Long Story Short
Nathan Kalish is a touring singer-songwriter and band leader from the American Midwest, currently calling Nashville home after having spent most of the last decade on the road. His latest album 'I Want to Believe' was produced by David Beeman (notably of Pokey LaFarge’s most recent) and is an independently released country-Americana record with a tip of the hat to psychedelic, folk and rock ‘n roll. The songs vary from wistful introspect to knee-slapping social commentary while managing to keep a cohesive familiarity recognizable to fans and followers.
Long Story Longer
The answer to where I’m from is dependent on my frame of mind. I’ll say Milwaukee, Wisconsin as the town of my birth, then maybe Europe where my evangelical missionary father moved my family when I was four. Vienna, Austria is where I started my elementary education in a German-speaking Catholic school run by nuns who taught me to read and write in German years before English. Dad was smuggling bibles over the Iron Curtain to Eastern Europe, so after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 with the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, we moved to Prague. Following the eventual democratic shift to freedom of religion, my family moved back to the States, to the Midwest. At one point, I went to three different schools in one year.
With this, I mastered being the outsider, an introvert who escapes fitting in. My middle school years were spent in West Chicago, Illinois, a working class and mostly Hispanic neighborhood. Everyone was raging about something, so I started playing in punk and hardcore bands with a few other kids, switching between drums, bass and guitar. I didn't own any of them and wasn't good, but felt in my place being in a band, so would fill in wherever needed.
Keeping in-step with never living anywhere for longer than four years, my family relocated to a rural town in Michigan part-way through my high school days. My father took a job as head pastor of a small Baptist church. The change from Europe to Chicago had been nothing compared to the culture shock I experienced in Smalltown, America. I kept playing music with a few new guys, and started writing here and there, but had decided at that point that I was a drummer.
In place of college, I maxed out a credit card and bought a bunch of recording gear, thusly sincerely beginning my writing and recording. I took odd jobs at funeral homes or restaurants between DIY tours, though otherwise found myself often playing alongside very inspirational people who were worlds ahead of me musically and creatively.
Riding on my strange and conservative upbringing, I had never been exposed to a lot of the classics until then; Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, the musical bible of my life. I recorded my first album at the studio of then-Wilco’s Jay Bennet in Chicago with my musical compadre at the time, David Vandervelde.
Like most things you do at nineteen, it was unimpressive, but it did manage to keep me booked locally, regionally and nationally with my band Nathan Kalish & The Wildfire. After such relentless practice and independently releasing further albums, I found myself off-handedly opening for the Deadstring Brothers (Bloodshot Records), and was asked to join that night. I drove to Nashville and hit the road full time.
Over the next three years, I switched between drums, guitar, bass and vocals, again doing whatever was needed to keep the band touring; a sure-fire recipe for really learning to play music from any angle at any time. We were playing the Honky Tonk circuit with all-night shows doing classic country alongside originals, and I consider that to have been my college education.
After travelling back to Europe and across the US too many times to count, I left the band in the winter of 2012. I rented a room in the only part of familiar Grand Rapids, Michigan that I could afford. My landlord-slash-roommate gave me a gun and told me to shoot anyone who tried to break in. The heat bill went unpaid that winter, the pipes cracked and the house flooded. Getting back on the road certainly seemed more enticing than staying put, so I started Nathan Kalish & The Lastcallers with upright bassist and booming vocalist Eric Soules.
Eric was living in a nearby van at the time, which worked, because I no longer owned one. We hit the road without enough money to pay our first tolls in Illinois, but I booked the rooms and we played almost every night for two years.
When we needed band members, we would add them along the way. Our sets became firmly based off our rowdy live show, dirty banter, the kindness of stranger-friends and our need to make it to the next day; playing for our gas and food every night. We sang classic country, bluegrass, traditionals, punk rock and of course originals new and old. We even managed to self-release two Lastcallers records while never leaving the road.
When Eric eventually got the call that he was to be the father of a baby girl, he high-tailed it back to Michigan, and I stayed on the road with other rotating members of The Lastcallers. At this stage, we’d managed to keep a reliable booking agent and had developed a homegrown fan base stretching coast to coast. With the income generated from touring, I was able to keep an ever-rotating cast of musicians in the van year-round for a few more turns.
Following a rough leg on the Westcoast for one thing and another, I decided to tour as a solo act. Which is of course easier logistically, but at times lonely and accumulatively depressing. It forced me into another stage of musical development, inevitably focusing on my writing and performing.
I would drive for Lyft on my days off in whichever city, often sleeping in my van to save money. At a particularly low point, I broke down in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Texas. It was Labor Day weekend and my fuel pump was shot. The check I was paid for a county fair performance was issued to a misspelled Nathan. Big bank bureaucracy meant this somehow locked me out of my account for a long stretch. I sold my telecaster on Craigslist for cash to fix the van.
Lyft eventually changed their rules to be location-specific, so after a year on the road alone, I settled in Nashville.
I’ve spent the last year working on a new album with a great bunch of friends from around the country while still somehow managing to play 120+ shows on tour; some with band, some solo. After seven years of sleeping on floors, in vans and motels, the extra time off the road is good for my physical and mental health. The new album 'I want to Believe' was produced at Native Sound in Saint Louis by longtime friend David Beeman, who's most recent production credit is Pokey LaFarge’s latest.
My record is a culmination of the tucked-away music I've written over the past eight years. It has songs of introspection, dark humor, science fiction and the societal commentary that has become a reoccurring theme in my past studio efforts. I'll be out touring all of 2018 with my current band. If you see me walking around by myself on a random street in a city somewhere, please say hello.
"It’s the real, true-to-life version of forgotten America that songwriter Nathan Kalish and The Lastcallers sing about in their new album Continental Breakfast of Champions; not some fairy tale to help prop up a false sense of escapism for bored suburbanites."
“Continental Breakfast of Champions” cements Kalish and his hard-gigging, crisscross-the-nation band as a true force on that scene with tales from the road and street prophet-styled commentaries on “Religious Freedom,” “Rich Man’s Tool, Then Die,” and “Overdosin’ on the U.S.A.” Recorded at Native Sound in St. Louis and engineered by Kalish himself, this follow-up to last year’s “How Am I Supposed to Get Back Home” is chock full of Eric Soules’ distinctive thumping bass, Mike Hopper’s twangy, fiery guitar work and Kalish’s earthy philosophy – culminating in the haunting final track, “High Desert.” It’s an incendiary, provocative mix of players and songs, and the way country music is supposed to sound”
Clearly, they love what they do and the time spent playing together had paid dividends on Continental Breakfast Of Champions. They are a tight unit. Although the band consists of three, they really blend into one. If you try to focus on the individual instruments, you can. But why?
"Nathan Kalish is a songwriter’s songwriter. He makes the kind of music that other songwriters aspire towards. And on this latest release, Kalish and the Lastcallers avoid even the threat of a sophomore slump with the tremendous Continental Breakfast of Champions. "
"Kalish appears to have no fear as he is very objective and even handed in his writing. He puts everything out there for us to interpret and internalize. There are two tragedies here. One is the sad events that happened in Kalish’s life and the other is the fact that album has gone overlooked. It isn’t too late. We can make up for lost time. This album definitely will stand the test of time."
"sounds like detroit found some balls in the trash and gave the detonator of an atomic bomb to an arab monkey. this is the one thing the detroit freepress did not want to happen!"
"Nathan Kalish and the Wildfire is an energetic, southern-tinged rock and roll band from Grand Rapids, Mich., with a sound that could be likened to what alt-country was before that wuss Ryan Adams got a hold of it."
"Mixing folk and psych rock, Nathan Kalish and the Wildfire come from across the state to bring a tasty blend of sounds.The Wildfire’s sound harkens back to an essential period of music and does so in a way that isn’t demeaning."
"Like a wild bottle rocket with a short fuse, Kalish has blasted to the top of Grand Rapids' rock scene in short order, his raw, energetic, rootsy, blissfully catchy tunes packing a more forceful wallop than, say, anything from Ryan Adams or even The Raconteurs. With guitarist Julio Gomez and crew tearin' it up, Kalish spits out blistering, creative, dangerous flames."