The Context of Creation
An Interview with Nathan Lawr of Minotaurs
It’s all about context.
I feel good, I knew that I would.
When taken in as a simple sentence in the written form, it comes off pretty mundane and almost like a hackneyed grade 5 limerick. Screamed out of the lungs of a soul legend, those 8 simple words become powerful enough to become a massive hit that helped define a generation’s music.
Why strive for acceptance when you can attempt to create something original and of real value? That seems to be the question Nathan Lawr is attempting to answer with his newest project, Minotaurs. The band came about when he decided to branch out from the indie and alt-country music scenes to create the afro-funk styling of the new group. After assembling a group of top-notch musicians from Southwestern Ontario, they chugged along and recorded ‘The Thing’, an album broad in scope but focused in its technical execution and theme.
Lawr is striving to bring the best out in himself with this project, pushing boundaries lyrically and musically. Adding afro-beat to any type of music can be a dangerous proposal, it is all too easy to get wrong, but after meticulous study and practice, Minotaurs came out screaming…real funky like too.
I had a chance to ask him about the project, what it’s like to be heading up a project like this and why the lyrics are kind of hard to decipher, but cool once you get them. Here’s the interview.
Aaron: After listening to the album a few times, I have to ask right off the bat, why did you choose to go with a less modern rock sound? You have a big band and you could have easily taken that route, but you’ve gone in more of a clean direction, what was the decision behind that?
Nathan: We like Fleetwood Mac, John Lennon, early records. There is a lot of sounds on those 70’s records are pretty…the sound of reverb didn’t really happen til’ the 80’s, so we wanted to make a record that was big on its own. The songs are big but the sounds aren’t big.
Aaron: So it was more from a songwriter’s perspective that you wanted to showcase what you could do.
Nathan: I wouldn’t say a songwriter’s perspective. I would say we wanted the instruments to speak for themselves, with the least amount of adornment possible.
Aaron: So it’s really trying to bring out that earlier age and era of rock where you didn’t have the production qualities you have now.
Nathan: Actually you had better production qualities. We could debate all day, but production qualities were better back then.
Aaron: You’re an analog kinda guy I’m guessing.
Nathan: I’m an analog kinda guy but I’m also a learn how to play your instruments properly kinda guy. If you can’t play a song from beginning to end without screwing up all the time, you should probably go and learn your instrument a little more. In this day and age with Pro Tools and stuff, you can cheat a lot.
Aaron: Yeah, you can cut and chop a lot of stuff for sure.
Nathan: I think people that are purists about early music, the analog people sometimes forget that part of the reason those records sound so amazing is that the musicians are top notch. They were very professional and they knew exactly what they were doing. They worked really hard to get really good so you can’t discount that factor.
Aaron: Definitely not. That’s one of the other things I noticed about the album is that you’ve assembled a group of great musicians. There’s always something going on in each song that sounds interesting. How long have you guys been playing together?
Nathan: Actually, the record was the first time we’d all played together. I had played with some of the guys before but I think it’s just a matter of having good musicians. They’ve prepared ahead of time, they’re good enough to sort of fly with whatever is going on, they don’t need hours and hours and hours of rehearsal to do anything, they can sort of wing it.
Aaron: You’ve also played on a lot of other bands’ albums as a hired gun, why did you decide to get away from that and play your own music?
Nathan: Well, I’ve never played in a funk band really. I’ve always played drums in sort of arty, rock kinda bands and there’s only so much you can do in a country waltz or a rock beat as a drummer so I always thought I wanted to be in a funky band that made people dance and I didn’t really know of any that had a drummer as a vacant position, so I made my own.
Aaron: When you’re listening to it, there is a lot of funk and some groovy stuff on there. Is a lot of that influenced from your listening experiences or did the other band members bring a lot of that in?
Nathan: It had a huge impact but the thing is, think of it like the rules of a game, no two games are ever going to be exact, the rules help shape it. In this case, the guys came in, they have their own thing so that’s why I asked them to be there and then the afro-funk were the rules of the game and they had to play the best they could in a certain idiom and just bringing their own sensibility to it to create something.
Aaron: Lyrically, where did the lyrics fit in there for you? I know a lot of musicians consider it to be another instrument or was it a completely separate piece in the songs?
Nathan: They’re extremely meaningful, but they’re not a separate piece. I believe that if you’re going to say something that you better mean it or at least there should be some kind of point to it. There isn’t as much lyrics on this album as my other stuff but I think I’m just trying to make my words really count.
Aaron: So where do the lyrics come from then?
Nathan: I see this band as a protest band. Probably not as overt about that as other more well known…
Aaron: I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t pick up on that at all, what was the inspiration for that?
Nathan: Well, the words comment on the world in general. Living in this time is kind of an interesting time to be alive and there’s a lot of weird stuff going on. A lot of assumptions that we’ve taken for granted for a long time in general in the West are sort of fraying a little bit of the foundations that we thought were solid but are being proven to be a little less solid. So that’s kind of what the record is about, I know it’s kind of abstract.
Aaron: Yes, it is kind of hard to pick up on some of the themes at times. The album is definitely abstract.
Nathan: I don’t necessarily see the value of being very obvious. There’s also some value in being a little obtuse.
Aaron: You don’t want it to sound like you’re singing an 80’s power ballad.
Nathan: Yeah, I just got back from a folk festival and so many of these people that were playing would introduce a song and they were saying ‘this song is about when I went out west and I saw a beautiful sunrise…I’m going to sing the song now – when I went out west”
Why sing it if you can just say it? The reason you sing is to express something you can’t express talking, that’s what I always thought so that’s what I like, the lyrics I like, the music I like. Brown wrote down ‘I feel good and I knew that I would’, you know that’s kind of a humdrum thing to say, really, but when he screams it the way that he does it takes on a whole other meaning.
Aaron: Cool. Thanks a lot for talking today Nathan.
Nathan: Thank you.