2015 was a landmark year for Nathaniel Rateliff.
After more than a decade touring as a low-key acoustic folkie supporting big acts like Mumford & Sons but never breaking big himself, the 37-year-old Missouri native and a Motown-style band he assembled in his hometown of Denver debuted with their eponymous soul-funk collection, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats.
The set took off, not without thanks to Jimmy Fallon, who hosted their late night debut before the album released. With the host’s enthusiastic intro and the group’s impassioned performance of “S.O.B.” the clip went viral. “We had more pre-sales for the record after that than we had for all other records that we’ve put out, combined,” Rateliff remembers over an afternoon whiskey at a Midtown, Manhattan bar in February. He and his band were in town to revisit the Fallon stage.
Joseph Pope III, Rateliff’s bandmate and best friend since high school, joins the singer to discuss the group’s explosive introduction and everything they’re looking forward to in 2016 — not least of which is premiering the video for “I Need Never Get Old,” their new single.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Prior to this album, you guys said you were really thinking that it might be time to consider another career path. Have you thought, now that the music has really taken off, about if you had taken your own advice?
NATHANIEL RATELIFF: I think I might be healthier [laughs]. But, maybe not. We have the same group of friends at home so it might not be all that different.
Britney Spears recently posted an Instagram video of herself dancing to “S.O.B.” Did you get a heads up before she shared it?
RATELIFF: We didn’t, and don’t even know what it’s about — but we knew as soon as we saw it that we had to respond.
JOSEPH POPE III: We didn’t want to offend her, because it was an unwarranted big spotlight, but we also wanted to have fun. We thought for sure it would finally get us on TMZ, but…it didn’t.
Along with sets at Coachella and Bonnaroo, you’re also headlining [famed Colorado venue] Red Rocks this summer. Have you been before?
RATELIFF: We tried sneaking into Mercury Rev and R.E.M. as teenagers, but we got drunk and lost [laughs].
POPE: They make it not very easy to sneak in, for good reason. The terrain is pretty rough around there, and there’s some gullies with a bunch of thorns. We brought a 12-pack of beer, and we didn’t get very close before we ended up just drinking all the beer. And then we were just giggling and running down the hill as fast as we could. I was in front of Nathaniel and he sees me jump over a —
RATELIFF: We didn’t realize there was a barbed-wire fence down there [laughs].
POPE: So I land flat on my back and hear him hysterically laughing. I look up, and he hit the fence, but it stuck straight into his shins. So anyway, you should just buy a ticket…
So you never got into the show?
RATELIFF: Not that one. Then we saw the Allman Brothers — that was when I had a ponytail and bell-bottoms. I was drinking Guinness, and then I ate some mushrooms… turns out that was a bad combination. [Another time] we got passes to meet Beck. We really thought we were kindred spirits with Beck. We were like, “One day Beck is totally going to want to hang out with us.”
POPE: We were trying to figure out how to make an impression on this guy, and we had just formed a band and gotten our first promo shots done. So we printed out a big poster of Nathaniel, and I and autographed it and gave it to him when we met him. So Beck, if you’re reading this, do you remember two dickweeds? One of them had a jean jacket and no shirt — that was me [laughs].
Have you started working on a follow-up to last year’s set?
RATELIFF: We have a break in May-ish. I’m going to try and put a lot of time into it then. In the past, I’ve written stuff by myself, but this is the best group of guys that I’ve ever played with, so I definitely want to try and do stuff together. I have a little bank of tunes, a lot of unfinished stuff that I didn’t get to spend much time on before we finished this record. I sent a bunch of guys in the band some of those ideas just to put it in their ears and say, “I don’t know where I want to go with it, but…”
Many of your songs are rooted in hardship — there’s a deep exploration on failure, substance abuse, and regret on the album. Now that you’ve found success, what will you draw on for inspiration?
RATELIFF: We struggled for a long time. I feel like I’m a big enough screw-up that it won’t be a problem [laughs].
What role does songwriting play in your life?
RATELIFF: It can be really exciting and [it can be] therapeutic. Sometimes when you’re writing a song, you don’t really know what it is that you’re writing about until you look back later. Songwriting has this sort of prophetic element to it. Like with “I’ve Been Failing,” when we were recording it, I was having some stuff at home that was really hard, and the sessions were really emotionally-charged. But I had written that a few years before — it just ended up being about exactly what I was going through when we were recording.
POPE: You’re a prophet, eh?
RATELIFF: [Laughing] Oh yeah, Nathaniel David!
Are you excited about moving on to new music with “I Need Never Get Old?”
RATELIFF: I’m actually always nervous that people are [one day] going to be like, “Oh there’s that band who had that song — screw those guys!”
POPE: The most optimistic way, for me, to look at it is that “S.O.B.” opened the door to everything else. Not just the songs on the record, but even the back catalog and everything that we’ve done. And hopefully when all the hoopla dies down, we’ll have some people who stick with us and will in the future.
Now, EW is excited to premiere a humorous clip for “Old” that shows the group doing exactly what their song title suggests they’ll refuse, in the studio. “It was a long, 15-hour day,” Rateliff recalls. Still, “The video was fun. The concept is us struggling over [writing] the song for decades — but ironically it took only two hours to record.”
All confirmed tour dates are listed below.
May 31: Minneapolis, MN @ Northrop Auditorium
June 1: Madison WI @ The Orpheum
June 2: Nelsonville, OH @ Nelsonville Music Festival
June 5: Boston, MA @ House of Blues
June 6: Philadelphia, PA @ The Fillmore
June 7: Vienna, VA @ Filene Center at Wolf Trap
June 9: Raleigh, NC @ The Red Hat Amphitheater
June 11: Manchester, TN @ Bonnaroo
June 12: Charleston, SC @ Spoleto Festival
June 16: Dover, DE @ Firefly Music Festival
June 23: Leuven, BE @ Het Depot
June 24: Ewijk, NL @ Down The Rabbit Hole Festival
June 30: Rotselaar, BE @ Werchter Festival
July 3: Saint Gallen, CH @ Open Air St. Gallen Festival
July 10: Kinross, UK @ T In The Park
July 14: Bern, CH @ Gurten Festival
July 16: Southwold, UK @ Latitude
July 17: London, UK @ Citadel Festival
July 22: Toronto, ON @Way Home Festival
July 23: Newport, RI @ Newport Folk Festival
July 24: New York, NY @ Panorama Festival
July 28: Floyd, VA @ Floyd Fest
July 29: Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall
August 12: Winnipeg, MB @ Interstellar Rodeo
August 21: Morrison, CO @ Red Rock Amphitheater
September 2-4: Stradbally, IR @ Electric Picnic
October 26: Paris, FR @ La Cigale
October 30: Copenhagen, DK @ Vega
October 31: Stockholm, SE @ Kagelbanan
November 1: Oslo, NO @ Parkteateret
November 3: Berlin, DE @ Berlin Astra
November 5: Cologne, DE @ Luxor
November 6: Munich, DE @ Technicum
November 9: Southampton, UK @ O2 Guildhall
November 10: Leeds, UK @ O2 Academy
November 11: Glasgow, UK @ Barrowlands
November 14: Birmingham, UK @ O2 Academy
November 15: Brixton, UK @ O2 Brixton Academy
November 17: Leicester, UK @ De Monfort Hall
November 18: Manchester, UK @ 02 Apollo
November 20: Norwich, UK @ UEA