Or ‘If You Like Pina Coladas’… Everyone one rides for free with
Brightblack Morning Light.
BY DAVID DOWNS
“We got booked to do a split EP with
Bonnie Prince Billy [Will Oldham]and during that process I got beat up by the
San Jose Police Department and put in jail on Valentine’s Day,” says Nathan
“Nabob” Shineywater from Matador Records band Brightblack Morning Light.
“It was the first protests against
the war and that song came out of that experience years later … “
Shineywater’s talking about the epic
cut “Oppressions Each” off new album Motion to Rejoin, while heading
East currently somewhere outside Louisiana
just after the election. Johnny Cash blares out of the AM radio.
“We were all sitting in jail on
Sunday morning on Valentine’s Day bleeding. I had blood all over me. And there
were two people coming down off meth sitting next to me. Big, 600-pound dudes
clenching their bodies. And there was blood on the floor and blood on the wall.
Other people’s blood. I had open wounds. I don’t think I’ve contracted anything
through it, but when they put me in the cop car there was already blood in it
from something else. I was like, ‘God, this is crazy.'”
Now six years after that beating, America has
relapsed into the drugged out, liberal, consciousness-expanding ’60s complete
with a Kennedy-like president and ascendant hippy jams dominating boomboxes
across the land. But the thirty-two year-old guitarist, vocalist for the
champion hippy folk duo remains suspect. Nabob and pianist/vocalist Rachael
“Rabob” Hughes are crashing around the country in a tour van through February,
and are observing a nation in convulsive flux.
“If we say it’s up to the people, we
have to see how awake the people are, man. We’ve yet to determine that. Out
here, people are kind of smirky and smiley. And the old creepy Republican
people, you can kind of tell that they don’t really belong in that mindframe,”
“I want to see more people on their
lunch breaks smoking joints out the backside of businesses these days. Let’s
get everyone partying across the nation. We’re a young nation and we’ve to
learn how to truly party.”
Nabob and Rabob’s personal Air-Conditioned
Nightmare-esque journey is occasioned by Motion to Rejoin, their
second LP on Matador. Released in the Fall of 2008 to rave reviews and a
historic new Democratic majority, Motion combines the soulfulness of
southern gospel with the drug-addled murk and blues of an after-party at Steely
Dan’s house. Fender Rhodes electric piano coos
over trap kit. Electric guitar and horns wane in and out. The album runs at
what feels like six beats per minute and the entire approach plugs a symbolic
daisy into the smoking gun barrel of contemporary music. It’s as though
gangster rap, alternative’s rise, electronic music never happened; the question
Nabob was born in Alabama in 1976, he says, the only child of
“an outlaw and a nurse”. He graduated from church choirs to coke parties,
searching for whatever doped-out, mothercountry maniac culture he could find in
the congenitally confederate ‘Bama. By late adulthood, he had befriended
folk-punk polymath Bonnie Prince Billy before moving to Humboldt County, California
to study furniture-making; of all things.
Nabob told Billy to play Humboldt,
and one day Billy asked Nabob to do just that — join him on a tour of the
region. Shineywater was back East at the time and broke though, so he had to
steal his way West, pilfering fuel from every town he hit when the needle
pointed to”E”. Again, How?
“You put on a certain kind of hat and
you pick a gas station that’s easy to get on the freeway from, you know? And
you pick a pump that’s far from the cashier window and, you know, you look
regular. Stand around. Put the thing back on the thing. Get back in in the
truck. Crank it up — I don’t like to go out causally. I usually like to floor
it, but, you know that was a long time ago.”
Back out West, the story goes he
enlisted pianist Rachael Hughes, another Alabama
native he knew from jam sessions down South. She was working for AmeriCorps on
endangered salmon restoration, yet skipped the fish for tour dates with Billy
and Nabob. The tour lep to that 02 slplit EP, an ’04 LP Ala.Cali.Tucky and another split EP in ’04.
In 2005, Slint invited then-named
“Brightblack” to play boutique UK
festival All Tomorrow’s Parties. Reps from Matador swooned, and asked them to
record. But Nabob blanked the esteemed label of Interpol and Sonic Youth.
“We didn’t send them nothing for
months,” he laughs, in a raspy, cannabinol drawl. “I have no idea how we got it
together.” Eventually, the two became Brightblack Morning Light on their
self-titled debut in 2006, recorded near Idyllwild, CA.- a seemingly effortless
yet timeless gem in an otherwise dark year.
For their 2008 follow-up, the pair
decamped to a mesa in New Mexico
and lived in an adobe pueblo. They home-recorded on power from a solar panel
when wattage permitted. Over the languorous months, the pair would slowly lay
down one track to a four-track, dump it into ProTools the next day, dump it
back onto four-track the day after, and play with the horn blowers and other
musicians that showed up. If it was too cloudy to record, they hiked.
Most surprisingly, Nabob maintains
the duo’s relationship is and was platonic. They play brilliantly together and
they’re lucky to have that connection, he says. It’s hard, though.
“It shows mental domination. Because
how many women do you know are willing to go live on the beach in a tent by
themselves and work a full-time job? And pick up to go make a record? Rachael
is the real deal, man. I think some of these high maintenance chicks need to
know that like, uhhh, you know — we were all shitting behind bushes a few
hundred years ago.”
BML’s strange trip continues through
February before a possible sabbatical in Joshua Tree National Forest. Which
naturally begs the question, ‘what does a BML tour rider even look like?
Ketamine? Ayajuasca?’ Nabob laughs.
“Truthfully we haven’t had our rider
honored once since we’ve been on tour. And we only put ‘pina coladas’ on