1 of 2
Nathaniel Rateliff (Photo by: Brantley Gutierrez)
2 of 2
Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats (Photo by: Brantley Gutierrez)
Overnight it seems, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats became that band, with that song, that tune you can’t seem to get away from. Performing “S.O.B.” on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” an anthemic beat in disguise — the song deals with delirium tremens and the effects of alcoholism — the band found its footing and has basically been on the road because of it (and their solid self-titled first album) since last June. The song made into a Lipton tea commercial, the HBO series “Shameless,” the NBA finals and an improbable dance hit for Britney Spears while in her skivvies. Rateliff, this close to being a household name, is now trading guitar licks with those dancing Kia Soul hamsters.
By phone, Rateliff is guarded at first. The band is in rural Ohio, and it seems the bus (the one he has been on for good amount of time) just made a bunch of noise and might have broken down. “I am somewhere, nowhere really. We aren’t near a city at all yet. We are outside of a tractor-and-trailer supply company,” Rateliff says, business he is relatively familiar with. He left school in the seventh grade to work — his father passed away — and he needed to help his family in Herman, Missouri, a small town of about 2,300 people. Brought up in a very religious family, he followed a mission group to Denver with his childhood friend (and bandmate) Joseph Pope. He found work at a trucking company, backing up trailers and working in the yard.
“It was dangerous, but it is my favorite job that I have ever had,” Rateliff says, except for cutting grass — he was a gardener as well. “Cutting grass meant we got to use this fun equipment. We would fly around through the yard. I was younger then.” The two would play music in their spare time. Rateliff had a couple of solo ventures until forming The Night Sweats, with whom Pope also plays. Then came June 2015 and Jimmy Fallon fangirling over the dancing small town “cowboy.” Rateliff mashed potato’d all over the stage while singing “S.O.B.”, an odd dichotomy of celebration and lyrical sadness.
“I didn’t intend to write the song to be that way [anthemic],” Rateliff says. “It was the last song we recorded for the album and it was low on my list of things to record. I was more interested in some of the other songs — they were more important to me. I don’t write songs to catch the attention of a large audience,” he says.
His influences are apparent in his four-on-the-floor sound; he cites Sam Cooke, Nike Drake, Leonard Cohen and now Leon Bridges. The two have been touring together and Rateliff joins him on stage occasionally where fans have seen some of his newer material. The partnership goes so far as the two throwing around working together in the future.
“The next record will be us doing just what we are doing now, writing songs because they need to be written,” says Rateliff, who writes all of the music for The Night Sweats.
When asked about his drinking, he says he is trying to stay way from the brown liquor and do things that are better for him. “Water is better for me, I think,” he says. When asked about his last show in Richmond (at The National in December), he says, “I think we had a good time, I don’t remember.”
Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats play Innsbrook After Hours, June 8 at 6 p.m., with opening act the People’s Blues of Richmond. $25 at the gate. 423-1779 or innsbrookafterhours.com.