“Only If: I know of a truth and I wouldn’t lie about it—if you care to understand i’d certainly tell ya but, only if you wanna hear it and only if you’re gonna listen. [...] Don’t pout—it’s just another puzzle”
The above video was my first encounter with Colby Nathan, most of his set, about 18 minutes of footage I thought was already up. Make time to watch his performance in full: Nathan, from Kennebunk, Maine, glides through feeling weepy and achingly lovesick, deeply creepy and disturbing tape loops made out of cherry picked words or distant conversations, like something you feel you shouldn’t be hearing, at the other end of an empty, semi-abandoned mall. A cassette I bought has most of the songs he played that night five months ago, like “By Your Hands,” bathing in sea salts, depressed, rejected, belting out in a shattered warble “Ooooohhhh, what’sssss the poinnnttt????” He throws out manically dejected songs like this, then retreats back into a subtler expression of anxiety and dissonance, rocketing out to audiences across America, at least as far the unreliable Greyhound bus will take him (according to his Facebook page, he’s been stranded/fucked over by the notorious Greyhound bastards a few times).
That cassette of his is untitled and numbers only 12. I’d love to meet up with the other 11 people who have a copy of this, and see what we could come up with, what kind of band or tape we’d make. Colby Nathan is extremely affable and eager to live on the road and put an immense amount of energy and focus (playing anywhere and everywhere, solo and with groups like the (New England) Patriots, making these tapes and books by hand and spending hours constructing parasitic earworm puzzles. The tape came wrapped in cloth and glued to the top were lyrics and liners for every song, but I couldn’t figure out how to open the thing. Finally it slid out; a single piece of plastic like the opening to a bomb sheltered relented. The tape is dubbed onto a copy of John Grisham’s The Testament, part three side five.
Captured here are leaf-logged longings and blended shanty folk, fading in and out of a fog, completely breaking at times. The sound collages pieces are more affecting and emotional for me than seeing Nathan execute them live, with a cassette deck held up to a mic going into a loop pedal, the cumbersome process a different, more light-hearted way to perform these pieces. But I wish I discovered this tape having no idea who Colby Nathan was or where he was from, and seek him out. Plenty of people are putting out tapes and going around playing to no one in someone’s house, doing something with a delay pedal and tapes, distance, half-remembered things. Nathan’s music is very manic-depressive, and the emotions and sentiments are over-stimulated and strained. His grim field recordings and collages inexplicably capture the cosmic loneliness and “behind glass” distance, on a bus, at a rest stop, somewhere empty, alone.
—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1992