Nate Hall Of U.S. Christmas Talks Nature, "Channeling" Music, And New Album "The Valley Path"
Where precisely does heavy metal end and some other style of music begin? Without blast beats or hellish screams or showy solos, can an album still hold a metal fans attention? That's a question music lovers of many stripes can explore freely with "The Valley Path," the new 40 minute long single-track album from genre benders U.S. Christmas (USX).
The odd name may raise eyebrows, but the journey the music takes is far more serious than the title may lead on, and is well worth exploring by fans of heavier music. A song of mammoth (and trance-inducing) proportions, "The Valley Path" is a slowly winding and deliberate excursion into both nature and many different layers of music.
To explain the band's new album, vocalist and guitarist Nate Hall spoke at length with me about how the release ending up being one single track. Commenting on the recording of "The Valley Path," Nate expounded "It’s kind of hard to describe it but we’re driven by something that’s not entirely me or us. There’s something with music that’s kind of mysterious and you just sort of channel it sometimes and that’s how I felt with this. It’s real natural, like it’s supposed to happen that way." Below you can find a transcription of the entire conversation, in which Nate also discusses the geography that inspired the album, working with Neurot, his new solo album, and the "Slow Southern Steel" documentary.
xFiruath: Let’s start out with some background on U.S. Christmas.
Nate: We’ve been going almost 10 years, it will be 10 years next summer. We got on Neurot in 2007 and before that we did a record with a label in Moscow called R.A.I.G. They did a good job with the album called “Salt the Wound.” We did “Run Thick in the Night” last September and that’s where we are now.
xFiruath: What do you guys do when you write an album and when did you write the music for the new album “The Valley Path?”
Nate: Well they are all different. This one was sort of conceived at the same time we did “Run Thick in the Night.” The guys that recorded “Run Thick in the Night,” except for Matt, were new to the band at the time. So most of the writing process was done before they came in. We did get a chance to work more on “The Valley Path,” and we recorded it in August before “Run Thick in the Night” even came out. It came together when we recorded it and that was the approach we took. I knew the structure and the parts I wanted to do. Everybody contributed real special things to the final recording. I think one of the most noticeable things is the interaction between BJ and Justin on drums. They hadn’t played together too much, but since then we’ve done two tours of the States and they really got a lot more connected when they play, and I think you can hear that on the record. The drums stand out and it was a real easy process.
The recording was a lot of fun and we did in a short amount of time and everybody felt good about it. It was a really enjoyable experience and tha’st kind of the way we set things up when we record. I don’t like pressure. We had to get it done quick, because we never have more than a few days, but the writing and recording was natural and enjoyable. It’s kind of hard to describe it but we’re driven by something that’s not entirely me or us. There’s something with music that’s kind of mysterious and you just sort of channel it sometimes and that’s how I felt with this. It’s real natural, like it’s supposed to happen that way.
xFiruath: Is that why you decided to do one long track instead of multiple songs?
Nate: That was just the way it needed to be. Neurot was supportive and they didn’t fight us on it because they are artists themselves. The only way to do it right is to do it the true way it’s supposed to be. Everybody saw what happened with Sleep when they did that one long “Dopesmoker” album. It was great and everybody who hears it is blown away by it, and it was really stupid of the label to cause the band so much trouble and thankfully we are working with an artist run label that supports what we want to do. We never even thought about doing it any other way and Neurot was cool with it the whole time.
xFiruath: What’s the theme to “The Valley Path?”
Nate: One of the things you hear is the sound of the place. There’s music in that and you hear it all the time where we live. I live out the middle of a national forest and it’s alive and you hear that. I’ve heard it my whole life and that has an effect on you. There is a place near where I live that inspired a lot of the imagery for “The Valley Path” and really kind of planted it in my head. When I was thinking about the words or the music I’d think about that. It kind of happens without thinking about it. Most of the time I’ll have a real strong idea in my head and sometimes I’ll have to figure out how to make it sound that way. I think that geography and a place has a lot to do with that. Places on the Earth can be really inspiring musically and I’m sure there’s lots of examples of that. It’s a real pretty place where I live and its real green in the summer. The cover is like that too.
xFiruath: When are you hitting the road again to support the album?
Nate: I think we’re talking about playing a show with Dark Castle and Yob in July and maybe some local shows this summer. Our tour schedule has to work around our work schedule and that’s something we’ve got to figure out. It’s been up in the air for me. We’d really like to do Europe and we’ll have to work on that, that’s something we’ll hopefully do next year but I don’t know where or when.
xFiruath: Do you go to shows often?
Nate: Ashville is a pretty good town, a lot of people come through and there lots of people I like to see. As far as giant, big shows, unless it’s somebody I know I haven’t gone to see them. It’s tempting if Neil Young comes through or whatever but then it’s going to be a couple hundred dollars to go see somebody play.
xFiruath: What bands have been inspiring you lately?
Nate: I really like Neil Young’s last record a lot and I did a solo album that’s kind of inspired by the way he approached music. Neurot is going to put that out and it’s called “A Great River.” Sometimes its acoustic guitar and sometimes its electric guitar and I’ve never really heard anything quite like it. I’m trying to think of other things, I listen to a lot of Pink Floyd. I’m listening to the Melvins right now in the car. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of music from Australia. Other than my solo band I don’t have anything besides USX, but Josh and BJ have this band called Generation of Vipers, Meg’s in a band called Judas Horse, and Justin’s in a band called Shadow of the Destroyer. They’re always playing and doing other things. They are all real creative people so I’m constantly hearing music. I almost take it for granted and there’s a real big benefit as I’m always getting exposed to things that are really good. It’s good time for musicians right now. Not necessarily in financial gains, but in terms of being in control and making records and making them sound good. It’s a good time because technology has made that a lot easier. It’s a harder time in terms of playing and touring. Unless you’re on some sort of arena tour, and honestly I don’t even know how you would get to that point.
xFiruath: Anything else you wanted to discuss?
Nate: I’m always good to talk. That movie “Slow Southern Steel” is going to come out pretty soon. We’re not in it, but I helped collaborate with it on the narrative. I haven’t seen the final thing but it looked like a really good movie. I don’t think anyone’s made anything like it. A lot of thought and time went into it and I think they’re premiering that in Little Rock June 6th maybe. I did some vocals on the Dark Castle record that’s coming out soon and one of our drummers in A Storm of Light, and they’ve got a new record coming out too. I’m not sure when my new solo thing is coming out, that’s probably going to be late summer or early fall. There’s a lot of stuff coming out and we’re going to start on a new record maybe.
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