Interview | FFS 5 with Nathan Kalish

Photo by Amy Thorne

Over the course of two years spent out on the road, tirelessly playing show after show, Nathan Kalish cultivated a collection of story songs grown from not only his own life experiences but also incorporating the experiences of the people he encountered along the way. His 10th album, the self-produced Songs for Nobody, shows you a secret world via Kalish’s unique outsider perspective. Through his cutting and intimate lyrics, he transports listeners to the passenger seat of his touring van, to a phone call with a loved one and behind the lens of a magnifying glass aimed at the darker shades of American culture.

Kalish has lived the life of a curious wanderer, taking his music to town after town while creating a catalog of songs that act as colorful snapshots, like polaroids in a family photo album. He’s released nine albums over the course of his career, shared the stage with Lucinda Williams, Molly Tuttle, Lucero, Steve Miller Band, and earned accolades from Rolling Stone Country, Saving Country Music among others.

Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?

I was born in Milwaukee, WI. I only lived there until I was 4, then we started moving. We moved around a lot, all over the US and Europe throughout my childhood. I started playing piano when I was maybe 5 or 6 and gave up on that pretty quickly. Then I started playing bass when I was in middle school after discovering the band Operation Ivy. Then I moved to drums by high school and then guitar as an adult.

As an artist, how do you define success?

Being joyful is success, although lots of things can make you unhappy which will eventually impact your ability to be joyful. Lack of resources, health, and feeling trapped can hinder that joy so, I guess, you need enough money and resources to avoid those situations.

What do you find to be your greatest struggle when it comes to the music business? 

I find that my music is best performed in an active listening situation. I find more of those style venues when I tour abroad. In the US, I’ve had to adjust for a less than attentive audience because that’s where the immediate money always was when I started, like pubs and restaurants as background music or as a fixture in the party. I feel like in some ways, I’ve had an easier time getting a sympathetic ear in Europe than I have in the States. In the last couple of years that has been shifting for me slowly and I hope it continues, we shall see.

What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist/band? What do you hope to achieve?

I’d like to sell out 50 person listening rooms everywhere I tour until I can’t walk, or lose my will to travel and see new things. I really would like to tour in Asia in the next year as well. I really like playing in new countries and cities. The more of those I can cross off my list the happier I’ll be.

Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?

I love cooking, I don’t really follow recipes but I have a few I’ve generally memorized and tried different variations. I don’t always succeed at making something great but the more I do it, the better I get. It’s a very practical and fun skill to work on. I’d say I specialize in making cheap meals that taste expensive. Playing music can take a lot of energy so it helps to stay nourished.

Words by: Jonathan Frahm