Israel Nash – Reopening the Cosmic American Frontier

Fans of that old Hollywood hippie sound, the days of the blissed out David Crosby, tetchy Steve Stills and brooding Neil Young and the glorious nugget that is Gene Clark’s masterpiece, No Other, have recently had the opportunity to vicariously relive those days simply by purchasing a copy of Israel Nash’s latest album. Silver Season, released on Loose Records is a sun-blistered swathe of Topanga Canyon like songs, teased out on record, itching to be let loose live, the guitars crackling while pedal steel soars and swoops. Nash sings in a similar vein to a young Neil Young but it’s the music that is rooted in those bygone days, not a nostalgia trip but a feeling, espoused by Nash (who by the way is no relation to the fourth member of that supreme LA supergroup) that music can change, if not the world, then at least those who are listening to it. Recorded in his newly built home studio the album takes aim at gun crime (on Parlour Song) and delivers a wonderful hymn to the narcotic pull of Los Angeles on LA Lately and is a worthy follow up to Nash’s acclaimed 2013 release Rain Plains.

We caught up with Israel as he was heading to New York in the back of an RV. The phone line was tenuous to say the least but the following hopefully carries the gist of the talk which I opened by apologising in advance for the possibility of mentioning Neil Young et al ad nauseam. I asked him if he got fed up with the comparisons.

No, I’m alright with that. People like to talk about Neil Young anyway, he’s one of the big ones so go ahead.

Rain Plains and Silver Seasons seem to be much of a kin but Seasons is somewhat denser with a more psychedelic shimmer to it, would that be a fair enough description?

Well it wasn’t a major goal as such as it just developed that way. After Rain Plains we were playing the album live and it just got us into the way of looking at the album and taking it to another level so it’s like a transition. I look at the album and the music as a presentation. I think that I tried to blend myself as a listener and a writer with all the things I’ve been influenced by and that I’ve tried to grab the listener with everything I can – the artwork, the songs, the whole opportunity you have to suck a listener into this place for an hour.

It’s a huge sound, stratospheric one could say. I really dig the way the pedal steel plays around the electric guitars gliding here and there while the songs shimmer with a sort of heat haze.

That’s a big aspect of what we were working on, the balance between the melodic instruments, they just dance together throughout the record. Gram Parsons had this idea of cosmic American music and I guess the pilot’s just got a little more cosmic.

Parlour Song in particular reminds me of a couple of early Neil Young moments, the orchestrated Expecting To Fly from back in Buffalo Springfield days and towards the end the anger that was evident on Ohio with you shouting out. It’s quite visceral.

Yes, I think that over my years as a musician the songs have become more than just songs, I want to create a space that not only lets you listen to them but makes you go whoa! The beginning of that song is supposed to mimic a funeral precession and it’s really trying to get people in there and see what’s going on in their minds and what they feel like.

I was going to ask you about the introduction, it’s got a cinematic feel, like something from Morricone.

Well it’s inspired by The Godfather II. There’s a scene in it with young Vito in Sicily at his father’s funeral and Copolla does this cool shot with the sound of crickets and in the distance this rag tag band meandering through the hills. Those hills reminded me of the Hill Country in Texas and so I wanted to do something like that. So we recorded the crickets and then we tried to mimic the movie’s panned shot, we tried a bi aural set up, we put two microphones outside and played the track through speakers we carried as we marched about.

LA Lately is simply stunning and again there’s a short introductory passage which sets the scene.

That’s trying to introduce the emotional impact of leaving Texas and going to LA. It’s like, “where did all the hope go?” It’s trying to represent that feeling, a kind of brooding about getting ready to go out there but also the excitement of going away. And then LA represents that unease and unpredictability, again it’s an emotional journey. The song’s about our experience in LA. We played our first headline show there and we had a moment. It’s always exciting that I get to play music but I was overwhelmed that we had such a great show there. LA just has this thing, this history, like Steve Stills and Neil Young meeting on the freeway.

At the end of the album, on Rag and Bone you slip into a chorus of We Shall Overcome. Can I ask you why?

Well the rag and bone man, that’s a real British thing I read about. They seem to be like the least of us in society and to treat people like that, well for me there are a lot of themes across the album and one of them is the idea that there are so many things, man made conventions that we assume are important to society but which are actually not important at all in the grand scheme of things. Like money is made up, time is made up, all these things, they’re restraints that we’ve put on ourselves. The rag and bone men, well we just put them down but we should just change this with a little love, take a step back and make it a little simpler. It might seem like this is a hippie ideal but the older I get the more adamant I am about it, it’s not youthful foolish thinking because I’ve lived it. I’ve seen live shows with people around me catch this contagious atmosphere and as for the closing of the song the idea is that we can have a singalong at the end. I mean what’s wrong with a roomful of people singing we should love one another. It’s just another element of what I feel about music – it’s not just another guitar solo or some badass thing, it’s way bigger than that, it’s way bigger than just rock’n’roll, it’s relationships and it’s people

You recorded the album in your own home studio. Can you tell us about that?

Well we’ve got about 15 acres at Dripping Spring so that was always the plan to build a studio and it finally happened. I got a Quonset hut which is a metal building which has 20 arches and is held together by 3,500 bolts. The plan is to record my own music and produce other people’s records, a place where I can walk from my house straight to the studio to work on material.

That and your story of walking outside recording Parlour Song reminds me of Graham Nash’s story of Neil Young listening to the playback of Harvest using his house and his barn as speakers and yelling out More barn!

Yeah, that’s a cool Neil story.

I believe there are plans to come back over to Europe soon.

We’re going to go out, playing the album front to back, that’s what we have in store for Europe, playing the album as one full piece of music and we’re doing a London show early next year. Hopefully we’ll be back in the UK again after that.

Isreal Nash will be playing a set of European dates commencing in January 2016 with a London show on 15th February, all dates are here. Silver Season will be available on vinyl in November. You can read my review of the album here

Israel Nash website

Loose Music website

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One thought on “Israel Nash – Reopening the Cosmic American Frontier

  1. Really enjoyed this, Paul. Rain Plans was a great album – really grew on me. Looking forward to getting my hands on this one a whole lot.

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