No Worries: Nathaniel Rateliff’s Long Road to SXSW

When Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats take the SXSW Outdoor Stage presented by MGM Resorts, they ought to feel right at home. Two years ago — their first time headlining the venue — the Denver-based octet sold out Red Rocks, the picturesque outdoor amphitheater that has hosted milestone shows by everyone from U2 to John Denver. Rateliff has memories of attending shows there by the likes of the Allman Brothers Band, Sharon Jones, Spoon, and Leonard Cohen.

“We worked a long time and never thought we’d actually be headlining that stage,” says the singer, valiantly fighting off the natural distractions of conducting a phone interview at London’s hectic Heathrow Airport. “We had the support of everybody in Denver, and other bands from across the state came to see us. It was a real surprise… kind of blew
us away.”

By that point — the show fell exactly one year after the release of the group’s self-titled debut LP — Rateliff and the Night Sweats were already one of the decade’s most dynamic new bands, stamping soulful folk-rock with explosive energy. All it took was one late-summer performance of breakout single “S.O.B.” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon for a nationwide audience to discover what Mile High fans already knew. Rolling Stone called it “2015’s wildest vintage-soul rave-up” and the year’s nineteenth-best song. Night Sweats shows often climax by coupling “S.O.B.” with The Band’s “The Shape I’m In.”

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. Photo by Brantley Gutierrez

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. Photo by Brantley Gutierrez


“I guess we have all the different [musician] stereotypes but really, we’re just all good buddies…”

Rateliff has carefully assembled his band from the ranks of Denver’s close-knit music community. His longest-tenured associate is bassist Joseph Pope III, a friend since their childhood days in Missouri. From the Fairchildren, he brought along drummer Patrick Meese.

“I guess we have all the different [musician] stereotypes but really, we’re just all good buddies,” Rateliff says about his band, who came from different parts of Denver’s close-knit music community.

Following last fall’s live memoir of that Red Rocks show, the forthcoming Tearing at the Seams is the Night Sweats’ third album on Stax Records, the iconic label once known as “Soulsville U.S.A.” Stax, revived in 2004 by the L.A.-based Concord Music Group, and the Night Sweats couldn’t be a better fit. “A legendary label with a lot of legendary artists; people that changed a lot,” marvels Rateliff.Unlike its debut — largely based around demos Rateliff made with some help from Meese — the entire band created Tearing at the Seams from scratch. Last month its first single, “You Worry Me,” matched “S.O.B.” by hitting No. 1 on Billboard’s Triple A songs chart.

“I trust those guys on the stage, and now going into the studio we proved to each other we could rely on each other and listen to each other’s ideas,” Rateliff says. “[We] know that our input is not because of our egos, but actually because we all care about the songs.”

At SXSW, the band will arrive fresh off a gig at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, before months of touring starting in Europe; winding around large U.S. theaters and outdoor venues; and culminating in August with two more nights at Red Rocks. For Rateliff, that means keeping certain essentials handy. “You can make it [on tour] without a camera or a notebook, but clean undergarments are important,”
he chuckles.

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats will perform on The SXSW Outdoor Stage presented by MGM Resorts (Riverside Dr & S 1st St), Friday, March 16.

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