Nathaniel Rateliff Discusses New Music Ahead of Annual Red Rocks Run | Westword

Nathaniel Rateliff Discusses the Night Sweats' New Music Ahead of Annual Red Rocks Run

Nathaniel Rateliff is ever the reluctant rockstar, tackling how he handles stardom on the Night Sweats' new album.
Longtime Denver group Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats share a new album this week.
Longtime Denver group Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats share a new album this week. Courtesy Alysse Gafkjen
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Nathaniel Rateliff is a reluctant rock star.

Even after graduating from playing the Denver dive circuit to now headlining international shows with his longtime band the Night Sweats over the past decade, the soulful frontman still admits to experiencing self-doubt at times. Sometimes he just doesn’t feel like much of a rock star — or, maybe more to the point, doesn’t want to act like one.

“I’m an introvert pretending to be an extrovert,” Rateliff says from his London post, where the Night Sweats are currently touring.

“I’ve always struggled with insecurities, and I think a lot of people do, but that can push your ego to be majorly inflated or, like for me, it can be debilitating at times,” he continues.

Rateliff notes that he doesn’t suffer from stage fright or performance panic, calling himself a "pretty good taskmaster." For him, it’s about feeling more comfortable in his own skin as he approaches 46. “When you’re faced with your insecurities in front of a large group of people, it certainly doesn’t make you feel any less insecure,” he jokes. “There is a rawness to what I’m doing, and I’ve always felt like I wanted to be truly myself and vulnerable and passionate in a way that I hope would make other people want to do the same.”

The longtime Denver-based blues-rock band just released a new album, South of Here, on June 28. Rateliff explains that the record is partially about those recurring insecurities and anxieties, as well as how he navigates them as he and the Night Sweats have only gotten bigger.

“For me, it’s an important record in just what my experience is, and that’s what this record is about,” he says. “I guess in some ways, that’s what most of the records are about: me explaining my own human experience and how I observe things around me.”
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Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats are headlining Madison Square Garden in March 2025.
Courtesy Rich Fury

As a songwriter, Rateliff prefers the stream-of-consciousness approach more often than anything. He doesn’t think too much about the words flowing out, and the meaning often isn’t evident until after the burst of creativity subsides. That’s what happened with South of Here to a degree, Rateliff says. But he credits producer Brad Cook for pointing out patterns that he didn’t necessarily notice himself, causing him to dig a little deeper if it appeared that he seemingly had more to say.

“Sometimes even as you’re writing a song, you’re not really clear about what it’s about. I feel like when your subconscious is doing a lot of the work for you, you end up discovering what the song is about later on. Sometimes it’s a bit of a surprise,” Rateliff explains.

“I think, in this record, I chose not to beat around the bush if I was feeling something, where in the past, I’m writing from a personal perspective and how I see the world, but sometimes I’d be a little more delicate and try to disguise some of what I was saying," he adds. "It was a little more literal this time.”

On the song “Get Used to the Night,” he confesses, “I used to be a proud fuckin’ fool." Nowadays, he’s more of “a square peg feeling round," as the line goes in the previously released single “David and Goliath.” The eleven tracks of South of Here cover everything from Rateliff’s relationship with drinking to how the passage of time has a way of making fools out of all of us.

“I feel like I’m a natural over-sharer as a person, even in conversation, for better or worse," he admits. "I wish sometimes I would self-edit a little bit more about the things I share in stories. I might give away too much information in that setting, where I don’t feel I’m a great communicator under pressure and I don’t say what I mean or what I want, and I have a real inability in that, which I talk about on this record as well.” The song “Center of Me,” specifically, is about that dichotomy, he adds.

Rateliff, originally from St. Louis, moved to Denver at the age of eighteen and formed his first band, Born in the Flood, in 2002. A local favorite, the group once headlined the Westword Music Showcase and eventually received a record deal from Roadrunner Records. But Rateliff turned the offer down because he wanted to shift away from Born in the Flood’s jangly hipster pop to focus on his own singer-songwriter solo material. Then he added more and more local musicians to his project, and after a brief stint performing under the moniker Nathaniel Rateliff & the Wheel, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats officially formed in 2013.

Since then, the band has released five albums, including the breakout self-titled debut in 2015; the popularity of the single “S.O.B.” pushed the band into the national spotlight.

Suddenly, Rateliff was selling out back-to-back nights at Red Rocks (check out 2017's Live at Red Rocks) and playing sets across late-night television, including Saturday Night Live in 2021 and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert earlier this month. He and the Night Sweats also opened for the Rolling Stones in Denver in 2019.

After finishing shows across the pond, Rateliff will have his annual Red Rocks run on Tuesday, August 20, and Wednesday, August 21, with Futurebirds. Then there are some Pacific Northwest dates with Tyler Childers and a proper tour with My Morning Jacket.

The group also recently announced a headlining tour, set to kick off at the end of the year, which will be its first-ever stadium tour as well, alongside fellow Colorado musician and friend Gregory Alan Isakov. “I went up and got some plants for my garden from him and his farm before I left for this tour,” Rateliff says of Isakov.

The tour even includes a date at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, aka the mecca that all musicians strive to reach. “That’ll be the first time. It’s the Garden. It’ll be great to have Gregory with us as well,” Rateliff says, adding that he never thought his Night Sweats would ever grace such a stage.

“I do now that we’re doing it, but it’s not really something that I daydreamed about,” he continues. “I just didn’t know we were going to get to be an arena band. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what that’s going to be like when we do it more than just in Denver.”

Rateliff has always had an arena-sized presence once on stage, even if he sounds unassuming and shy when chatting about it all. And his blue-collar workmanlike approach to music hasn’t changed after all these years. Now, as he sees it, it’s just a matter of more people showing up each night. That doesn’t necessarily make it more or less stressful for him, though.

“I think it just kind of is,” he says of his growing stardom. “I’m constantly observing myself and I’m very critical, but I’m also still very curious and I’m still trying to learn. And not just trying: I'm learning new things, whether that be musically or the way I carry myself. I’m getting more comfortable with myself as I get older and being in my position. Having a career in this industry has been difficult for me, because it really preys on my insecurities.

“[I've] always been a pretty insecure person,” he adds. “I’m trying to change the way that I talk about myself and view myself and carry myself in a way that reflects the confident side of me."

It’s kind of shocking to hear such an honest admission. If you’ve ever seen one of his shows, you’d never pick up on any of that, as Rateliff, armed with his guitar, is nothing but a booming presence behind the mic.

“I feel like I rise to the occasion, but sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it’s like an existential fucking meltdown battle in my head the whole time, and I’m just trying to look like I’m having a good time,” he says.

“Now that I’m getting older, it should be fun, even if there are moments of vulnerability and I’m emotional,” he concludes. “Those moments are also pivoted by goofiness and laughter and joy. I want to be the full emotional spectrum while I’m on stage.”

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats play Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 18300 West Alameda Parkway, Morrison, Tuesday, August 20, and Wednesday, August 21. The shows are sold out, but South of Here is available on all streaming platforms.
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