Q&A: JD Nash
By August Edwards
JD Nash has explored metalcore, indie rock, and progressive rock, but he's landed on alternative country and folk as his current artistic channel. Today, March 5, he’s out with a third single in his 2021 series of four—“Cali Comfort.”
Nash believes that country music is omnipresent, and perhaps the most popular form of music in the United States. This may largely be because it is the most American genre; everybody that makes up the US makes up country music and American folk. A different country—pretty pop and definitely jingoistic—took off in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and stole the popular identity of what country music is. But it is not representative of the true history of the genre and what it can mean today.
What Nash does is take a very pop sound from the past several decades and entwine that with a country and folk lilt. Ultimately, he just wants to tell stories. And he is good at it.
Check out this Q&A where Nash talks about being a student of music and being inventive with the creative process. You can find his music here on the streaming platform of your choice.
ABQGR: How’d you get to where you are as a musician?
Nash: I've been playing music forever. My grandpa used to go to flea markets, and he had this flea market electric organ, just the bass part of it. It was really weird; I wish I had that still. I used to sit behind the couch when everyone else was watching TV, and I’d be annoying them by playing the music that I would hear on the shows, or trying to.
My oldest brother is one of the best artists I know. I say he’s a savant, I know that’s a crazy word to put out there, but everything he picks up he masters. He’s been an opera singer, a painter. He used to hustle pool in college to make money. He was an influence on me growing up.
When I turned 18, I moved to Albuquerque. I went to UNM [and] got my bachelor’s in music. My whole purpose for that was to give me a chance to put off the working world and just play in bands. I wanted to play in bands and tour, so I played in a heavy metal band at first. I guess it was a metalcore band.
After that I played in an indie rock band. That was the one that really did it for me—we did a 32-day tour, and we were playing with a bunch of bands that were on—this is so old school—on the Myspace music label. Myspace music had a label, and there were like five or six bands. We weren’t on their label, but we went on tour with them. My bass player did a lot of show booking for them, and so we played with them.
I just had this thing that I always said I was gonna do, ‘someday I’m just gonna write songs and play some bar shows and brewery shows,’ and I told myself I was gonna make country music. I don’t know why; I don’t know why I told myself that. But I am from the East Mountains, so I guess there’s just a twang to everything I sing. I never really sang a lot in my previous bands, so this is the first time I’m writing songs and singing and doing everything myself.
So you don’t know why you switched to country specifically—but you do have a background in metal, and you have a music education—how might that genre transition be indicative as growth as an artist?
I think what happens is folk music is the backbone of every society, and at some point you just wanna tell stories. Which is still something that I’m learning how to do with my music. I wanna write stories [about] other people ‘cause I don’t think my life is quite...I’ve already wrote it. This folk strain that goes into alt country was kind of a natural flow of being a songwriter.
The country part of it is more indicative of me being from a very rural area. East Mountains of Albuquerque—Moriarty, New Mexico. I didn’t used to like when I had to sing in my previous bands. ‘Cause I’d have to alter my voice a little bit. I don’t think I particularly sound really country or from a rural place, but when I sing, it just comes out. I kind of think that’s where the alt country thing came from.
I’ll be honest with you, I think when I was like 21 or 22, I told myself, ‘well, the most popular genre of music in the United States is country.’ Granted, I have these other theories—every country has it’s own country music. But I think country music is at the vein of what a lot of American music is.
Why is that?
Because it’s folk music. I’m not talking about pop country, ‘cause I can’t stand that. But I think about folk music in general. Obviously blues is the most original American—blues and jazz—form of original American music. Country music has a blend somewhere in there that takes from those traditions. I don’t know. I just think it is a vein. It is probably the most popular form of music.
But when I analyze music—and maybe it’s just a more mature view of things for me, like you were talking about growth as an artist—I listen to my favorite bands like from the '90s, some of the grunge era bands, so many of them just sound like they could have been country singers. But they made—I’m gonna hate myself for sayin’ that—they made better sounding music than country. It had more layers and more depth.
I could just say I’m a folk musician, but I’m not, I can’t tell good stories like a folk musician. I think it just naturally, my maturity went to that alt country sound. As far as the—I hear things in a different way now where I do hear a lot of country music in things when I look back.
Do you think that’s from a lyrical standpoint, or is it melodic? Or do you hear that twang?
I think that’s exactly it, the twang.
I’ve been on a Stone Temple Pilots kick. The way I train musically is to listen and to mimic. The best way I’ve learned to play music, to grow my voice, I would look to people who have baritone voices. I’m a baritenor, so I have a low range but I can go into a head voice that is tenor range. When I was teaching myself to sing better within the last four or five years, I had to go to artists that I’m so familiar with that it’s second nature for me to sing along to them. I’ve reached back to a lot of bands from the '90s where baritone vocals were a part of pop music. They kind of strayed away from that.
Country is probably one of the more popular genres that will still focus on a male baritone voice, I think. Definitely I’ve been on a Stone Temple Pilots kick, and listening to those vocals, I do hear it in my head. I’m like, this guy’s just singing, and it’s a natural singing.
Maybe when somebody sings natural and it kind of still sounds like their own voice, they’re not manipulating it too much, it has that country twang to it. And maybe it’s not country. I’m not sure. I’m not an expert in country.
Of course so much metal come to mind when you mentioned there’s not much baritone representation, but that’s all distortion [nor is it "popular music"].
Totally. And as far as my own experience, metal is such a difficult genre to do by yourself. Maybe not anymore, but when I did it, you still had to have a band to do it. It’s amazing the strides that have been made with technology in music.
Speaking of technology, with the string of singles you’re coming out with, you’re releasing each one with weeks in between. Is there a strategy to that?
Yes. I try to stay up to date, I try to make as few mistakes as a can. There’s such a learning curve to being successful as a musician, or maybe an artist in general, that you can make a lot of mistakes. You have a short window when you’re releasing music to be successful. I always remember hearing someone say you have to strike while the iron’s hot. When it starts to cool off, the songs aren’t as exciting, they don’t drive you as much, they don’t push you to promote yourself. Promoting yourself is so hard. I can’t stand it sometimes, it’s difficult.
I’m an album guy. My previous band was a prog rock band. I wanted to write a story from the first song to the last song on the album, want people to listen to it all the way through. At the tail end of releasing music with that band, you started to see single culture happen. That’s what I’m gonna call it. Pop music does it, you see most pop musicians will release a series—you used to only release three singles per album. We’d hear it on the radio, you’d hear three singles then you’d go buy the album.
There’s an endless stream of singles when somebody releases an album now, depending what label they’re on. But also, in other ways, the digital distribution has changed too – Distrokid offers a yearly plan where you can release an unlimited amount of singles. I don’t know how much it costs a year, but I guess it’s affordable if you create that much music. That really shifted a lot of the culture, where I see a lot more artists just releasing singles. Last time I released my EP—again, it’s this trial and error—I released it, I felt like I didn’t have enough of a window of opportunity to promote so few songs that I felt so passionate about, that I felt like I was just pitching this one thing and I only had a couple of months to get it right. Then it just kind of dissipates, it disappears if you don’t play as many shows as a big act, or if you don’t have an agent to do press for you.
This time around I was reading a lot—I just follow what Spotify says to do, I just try my best. You can pitch a song, one song at a time from your account. Once one song goes live, you can pitch another to be featured on editorial playlists. Doing this was me kind of experimenting to see if that option is a real option for an artist my size. I have one more song to try. So far, it hasn’t actually happened. I’m all about trying new things and figuring out a better way to do things. And if I find out, I’ll share it with everybody. I definitely would share that information.
How has COVID impacted your creative process?
I think I'm probably right in line with most people that I heard talk about this—there was a short period right at the beginning where it’s like, oh my gosh, I don’t have anything to do right now so I’m gonna do everything all at once. I’m gonna write songs every day, I’m gonna practice every day.
And then all of a sudden, the steam runs out. I can’t put words behind it, I can’t figure out a reason for it. I’m lucky enough to where I have a room in my house where I can dedicate to just music. And since I moved here, which I just moved here last August, I’ve spent less and less time doing it. It’s weird. Even though the options there, the inspiration isn’t.
I really do think it’s that interfacing and relationship part of it that’s missing. I like to play with a band. I like to show my friends my music. Actually, this project had me playing more shows than I ever played, because I got put into the “brewery circuit." I can play solo, and I’d play three or four nights a week. It’s just different not being able to face people and share that music. Even in an online perspective, it’s different. Ten people in a room listening to you is different than ten people on Instagram watching you. It’s really different.
You don’t get the same energy.
Exactly. So it really does take away some of that fuel. So It’s been pretty difficult, and I’ve been trying not to be hard on myself. For a while there, I kept thinking, what am I doing. I have all this gear to make music with, I have a hard time with guilt and having all this stuff on my hands and not doing something with it. I don’t know. Slowly, the less I give myself a hard time with it and let it come back to me—it comes back in spurts but it’s nothing like playing shows. I’m there all the time in that space ready to create. It’s been difficult.
That being said, what do your four singles mean to you?
These songs are definitely a little bit more real to me artistically. The creation process is a little bit slower for me doing things on my own than it ever was with a band. So the previous EP with this one, I still have an idea of making one as an A-side and one as a B-side. So the first one being the A-sides, and this new one being the B-sides. ‘Cause they were kinda written that way.
The A-sides, I really had genre in mind. I was thinking, I wanna make something that’s alt country. They have country sounds to them, they have country lyrics. There's a pedal steel guitar played by an amazing pedal steel player. This new EP, these were demos I have, they’re not quite as polished and finished, but they definitely feel a little bit more unique to me.
I wouldn’t say that the first EP isn’t personal, cause there’s some songs on there that are personal, but this one it’s the sound of it that is definitely more natural for me. This one is a little more playful in terms of me picking up an instrument and starting somewhere, going where it’s gonna take me. These are definitely B-sides but they’re a little bit more fun.
What’s your favorite part about Albuquerque music and musicians?
The variety. There’s so much variety. On any night of the week, you can catch a different genre of music from the most original punk rock to art rock to noise rock to sludge metal to nu metal to—you name it. Country, folk, folk punk—I could go on. There’s an amazing musician that plays that any night of the week in Albuquerque. It’s kind of daunting sometimes, entering that world. Just so much talent.
Anything you’d like to add or plug?
My next song, Dreamcatcher, is coming out on March 19th.