I had the pleasure to interview Nathanael Larochette about his conceptualization and inspiration behind his upcoming album “Earth and Sky”. I was impressed with this new album and was really curious about what drew him to write it. it is an incredible piece of music that needs to be heard more than once. I knew about Nathanael’s work in Musk Ox many moons ago and was always excited to hear what new music he comes up with. He is a really down to earth and interesting person and gave some wonderful answers to my questions. I hope you enjoy the interview and feel free to comment below.
1) What are the key motivators and concepts that drive your solo work as well as that of Musk Ox?
My love and passion for music have always been my main motivators for every project. Music has had such a profound impact on my life so the fact that I can possibly have that kind of impact on listeners has definitely driven my musical pursuits. I love the idea that even if I know my own work inside out there are people who will experience it with completely fresh ears. I find that amazing. The nylon string guitar has also been a key motivator for the past decade. When I started learning to finger pick something clicked inside me. The sound and depth of possibilities I could achieve through this technique sparked my imagination and continues to do so. Another motivating factor that drives all of my work is my desire to create something that doesn’t exist yet. With “Earth and Sky”, the influences are clear but I’ve never seen them presented this way. Like all music fans, I’m always constant looking for something new which greatly influences what I create. I want to capture the spirit of the albums and artists I love and re-imagine it into something that is hopefully unique.
2) Specifically what was your main motivator in conceiving “Earth and Sky”?
The funny thing about “Earth and Sky” is that the album’s conception came together largely on its own. Over the course of many years I had been slowly creating a collection of solo guitar pieces that I imagined would be released in some form but I wasn’t sure when or how. Along the way I created the “Sky” piece but again wasn’t sure how it would work as a release. Eventually it dawned on me that the two albums complimented each other perfectly. I feel they are strong albums on their own but that together they create something special. Once I had the concept of the double album solidified in my mind, I applied for some funding from the Ontario Arts Council and thankfully received a grant which helped me fund the album’s creation.
3) When listening to the “Earth” section of the double album, a lot of images came into my head, mostly about solitude, peace, and introspection. Would this be pretty pertinent to you specifically?
Absolutely, but not entirely. There is definitely an element of solitude and introspection when you’re sitting for hours trying to figure out how to tell a story with just a guitar and your hands. It can be very peaceful but I feel there is a misconception that peaceful music is always created from a peaceful state. I believe that any act of creativity involves a challenge, struggle or question of some sort. While “Earth” is definitely inspired by the qualities you mentioned, it was also inspired by feelings of sadness, turmoil and upheaval. The songs you are hearing represent me trying to understand these emotions and hopefully make peace with them.
4) You mentioned to me that the album was influenced by your time in Nova Scotia. What about this place in particular was so special to you?
I think everyone holds a special place in their heart for the environment that raised them. Whether positive or negative, it’s undeniable that the setting where one spends their formative years will leave a deep imprint upon an individual. It wasn’t until I was an adult going back to visit Nova Scotia that I truly realized how beautiful it is. As a child, you notice your surroundings but your awareness is much different than when you are an adult. It was fascinating to go back to the places where I grew up and realize how beautiful they were but how as a child, I wasn’t necessarily aware of it. Living by the ocean had a particularly profound impact on me that I gradually became more aware of the longer I was away.
5) The ambient second disc “Sky” is one of the most beautiful things I have heard, what made you want to go this route for this song?
Thank you very much for the kind words! The birth of “Sky” was completely unexpected. A few years ago myself and a handful of Ottawa musicians were commissioned to each compose a piece of music for a particular bus route in the city. The intention was to have the songs appear on an app that listeners would use while riding the bus. I chose the bus route that takes you to and from the airport as I’ve taken it many times and loved the feelings of departure as well as homecoming which this bus route evoked in me. I was pretty nervous as I knew I had to create a long composition but I accepted the challenge. I ended up creating “Sky” at my brother’s studio over the course of three days. The original mix was 70 minutes which we later trimmed to 40 minutes. It was a wonderful experience as all I had going into it were a few chord ideas. The experience was amazing and very fluid which was completely different from how the songs in “Earth” were created. The “Earth” songs were composed, and constantly reworked over a long period of time while “Sky” was basically improvised in the studio over a few days. I loved that contrast. So to answer your question “Sky” is actually meant to be listened to on the 97 bus route in Ottawa haha.
6) When I heard “Sky” I thought of bands like Hammock, Explosions in the Sky and a bunch of other post rock outfits. What is it about the post rock sound that made you want to create the song “Sky”?
When I was first introduced to post rock back in 2006, there was this deep and far reaching emotional quality to the music that floored me. Like most genres, the aesthetic characteristics eventually defines it which is an unfortunate reality. For me, the emotional content has always defined this genre beyond how often a band goes from quiet to loud. My biggest post rock influence has always been Mogwai and I can fully admit that “Sky” is directly inspired by them. This Will Destroy You also influenced “Sky” in a big way. I’ve loved this style of music for over a decade so I’m thrilled to have finally added my own modest contribution to the genre.
7) You are a self-professed metalhead, do you think there are major correlations between your acoustic work with that of the metal world?
I don’t think I would be where I am now if there weren’t! I get this question a lot and I always give the same answer: listen to the first minute of “Battery” by Metallica. When those first strummed acoustic chords come in the feeling is one of undeniable heaviness. It’s an implied heaviness that is fulfilled when they play those same chords distorted. Opeth use this technique a lot as well. It’s this sense of implied heaviness that connects metalheads to certain types of acoustic music. What I found interesting when I started writing this type of acoustic music was the effect of not going heavy but rather keeping things purely acoustic. Strange as it sounds, the tension that results from simply maintaining this feeling of implied heaviness creates its own kind of heaviness. I always found it interesting how an acoustic guitar by itself could sound so heavy. It’s a different type of heaviness but a heaviness nonetheless, and as metalheads, isn’t that what we are searching for in music?
8) When I hear your music I immediately think of the poetry of Robert Frost, Thoreau and Yeats do these poets hold a special place in your heart in creating your music?
To be honest, I am not familiar with their work but am aware of their impact and influence. I know they were a big inspiration for Agalloch. The poet that has inspired me the most would have to be Kahlil Gibran. I actually used his words in the layout for the last Musk Ox album “Woodfall”. There is a profoundly spiritual quality to his work that never ceases to amaze and inspire me.
9) Nature and the seasons are central characters to your music. What is it about the natural world that you appreciate most and which season out of the four has the biggest influence to your music?
I’m not sure if there is one specific aspect of the natural world that inspires me most. Maybe the fact that NOTHING would exist without it haha. It’s strange but when I started listening to the acoustic Ulver and Empyrium albums I was floored by just how evocative of nature the nylon string guitar was and still is. When I started learning classical guitar, the sounds I produced always seemed to evoke this natural imagery in my mind. I believe nature is a big influence to artists because it is so dynamic. It can be intimate and peaceful as well as vast and terrifying. It has it all! As for seasons, each one holds a special place but something about fall hits home for me. Winters here are pretty brutal so fall is an evocative reminder of what is to come.
10) Do you feel there is a spiritual connection to your music and the nature that surrounds you?
Absolutely. Nature encapsulates life and death so completely that one cannot help but be humbled and mystified by it. I believe those qualities are at the core of spirituality.
11) I never got to spend time in Ottawa, is there something about this city in particular that helps you conceptualize ideas? Is the music scene different there compared to the United States?
Ottawa is quite a small city that has a lot of natural beauty and space. I imagine the hustle of a big city would invoke its own sort of inspiration but Ottawa is much slower paced which I find helpful for conceptualizing ideas. Nova Scotia has this quality as well. As for music scenes, I think they are more or less the same wherever you go. People everywhere are creating music while trying find places to share it with people who want to listen. After my short tour this summer, this really hit home. Music fans are music fans wherever you go.
12) Out of all the gigs you have done, does any stand out to you the most?
Back in 2012, Musk Ox had the honour of opening for Wardruna at the Wave Gotik Treffen festival in Leipzig, Germany. Since then, Wardruna have garnered a huge following but before the show in 2012, I had only just been introduced to them. I wasn’t totally familiar with their work at the time but their set was one of the most amazing performances I have ever seen. No amps, no distorted instruments, just some of the heaviest, most overwhelming music you will ever hear. I hope I can see them live again some day. The gig was great, but the fact that we got to share the stage with Wardruna made it unforgettable. It was also our first show in Europe so that made the evening all the more memorable. Having the opportunity to share the stage with Agalloch will always hold a special place in my heart as well.
13) In your own words how would you describe your music to someone who is not familiar with it?
It depends on who I am speaking with. If I’m talking to a metalhead I’ll reference bands like Opeth, Ulver, Empyrium etc. I usually end up recommending and nerding out about Tenhi when discussing my music and influences. If I’m talking to the average person, I would describe “Earth and Sky” as acoustic/instrumental and electric/ambient music. I’ve described my music as “heavy mellow” in the past which seems to get some laughs so I use that one when I can.
14) Finally, do you have any parting words for the fans?
As much as we make music for ourselves, it wouldn’t be the same without the opportunity to share it. I am deeply humbled and grateful to anyone who has ever taken the time to listen, buy an album, come to a show or write about my music. This connection is such a deep and beautiful thing. Like I mentioned before, the fact that I am able to create musical experiences and memories with people around the world is unbelievable and I feel so lucky to be able to do this.
Thank you to Dreaming Metal Muse for the support!
Nathanael Larochette – http://nathanaellarochette.bandcamp.com
The Night Watch – http://thenightwatch.bandcamp.com
Musk Ox – http://muskoxofficial.bandcamp.com