Words/Interview by Tracey Moyle – Music Maven Events
Byron Bay Blues and roots multi-instrumentalist Nathan Kaye shares his new single Watcher Watching The Watcher with the world today, spreading light and love through his musical gift.
Nathan has often been referred to as a one-man band, but this doesn’t even scratch the surface. The talent that explodes from one individual is almost bewildering. His sound has been described as ‘the earthy drive of John Butler, Xavier Rudd and Ben Harper with the uplifting atmosphere of Michael Franti.’
But there is so much more to Nathan Kaye. Beginning his creative arts career as an actor he had roles in ‘Muriel’s Wedding’ and ‘One More God’ along with many small screen appearances including Aussie favourite ‘Home and Away’. However, his souls calling drew him to the outskirts of Byron Bay and his deep connection to music has carved out a career that has seen his unique talents take him around the world. You may have heard his impressive Didgeboxing, an incredible combination of beatbox and didgeridoo. You may have seen him on the 44 date, sold out national tour with multi-platinum selling Pete Murray, or supporting ARIA winning Birds of Tokyo, or supporting Grammy-winners Wolfmother and Jason Mraz. But now is Nathan’s time, once again, to shine his musical light.
Our Music Maven Tracey Moyle had a chat with Nathan diving deep into the intricacies of what makes his music so unique and soulful, the depth of the meaning behind the new single and his journey from actor to musician.
Congrats on new single Watcher Watching The Watcher, it’s such beautiful song. Listening to it for the first time I felt like it musically captured an almost Spanish style, slide guitar energy.
Nathan: “Lap steel slide guitar has been such a big thing for me. I play a lot of instruments and that particular one, because it’s fretless, it’s the closest thing to a human voice, because a human voice obviously doesn’t have frets, so you really have to use your ears to tune into the exact key and note that you’re playing. I listen to a wide variety of music styles and I’ve studied so many different scales from loads of different cultures so I guess it comes through naturally in the song writing process.”
It has such a unique sound which is a brilliant thing to find with music. Can you give us an insight to the lyrics? How did you come to put the song together?
Nathan: “I guess there’s a few different levels to it. The first level is our mind controls how we perceive the world. That can shift our emotional response to the world around us. So when we focus on negative things from a negative perspective that’s exactly how we perceive our world and the people we interact with and the world at large. But when we focus on the positive and try and see things from a positive filter, then your disposition is going to be far happier – content. We all have struggles and shit is going to happen to us, you know, the waves of life. But in order to maintain good mental and emotional health, especially in these times, I guess you’ve got to counter the negative conditioning that our culture goes through. We’re told we can’t, and that whole Tall Poppy Syndrome thing where people cut other people down so they don’t get ‘to high’, cut yourself down, all that small poppy thinking. We kind of reduce our lives to what it is we are told we should do, and that’s a collective ‘we’. Like getting that nine to five job, getting that mortgage, getting the wife and the 2.4 kids, and not that there is anything wrong with those things but there’s a very contrived and prescribed pathway that people go down. That can stifle their own spirit and that causes mental and emotional issues which, for a growing amount of people, leads to depression and mental health issues and suicide. You’ll find this a lot with this kind of music, my previous album was called ‘Waves of Life’ and it’s all to raise funds and awareness for Suicide Prevention Australia and depression. And this isn’t a depressing album, it’s all quite uplifting. I guess this is in that realm but it’s the next level of it. The other element of Watcher Watching the Watcher is getting really philosophical or ‘spiritual’ where you get so in the zone with something. For me it’s with music or with acting. The first time it happened with me was with acting actually where, whatever I was doing where I was acting in a role, it kind of took over me. I was watching it like I was an observer, and I was watching myself, if that makes sense. It kind of freaked me out, I was only 17 and I was like, who am I? and it led me on a philosophical quest throughout my own life. I’d ask myself the question ‘who is it that’s thinking these thoughts, why am I investing my energy in some thoughts that make me feel bad, why am I investing so much energy in this thinking process’? If I have more control over my mind, am I going to be a happier being? And obviously the answer to that is yes, of course. But we all have to come to our own place in that, so Watcher Watching the Watcher is trying to bring people into that awareness, that is there something deep in inside of you. I could talk for hours on this topic.”
I could talk to you for hours on this topic. I’m on the same page. I understand the importance of how we think effects our life and what happens to us.
Nathan: “Well thoughts become things, but even before they become things, being attached to thoughts creates how we perceive them. That’s essentially what the song is, it’s bringing people in, not just in a lyrical level but the melodies and chordal structure I also cater for that as well.”
Listen to Watcher Watching the Watcher HERE
I will listen to the song in a different way now that I know the true intention behind it.
You had the song mastered at Abby Road Studio, that must be a special feeling to have your music mastered where so many greats had theirs done in the same way.
Nathan: “Absolutely it’s been a dream for a long time to do something at Abby Road Studios. Of all the greatest albums and records that have come out of that studio over the last 60 or more years, The Beatles and Pink Floyd and in the last 30 years like Radiohead and Massive Attack, when the opportunity arose I was like, ‘I have to do this’. The engineer that mastered the track has a resume you wouldn’t believe, acts like Radiohead and Massive Attack, and I was influenced a bit, by some of those artists. If you listen to it you can hear something like an Indian lap steel slide player and Ben Harper and a bit of Radiohead or David Bowie or Massive Attack. When I got the song mastered there the engineer I worked with just happened to do some of that stuff in the real world. It was perfect, he got some element of where I was coming from.”
The new song is a little different, in essence, to your previous music, it’s more of an acoustic tone right through the song. Previously your music has varied but seems to have a big blues, roots, rock feel. Was this something you did consciously or was it more of an organic shift?
Nathan: “Probably both of those things. I’ve been writing music since I was a little kid and, I listened to so much music, all different things, and those things. Some of my favourite slide guitar players are, Hindustani Indian slide guitar players, for example, so I went into a time where I was into that, I went through a time where I was heavily influenced by middle eastern music. A lot of their tones can lend themselves to minor darker flavours and I think a lot of my music has that minor darker flavour to be honest, but when I get on stage, as much as I love crooning out ballads, I’m also an entertainer and I see music as a story telling tool. In recorded mode and in live mode, in fact all of the performing and creative arts come from the same roots, and human existence has relied so heavily on story telling, so that more rockier, bluesier thing is an easier way to tell funny stories, especially after I’ve told a heavier story to bring them out of that zone. And the didge playing, I’m beatboxing into the didgeridoo and it’s quite rhythmic and people want to move to that, so it ends up taking over. So the performer is very much the extrovert and the songwriter is the introvert. The two sides of Nathan have been at battle my whole life, the introvert writes most of the songs and the extrovert performs. In the studio the introvert gets to be the commander a bit. And in the live setting the extrovert does.”
You play multiple instruments, we spoke about the didge and the slide guitar, how many exactly do you play?
Nathan: I wouldn’t be able to give you a number but I am just looking around in my studio thinking, holy crap, there’s a lot here and then there’s a lot in the other couple of rooms. I find that if there’s a stringed instrument in front of me, even if I’ve never played it before, within a very short period of time I can play it. I couldn’t say the same thing for horned or brass instruments, I’ve never really explored saxophone and trumpet and all those kinds of things, but with the didge my step dad was aboriginal and one of my best mates in my teenage years was an aboriginal didge player and I would play the guitar and sing and he’d play the didge. At one point in my teens a full blood Pinjarra tribesman came, he was on walkabout, and he stayed at our place, and he gave me his didge, my first didge, and that was the indigenous way of giving me permission to be a didge player. From that point on it became a way for me to anchor my whole being into the earth and be connected to my spirit. There have been times on stage when I’ve been performing, and most performers would have experienced this or a version of it, I’d be playing away doing a solo, there’d be a bunch of hot girls in front flirting and my ego starts feeling good and then I’ll play the didge and all that goes away. All of that egoic shit gets pulled into the earth and I’m back into my centre and I’m so grateful I’ve had that as one of the instruments in my life. It’s not in this song, I don’t feel like it has a place in every song. So that’s an air instrument I play. I also play the Đàn môi which is a Vietnamese jaw harp. I play Five string bass, I’m looking at an instrument now and it’s a cümbüş, it’s a fretless 12 stringed instrument from Turkey. The first time I came across that I was on a theatre tour in Turkey. So if I come across an instrument that’s a stringed instrument that just speaks to me, I’ll just try my best to acquire it at some point and I’ll certainly try and play it in that moment. When it comes to music, I am good at that, but when it comes to carpentry? (laughs). You know we all have our talent. I think everyone is multi-talented. But whether you have connected to what that is or not will define whether you are living it or not. Getting past the point of dreaming about something and putting it into action, that’s the difference between those who live their dreams and those who dream their dreams.”
Everyone has their own talents and you’ve got particular talents, you performed in 2005 at the Beatbox Championships in the UK and you have a talent for combining beatbox and the didge. You started that style spreading right throughout the UK and Europe.
Nathan: “Yeah I started Didgeboxing back in the 90’s an then by the time I got over there they were like (he says in an accent that would have you thinking you were watching a Guy Ritchie film) ‘Oi, mate, look at this geezer, you gotta play that beatbox thing in the beatbox championships. You know what I mean’.”
(Laughs) That’s brilliant.
Nathan: “I do love accents. Along with being attracted to words and language, I freaking love accents and everywhere I go I’ll certainly listen really intently and start doing a version of their accent.”
You are obviously a very strong advocate for the environment and you live in such a beautiful part of our country in the hills behind Byron Bay, it seems your lifestyle and music are competly in sync?
Nathan: “At the moment. When I started making those choices conscientiously, I moved to this area in 1998 initially, to get out of the city, even though I had a thriving acting career and my music was my second career at that time. I was living around Sydney. I was heavily involved in environmental groups from the age of 16 and I just found that I was being a hypocrite so I decided I couldn’t talk that talk unless I started to at least partially walk the walk. So I took steps to start creating that in my life. So where I live right now is fully off grid, solar powered home, therefore my studio is a solar powered studio, fully eco, carbon neutral studio and compost loo’s, vege gardens. That dream became alive at a youngish age and I wanted to make sure I was doing as much as I could to make less of an impact in the environment, a better footprint. That doesn’t mean to say being a part of this system we’re all doing something that’s hypocritical and destructive.”
I think it’s important for everyone to at least do something though.
Nathan: “Yeah, some people can feel like that’s so far beyond then but that’s just like the saying ‘a thousand mile journey starts with one step’ you do things step by step, like get solar for example, you grow veges in the back yard, you don’t rest on your laurels, you keep taking steps and make it habitual and take more steps again. You contribute not just on an environmental level, also with what we put out there to the consciousness of people in the world. With me it’s through my art and with conversations. Conversations are empty and lack veracity if you aren’t walking that truth in some kind of real way.”
That’s so important especially today with so much ‘hollow’ music in the world and fake social media, we need that balance. We need someone to bring the world back down to earth.
Nathan: “It is this because of the corporate capitalist consumerist society that we live in is heavily gauged toward people being consumers, in fact it views people as consumers not as people. So as an artist I feel like one of my duties is to not just reflect society through my art but also inspire. I once had a band called Dream Seeds the idea behind it was that you plant the seeds to follow their dreams. It doesn’t mean I haven’t written songs about the end of relationships and stuff but I think it’s important for people to know its ok to feel those feelings. Art can be a reflector, or it can be a director. It’s a bit like, Michael Franti said in his songs back when he was in the Disposable Heros, he said ‘Is it the director or is it the reflector? We imitate us or do we imitate it?’ He was talking about television then but all art has been that throughout history and art serves the role of connecting people, communication, healing. Even if it doesn’t seem to be healing there is a healing part to it. You listen to a song that contains anger in it, and you need to get that out of your system you can put on Rage Against the Machine or something and you can flush that energy out of your system.”
I love that you can get so involved in music so that it takes you on a different platform almost.
Nathan: “Music for me first and foremost is a gift to myself. If you take yourself on that journey, be completely present with it. If I’m going to play music for people I am going to be completely immersed in it and enjoy it. Not without the awareness of people being there, I want to be completely moved by it. And that’s with Watcher Watching the Watcher I’m talking about that zone, that flow state, finding things that get you into that flow state. Obviously meditation is good for that. The mind is a terrific tool but a terrible master. So if you get any mastery over your mind you’re going to have a happier life.”
You started your younger career as a serious actor starring as ‘Chook’ in Muriels Wedding and more recently on of the leads in the award winning movie ‘One Less God’. You also had roles in Home and Away, Police Rescue and other Aussie tv shows. Music seems to have become your first love now, do you see yourself doing much more acting in the future?
Nathan: “I don’t go out chasing acting, I’m focused on the music and being a family man. But I’m taking a lot of signs from the universe to take acting jobs that may come up. I’ll never give up music, but my passion was to be a film maker. I wanted to compose music for film and be the writer director and star. I saw the format film as being one of the ultimate art forms to changing consciousness on the planet. I made that realisation when I was 18. Really the the main reason I left acting and transitioned to music was that I moved here (Byron Bay region) in 98. There was no way to have an acting career from here. Air flights weren’t cheap and I had to drive to Sydney to auditions so i just focused on the music. I never stopped loving acting or never stopped believing the format of film and now days tv shows are really 40 hour films. If they’re made with the right intentions they can do amazing things for shifting consciousness because they involve music, they involved costume designers, almost all the different art forms are involved in that one format. I would like to spend some time getting back into it but at this time I have a bunch of singles and an album that I want to put some energy into and when the touring opens up again I want to get back into that. I had booked out tours this year and i had to drop them all.
Watcher Watching The Watcher is available HERE to buy/download now on all streaming platforms.
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With thanks to All Abundant Artists