Over the course of two years spent out on the road, tirelessly playing show after show, Nathan Kalish cultivated a collection of story songs grown from not only his own life experiences but also incorporating the experiences of the people he encountered along the way. His 10th album, the self-produced Songs for Nobody, shows you a secret world via Kalish’s unique outsider perspective. Through his cutting and intimate lyrics, he transports listeners to the passenger seat of his touring van, to a phone call with a loved one and behind the lens of a magnifying glass aimed at the darker shades of American culture.
Kalish has lived the life of a curious wanderer, taking his music to town after town while creating a catalog of songs that act as colorful snapshots, like polaroids in a family photo album. He’s released nine albums over the course of his career, shared the stage with Lucinda Williams, Molly Tuttle, Lucero, Steve Miller Band, and earned accolades from Rolling Stone Country, Saving Country Music among others.
Because of his father’s work as an evangelical missionary, Kalish and his family never stayed in one place for too long. After living for a few years in Austria and Prague, the Kalish’s returned to their home country of America. During his middle school years in Chicago, Nathan started playing in local punk and hardcore bands while learning to play guitar, bass and drums. As he grew older, he took odd jobs to help finance his passion. With his band The Wildfire, Kalish hit the road hard for three years, honing his craft while enduring a grueling and extensive schedule of shows across the U.S. and Europe.
After leaving his band in 2012, he found himself at a personal crossroads. After enduring a stressful few months while living in Michigan, he opted to leave it behind and once again get back on the road. After forming a new band, The Lastcallers, he got back to the basics and returned to intensive touring. Eventually, after two records released and many, many gigs together, Kalish needed a change and opted to go solo.
During this new chapter, Kalish drove from city to city, acting as a driver for Lyft while trying to evolve his creative processes. Life, as it tends to do in times of transition, began to throw him curveballs. After a few financial setbacks and a change in policy from Lyft that only allowed him to drive in one city, he chose to take a chance and settle down in Nashville.
Taking a breath from the strain of life on the road enabled him to create his 2018 record I Want to Believe. Produced by David Beeman (Pokey LaFarge) at Native Sound in St. Louis, the album showcases Kalish’s unique and wide-eyed perspective, set alongside engaging honky-tonk ready instrumentation. Rolling Stone even called it the "heartland rock and alt-country soundtrack to looking for UFOs in Roswell, New Mexico."
Kalish’s newest LP Songs for Nobody was recorded at Nashville’s Trace Horse Studio and provides an auditory evolution of that engaging, mysterious psych-folk sound. Finding inspiration from acts like Darrell Scott and Daniel Romano, Kalish brings a gritty moodiness to his expertly-blended traditional country elements. By recruiting incredible locally-based talent that includes acclaimed guitarist Laur Joamets (Sturgill Simpson, Drivin N Cryin) and pedal steel aficionado Adam Kurtz (American Aquarium, Joshua Ray Walker), Kalish tapped into the magic of Nashville’s tightly-knit creative community to bring his vision to life.
"It was a big communal effort,” Kalish says. “I had my road band and a bunch of additional friends all track it live in the studio. Sometimes we would have 8 people working toward a common goal. It's very much a Nashville album... almost all of the friends who are on it are people I play with in town on the regular. This recording is in a way saying 'yes' to that level of collaboration.”
The result of that collaboration is an LP filled with heart-wrenchingly honest and reflective songs that leave a lasting mark on anyone who listens.
An examination of America’s culture of greed, “No Hope” acts as an anthem for the everyman who give their all without receiving their fair dues in return. “Give me your tired, give me your poor,” Kalish proclaims. “Give me your huddled masses yearning for more, and we’ll put ‘em to work for crumbs on our factory floor, then show them the door.”
“Pam & Tim” continues that spotlight on the challenges small-town Americans face, delivering a gut-punch of honesty that few songwriters can deliver with such vigor and authenticity.
“Delta Woman” was born from a chance visit to a friend’s apartment in Stockholm, where he got to explore their vast collection of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash memorabilia. Among the items were a handwritten set of unfinished lyrics from Cash, which Kalish found himself drawn to. He took what Cash had started and completed the song in his own style, creating a connection that reaches beyond time and place.
The haunting title track “Songs for Nobody” shows the mental and emotional strain life on the road can bring. From the tedium of long hauls across the country to the stale smell of gas stop cuisine, the moments that precede and follow nightly sets in strange cities provide their own unique set of challenges and stressors. Note by note, Kalish examines what the cost of those fleeting moments on stage can bring.
Even with its unexpected curves and bumps, Nathan Kalish’s committed relationship with the road is one that still has many more miles to go. With a busy 2020 planned, Songs for Nobody will mark an important chapter in Kalish’s creative journey, which is only just beginning.