Aaron Nathans is a songwriter on a mission. He writes and delivers songs with the purpose of telling a story in song and more often than not, those songs leave lasting impressions upon the listener. He tells unique stories with unique perspectives and it makes all the difference. Aaron Nathans and Michael G. Ronstadt recorded a memorable album called “Crooked Fiddle” and word is out that a brand new CD is forthcoming.
To learn more about Aaron, visit his website.
Here’s a video of Aaron singing “The Strength to Not Fight Back.”
Do you have a cool “how I started playing guitar” story? Were you one of those kids who bugged your parents to get you one or did you not get into playing until you were old enough to get your own?
I played a lot of different instruments as a kid. I started on piano, then played clarinet, and then saxophone in my high school marching band. We had a guitar in our basement, but I wondered why it didn’t ring out like other guitars. Only later did I discover it had nylon strings. Nevertheless, during college summers, I taught myself chords on that guitar using a how-to book, and brought it to summer camp so I could play like everyone else. I’ve always been a writer, and I wanted to try my hand at putting some of my creative writing to music. I bought my first steel-string guitar, a Washburn, at age 22 after winning $200 on a five-dollar slot machine on a riverboat casino in Indiana. (I think our president-elect owned that casino…) So I got a late start.
I love that you describe your songwriting mission as being the one to write songs about things that no one writes about like your song about your relationship with your barber. And it’s a great song. Did “Old Joe’s Chair” come to you while sitting in the chair?
I’ve always appreciated the friendships I’ve had with barbers. They are great conversationalists. There was Frank at the barber shop in the town where I grew up in central Ohio, and later on, Joe in Wilmington. President Obama likes to talk about his barber shop in Chicago, and how he’s loyal to one barber there. That sparked the idea, I brought it to Phil Henry, and he really gave this idea wings. It’s a co-write, and Phil brought this concept its broader meaning about fathers and sons, which I think gives it its resonance.
I’m a big fan of “Cars Don’t Keep.” As a songwriter, do you have a love / hate relationship with your car and being on the road as a traveling troubadour?
Thanks for the compliment. I wrote “Cars Don’t Keep” upon having to say farewell to my wife’s little green first-generation Saturn. So much of our history was in that car. The song was a reaction to “Song for a Fifth Child,” a poem by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton, which said that babies don’t keep. I don’t agree. Kids grow up, but they live on, G-d willing, and our job is to accept change gracefully. There are things we can keep, and there are things we can’t. We lose cars, and eventually, we lose people, too. I wrote that song to try and reconcile myself to those facts.
You’re a family guy. What advice would you give to other musicians who have growing family? How do you carve out time for yourself for practice and writing?
I could no less see myself as a father than I could see myself as a songwriter. If something is meaningful, you find a way to do it. It helps to have an understanding wife.
Do you have any musical heroes? Anyone who inspires you to perform and write more songs?
My musical heroes include my mother, who is a choral singer. The house I grew up in was always filled with the sound of her voice and the piano. I have more heroes than I could count, but what I mostly remember are watching people show me how it’s done. When I saw Kim and Reggie Harris put on a show at summer camp when I was 15 — wow, that’s how you entertain. When I saw Buddy Mondlock perform for 11 people in rural Wisconsin and give it everything he had — respect your audience. About six years ago when Carolann Solebello left her band and put raising her young son first, but still kept on making great music — values, balance, and persistence. Of course, I learned a ton from watching the work of Dale Kidd, Phil, and later, Michael.
How did your musical partnership with Michael G. Ronstadt begin?
I opened for Ronstadt Generations at the late great Barrington Coffeehouse in southern New Jersey in 2010. Our acts got paired together by Scott Trifeletti, who ran the place. I was playing with percussionist Marc Taylor, and Michael jumped in on the last song in our set, and it was like an electric jolt. The song was in B-flat minor, and he still improvised like it was easy. There’s always been this electricity when Michael and play together. He’s a good friend, and I’m so fortunate I get to work with someone of his skills and character.
What’s your take on the “folk” community these days? Do you see it as a flourishing scene or as a scene that still pretty much under the radar? If the latter, what can people do to bring attention to this kind of music?
Folk music means different things to different people. For me, it means using acoustic instruments to tell stories. It’s building and nurturing community, which is just as important as the music itself. Folk music may not be flashy, but it has staying power.