Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

No Definitive Version: Nate Young’s Most Influential Records

Nate Young talks to Jennifer Lucy Allan about what made his music, from teenage revelations, learning when to press record, and roofing with Scott Asheton.

Dilemmas Of Identity is the first of a three volume series by Wolf Eyes’ Nate Young, but none of the tracks were ever meant to be released. Young’s brother died unexpectedly of an opioid overdose in 2014, when nobody was aware he was suffering from addiction. The tracks on Dilemmas of Identity were made in the subsequent years, an attempt at making healing sounds that harbours the grief that created it. It was made as a way to manage grief, to be able to briefly set some of those feelings aside. They are, he says, more "impulsive" than his other work. The tracks sound like a somewhat mangled attempt to make something lighter or brighter, but where any chance for light is lost in heavy storm clouds.

"I didn’t see a therapist, instead I went into my basement and made music," he explains. "I like looking back on it now, it helps me recognise how I was feeling at that time and helps me recognise that this process, the artistic process – however pretentious that sounds – really is a way to heal, and to grow."

On this level he finds criticism difficult – "how are you going to judge someone’s diary?" he asks. "I really appreciate musicians who know who they are, and continue on creating more music for people. I want them to feel comfortable and I want to experience that sort of comfort. That’s why I think we continue to listen to the same records – it’s comforting."

A recurring feature of the records in Young’s Baker’s Dozen is music where there are improper or amateur artefacts, intentional or accidental – phones ringing or meticulously out of sync guitar lines – where there’s a casual switching on of the record button, and a denial of the definitive version of any one track. "There shouldn’t be a definitive version," he says. "Music then becomes really unreal and high falutin’, and it really is more of a folk thing, electronic music especially."

Young is best known as what could be ostensibly identified as the ‘front man’ for Wolf Eyes. He does the vocals (among other things) and usually stands at the front, which is about as close to a front man as an outfit like Wolf Eyes has. That group has existed for over two decades now, but retain a fresh, feral energy despite being the well-heeled overlords of a particular zone DIY noise scene they have christened tripmetal. Young has always appeared the more cerebral member of Wolf Eyes, and previously listening to records like his Regression series has been a lot like listening to an isolated chunk of Wolf Eyes, a bunch of stems piled up – there is a similar sound world there, but it is more zoned out, a little slower perhaps.

The constellation of individuals that are/were a part of Wolf Eyes and connected projects are dedicated listeners and diggers, and Young’s choices have flashes of the depths of private press knowledge from the early days of WordPress archival blogs like Mutant Sounds. The conversation spirals in tangents away from the music we were supposed to be discussing. We talk about the UK’s ability to get behind new vernacular genres and subgenres; the connection between house and garage; Nico doing normal stuff; Blue Oyster Cult, Cabaret Voltaire, Harry Pussy, and a band called Big Stick. Called what? I say. "Big Stick," he repeats. "They have a record called Crack Attack, and I Wanna Shoot The President, or something. I should have put it on the list."

It came to him through Aaron Dilloway, he explains. "He was working in a record store and I was hanging out in front with some keyboard I had managed to put some duct tape and a joystick on, freaking out with my skateboard. The first record he turned me onto was a band called Big Stick. After he played it for me he was like, ‘oh, maybe I shouldn’t have played that for you’, as in, maybe this will be too influential. Big Stick. They were incredible, not popular at all."

Later in the conversation, he pulls it up on YouTube, at which point it becomes clear why they were not popular. It is terrible. "Dilloway had said that all five of my friends had bought that and resold it, and I was the last person who bought it. I was not gonna resell it, it was incredible! My friends said, ‘well, I’m more into Can’ and I was like, dude, Come ON!"

This idea of the definitive version creeps into the offstage antics of Wolf Eyes too, joyfully toying with rock mythology, making things up and twisting the story, one suspects partly to keep them entertained on the road. Towards the end of this interview, Young tells me a long story about inventing a Tiger Woods bio, where Woods looks himself square in the eye every morning and asks himself: ‘How can I make this day better?’. He waxes lyrical to John Olson about the book, who asks him the title months later, having come up short despite months of searching. It crosses my mind that this might be made up, but whether it is or not is irrelevant, and corroborating it with Olson is just a throw of the dice too. This inventiveness, the fun, that comes along with being deadly serious and making heavy music, is what makes Wolf Eyes, Young and Olson’s work in particular, so good.

Young says that, at this point in time, one of his goals is "the debranding of Wolf Eyes" describing the experience of fans screaming for a recogniseable recital of ‘Burn Your House Down’. "I am playing that," he exclaims, "but it’s just abstracted! That was the battle early on, they would yell at us to play this song, and I would play it, and they would look confused, like, ‘that wasn’t it’." The first time I saw The Ramones it was like that too – I thought they sounded like shit, I didn’t recognise a single fucking song, it just sounded like power chord noise. I was a kid, and I was disappointed, but it was the true lesson: it is what it is in the moment."

Young is articulate and honest, open and chatty. He describes the process of making records articulately as "making a product versus just recording your experience. What I’m really trying to do is to record my experience."

He identifies his sound, both in Wolf Eyes and in solo projects, not as repetition but as a painter who has developed a palette: "Musicians are always treated as if they’re creating a product," he says, "but it’s a palette that’s been developed. It’s an impressionistic kind of vision, and in a lot of ways, that’s what rock & roll is, that’s what techno is. Am I recreating my song, or am I working with a palette that I’ve developed?

"It’s difficult being a noise musician, for want of a better term. I always feel that you have to set the stage set the scene for people to really understand it and a lot of people might not take that step into it… People primarily interested in Lord Of The Rings set their stage and scene to what they’re into. I like what I’m into as well, but it’s apples and oranges, as both deal with a personal level of inspiration and imagery. I could have made this record about Storage Wars and it would have been a lot easier for everyone to understand." 

Nate Young’s Volume One: Dilemmas of Identity, is out on Lower Floor now. Click the image of Nate to begin reading his selections

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