Nato Coles: If the crowd outnumbers the band, I'm playing that show
|Courtesy of the Artist|
Every bar worth drinking at in these great United States has a character like Nato Coles. They know the jukebox so well that the reference catalog becomes meaningless. They're on first-name-basis with all the bartenders, spout trivia like someone's actually listening, and have a particular stool with their ass-print permanently worn in. But most importantly, they're storytellers, historians of low-culture, grizzled raconteurs that can effortlessly shake-out a cocktail of true facts and utter bullshit until it becomes as intoxicating as their "usual."
So it's probably fitting that Gimme Noise met up with Nato at one of the West Bank's most celebrated dives, the Triple Rock Social Club, to talk about his new album with the Blue Diamond Band entitled Promises to Deliver and why he's still chasing that wild goose in the night.
Originally from Milwaukee, Nato Coles is a journeyman of Midwest punk, getting his start in bands like Modern Machines and the Shrubbers. While he's now been away for longer than he lived there, Brew City still feels like home for Nato. "That's the city that taught me pretty much everything I know, " he elaborates, "learning how to tune a guitar, and learning how to avoid getting mugged."
Modern Machines made some splashes in the north-coast punk community of the early 2000s, building upon a strong local following gleaned from legendary house shows and other DIY venue spaces. Striking out on the highway with the "MoMacs," as they were known to their fans, gave Nato his first taste of the touring lifestyle and also his first brush with the Twin Cities. "There's a Hold Steady line about knowing Mary Tyler Moore and Profane Existence. I knew Garrison Keillor and Siberia," he says with a laugh. "I would come up here by myself and stay for week, go out and hang out every night and made a ton friends. I kind of realized that the Twin Cities has so much to offer."
While he was definitely enamored with Minneapolis and St. Paul, Mr. Coles had always been a bit of a rambler and wasn't ready to settle down yet. When Modern Machines broke up, Nato and bassist Danny Z picked up and moved to Brooklyn to form a few more projects, Used Kids and Radio Faces, that kept them occupied for almost three years. The time in Bucktown was a watershed experience for him, and Nato cites his late Radio Faces bandmate Jamie Ewing as a hugely influential figure in his musical development.
Some of those lessons included "Playing a song to make it the right speed, taking more time with the lyrics, no more throwaway lines," so it's not surprising that Nato's music began to shed some of the pop-punk tropes for more classic Americana sounds during this era. Flecks of country, R&B and folk began to find their way into the muscular, guitar-driven punk he had perfected in his earlier groups. "The Radio Faces and Used Kids were the first two bands where I look at the records and really that's what I'd wanted to sound like since I was 20 or 21" he says, "but I didn't have that mentality to go out and get that until I moved to NY and played with Jamie."
A few more years and a few hundred shows later, Nato moved back to the Midwest and landed in Minneapolis, where he formed the first group to exclusively feature his songwriting talents, The Blue Diamond Band, with a stable of local punkers to back him up. If the MoMacs were Nato's "basement band" then BDB is unquestionably his "bar band," with names like Bruce Springsteen and Thin Lizzy looming large in their list of influences. While he's quick to point out that their debut full-length Promises to Deliver "is not a Springsteen-clone album," Nato and the Boss do seem to share thematic interests.