Locals Only: : Nathan Holscher

Folkie's quiet fortitude is the foundation for new CD, 'Even the Hills'

 
Keith Klenowski


Nathan Holscher



Tall, tattooed and rail thin, Nathan Holscher cuts a figure that could be imposing if he channeled his intensity into Rock's frenetic abandon or Punk's confrontational chaos. But Holscher has translated his emotional passion into the Folk idiom, and when he talks about his music and his intentions his words are delivered with the same measured deliberation and whispered modesty that defines the dark, quiet beauty of his sophomore album, Even the Hills.

"For better or worse, I don't or can't write the songs that make young women in sundresses dance," says Holscher with a smile over beers at Northside Tavern. "I write songs that reflect another side of people's lives. A lot of influence comes from the way I'm looking at life or the folks that I'm reading — a lot of Wendell Berry, a Kentucky author, Faulkner's always a favorite and Wallace Stevens. I felt literature moving me toward this. And trying to write a song that doesn't get the listener to take a side."

Holscher grew up in Galena, Ill., with his newspaper editor/English professor father and stay-at-home mother. Music was a constant in his home — Bruce Springsteen was a big influence and he cleared the dinner dishes nightly to Dire Straits. He eventually learned to play guitar as a teen.

As a college student in Richmond, Ind., Holscher heard Townes Van Zandt's "You Are Not Needed Now" and experienced an epiphany. Post-graduation, he embarked on a direction without clearly understanding his destination, knowing only that the journey was the important thing.

"Once I was out, it was time to fill in the spaces with work where I could, but I just kept writing songs," says Holscher. "I didn't think about whether financially that would pan out, and I still don't know, but I just felt like it was something that I have to do."

Holscher returned to Galena in 2004 with his college song portfolio to record his debut, Pray for Rain, which made in-roads at college radio and had a significant impact in Europe. He bounced around the Midwest ("couch surfing," he says), and then Chicago, before relocating to Cincinnati a couple of years ago. Holscher took a job with a nonprofit river conservancy group (in favor of another offered job in Austin, Tex.), visited friends in the Southwest and continued to craft sparse and intimate Folk songs, all of which have impacted the songs he's written recently. Although he knew he would record another album, he had no idea when or how it would happen.

"I was set on leaving Cincinnati about a year ago and moving to New Mexico," says Holscher. "Then I moved in with some friends in Winton Place and got some encouragement and support. My housemate knew (producer/musician) Ric Hordinski through a friend and I met up with Ric and we talked. I felt really comfortable with where he was coming from, where he'd been musically and what he would add to the process."

Holscher notes that he and Hordinski both compromised to get to the heart of Even the Hills.

"Ric kind of made me get out of just making an AltCountry or Americana record," he says. "He brought different ideas for rhythm and tempo and hooks that were really important. This isn't the kind of record he would necessarily make. I just kind of wanted to make pretty songs and he was down with that. Both of us had to let go a little bit to make this record work. I had to let go of some preconceived notions of what this record would sound like and he was open to making a record that sounded like me."

Although he tends to keep his expectations and responses low-key, the future seems shades-bright for Holscher. He's rarely performed live but he's poised to change that situation very soon. Since its release, Even the Hills has generated strong support at WNKU and at college stations around the country, and the European audience that backed Pray for Rain has shown equal interest in the new album, leading Holscher to believe he might tour overseas in the foreseeable future. Still, he approaches everything with a wary sense of satisfaction.

"You have to be yourself and you can't worry about how anyone else is going to receive the record, because at the end of the day, it's going to be your record," says Holscher with a grin. "I'm not really part of any scene and I'm kind of a homebody, and I didn't know where it would go and frankly I don't care. I learned that on this one. If people get it, it's so affirming and wonderful, and if they don't, I'm going to wake up tomorrow and try to write another song."



NATHAN HOLSCHER (

 
Keith Klenowski


Nathan Holscher



Tall, tattooed and rail thin, Nathan Holscher cuts a figure that could be imposing if he channeled his intensity into Rock's frenetic abandon or Punk's confrontational chaos. But Holscher has translated his emotional passion into the Folk idiom, and when he talks about his music and his intentions his words are delivered with the same measured deliberation and whispered modesty that defines the dark, quiet beauty of his sophomore album, Even the Hills.

"For better or worse, I don't or can't write the songs that make young women in sundresses dance," says Holscher with a smile over beers at Northside Tavern. "I write songs that reflect another side of people's lives. A lot of influence comes from the way I'm looking at life or the folks that I'm reading — a lot of Wendell Berry, a Kentucky author, Faulkner's always a favorite and Wallace Stevens. I felt literature moving me toward this. And trying to write a song that doesn't get the listener to take a side."

Holscher grew up in Galena, Ill., with his newspaper editor/English professor father and stay-at-home mother. Music was a constant in his home — Bruce Springsteen was a big influence and he cleared the dinner dishes nightly to Dire Straits. He eventually learned to play guitar as a teen.

As a college student in Richmond, Ind., Holscher heard Townes Van Zandt's "You Are Not Needed Now" and experienced an epiphany. Post-graduation, he embarked on a direction without clearly understanding his destination, knowing only that the journey was the important thing.

"Once I was out, it was time to fill in the spaces with work where I could, but I just kept writing songs," says Holscher. "I didn't think about whether financially that would pan out, and I still don't know, but I just felt like it was something that I have to do."

Holscher returned to Galena in 2004 with his college song portfolio to record his debut, Pray for Rain, which made in-roads at college radio and had a significant impact in Europe. He bounced around the Midwest ("couch surfing," he says), and then Chicago, before relocating to Cincinnati a couple of years ago. Holscher took a job with a nonprofit river conservancy group (in favor of another offered job in Austin, Tex.), visited friends in the Southwest and continued to craft sparse and intimate Folk songs, all of which have impacted the songs he's written recently. Although he knew he would record another album, he had no idea when or how it would happen.

"I was set on leaving Cincinnati about a year ago and moving to New Mexico," says Holscher. "Then I moved in with some friends in Winton Place and got some encouragement and support. My housemate knew (producer/musician) Ric Hordinski through a friend and I met up with Ric and we talked. I felt really comfortable with where he was coming from, where he'd been musically and what he would add to the process."

Holscher notes that he and Hordinski both compromised to get to the heart of Even the Hills.

"Ric kind of made me get out of just making an AltCountry or Americana record," he says. "He brought different ideas for rhythm and tempo and hooks that were really important. This isn't the kind of record he would necessarily make. I just kind of wanted to make pretty songs and he was down with that. Both of us had to let go a little bit to make this record work. I had to let go of some preconceived notions of what this record would sound like and he was open to making a record that sounded like me."

Although he tends to keep his expectations and responses low-key, the future seems shades-bright for Holscher. He's rarely performed live but he's poised to change that situation very soon. Since its release, Even the Hills has generated strong support at WNKU and at college stations around the country, and the European audience that backed Pray for Rain has shown equal interest in the new album, leading Holscher to believe he might tour overseas in the foreseeable future. Still, he approaches everything with a wary sense of satisfaction.

"You have to be yourself and you can't worry about how anyone else is going to receive the record, because at the end of the day, it's going to be your record," says Holscher with a grin. "I'm not really part of any scene and I'm kind of a homebody, and I didn't know where it would go and frankly I don't care. I learned that on this one. If people get it, it's so affirming and wonderful, and if they don't, I'm going to wake up tomorrow and try to write another song."



NATHAN HOLSCHER (nathanholscher.com) plays the MidPoint Music Festival Saturday at Arnold's (11 p.m.).

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