Analogue Music | Israel Nash

Israel Nash

By Matt Conner

Israel Nash has some literal fences to mend.

That's an assumption on my part, but in our time together before officially hitting the record button for our interview, Israel Nash and I spent a good amount of time talking about the large plot of land—a 15-acre ranch outside of Dripping Springs, Texas—he's tasked with ordering these days. Therefore it feels safe to assume there's something to do with fences or some other homesteading task in there.

It's an interesting set of demands at home for someone whose vocation calls him out on the road for such long stretches, but Nash says it's healthy for him to have such disparate worlds to inhabit for multiple reasons. The results speak for themselves with albums like Ozarker coming through the pipeline—with many more in the works.

In our latest feature, we spoke with Israel about home life, road life, and a prolific creative period that's yielding some of his best work yet.

Analogue: I know you’ve got a homestead in Texas that comes with its demands. Is that healthy for you to have a place to invest in an industry where roots can be hard to put down?

Israel Nash: Yeah, 100 percent. When I was younger, I saw my heroes—the guys in Dylan or The Band or Neil Young—they’d get ranches. They’d get these spaces in the country and I grew up in the country. My great-grandparents had 3,000 acres in Missouri, so I always had this country vibe knowing it was good, while I also had this youthful vibe of wanting to be in cities.

So growing up as a kid in small towns and in Missouri, I had the country, but then I went off to college in New York City and loved the cities more. I got to do that for a while. So there’s a cool duality to it.

Even more so, I think artists need a place to have peace. The reason I do some of that work is because the business side or when you’re not making records can be difficult. When you’re not doing what you’re designed to do and you’re having to do all of that other stuff at home—talking to managers or having label calls—that can be difficult based on the way people look at things. The industry’s changed so much and it’s the new world and I think there are a lot of people stuck in old forms. It’s hard to get people out of them.

"I have three records that I’m sitting on right now because an artist can write way more than an album every two-and-a-half years."

Just the idea of experimenting and trying stuff. The world’s an oyster, so let’s do stuff. But people always want to go back to common forms. I don’t know what this new world entails, but I know that music and art are central to humanity. That’s what it teaches me is that despite the industry difficulties, when I go to a show, it’s just as simple as music connecting with fans. It’s just as powerful or more powerful.

So back to your original question, though, it’s good for me to also get the chainsaw out. I think I just filled up every tire on the ranch. It’s good for me to have something to do and the studio is right here, too. I have three records that I’m sitting on right now because an artist can write way more than an album every two-and-a-half years.

Analogue: So you’ve got a whole storehouse there?

Israel: After the pandemic, Matt, the world is just open to trying stuff. So I have these albums and we’ve not fully announced things about them, but I have Ozarker and then it’ll be a flow of fewer tour dates and more studio time. I still think music is the anchor of it all and I think there are so many ways to release records at this point

There are also different kinds of projects I’m trying to make. They’re not all Ozarker. That’s a special record I would call my centric project, my solo album that takes more time. But I’ve also made this pedal steel record with Eric [Swanson], my steel player. I’ve made a cover album for [The Byrds] Sweetheart of the Rodeo. There are these other projects that take up a different creative space and that’s the stuff I want to explore, to be able to have these consistent releases. That’s the goal I have.

Analogue: That’s great to hear. When it comes to Ozarker, I know you were intentional about exploring that space you grew up in. What did you learn about that space that you didn’t know before starting that sort of exploration?

Israel: Growing up in Missouri, my dad was a Baptist minister. I just wanted to play rock and roll since I was 12 years old. My dad was cool and had a rock and roll collection, and I just wanted to do that. Then I went to college and met my wife and we went to New York City as soon as we could and lived there for six years. I didn’t just go to school but I also got my Masters. I was either going to make music or be a professor, like political philosophy. But I really just wanted to play music, so we did that.

Then we bought this land in Texas because we wanted to be near Austin and start a family. We were ready to get out of the city. We had a daughter, too. I also wanted to build a studio because recording technology costs nothing compared to what it did 15 years ago, so we built that out here.

So I think this album allowed me to go back to more accessible rock and more accessible stories. I think there’s less metaphor. I wanted to make something more on-the-nose. I wanted to make songs that people could sing along to, where people could nod and say, ‘Yeah I know that story. That story’s in my life.’

Heartland rock is a cheesy word at times, but there are some things about rock and roll that I miss. I think I miss the ethos of rock and roll. People don’t realize it was more than a genre, but it was more than that. It was the original ethos of questioning authority. It helped bind people toward unified goals. Now we’ve become so splintered in our politics and art, so there’s no longer a mono-culture. So I wanted to make some music that could bring people together.

Analogue: It seems as if these songs could be more special than “normal.” True?

Israel: I think these are special because I remember those stories from being a kid that you hear that are part lore and they get passed on. Not to be too meta, but they’re a part of us and we’re here because of that old stuff, good or bad. So when you hear a story from 150 years ago about your great-great-grandparents and tell your own stories with it, I think it becomes powerful at a 50,000-foot view.

So much has changed, but humanity’s need for art or need for community or a need for purpose hasn’t changed. It’s bigger than yourself. It’s important to be connected to the past to be a seed for part of the future. We don’t reflect on that enough but I think there’s power in it and we all possess it.

VISIT: Israel Nash

Credit: Chad Wadsworth