make sure that every single person that knows you knows that you make music. Friends and family care more about your music than anyone, and will help spread the word. Sharing your music online (Reddit, blogs, magazines, forums, etc) can help too, but getting out and playing shows is the single best way to gain notoriety and meet people.

Other than that, being successful seems to be a combination of skill and luck. I’ve had a lot of amazing opportunities lately that wouldn’t have happened had I not practiced really hard and had a body of work available for people to hear, but also wouldn’t have happened had I not met the right person on the right day. Ultimately all you can do is give everything one hundred and ten percent and hope for the best.

What’s your secret to being so gosh darn good-looking?

To be perfectly honest, I make sure to regularly bathe in the blood of particularly pretentious black metal and post-rock kids. It does wonders for your pores.

Be sure to check out Nathaniel’s bandcamp page at whorl.bandcamp.com and be on the lookout for Cloud Machines!

As always, you can let me know how much I suck on twitter @Foofsies and via email at fooferfridays@gmail.com

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