2017 was a light performance year for Nathan Kalish, the lightest in eight or so years of being a songwriter and a recording and touring musician. If 150 shows is light, that is. The Nashville-based musician, who did some time as a multi-instrumentalist in Bloodshot Records favorites The Deadstring Brothers before his solo career, is striving for 250 shows in 2018. A show on Saturday (Jan. 20) will get him one closer to that goal, when Kalish and his band The Last Callers play at the Balcony Backstage. Kalish is touring behind his new record, “I Want to Believe.”
Kalish’s music is a DIY take on slacker folk and Americana that hints at country music; it’s quiet, laid back and loose, a stark contrast to the punk rock of his youth.
“I started playing punk rock because I didn’t have any formal music training or didn’t know how to play any instruments,” said Kalish. “I think I was in 7th grade and didn’t have a lot of pals. The few that I did have, we had some guitars and we weren’t very good. We played punk because it was what we were able to do, and what we liked. I didn’t have a huge musical palate at the time, so you do what you do like when you’re younger and angry. Now I listen to music very quietly.”
Starting on the punk-rock road and ending at a roots-rock destination is a typical path of many musicians, and even more music fans. Classic rock, heavy metal, and punk rock is usually the starting point for those ready to dive into some more serious music exploration. Tossing in an interest in the Grateful Dead will lead you to psychedelic as well as classic country bands. That then opens the door to acts like Uncle Tupelo or the Beat Farmers. Then your record collection is inundated, and you realize the musical chasm that separates Jerry Garcia and Neil Young from Greg Ginn or Country Dick Montana isn’t that large of a space.
“I got into Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and David Bowie. Then Wilco. Then I started getting into The Stones and Neil Young, stuff like that,” Kalish said. “It was a progression of classic rock to country music. Then you start listening to Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and you move your way back into the different types through the time. It’s all kind of related and you don’t realize it when you’re just looking at punk rock music.”
“I Want to Believe” is 10 cuts that dance around a handful of genres, while remaining a reflection of independent, electric-folk music. Cuts like “Bar Fight” are the soundtrack for tears in your beer, while “Roswell” is an upbeat roots rocker with a subtle cow-punk vibe. The whole record is reflection of his influences and his past, from the punk-rock of his youth to the jangly and loose rock ’n’ roll of The Deadstring Brothers, all with a nod to country and twang.
“When you’re on a musical path, you find that you soon realize how related all things are,” said Kalish. “I would have never thought some of the stuff I listen to now I would have listened to 15 years ago, 20 years ago, or even five years ago. You get a palate for it; just like food, you try things out. All that classic country stuff is the building blocks of rockabilly and rock ’n’ roll. Outlaw country stuff is like classic rock. It’s the same things, but different sounds.”