Way back in November, I did a post on one of my favorite new artists, Nate Allen, who goes by the ominous sounding moniker Destroy Nate Allen. His music is a simple sort of folk-punk with honest, singable lyrics. It’s stripped down and raw feeling. Just one guy, his voice, and a guitar. It’s not too “pretty” or “refined,” but it’s real and it’s catchy, and I like it.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, I sent Nate way too many questions over e-mail in order to do an interview, and he was nice enough to answer every one of them so that today you can all read the results, on this beautiful first day of 2008.
But before I go on to the interview, be sure you check out his website to download all the songs he’s ever recorded and his MySpace to get up to date on all things Nate Allen. If you like his music, be sure to give him a donation, to make his life easier.
The Blah Blah: Nate Allen , who are you, in as many words as you want to use?
Nate Allen: Who is Nate Allen? I’m an average guy. I’ll talk about myself plenty later. If you don’t mind, I’ll talk about my parents. They’ll shed some good perspective on who I am. They have been married almost 30 years! They have always been supportive of my dreams even when they don’t understand them. (My mom booked my first punk show! My dad helped with shows for years but rarely came inside because the music was so loud.).
One of my favorite stories is when my dad decided to stop working overtime at the mill and start attending all my baseball games, even though he knew nothing of baseball. He would cheer even when I struck out or made an error! (He eventually learned the game and now he probably enjoys it more than I do.) His commitment was amazing and really made a difference! I’m lucky. I’ve heard we turn into our parents? I would be honored to.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to travel a good amount and hopefully gain some healthy perspective on life and the world. I rarely get mad. I’m considered overgenerous when it comes to labeling people as friends. If you support me or help out one of my friends – I’ll support you or defend you until the end!
TBB: Why the name “Destroy Nate Allen?” Any deep meaning behind it?
NA: I played under “Nate Allen” for a while, then went through a major music and spiritual shift. I was thinking of buying destroynateallen.com because I thought it sounded catchy and would be clever marketing. I proposed the idea to Tessa. She asked if I was gonna change my band name. I hadn’t thought of it. I took a walk and decided to change the band name a few minutes later but didn’t tell anyone except Tessa for a while because I was scared. There’s no deep meaning really. Make one up if you’d like. People often do. For the most part the only things in my life I really do that are destructive involve poor eating and getting hurt playing shows. [Editor’s Note: That’s not very interesting, so I’m going to pretend that the name comes from the time that Nate Allen was visiting a small tribe of headhunters in Zimbabwe who chanted all at once, “Destroy him! Destroy Nate Allen!” Feel free to believe my version of the story if you want to. I don’t mind.]
TBB: So you’re getting married pretty soon. How’s wedding planning going?
NA: The wedding planning is coming along well. We’ve been engaged for 2 months and we’re getting married in February so things are pretty rushed (there’s a lot of work involved in planning a wedding!) but the adventure is moving forward and we should be ready.
TBB: What’s a Destroy Nate Allen wedding look like?
NA: Our wedding will be pretty rock n’ roll with some traditional twists. We’re getting married at a historic rock club in downtown Portland called the Satyricon (Tessa’s idea!) The theme will be “wear your best rock n’ roll attire.” You can come if you’d like. It’s a potluck. (Tessa here: we just bought knee-hi black velvet Doc Marten boots for the bridesmaids, and there will be black and hot pink vinyl, and black lights involved! Tell future brides to check out quinceanera dresses because they are awesome and cheaper than traditional wedding dresses.)
TBB: How did you meet Tessa?
NA: Tessa and I met a little less than 4 years ago when I was visiting San Francisco . Our mutual friends said we would be friends mostly because we’re both passionate about music. They were right! After a 3 year friendship that involved lots of growing and forgiveness, I told her I like her in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Athens , Georgia . Three days later I accidentally told her I loved her in a McDonald ‘s, but I meant it! We always joke about having a white trash relationship, which is fitting for 2 self-professed punk rockers (Tessa has a swordfish tattoo on the shaved side of her head.)
Tessa Gretel Rhyne is like no woman I have ever met before. She is amazingly beautiful, full of life, daring, courageous, thoughtful, sensitive, full of integrity and millions of qualities my words cannot express. She is my best friend and has been since the day I moved to San Francisco . She moved to Portland to be closer to me and she even loves to ride in my van and tour. She’s my dream come true. I can’t wait to marry my best friend!
TBB: Why give away all your songs on-line for free?
NA: Before I put out my first full length, Awake O’ Sleeper, I decided to put out my CD’s for free or donation. A lot of thought, prayer and debate went into the decision. I’ve always been very drawn to sell my CD as close to cost as possible. Often times even when I was working with set prices, I’d end up giving the discs away for free. I’d say the decision was heavily influenced by Keith Green (read No Compromise – I find Keith’s approach to music very refreshing), The Psalters, a nomadic tribe of anarchists who also release their music without a set price. In the end it came down to having a clear conscience, being true to myself and not wanting to drag God’s name through the mud by setting a CD price that was too high. I really love being able to release music this way. It takes away a lot of pressure of having to “make a sale.” As for releasing the songs for free online? It’s a matter of resources really. I don’t have enough cash to press my old releases (10 records) so I decided put them up in MP3 form. The decision to make them free was really easy, since that’s what I do already for the physical copies.
TBB: Don’t you need to make money?
NA: I do need to make money, now more than ever. In fact, I just started a job at a call center this week which is where I’m replying from. Any money people pay or donate in exchange for the music helps pay the bills and continue touring. An interesting note is that I’d never worried about my finances until I started dating Tessa. These days I have a strong burden to provide for Tessa and to build a life. It’s weird. I’ve never been the best at budgeting but I’m ok at saving money for things I really want. I guess times are changing!
TBB: What do you do when you’re not making music?
NA: Lately, I’ve been enjoying hanging out with Tessa, whenever possible. We spend alot of time working on our wedding. I’ve also been playing fantasy football (or anything competitive really) and hanging out with friends or family whenever I get the chance.
TBB: How did you get started making music?
NA: I started listening to Green Day in ’94. From the first time I heard Dookie – I’ve never been the same. In fact it really made me a jerk for a while – to the point my family said they couldn’t stand to be around me. That record and punk rock in general (I’m a pop punk kid through and through) really provided a comfort and identity for me in school. So punk rock has been a big part of my life for a while now. Around my junior year in high school, I started to begin addressing my pain and making conscious decisions not to live a reactive life style. I still do sometimes. I’ve seen extensive positive and negative effects of music on my life. It’s definitely in my blood and something I really love.
Now to answer your question.
When I was 15, I went on a trip to visit a college in Southern California . I had the good fortune to have my heart broken by a young lady. As I sat down to vent in my journal, to my surprise, a set of lyrics came out. Soon, I started writing hundreds of lyrics and dreaming of the day when I could play in a band. The only problem was I couldn’t sing and I couldn’t play guitar.
After I graduated high school, I went off to study with at Youth With A Mission in Colorado . When I arrived in Denver with stunning clarity I heard God say, “Send your CD’s home. You’ve made music an idol in your life.” Six weeks later I begrudgingly agreed and packed off 100 CD’s in a box postmarked for Oregon . That was Tuesday, Feb. 13th, 2001. I woke up the next day with a new set of lyrics in my head (the first in six weeks) and on Thursday Feb. 15th 2001, I picked up my roommate’s guitar and beat out the melody for my first song. I had no clue what I was doing. I had to ask my friends what I was playing: they told me bar chords. 15 days later I played the songs at an open mic. It had begun. [That’s awesome.]
I didn’t take music performance seriously until about 3 years ago and since then I’ve already taken extensive amounts of time away from music to address fears / pain / bitterness that were eating me alive. I’ve been in a habit for a while now of not holding music too tightly. This approach has really allowed me to enjoy when I get to tour or play a show and probably approach them more fiercely since I see them as a privilege not a right.
TBB: I saw you played at Tomfest. How was that? Any plans to return?
NA: Tomfest is home for me. I’ve been going as often as possible since ’98. My Tomfest set this year was one of the most amazing moments of my life so far. People were amazingly supportive and sang very, very loud! If possible, I will go to Tomfest for as long as it exists.
TBB: What’s your favorite kind of audience to play for?
NA: Almost any audience will do really. Size doesn’t really matter. I like any show where people can have fun and unleash. It’s always nice when I’m able to leave my whole heart on stage (or normally on the floor) and have people return the favor by singing along whole-heartedly. On tour I found my favorite shows were any with small children in attendance because kids change the atmosphere and are rad to have around. Tessa always loves to tell people that I’ll play for punk rockers one night and old people or children the next. I do have a special place in my heart for a good D.I.Y. house show so out of actual locations, those are probably my favorite.
TBB: I assume that you consider yourself to be a Christian. Could you share a little about when you really started to follow God, when you became born again?
NA: I have been a Christian my whole life. My mom’s very proud of the fact that I was born during morning devotions at the hospital. I’ve been following Jesus since I was around 15. I was inspired by a friend of mine named Pete who genuinely seemed to enjoy life and his faith. I was really sick of being hurt by angry and stuffy Christians that made God seem like a grumpy old man who didn’t care about people.
My upbringing has brought its unique set of challenges. I have really struggled with fear – often in regard to what people think of me for being a Christian. I’ve gone as far as to want to disassociate with the title of Christian (mostly for the negative cultural stereotypes and things such as the crusades, abortion bombings or weird politics that come from people separating their faith and lives). I’m still dealing with the after effects of my upbringing.
Coming to peace for me or “finding salvation” has really been a life long process. I’m 26 and for the first time I’m starting to come to terms with my faith and heritage. Each day I am a little more comfortable in my own skin.
TBB: What were you like in High School?
NA: This is a fun question. I enjoyed high school. I’m a pretty big extrovert so being around people can be a lot of fun. I was pretty involved. I was a nice guy. I hung out with older and younger kids (meaning freshman when I was a senior) and not really anyone in my own grade. I was well liked but felt like an outcast. I found my validation outside the class room but I really enjoyed English and History. I played baseball all the way through. I really enjoyed it. I developed tendonitis after my freshman year but still managed to play every position by the end of high school and hit .397 with a broken finger my senior year. These days my arm hurts after one throw and my knees/legs are shot from baseball. I also played basketball for 2 years. I was benched on the basketball team for dying my hair regularly, so I quit and became a cheerleader – I was so punk rock! I wore pink hammer pants, bright orange soccer socks and made the preps mad by somehow managing to dress crazy and still stay in dress code. I was also a hypocrite like everyone else but felt bad when I was a jerk and often apologized. I was also involved in theater, student council, speech meets and journalism. I was also VERY into music. It was my life through everything. I started promoting shows when I turned 17 and playing in bands shortly after so that is probably the last effect/hobby from my school days. Next year I celebrate my 10 year anniversary of throwing shows and we’re gonna PARTY! I enjoyed school and I didn’t take much too seriously.
TBB: Could you describe your process of writing songs?
NA: Over the years songwriting has evolved quite a bit for me… At first I wrote everything down maniacally… These days I normally write songs in my head and flesh them out only if they won’t go away. Over time my songs have dramatically improved. I’ve learned not to force things – especially in the area of music. Often times when I want to write songs I can’t and then songs I really enjoy catch me by surprise – often in the bathroom for some reason. I guess it’s just a good place to think! I recommend writing down every idea you have if you wanna start writing songs. I’ve been putting my focus on things other than music so the songwriting process has slowed down quite a bit. I’m really excited about my new songs. Tessa and I are starting to play music together and the next record will be really fun and a big step forward.
TBB: What’s your goal with your music?
NA: I’d like to take music as far as I can without compromising my beliefs or integrity. I view music as adventure and as a privilege. I love playing and touring but for all I know it’s only for a season. If I get lucky enough to make a living off my music, it would be amazing! I’ve always been very serious in my approach to music, more so than most people. I can’t really do anything half-assed, and my music and shows reflect this. I always felt bad about my approach until I saw the Danielson movie and heard how Daniel Smith approaches things the same way. Looking back now I can see I picked up a strong work ethic from my dad that influences my approach to most things.
TBB: What artists are you currently listening to?
NA: I honestly don’t listen to much music anymore. My friends make fun of me for it. I haven’t listened to much of anything for almost a year now. I don’t have my own CD player or a stereo in my van. I love it. But as for artists I’ve been into in the last 6 months, I recommend checking out: Insomniac Folklore, Against Me, The Filthy 42’s, Paul Baribue, Ghost Mice, FBS, The Scurvies and Fairweather Fan to name a few.
TBB: What books are you reading?
NA: I’ve been reading To Become One, a relationship book in preparation for marriage and also a book called Anarchy and Christianity that I’m not sure if I like yet.
TBB: What’s your favorite movie?
NA: Empire Records!
TBB: Who’s your all-time favorite musician?
NA: I’d say Green Day for all time significance but also really, really enjoy Johnny Cash and Against Me!
TBB: What do you think of the MP3 downloading revolution? Bad for artists or good?
NA: I think music as a whole is in a very good place right now. I personally have never downloaded anything but I have burned quite a few songs off my friends computers and in the process I’ve gotten to hear some awesome bands in greater depth or for the first time (Flogging Molly, Against Me, Jets To Brazil)! With burning a CD or downloading an album it allows you to get an honest look at a record. Personally I try to go buy something after I burn it if I think it’s worth it. I think music is in a much more accessible place than it ever has been which is great for music lovers. I love that the walls between artist and fan have been torn down to some extent. I think ultimately downloading will be good for music. The times dictate that some artists change there (or our) approach to music and finance but everything will work out. Hopefully, It will make bands that tour hard with good live shows rise to the top.
TBB: I’ve been trying to figure out what to make of this whole “Christian music” thing lately. What does the term “Christian music” mean to you? Like it or hate it?
NA: My first thought would be to say I hate it but I think you deserve a more thorough answer.
It should be noted this is a question I’ve been battling for many years and I’ve revised this answer multiple times-hopefully it’s clear.
My parents are Christians. They hated me listening to Green Day mostly because I was an asshole whenever I listened to them. I had to smuggle the tapes into the house. A few years after I got into punk rock, I was sitting in youth group and I saw a Campus Life magazine on the table with the words “for fans of Green Day” on the lower corner of the front cover. The advertisement was for MXPX. That day I went home and told my mom that I wanted MXPX for Christmas. She complied. MXPX – On The Cover was my first CD. I found a loop hole – Christian Music. I could find the energy I was seeking but actually listen to the CDs out loud in my house.
Over the next several years, I became a very big champion for Christian music, throughout high school I supported anything and everything that fit in the xtian box (ie. anything on Tooth and Nail). After high school I traveled for a while. I saw the walls I’d built up separating sacred and secular music crumble. It was definitely helped that I got more involved in the music industry and saw for myself that both sides of the fence are the same. Art is no respecter of persons, meaning whether you’re a Christian or an Athiest has little to do with your skill as an artist. Art is a responsibility that begs to be taken seriously by whoever it chooses. To me, music is divided in 2 categories: good or bad. What one defines as good or bad is very subjective. For instance, right now you might only be listening to Crass, This Bike is a Pipe Bomb and the Psalters, or Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash or David Crowder, and Philips, Craig and Dean. Everything else you may choose to ignore or don’t enjoy. It’s very relative to who you are and where you’re at in life. I personally believe that the best art is honest and comes from the heart, so if you’re a Christian, sing about where you are and what you’re passionate about and if you’re an atheist, anarchist, or communist please do the same thing. It’s the only way we will truly benefit fully from your art.
The xtian music scene has changed alot over the last 10 years. It becomes more and more integrated every day. MXPX, Danielson, David Bazan and several others did a lot to really break down the industry wall and not allow me to stay in my box. To me the existence of a Christian Music Scene and only supporting Christian bands furthers ignorance, segregation, and elitism. It is a very Americanized ideal.
Please go listen to One-21’s song “Pacified” – they do a great job addressing this. I think we get into trouble as Christians when we begin compartmentalizing our lives. I’d say most musicians (myself included) try to avoid the xtian music tag because they don’t believe it should exist and they don’t wanna be boxed in. I honestly don’t believe I play Christian music. Whenever I say I do I feel dishonest. It’s a really weird spot to be placed in as an artist to be asked a question that if you answer wrong could cause someone to not be able to or to stop listening to your music. When an artist chooses to label the art as Christian (or anything else!) they are consciously choosing an isolated market. I have a passion to take my music to as diverse an audience as possible and to love people whole heartedly in the process – as I believe Jesus would have. On any given night I could end up playing in a anarchist collective, bar, coffee shop, house, club or church. The diversity is one of the things that makes my adventure fun. I love meeting all types of people.
These days I listen to mostly bands I meet on the road. Not many of them are Christian. I have benefited immensely from my friends I made from music and I will support them wholeheartedly! I do enjoy playing churches on occasion but it’s actually quite hard for me to get church shows. Due to various decision I’ve made – I’ll probably deal with the Christian Music question as long as I play music. But I do my best to never bring it up.
It should be noted if you would have asked me this question 3 years ago you would have gotten a very different answer. I tend to be in a constant change and evolution in my ideals on faith and music. God’s been doing alot to rewire and reprogram me over the years – I’d say he’s been personally responsible for breaking down the walls in how I view music. I see his hand in everything I do. For me that creates a great responsibility in how I approach my life and art.)
My ideas are mainly derivative of my influences so I’ll finish my answer by just leaving you some quotes that have influenced me.
I’m still working really hard to come to terms with this. Honestly, when someone asks if I play Christian music it still feels threatening but I agree completely with what Jeff is saying here:
Jeff Suffering (ex 90 LB Wuss, raft of dead monkeys, suffering and the hideous theives): “I do not believe I need to be tagged as a Christian artist, but I also do not feel threatened by it if that is how people want to label me. I do know that I need to write good songs that mean something. If I wanted to write a song about the amazing beer I drank, or a meal I ate, or a game I played, or a relationship I would. Nothing is taboo. I feel that any artist can write any way and about anything they want. As a Christian, if you truly are, God will be evident in your body of work. We as Christians should be meeting people where they are at with the gospel. When we focus on anything other than Jesus we are committing Idolatry. There is nothing inherently evil about culture. Separating Christian and secular life is bad on many levels.”
Daniel Smith said it best: “If there was a Christian Music industry – one that treated everyone honestly and fairy, with grace and love – everyone would want to be a part of it. But as things are, it simply doesn’t exist.” (That was a paraphrase from the Danielson Movie which I highly recommend!) In HM Magazine, Smith said, “As a believer, I’m not a Christian artist. I don’t make any separation….I’m just writing about Who created the songs and Who’s keeping my heart beating. (The music) just comes out of everyday living.”
“If it’s bad art it’s bad religion no matter how pious” – Madeline L’Engle (I FULLY recommend reading Walking on Water if you have any questions about the dance of faith and art)
TBB: Now for a really deep question: If you could ask God one question, and be guaranteed an answer, what would you ask Him?
NA: I don’t know. I ask him questions all the time. He seems to give me answers when I need them.
TBB: If you could have one of your songs played throughout the nation, which one would you choose?
NA: I’d probably choose On With The Show (White Flag) from the songs I’ve recorded so far. It seems to sum up alot of my struggles and it is a pretty relatable song.
TBB: I’ll be nominating Destroy Nate Allen for Christian Music Superbowl I. What are you gonna do if you win? Besides travel the world, save puppies, and pad your retirement fund.
NA: I think I’ll get married!
TBB: Why should people listen to your music?
NA: It’s honest.
TBB: Any closing thoughts?
NA: Please check out:
www.quiversociety.com – a Portland based D.I.Y. collective I’m part of
www.destroynateallen.com – reload your IPOD
www.myspace.com/destroynateallen – latest show info
www.nateallen.blogspot.com – my lyric journal
The Blah Blah – serving up the best in Christian music MP3s
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