Nate Query - Beautiful World

Can you recall the last time, during a conversation about music, where you exclaimed “I love that video”? They still make music videos?

Well, here we are in 2015 and The Decemberists – the cerebral pop outfit from Portland, OR - have made one of the funniest, most clever music videos in years. Riffing upon late-70’s music programs from Europe and featuring Nick Offerman of the hit show Parks & Rec, the irony of this clip is the fact that Make You Better is one of the most poignant, touching songs on the band’s superb new album, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.

Shaping up to be one of the top albums of the year, What a Terrible World… features bassist Nate Query covering a wide variety of stylistic ground; from the fuzz-drenched chaos of A Beginner Song, to the propulsive pop stylings of Calvary Captain to the country-style groove of Anti-Summersong. And that does not include his melodic upright work!

We recently spoke to Query between legs of their current tour about the creative process behind the new album and his work with his prolific side project, Black Prairie, which features many of his fellow bandmates from The Decemberists.

 

This album came as something of a surprise – not many people were expecting a new record from The Decemberists earlier this year.

Before we started this album, we had talked about taking four years off when we finished touring our last record in 2011 and all of a sudden, it had barely been a year and a half and Colin writes us all an email saying “Do you guys want to book a few studio dates, I’ve got some new songs. I haven’t demoed them or anything but just come on down and bring whatever you feel like bringing and we’ll see what happens.”

It was great to just go in and play them and not tell the label – or anybody - that we were making a record!

Lake Song is an incredibly beautiful track and your upright work is perfect for it! Tell us a little about that.

Thanks - that one was really fun to record! We picked three songs to tackle during that first session and Lake Song was one of them.

It had this Nick Drake or Astral Weeks/Van Morrison kind of vibe right from the beginning and Colin and our producer Tucker Martine said “we’re thinking upright bass – like an Astral Weeks feel”. Which is my favorite thing to hear because it usually means that you have a lot of free rein and they want the bass to be central to the sound and still be ‘harmonically complex’ (laughs)! But we didn’t talk about it a whole lot, we just went for it and I loved how that song turned out. It’s really fun to play live as well! Nate Query

You use two identical rigs live, correct? One for electric bass and the second for upright?

Yeah, I’ve been doing that for a few years. When I first started touring with The Decemberists it was actually all upright and we just threw it in the van and that was it. As we grew and added electric bass to the sound, I was just blending them into one amp. Since we were playing in small venues, playing with two amps wouldn’t have worked anyway. And then when we started playing bigger places and there was a bit more room on stage – and more room in the trailer – I finally added a second rig. I use the AG 500 and GS 212 cabinet for both rigs.

That is such a cool distorted tone on A Beginner Song, how did you achieve that?

Yeah – we did a full-on bass fuzz shootout! Realistically, most of the time when we do fuzz bass, which has only been a few times, we end up getting a bunch of pedals to find the “right” one because they are all so different! We actually recorded it with all my favorite fuzz pedals and then decided to use Tucker’s vintage Big Muff – one of those green, Russian ones. That was the one that worked for the track – and then I had to go out and find one on eBay! Unfortunately your new Fuzzistor pedal wasn’t out at the time we recorded it (laughs)!

What are some of the differences between working in The Decemberists and Black Prairie?

It’s a pretty big difference. Black Prairie started off as an experimental collective basically. It was just the five of us and the first record was almost all-instrumental and all-acoustic – accordion, upright bass, Dobro, guitar and violin. It was like Classical, Bluegrass and Jazz all kind of thrown together. But we are all rock musicians and as Black Prairie, we back up lots of people in town for fundraisers and things like that. We also played on Rhett Miller’s new album The Traveler. So the band has moved towards more of a rock thing that’s maybe a little closer towards a similar genre as The Decemberists but the writing comes from us getting together and writing as a group.

In contrast, The Decemberists really center around Colin Meloy who is the songwriter and brings in finished songs ready to be recorded by the band. But in that situation, I am the bass player and not a songwriter. So Black Prairie has been a fun project just in terms of being able to flex those other muscles. Also, it’s a band where we don’t take a lot of solos but the music is more technically challenging, so it’s a bit of an escape (laughs)! A different kind of exercise.

What is next for Black Prairie?

We are working on something this year that we haven’t started yet but we are at least planning. Black Prairie has done a couple of E.P.’s in between albums and one of the E.P.’s [Wild Ones] is a mostly instrumental soundtrack to a book! The author that we collaborated with for that – Jon Mooallem - has talked about doing it again. He’s a journalist that writes for the New York Times Magazine. His writing is really funny even though he’s a journalist and he has an eye for the weird so it’s fun to write songs that go along with his writing. So we’re going to try that again and then probably do a full-length album next year when The Decemberists are done with this touring cycle. It’s hard to do both bands at once because there is a fair amount of overlap in the members and the scheduling gets too hard.

What have you been listening to lately that you find inspiring?

Two records that I’ve been listening to a ton are D’Angelo’s record with Pino Palladino playing bass and the new Kendrick Lamar record has that guy Thundercat all over it and both records are, genre-wise, don’t overlap a lot with what I do but it’s some of my favorite stuff to listen to. And both of them have some amazing bass playing on them! Pino Palladino and Questlove are the most confusingly amazing rhythm section ever (laughs)! But those are the two things that lately I have been digging a lot.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today Nate! Best of luck on the rest of the tour and we look forward to those new projects!

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