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Mark Shusterman from Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats On The Importance Of Music

I got the chance to chat with keyboardist Mark Shusterman before the band’s sold-out show tonight at the Bluestem Amphitheater tonight.

Photo by Brantley Gutierrez

The first Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats song I ever heard was “I Need Never Get Old” back in 2015. I’ve been a big fan of them since their first self-titled album came out, so when I found out they were coming to Moorhead, I knew I had to finally see them live.

Frontman Nathaniel Rateliff said their unique name is in reference to night sweats from alcohol withdrawal, not menopause.

Their music is a mix of indie, folk, country, R&B and more, but even that doesn’t fully describe them. They have a similar vibe to St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Leon Bridges and Shovels & Rope, but with more emotional lyrics and an even more soulful sound.

“S.O.B.”, their first single and hit song, came out in 2015, and now that song has more than 43 million views on YouTube and 66 million streams on Spotify. Their second studio album, Tearing at the Seams, came out in March and debuted at number 11 on the Billboard 200. They also have more than 1.7 million monthly Spotify listeners.

And they’re just getting started.

Whether you see or hear them perform any of their songs, their passion, camaraderie and talent are all impossible to deny.

I got the chance to chat with keyboardist Mark Shusterman before the band’s sold-out show tonight at the Bluestem Amphitheatre about their rise in the music industry, playing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, managing a rigorous touring schedule and more.

You’ve been in several bands before. How have those past groups altered your musical career and how you view music now?

Mark Shusterman: I’ve kind of been in bands since I was a kid, and it’s just something I’ve always dreamed of doing. I think that growing up and playing in bands where you are just doing it for yourself and for friends and for your bandmates kind of makes you realize that the important part of making music – making music with your friends and the people that you care about. Finding success later in life makes it that much more worthwhile when [success] actually happens because you’re really willing to have been doing this for nothing for the longest time.

I didn’t have any idea of where it would take me. It was more just, I liked the music and I wanted to play along, and it took off from there.

Great. And right now you play in both Blue Rider and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. So how did you first get involved with Blue Rider and then also with Nathaniel Rateliff?

Shusterman: Blue Rider is a project of mine and three of my closest friends. It’s been around since before The Night Sweats, and we just started it as a way to make music together and play fun, old rock and roll music and get people dancing and have a good time. We were doing well in the Denver scene of playing bigger shows in Denver and the region and Nathaniel actually came to a Blue Rider show before The Night Sweats had started and just kind of asked me. He was looking for a keyboard player for this new soul project he was working on, and I had known him through the scene, through his kind of folk project, and I knew he was a great singer and songwriter, but I never heard of him doing this soul thing. He sent me a few tracks of what he was working on and I really loved it so I was like, “sure, yeah, I’ll try it out, let’s see how it goes.” I didn’t have any idea of where it would take me. It was more just, I liked the music and I wanted to play along, and it took off from there.

Did you guys know that Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats was going to blow up as much as it did?

Shusterman: No, not at all. The first tour I did with Nathaniel, we were kind of playing the older folks stuff, opening up for Lumineers, and not a whole lot of people were there to see us. It was hard for a while. We knew The Night Sweats was going to be fun and that we were going to have a good time, and I think once we played that first show in Denver, we played at the Bluebird, and we had a really, really great reaction, we kind of thought, “well, maybe there is something to this.” It took months to years of working at it, playing to small clubs and small crowds and building it up and then you kind of catch the breaks along the way. I think we’re all surprised, and I’m surprised every day at where I am.

I know you guys had your late night TV debut at the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in 2015. What was that experience like for you?

Shusterman: It was wild. I still remember the show. We were playing in Berlin in a small little club, and our manager called us to tell us that we were going to be on The Tonight Show and I think it kind of blew all of our minds. A lot of bands play on late night, there’s a guest every night, but to have Jimmy be as excited as he was about our music and pushing it, that whole experience was amazing. Before we even started playing, we were seeing him doing the opening monologue and talking about our record. We got really excited and having the support of all of our friends and our families watching, it was an amazing experience. I loved it.

We’re only on our second album, and I think we all have visions of making many more and having a career out of this.

I bet. Was that the moment that you guys thought you’d made it, or has that moment not come yet?

Shusterman: I think we’re always kind of waiting for that next moment. Definitely, things took off from there. We started playing bigger shows and bigger crowds, but there’s always room for growth, and we’re super excited to see where this takes us. We’re only on our second album, and I think we all have visions of making many more and having a career out of this.

I love your music because it’s just so different, and I feel like there isn’t a lot of music out there now like that. How did you guys come up with the sound of the band in general?

Shusterman: I think it’s just the right combination of people playing music together. Nathaniel wrote a handful of songs that he thought would be good for this project and then he brought it all to the table. They were all pretty sparse recordings, but it’s just the combination of the right people. We’ve always supported each other and let each other go in whatever direction we wanted to go, and the magic just kind of happened. And I think we surprised ourselves, even when we put on a live show, that it keeps working because really, there’s not any extra effort that’s going into it or any extra thought. It’s just a band of guys that all trust each other and love playing together.

That’s great. I feel like some bands can be such a big production, like there are so many strict rules to follow, but this sounds like it’s a more laid back and relaxed approach.

Shusterman: Yeah, and we try to push it to the next level with our live shows. We are doing full production in terms of lights and stage stuff, but the band itself really it’s just a bunch of friends playing music together.

It’s really just a band of guys that all trust each other and love playing together.

I feel like that shows through the music, too. It doesn’t seem like a manufactured sound. It just seems really natural in how it comes across.

Shusterman: I appreciate that. That’s what we hope for.

I sure think so, and since it’s a sold-out show, other people seem to think similarly, so that’s good.

Shusterman: Yeah, so it seems like it’s still working.

So have you or anyone in the band been to Fargo or North Dakota before?

Shusterman: We’ve definitely had a day off in Fargo. I remember it pretty distinctly. We bought a Weber grill and went and got a bunch of meats and grilled out and hung out outside of our bus for the day off. I remember having a lot of fun then, but I don’t believe we’ve ever played a show in Fargo. No, we’ve never played in Moorhead or Fargo or maybe even North Dakota at all, come to think of it, but we’ve definitely driven through it.

Yeah, that happens a lot. Are there any preconceptions you have or things you’ve heard about our area that you’d be interested to see if they’re true or not, or anything like that?

Shusterman: Well, you know there’s the movie and the show, Fargo. That’s like the biggest glimpse into that world. Everyone that I’ve ever met from North Dakota or from Fargo are like the sweetest people ever, and it feels like there’s a lot of hospitality there. I’m expecting everyone to be nice and friendly and bring a fun show because really the crowd is bringing the show as much as we are.

And really, no matter how hard the day is, at the end of the day, we get to play music, which is the best thing any of us could be doing.

So how do you balance being on tour without getting overwhelmed, or do you, and how do you handle that?

Shusterman: There’s definitely some overwhelming things that happen. A couple of us have kids. I have a newer one-year-old at home, and it’s really hard. That element of it is really hard because we are on the road a lot, but I think otherwise we’ve all gotten really good at adapting to the lifestyle. We all try and keep physically active, try to work out every day as a group and eat together. We try and eat healthier because we did years of eating garbage, and that doesn’t make it any easier, so eating well and staying physical and all that will help keep your mind clear. And really, no matter how hard the day is, at the end of the day, we get to play music, which is the best thing any of us could be doing. We all love it, so that kind of gets us through.

What’s your favorite song on the new record, and why?

Shusterman: Oh, that’s tough.

Or one of them.

Shusterman: I really love the last song, “Tearing at the Seams,” the title track to the record. That was the last song that we recorded with Richard [Swift], and it’s the last song on the record. I think we were all just feeling really in the groove of making the music and it came together really quick, like one or two takes with the whole band all together, and it just felt really right and easy. And then “Shoe Boot,” which is the first track on the record, came together that same way. It was the first track we ever recorded as a band when we came into the studio. It’s also one I co-wrote with Nathaniel, so I have some partial appreciation for that one.

What’s been one of the most memorable live shows you’ve ever been to, whether it was before or after you really blew up?

Shusterman: I think the first time we played Red Rocks as a headliner, which is kind of the big venue in Colorado, in our hometown. It’s a huge venue and just the most beautiful venue, and it kind of blew all of our minds. We all had jobs before this took off. Now we don’t have time to have other jobs because we’re always on the road, but I was cooking. I’ve always been a cook, and I was catering at Red Rocks backstage for months and months and then had to request the day off to play at Red Rocks, so it was a pretty magical moment to be like, “well, I was cooking here, but now I’m playing a live show here.” That’s probably my top.

What are some of your favorite memories as a group while on tour? I’m sure there are about a million, but just a couple.

Shusterman: Oh man. Yeah, it all kind of blurs together in a way. We’ve had some pretty epic times. We just did Japan for the first time, so that’s the freshest thing in my memory and we had like four days off in Tokyo, so Nathaniel, myself, Joey and our buddy Red, who does videos for us, all walked to this bamboo forest and walked around in there, and that was a really amazing time. Nathaniel’s always all about having a good time and doing the fun things that that town has to offer, so we’re always getting on a boat or hanging out by a beach or doing whatever fun activity that town has to offer. The memories are endless.

What’s one of your favorite songs to perform?

Shusterman: I really love the song “Intro” that is on the new record. It’s a pretty rowdy, fun song and lately, we’ve been doing that song into “I Need Never Get Old,” and it’s a big build in the set and a lot of fun to play. I’d say those two are probably the ones I have the most fun with.

Perfect. I don’t know what it is about that song, but I think maybe it’s because it’s the first one I heard from you guys. I love so many other songs, too, but that one for some reason has just always been my favorite.

Shusterman: It was one of the first songs I heard from Nathaniel that he had written. It was really sparse and simple and just had that guitar line and the lyrics and melody, but man, it’s a great song.

So what’s next for you and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats?

Shusterman: A bunch more touring. It kind of never stops, so I think we’ll be on the road until at least the end of next summer, off and on, but mostly on. And then get back to writing because I think that’s all of our favorite things to do, to write and record in the studio. So I would say that’s about it. Just keep on doing that.

It’s like therapy for us in a way, to just like blast out a show and lose our minds a little bit every night.

Is recording in the studio really different from performing live, or are they similar for how you guys perform?

Shusterman: I think they’re a lot different, and I think that’s part of what makes it sort of impossible to write on the road because we get into a mindset of a live show, which is awesome and we do love doing the live show, but you kind of have to get away from that lifestyle in order to write some music. Writing is a lot more meditative, it’s got more of a thoughtful process, and the live show is really more cathartic and getting things out of us. It’s like therapy for us in a way, to just blast out a show and lose our minds a little bit every night.

You kind of mentioned this earlier, but how do you balance having time for your family with the touring and everything else too?

Shusterman: It’s tough. That’s about all there is to it. When we’re home, we try to just be home and as present as I possibly can. And you just come home, you try and completely unplug, you know. We’ll get together sometimes because we all live in the same town, except for a couple of the horn players, so we’ll get together and have a barbeque here and there, but it’s like, when we’re not working, we try and not think about work at all and just be fully home, fully in family mode, and just try and embrace it. And then you know whenever we can, bringing our families out on the road too, coming out to see some shows and maybe even taking little road trips if time allows.

Check out their top tracks on Spotify here:

Find out more about Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats on their website. The sold-out, all-ages show will be tonight, Aug. 7 at the Bluestem Amphitheatre. The gates open at 5 p.m., and the show starts at 7 p.m.

Written by Jessica Kuehn

Jessica Kuehn is the web editor for Spotlight Media. She graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead with a degree in print journalism. When she isn't writing or correcting her and other people's grammar, Jessica is obsessively quoting The Office and reading way too many books.

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