A Chat with Nate Banks of Arlie

Arlie was born in Nashville. While making music on his own at Vanderbilt College, singer and guitarist Nate Banks met Carson Lystad (guitar), Jason Antwi (bass/vocals), and Adam Lochemes (drums). Since the band’s formation, they’ve been busy in the Nashville area, while featured spots on Spotify-curated playlists grew their presence online. We spoke to Nate after a meditation class and before the start of the band’s tour ahead of their appearances at SXSW.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WQHS: So, you met your bandmates thanks to a sort of limited artistic presence at Vanderbilt. Do you think that presence has changed or grown since Arlie started?

Nate Banks: I do think it’s changed, actually. So I graduated last year and I’ve gone back to visit and have gone to shows of Vanderbilt bands and there’s a lot of people popping up. I think we were always missing something to bring together people who were interested in making music. So even if there were a bunch of other people that would’ve wanted to start a band, they might not have known about each other. And then now, you know, I’ve seen the campus recording studio as an organization sort of come together, bring together people who are interested in jamming and writing music and recording music and really doing it on a more serious level. So I’ve seen a lot of artists popping up as freshmen and sophomores, where there wasn’t that presence when I was a freshman/sophomore.

WQHS: How has the local scene been important to the band’s development?

NB: I don’t know, the word “scene” is always interesting for me. I think it’s interesting because Nashville is a bunch of bands going to other bands’ shows and at a lot of shows, most of the audience will be other musicians. It’s cool, and I guess it is a “scene” you could say. But it’s not really much of a place to build a fanbase per se, because you’re playing for your friends and for other musicians. So what’s been cool about Vanderbilt is that it’s this little bubble within Nashville that’s the one place that’s not oversaturated with bands. And that’s a part of our story. People at school get pretty excited about a band of fellow students that’s really doing it. Our last show was sold out and it was a lot of Vandy kids. A rare experience where we became the alternate night out.

WQHS: Other than your local support, you have these two songs on Spotify with millions of streams. How do you fill in the gap between this very localized, in person following and this online presence?

NB: That’s what we’re figuring out now, I guess. It feels like these two distinct things, where there’s the online Spotify fans, which is where we got a lot of momentum with the music industry and what led to getting a manager and the industry team coming together, and then there’s the localized people that are excited about the live band and the live show. And it is what we’re doing now, bridging that gap. We’re about to go on tour and then to South by and hopefully play to some of those people who found us on Spotify. It’s been cool to see that start to happen already at some shows.

WQHS: In part of bridging that gap, how would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard of Arlie? Or maybe describe the live performance to someone who’s only heard songs online?

NB: It’s always hard to describe what I do. It’s a rock show, maybe more than you would expect, especially if you found “Big Fat Mouth.” It’s a lot of energy, lots of jumping around, loud guitars. It’s worth coming to. We have fun on stage, so hopefully the audience also has fun.

WQHS: You worked with a friend on a film project, and that’s where you got the band name Arlie. You also worked with him on the video for “Didya Think” (which is really cool, by the way, and must’ve taken a really long time).

NB: Yes, that’s true and yes, it did take a long time to do. [His] short film was called “Arlie,” so we always joke that he has all the rights to our songs.

WQHS: Do you think the interplay between music and visual art ever informs your music making process?

NB: Yeah, I’m really into it. I think when I imagine my songs going along with particular imagery, it can really inform the way that I write and compose and the whole vibe of what I’m doing. Actually, a few weeks ago our bandmate and friend Tyler and I did this piece, we composed it with a choreographer/dancer and that was an amazing experience. As far as something visual informing what you’re doing musically, it was totally that. We were in the studio all week just kind of making up musical ideas and responding to them, and they would make up dance ideas and respond to us. That got me so excited to do things like that in the future.

And with that video too, that sort of collage, surreal vibe. I got really excited about it about a year ago and started discovering everything about it online and wanted to make our own version of it. It was a lot of fun. We went to this used bookstore and found this sale where it was 50 cents a book and got all these picture books and cut stuff out and built this world.

WQHS: More on “Didya Think.” You released the song at the end of last year, but it’s been around for a lot longer. Since writing that song, has your approach to music making process changed over time?

NB: That was when I marked the shift in my music making process, from writing on acoustic guitar to being a producer, I guess, and crafting the sound. Also, it was a shift where I found a way of making music that I really want to listen to, and that became always the new goal.

As far as shifting since then, that process was pretty different with “Big Fat Mouth” and “Didya Think.” For that one, it was like. A lot of it was made up in my head, then I recorded it to make it sound like it did in my head. “Big Fat Mouth” was sort of like discovering different sounds by trying a bunch of things and layering and processing and messing around and combining different song ideas and a sort of insane amount of editing and refining. I think I’ve realized that “okay, that worked once but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna work again every time” because I’ve tried and it drives me crazy sometimes.

I think lately, it’s come full circle and it’s back to writing with an acoustic guitar again or writing at a piano, just because I’m trying to focus on the core of the song and the core emotion and good lyrics and melody. And now we also have the opportunity to potentially work with a producer, which is another thing that makes me realize the thing I’m best at and the thing that I do myself is just the core. That’s kind of what I’ve honed in on.

WQHS: Tour starts tomorrow! That’s exciting! Do you have any expectations?

NB: Given that we haven’t toured that much and we practice two or three times a week, but now we’re gonna be playing shows almost every night for a week and a half. And at South By, we’re playing four shows. My expectation is that we’re gonna get tighter as a band than we’ve ever been, which I’m really excited for. Because I think when you perform in front of people, the sort of heightened natural pressure of that, like any mistake that you make, your subconscious kind of goes to work correcting it the next night. It’s like, “I can’t do this again, I’m gonna perfect it next time” and then you get to this kind of transcending level where you’re no longer thinking about messing up your notes and whatever and that’s when really playing music I think starts. That’s where I’ve always wanted to get to with a group, but there’s only so much you can do when you’re practicing and going days in between playing together, so that’s one thing I’m excited about.

WQHS: Any good show rituals?

NB: We decided, half-jokingly, that we needed a warm up dance. But it was kind of part serious too. Because we wanted to get the blood flowing before going on stage and get rhythmically synced up as a band, and so we do this little warm up dance. It’s pretty awesome.

WQHS: After this tour you have SXSW! Also exciting! What does that feel like?

NB: Feels like a long drive. It’s a really cool opportunity. What’s really cool is the bands that we’re playing alongside. Post Animal is really cool, Soccer Mommy is super cool. Porches, Snail Mail, it’s gonna be sick. I guess there’s another one that we haven’t officially announced yet, but we’re actually playing with RZA and Pussy Riot on a bill. That’s absolutely nuts. I’m stoked for that.

WQHS: And two shows with Rostam at the end of the month.

NB: Yeah it’s very exciting! He’s someone that I’ve been a fan of since like, everything he’s ever done: side projects and production work and obviously Vampire Weekend. They’re one of my favorite bands. It’s pretty amazing, I’ll try not to geek out.

WQHS: And you still have Bonnaroo this summer. So many exciting things!

NB: That’s another one. That is super insane because just last year, we did this “Road to Roo” competition in Nashville that was through the radio station and we lost, but now we’re doin’ it.

WQHS: Have you ever been?

NB: Yeah, it’s funny. Last year, I went and I was so exhausted and I was like “I’m not coming back to this festival until I’m playing it” and now here we are. Little did I know that would only be a year. I don’t know how people have the stamina. It’s like, you’re already dehydrated enough from the sun, but then you’re drinking and doing other things. You better be drinking a lot of water, that’s all I have to say.

WQHS: Why are doctors recommending Arlie over other bands?

NB: Well as you know, we’re a health band. The doctors are only going based on the research, and so if you look at the numbers, the numbers actually show Arlie to be 90 percent more effective than other bands at reducing heart disease. This statement is not evaluated by the FDA.

WQHS: But the numbers don’t lie.

NB: But the numbers don’t lie.

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