Goshen Americana band Shiny Shiny Black released its first studio album ’Travelers’ earlier this year. Lead singer-songwriter Nathan Butler visited The Elkhart Truth’s newsroom to talk about how fatherhood and a difficult upbringing inspired some of the songs on the new album. Butler also discussed what it takes to make music your vocation.
Our free song of the week is ’Love Like That’ from Shiny Shiny Black’s ’Travelers’, which you can download using the audio player below.
JC: My name is J.C. Lee, digital producer here at The Elkhart Truth. Today in the newsroom, we have Nathan Butler with Shiny Shiny Black. They’re a three-piece Americana band out of Goshen and if you imagine rock guitarist Tom Petty and indie band Wilco had a baby, that’s the sort of sound that you are going to get with the Shiny Shiny Black. We’re going to hear a little bit of their music in a minute, but let’s hear from Nathan himself. Welcome to the newsroom.
NB: Thanks, man.
JC: So you’re the lead songwriter. Bring us back to when you picked up your first instrument and decided this is something you wanted to run with.
NB: Oh, my first instrument was actually the drum set. Man, I wanted to play drums as long as, like, since I can remember. So very early, like four, five years old probably. Played drums for other people for about 20 years.
JC: And now you’re playing guitars, how do you make that transition from drums to guitar?
NB: Oh, man. That’s a long story. A few years ago, I realized that if I wanted any stability in my career that I needed to get into songwriting, and guitars are easier to port around than keyboards.
JC: Why do you feel that you as a songwriter needed that stability?
NB: Financial stability is a big deal to anybody in the arts, well, to anybody. But a lot of artists struggle with that because, a lot of times, what they are creating is not necessarily a direct commodity. It’s very hard to establish a direct correlation between the energy you put into your art and the monetary value so songwriting is something that’s a little easier to do that with. You know, you package a song and you put it out and royalties come in. That sort of thing, and that becomes like a steady stream of income versus, you know, performance. You always have to be performing to be generating revenue. I had played drums for almost 20 years. At that point, had played on probably 60 records for other people. Had always been backing other musicians. And the challenge that I was running into was that my success was completely dependent on who I was working with that it dawned on me one day that the people who were controlling it, in my life, were the songwriters and their commitment level.
JC: So your songwriting. You started writing songs in 2007 and now that you have a daughter, how has your songwriting changed from then to now as a father.
NB: Well, I would just say that, like, your life experiences feed into whatever you are writing about. So there’s one song in particular on the record that I probably never would have written except for the fact that I had a daughter. My daughter doesn’t settle very well. There isn’t something in her brain that doesn’t turn on and say ‘Okay! It’s time to relax and go to sleep now’. And so, you just have to kind of hang out with her until she gives up on staying awake. It’s more like that approach. And so you have to find ways to pass the time until you are trying to stay with her until she’s there. So I started making up melodies and one of those things sort of stuck around, and she seems to enjoy it so I eventually fleshed it out and added some more pieces to make it a complete song and that’s the song, ‘Oh Darlin’.
JC: And you just released your first studio album in April called ‘Travelers’. Could you tell us a little bit about how Shiny Shiny Black came upon the name ‘Travelers’ for this album.
NB: Yeah, the content of the songs sort of dictated that. Obviously, there’s no song on here called ‘Travelers’. But each of, like, the characters in each of the songs is sort of passing through life in kind of almost an observational way. But it’s like that sense of movement, so that just seemed to be the kind of thing that tied all of the songs together was this sense of passing through or, like, traveling through life and having these different experiences. So that was the concept, I guess.
JC: You talked about how ‘Travelers’ refers to going through life, experience new things and leaving some things behind. Was it something that you personally experienced when you started writing songs for this album?
NB: Without divulging too much, I just had a really interesting life. And especially when I was younger, wasn’t really that connected to the culture I lived in. I was pretty isolated from it in a lot of ways and so I’ve always kind of experience life as sort of, like, a distance in a certain way.
JC: And so, one of the singles that you have on the album is called ‘Lights On’. Could you tell us about the character in that song?
NB: That’s probably one of the most personal songs on the record. I came to a point in my life where I was carrying a lot of bitterness and anger about things that had happened to me growing up and had blamed a lot of people in my life for things. And the realized as I became older and became an adult that, like, out of that bitterness and anger, I was starting to perpetuate some of the same things unto other people. So a lot of that song is about, first of all, realizing that it’s not so black and white. Like, they’re the bad guy, I’m the good guy, you know? It’s also, like, sometimes those roles can be reversed and, in reality, it’s usually a mix of all of the above. And, you know, some of that is really familial to me but it seems to be kind of like a universal sentiment that a lot of people can connect to.
JC: As we like to do at the end of each of our music segments, we like to ask that each of the bands and musicians that we invite into our newsroom to really pay it forward. What local musicians do you think we should be listening to?
NB: Oh, wow. Oh, man, that’s an honor. I’m really profoundly touched by the music of Von Strantz. I’ve gotten to work with them in creating some of their recordings and just amazing, amazing musicians. Amazing people.
JC: Well, thanks for coming in.