Nathan Aeli on cancelled tours and the grandeur of the 1990s music: Interview

J.N. August 25, 2020

And so a summer has passed without a single tent unwittingly erected next to an all-night soundsystem, a single wristband being slipped off and passed back, a single bottle of supermarket vodka decanted into a bottle of mineral water. This has been our first year without dance festivals or open nightclubs since the second summer of love. And for some artists that have spent a whole year doing guerrilla campaigns and online promotion just to kickstart 2020 with heaps of gigs across the world, the pandemic arrived like God was playing a mean joke to you.

After the release of debut album “Katja” last year, a trademark shoegaze styled record, accompanied by post-rock layers and coated in an indie-rock fabric, Nathan Aeli put all his efforts into promotion and building a brand, didn’t even spend time on doing shows, and had everything set up for touring Canada, Eastern Europe and had Italy in the works alongside some great summer festival gigs. It was the year when it all was about to happen. And then corona arrived.

However, rather than letting setbacks pull you into a downward spiral, Nathan Aeli takes the opportunity to plan for the future and returns to the studio to write and record new music.

The tour that never happened

Nathan Aeli is rather unknown to a wider audience, but I know you have your roots in Örebro where you had a band called Young Mountain together with John, the guitarist of Beverly Kills.
Exactly, and Young Mountain is a scream/hardcore band and is still active, and I, John and Viggo, the bassist in Beverly Kills, have played together a long time by now. We started out in Örebro and later all of us moved to Gothenburg.

We also started Revival Booking together and booked shows already when we lived in Örebro. Nothing really happened for young people and we just wanted to get bands on stage that play punk, hardcore and indie to have something to do. But I felt I just had to move to a bigger city, the conditions to organize concerts but also to play with your own bands are way better. There’s always an audience in a bigger city whatever music you play.

But Örebro has a fairly good reputation as a music city, especially in the punk scene with bands like Millencolin.
To some part. When Revival set up gigs it worked out great the first year. We often had 100 or 150 on whatever band we booked, and for being a small city like Örebro that’s good. And we were young at the time, just seventeen, and worked a lot to make it happen. Whatever band we booked it was at least a hundred people turning up because there wasn’t anything else to do.

But it all slowly faded out when people got older, and when I was nineteen the hype was gone. People started to go to the pub instead and that was enough for me and I moved to Gothenburg.

Everything is easier here, both to organize shows with Revival and play your own gigs. It’s a wider market because there are more people.

About Nathan Aeli; you have already done a few shows in Europe and I know you had plans to tour just before corona happened.
It’s a bit funny because I haven’t played as much as I should have as Nathan Aeli the last year, I’ve put a lot of effort in building a brand and promote myself online and on posters, just doing guerrilla campaigns. Until the beginning of this year. 2020 was the year I was about to play heaps of shows. The promotion campaigns really paid off. I even posted ”2020, the year we will play everywhere” on Facebook just a few weeks before corona happened (laughs). What the fuck happened!? (laughs).

I was about to tour in Canada, supported by this great punk label called No Funeral, and I was in touch with Middle-Man Records in America that were about to squeeze me in for some shows there as well. It was planned for a tour in Eastern Europe, starting in the Baltics and going down to the Balkans, and there was an Italian tour in the works. And through Viva Sounds I got some great festival offers, especially a post-punk festival in Hungary called Fekete Zaj with bands like Atari Teenage Riot. It’s just so sad it won’t happen.

I haven’t played much in Gothenburg at all because of the promo campaigns, just once at an underground club – heaps of fun – and I was about to play Folk and Fyrens Ölkafé when corona happened. But abroad it happened a few times; I did a mini-tour stretching over Copenhagen, Hamburg and Berlin and learned to know a lot of people that can be useful in the future.

You just have to accept the situation although it’s super boring and sad, but everyone is in the same situation, no one can do live shows. It’s not only bands and musicians that have a rough time, it’s everyone on all labour markets. I’ve tried to change my focus a bit and started to write new music, and I recently got back from Nacksving Studios where I have worked with Anders Lagerfors on the new record. It’s actually almost done!

Just like all bands which use the time to record new music when all other options are out. Next year will see loads of new album releases.
It will be an amazing year! I’m really hoping for some sort of renaissance for culture across the world and that people come out for gigs and support the scene. “Don’t stay at home on Fridays and Saturday people, come out for gigs”.

A huge cultural war next year, that’s what I’m hoping for. Wherever you turn, something should happen. Sold-out venues and clubs across the city and people getting fired up about the opportunity to watch shows again. That would help everyone in the music industry.

Inspired by the ‘anti-structure’ of the 1990s

The biggest curveball that music of the 1090s threw us wasn’t grunge music, Nirvana and alternative rock heroes Pearl Jam or the mind-boggling live shows by bands as Rage Against the Machine and Stone Temple Pilots. If you’re Nathan Aeli the 1990s biggest contribution to music was to open up the sacred box to songwriting and deconstruct the rules of how to write music. The anti-structure was born, making the decade memorable for music never heard of before. And that is the inspiration for how Nathan Aeli writes music today.

The debut album last year has lots of post-rock and shoegaze influences. Do you continue down the same road at the new record as well?
”Katja” is very much inspired by the shoegaze scene of the 1990s, but has elements of post-rock and hardcore on it as well. Because of Young Mountain, my other band, you will always find influences crossing the boundaries between bands and genres.

The new record will, however, sound quite different. I actually have a lot of songs done already, almost four records that all sound like “Katja”, they’re basically done, but I wanted to do something different this time. The new songs have influences from electronic music and alternative rock, and the overall production is a lot better on this record. “Katja” is punk and has all that kind of raw elements, but has a sort of punky beauty.

Next album is a kind of compilation containing ten songs which I will call “Flowers”. It’s basically six or seven singles, each and every one good enough to build a tour on, and they work great together on a record. But I will release them as singles, tour every single just to boost the opportunities out there and to buy me time to find my audience.

At this record I’ve snatched the best parts of Bowie and Björk, they’ve done so many great albums that don’t necessarily have consistent soundscapes through the records. Some of their records are built on three or four songs representing a certain soundscape and then there are three or four songs resounding something different. That’s what I want on the record. That’s the base layer on the record. On the back of that, I mix together lots of influences from the ’90s, especially industrial elements like sampled drums and ambient music. There’s still a lot of post-rock in the songs but I mix it with Nine Inch Nails, Björk, Bowie and bits and pieces of Radiohead.

A lot of music in the ’90s was so much better than modern music because they did something new and created something unique. It didn’t follow any rules on song structure and how you write songs. In fact, it wasn’t necessary to have a song structure at all.

But what’s special with the ’90s beyond the “anti-structure”?
High-end productions and great songs, music genres we’ve never listened to before. I’m almost done with a new song which is much influenced by My Bloody Valentine, I just have to give it a name. “Sometimes” on their “Loveless” record has super long verses but a very short chorus. That’s the kind of inspiration I’m talking about, those weird song structures.

In popular music today, the chorus is the most important part, that’s where it happens, where you have the hook. But it comes with really bad verses. That’s what I want to change with this new song and just have a short chorus and then back to a great verse again. It’s one of the major reasons why the ’90s inspires me.

What’s really boring today is that music has a very narrow selling point and you need to reach out to people directly, no one listens to a song four weeks later because there’s new music to listen to. You need to release something continuously just to keep people’s interest.

But releasing singles and then a sort of compilation album later is yet another proof of the death of the album, isn’t it?
The death of the modern album is as relevant today as it was ten years ago. People want to listen to one new song which quickly fades away. People don’t listen to full albums anymore, they listen to playlists, and to me that’s just such a horrible development. An album is a piece of art, something beautiful that the creator has put lots of effort into. It’s storytelling where the story change direction after every song which surprises the listener. But today it’s really difficult to find great albums. A great song is the selling point and bands focus on the song, not the album story.

Even if there are a few great albums out there you may not find them because they’ll drown in the constant flow of new music being released every day. You won’t find albums on playlists – how do you find them then?

But I’m going to continue to release albums. “Flowers” is an experiment but then I’ll return to the album format.


What’s next for Nathan Aeli? Releasing “Flowers” and wait for shows to be allowed again?
Just like most bands I really want to get out and play but it’s impossible to plan for anything today, you can’t do it because of the costs involved if you have to cancel or postpone it. But I keep in touch with venues across Europe if an opportunity opens up, just to know which clubs that have free slots, and as soon as there’s a thumb-up I’m off.

What I find a bit weird is that quite many artists and bands don’t want to play live at all. I do understand that people don’t want to do online shows during the lockdown because most bands feed off the energy of their fans, but some bands don’t want to play at all because they’re not good enough. Practise, that’s what it’s all about.

Too many bands today don’t practise at all and don’t want to put any effort into other chores you have to do as a band. Not everything is about music, promotion is super important for instance. And too many bands are too much interested in looking good in their socials, and when reality kicks in they can’t play live. 

Photographer: Richard Bloom.

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About The Author

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.