This weeks featured artist, has a very creative ability. His music could be classified in many different ways, but his uniqueness is what makes his music so good. True roots music, does not necessarily have to be traditional, but real. Nathan Mongol Wells takes a real approach to music in what he calls “Outlaw Country Garage Rock”.
We love this interview, because Nathan goes into explicit detail about his experience in life, music, and even different careers that he has been apart of. Music is an expression of humanity, and Nathan captures it well. Be sure to look him up, and subscribe to he blog for more artists like him!
1. What’s your name? How old Are you? Married? Kids? Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
– My name is Nathan Mongol Wells. I’m 26, married, no kids, but a very sweet yellow lab named Emmylou (yes, after Emmylou Harris!) I’m from Dallas, TX. It’s been home for the past 15 years, so I did a lot of growing up here, but before that my family lived in Alabama, Virginia, and Kuwait City, actually, for two years. We traveled a lot, and the things I was able to see and places and cultures I have been able to experience influence my music a good deal.
2. When/how were you introduced to music?
– My mother sings, and was in a Gospel band when I was a child, so gospel singers and church music formed a lot of my early foundation. My dad was a fan of late-70s early-80s rock, so I inherited the Clash and Talking Heads from him. In 5th grade, they forced me into starting Spanish classical guitar lessons. Then, in 8th grade, I discovered Green Day, and asked for an electric guitar (a Fender Stratocaster) for my birthday. Needless to say, I got it, and nothing was the same since. From Green Day I found the Strokes and the Velvet Underground, “Walk the Line” introduced me to Johnny Cash, my grandparents supplied Hank Williams Sr. records that I completely absorbed, a friend introduced me to Tom Waits, which led to an investigation of all roots music, where I found the Blues in Muddy Waters and especially Howlin’ Wolf, and got further into country with Hayes Carll via SXM radio, and on we go…
3. What were you doing before pursuing your music as a career?
– I graduated with a degree in architecture. I’ve always had a love for buildings, design, and art. When I was younger I wanted to be an illustrator, before I was introduced to the guitar. So that has fed a lot of my other interests. As an extension of architecture, for my first year out of school I worked construction. Last year I had the pleasure of teaching 7th grade math. I’ve driven buses, worked retail, and waited tables. All of it informs my music, especially architecture, which I feel is in some ways the ultimate art form. It’s art that we inhabit and interact with, art that affects our daily lives. A lot of what I write about starts with buildings I see and places I visit and the people that reside in them.
4. What made you decide to pursue your music career?
– It is something that grew from a simple hobby to one of the greatest loves of my life. I started in high school, writing with friends and slowly learning the trade on small stages and in battles of the bands. I went to college, loving music and my band but understanding it could never be a sure thing, so I tried to pursue something that would be more conducive to life. Over those years, it became more and more clear that my time offstage or away from a guitar was not satisfying in the way that making music was. I felt that if I didn’t give it an honest try I’d never forgive myself. Thankfully, my wife Courtney is a big support. She’s helped me do more than I ever could have on my own. We’re figuring it out together (while she pursues her own dreams, of course!)
On Your Music:
1. Who are some of your biggest influences, or your musical heroes?
– The first and most important answer will always be Tom Waits! When I heard his music it transformed what I knew music could be. Pointed me in the direction everything else has followed. I love all the greats, particularly Hank Sr., Waylon, and Willie, and more modern writers like Sturgill Simpson, Fred Eaglesmith and Hayes Carll, who showed me how country could be relevant today. Honestly, a few groups on my heaviest rotation are from farther afield, Fela Kuti, Primus, and Nine Inch Nails. Most recently, I’ve really been digging on the Deslondes.
2. Do you write your own music? Collaborate with others? Do you have a preference between the two?
– I write my own, most of the time on my own. Cowriting is something I’ve only done a handful of times, and it’s new territory for me. I’m interested in doing more of it, however! I can see the value. Writing usually happens when I’m home alone and have the freedom to try things out. I have probably a thousand notes in my phone and on my computer in varying states of completion that I can sit down and work through. As far as collaborations, in May I finished my latest solo project, the Matchstick Singles, which was all about collaboration! I released song a week, one at a time, over twelve weeks. To bring each track to fruition, I partnered with different local musicians, taking the songs places they never would have been otherwise. Each track also had a different, specific album cover, created or chosen by artists both local and national. It was really, really cool and a lot of work. I’m proud of how it turned out.
3. What kinds of things do you write about? What inspires you?
– If I tried to sum it up, I guess it’s human stories that I enjoy most. I always try and draw from personal experience to fill in details, really cover a subject, so over the course of the song you should get a complete picture… a feel for the room, so to speak. I like creepy things, aliens, ghosts, conspiracies. I also feel like rural stories are interesting ones to tell. People and places on the fringe. But it all comes down to conveying feelings! Lately my songs have been fairly personal.
4. How would you describe your style of music?
– I always say country-ish, haha. It starts with country, folk, and blues, and branches outwards. I don’t want to be a traditionalist. I want to push those boundaries when I can, and when it makes sense to. I’m not the most experimental guy, but I do think blending genres comes kind of naturally and I never wanna hem things in too much. With my band Ottoman Turks, we’ve come up with the term “outlaw country garage rock” that I feel nails it down pretty well. As for Nathan Mongol Wells, I’m still figuring that out. I like y’all’s claim on “roots music.” That’s a good summation.
5. Do you have people that play with you? Do you have a band?
– Yes! The aforementioned Ottoman Turks was started as a solo project in high school, and grew over the years to include Billy Law on bass, Paul Hinojo on drums, and Joshua Ray Walker on lead guitar. It’s been a long road, but over all this time we’ve really defined our sound. I also play with Joshua Ray Walker in an appalachian-folk-inspired duo we call Devil’s Sooty Brother. And recently I’ve gathered together some guys to back my solo stuff, and I’m really excited about it. We have Ryan Muller on drums, Charlie J. Memphis on bass, and Marco Bartolomei on pedal steel (with Joshua Ray Walker filling in on lead when he’s not working on his own excellent solo project)!
6. Do you produce your own music, or do you have a studio that works with you?
– Everything I’ve released under Nathan Mongol Wells I’ve recorded myself, with a single condenser mic, at home or friends’ homes or elsewhere. It’s both freeing and limiting in a way that produces stuff I couldn’t do in a studio. I love having the freedom to try whatever I want without fear of criticism or time constraints. That being said, I plan to get into the studio soon for a true full length. It’s very difficult to get the best recording possible without having a seasoned producer at the helm. I’m looking forward to finding out how that turns out. Lately I’ve been talking with a great local label. We’ll see what happens.
7. How can people listen to or purchase your music, and how could they learn about shows coming up, and other news concerning your music?
– Instagram or Facebook are the best ways to keep up with everything! I’m very active on Instagram under @mongolwells. As far as hearing/purchasing my music, everything I do, I use Bandcamp. It’s a super transparent, user- and artist- friendly platform that’s proven successful year after year. We put Ottoman Turks’ first recording up there in 2011 and I’ve used it since. Go to mongolwells.bandcamp.com to hear to my most recent project, the Matchstick Singles. Ottoman Turks’ releases can be found on ottomanturks.bandcamp.com or on Spotify and all the other digital outlets. And you can find videos, merch, and links to everything on my website, mongolwells.com!
8. Any closing remarks that you would like to share with your supporters/listeners?
– Oh, Lord. I’ve said it a thousand times, but I appreciate anyone that listens or comes to shows more than they could ever know. I would play music if I was the last person on earth, but it’s so much more valuable when you get to share it and collaborate and enjoy it all together. What I do is so enhanced by the people that listen. It’s an industry that couldn’t exist without that. So thanks to anyone that comes out, or listens online, or generally supports artists and musicians!