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Some Velvet Morning

Brightblack Morning Light gets acclimated to city living.

In a kind-bud-cured Alabama drawl, Nathan "Nabob" Shineywater talks about music like a '60s counterculturalist: part social critic and part shaman. The self-titled second release from Brightblack Morning Light, the project he helms with childhood friend Rachael "Rabob" Hughes, evokes the deep Southern gospel of their religious upbringing and blends it with the wide-open California landscapes where they've spent the past few years. (Think Spirtualized with vaporized harmonies in melted country mellow, carried on the slightest canyon breeze.) The Alabama natives were essentially homeless, residing in tents in the northern California forest, when they recorded the disc. After playing fundraisers for Earth First and a local anarchists' library and organizing rural festivals such as Quiet Quiet Window Lights, the two have become fellow travelers of the freak folk movement, collaborating with Bonnie Prince Billy and counting Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom as musical kinfolk. We caught up with Shineywater just as he'd gotten out of heavy New York City traffic.

Westword:I'll bet traffic jams aren't exactly what you've been used to for the past few years.

Nathan Shineywater: No, man. We've been camping for about three years in California. We had a remodeled chicken coop that we were playing music in. It was really mellow, with thirteen redwood trees in the front yard and Coho salmon that come up every year. We had a bathroom and a stove, but there were no bedrooms, so we lived in tents outside the cabins.

The shiny hippie people of Brightblack Morning Light.
Magic Andy McLeod
The shiny hippie people of Brightblack Morning Light.

You obviously had your reasons for wanting to live like that.

It was all about making choices about what we wanted to react to, a reclamation of freedom. If I was back there right now, I wouldn't have to react to all the inconsistencies that come along with living in a city. Cities are an industrial notion set up so that you absolutely have to spend money to function within them. I don't think that should be the definitive human experience.

I hear gospel in your music. Where does that come from?

I was raised by a preacher, and Rabob was raised playing church organ and piano. At my granddad's country church, we'd always sing. It wasn't very big, just a bunch of peanut farmers.

Does your music share some of the same motivations as gospel music?

I feel like things like organized religion don't really work. Those paths aren't really going to work for our music. When we play, we are conjuring something for ourselves. The music has been a spiritual ingredient to my living, and it has been my way to participate with society. I'd gotten to the point where I didn't want to participate anymore.

Did you feel like you lost anything in putting your sound through the technology of CD-making?

No, I'm fascinated by it, and I feel like it's a format that has a potential to reach many different levels of communications, with folks that maybe we don't even understand yet. But I don't treat it lightly. I think the recording process should be held with reverence. My friend, who was the drummer in My Bloody Valentine, works with Hope Sandoval now, and they take about three years to do a record, and they hold it with reverence. When you sit down and hit "play," it sounds like something you could give to your grandkids. I hope we can do the same thing with our music.

 
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