Q&A: Iowa-based rock-folk band The Nadas

Des Moines-based quintet The Nadas released what could be considered their breakout album, “Almanac,” last month. However, it is actually their seventh studio album.

“Almanac” was written with the intent to record the year of 2009 with a song representing each month. The Nadas then streamed the recording and production process, live, for all of their fans to comment and criticize.

The State Press sat down with bass player Jon Locker and vocalists/guitarists Jason Walsmith and Mike Butterworth before their show late last month at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix.

State Press: First off, let’s discuss your new album, “Almanac,” which was released on March 16. This yearlong soundtrack is a really unique idea. How did this affect your creativity? Usually you get to write when you feel like it, but every month, you had to have a song done.

Mike Butterworth: If we were super pro, we would write five songs and choose the one we wanted, but as it was, there were some months where we barely got done with the one song we were working on. It's really hard to be creative on a schedule. It became more of a discipline and kind of a job than just letting it happen organically. A lot of the months we were so far behind that we were sprinting to catch up to get the recording done to get it out by the end of the month.

Jason Walsmith: That's the negative part. The positive part, though, is that it sort of forced us to work where we would have normally just been like, “Oh, maybe we'll do it later.” But we just had to stay on that schedule. And I think that both of us, even though it was hard to do it that way, were really happy with the songs that came out of it.

SP: On the topic of concepts, how did you come up with the album art for “Almanac”?

JW: We have a really good designer that works for our label. We knew we were going to call it “Almanac” and she just referenced the old farmer's almanac and just did her own version of that — a little simpler version of that.

SP: Also, you guys were working with the “Do More” campaign in Des Moines, Iowa. Your song “Feel Like Home” was one of the representative aspects of that. How did you guys get on board with the campaign?

JW: We actually started with the Greater Des Moines Partnership, which is sort of like the chamber of commerce. We started working with them seven or eight years ago with a previous campaign and we just continued to do so. Their main goal is to get people and businesses to stay in Iowa or come back to Iowa after they've left. They know that we're around the country singing songs to those people and that we make them feel nostalgic. So it was a natural fit to work together.

SP: You guys have been around a while, too. Back in 2001, Playboy named you guys “The Best College Band You've Never Heard Of.” As a band, you are starting to strip yourselves of that title. How did you go through that transition to get to where you are now?

JW: Well, we started this band in college. We still play a lot of college towns and we still cross our fingers that college kids will come out and listen to us play because we want to build fans for life. The younger we start them, the longer we have them. We're just getting farther from college so it's just a little bit harder to disguise ourselves as college students anymore.

SP: You guys will be on the road until May. Being on the road is always a different experience — and you guys are in Meatloaf's old tour bus. What's life like on the road for you guys?

MB: Man, this tour, because we have to cover so many miles … life on the road is just playing and traveling. We have to leave after the show tonight in order to get to a radio thing tomorrow morning by 11. If we're not out of here by midnight, we're going to be late. And then we go straight from there overnight to Oklahoma City, where we go overnight to Kansas City and then home. It's been brutal. Five thousand, three hundred miles in two weeks with four drivers. But, I should say, under different circumstances when there are not so many miles in between shows, we like to do things for fun, [like] check out the local culture. We have friends in every town from doing it for so long. It's nice to get to see them and hang out and have a nice lunch somewhere.

SP: You guys also play at the SXSW festival a few weeks ago. As an experienced band, what are the ups and downs of doing a gig at a festival?

JW: Well, [at] that festival in particular there are thousands of bands playing everywhere all the time, so it’s hard to get noticed. But we go into that festival with pretty modest goals. We have friends and everybody from the industry from all over the country all go there all at the same time. So we just try to see friends and try to play a couple good shows and hope that a few people notice.

MB: No, the funny thing is that we have all these friends in the industry but I would say that 25 percent of them from year to year have a different job. That's the way it goes. Our friend worked for Elektra Records last year and this year worked for [another company]. [It’s] a little funny.

Jon Locker: Completely different.

SP: You guys have been together for 16, almost 17 years. Usually bands break up sooner. Is it easy to stay together? What's the key to keeping the bond strong and alive?

MB: I think that we reached the tipping point. You know, the three-year and seven-year itch where a lot of bands break up. We got past that point and now it's pretty easy. I know what will piss [Jon] off and I just choose not to piss him off.

JL: Or [he chooses] to [do so], when appropriate.

MB: But really, the other thing is that we have been doing this so long that we're more stubborn now that we're not going to let anything stand in our way … more [stubborn] than we were back then when we were younger and hungrier and would do more. Now it is a different motivation but still the same end goal.

SP: You once opened for Bon Jovi. Do you guys have any collaborations in mind for the future?

JW: We're always hoping to tour with bigger artists and open for other bands and get to know other bands. That's one of the hard parts of Iowa being our base — we're kind of in our own little black hole. It has helped us make a career out of being from the Midwest but it is hard that we haven't built those relationships with bigger bands, or even smaller bands that then explode and have those successes. Those things are sort of the luck of the draw. But we haven't had relationships with bands so that we could tag along with them. So that's been one of the harder challenges because we always want to.

SP: What’s next for you guys?

JL: A night drive for me, two radio things that aren't... oh, you mean the bigger picture.

MB: We're going to finish up our national tour about the middle of May. Our summers have been the same general deal the last few where we play a lot of small town festivals throughout the Midwest. We'll make a trip out to Colorado and we do Washington D.C. every summer. And we'll hit anything that we didn't hit on the tour that we should have, like Atlanta, [which] has slipped through the cracks. So we'll need to do a little Southeast swing and that might come in the summer or the fall. But [as for] anything that happens in radio, if there's a market that starts banging at radio then we'll go out there. Maybe that's not hip. What's a slang term for doing well? Banging! So if radio starts banging anywhere, then we'll go bang down the door and bang-dang-di-di-di-dang-dang-deh.

SP: Are The Nadas involved in any side projects or anything of the sort?

JW: I don’t think we've mentioned our record label, Authentic Records, which I always try to mention because it's a place that people can go find not only our music but a whole bunch of bands that we like that we helped put out records for. We recorded this record at the Sonic Factory, which is Jon and Tony's (former member) studio, and they stream all [of] their sessions. We just started representing World Bicycle Relief. We drive this big bus around, which is a lot of real estate. We want to help support a cause and a message, which we are doing now with this organization that builds and donates bicycles for people in need in third world countries … people who are doctors or teachers or students, or people who need health care that live too far from the place they work or the place they need to get to. Bicycles help them get there faster and more efficiently.

MB: I recently found out that the majority of the bikes they give to people are to school-aged women. [They] get the bike and can continue their education, or they don't get the bike and they have to go into the work force as young as 13 or 14. It’s $130 and you change someone’s entire life. We're going to try to get as many bikes in the next couple years as we can.

Reach the reporter at lauren.jordan@asu.edu


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