Nato Bardeen is the talented front man and distinctive voice of The Drowning Men, one of today’s best new bands. I recently had a chance to catch up with him from his hometown of Oceanside, CA before the band embarks on the next leg of their tour supporting their new release All of the Unknown.
Cretin: Being from Oceanside, California, what’s the local music scene?
Bardeen: We beat the hell out of San Diego for the first three years. Played all the local bars and small clubs and did that for a bit before we started touring. We were just a local band, then we got to LA and played the Long Beach area, then the Northwest thing, Portland and Seattle and the West Coast. As for the scene, I don’t really know what the scene was; we just do what we do and go out and do our thing.
Cretin: Today’s rock is dominated by one man bands, where it’s a talented singer on keyboards and a drum machine, playing cute poppy rock – you guys have taken a different approach?
Bardeen: I’m a fan, but not a big fan, of the two piece band thing. I like a big band and that full sound. I’ve known (Rory) and (Todd) since we were kids and we’ve played together for years, and I’ve always liked bands with four or five guys.
Cretin: It makes a difference both live and on the album. You can tell that it’s a collaborative group effort, not just dominated by one person (Bardeen writes all of the music).
Bardeen: I’ll write the song and bring it to the boys and throw out hints. I’m more of a melody guy, I’m not really good with drums or bass. I kind of let them figure it out on their own. We’ve played together so long, I already know what Rory’s going to do without even telling him. I just know the way he plays. The same thing with Todd and just us as a band. I pretty much know what everyone is capable of and their unique touch on the songs. James (guitar) and Gabe (keyboards) and I discuss the melodies and harmonies.
Cretin: When I saw the band live, it seemed like the pieces fit together extremely well, and Rory on drums just seems to accompany you perfectly.
Bardeen: Honestly, in the last four months, I realized how Rory and I complement each other. His drum playing is straight in the pocket, really loud and it just fits our music perfectly. I really agree with you, he and I have something cool together.
Cretin: Going into the show, knowing that you wrote all of the music, I didn’t really expect to see the five of you so tight. But you guys seem so cohesive. Kind of sucks that the Orlando crowd didn’t really show up, though.
Bardeen: We’re still young. We’re a young travelling band. We don’t expect much. We’ve toured with some great bands and traveled nationally and opened up in front of thousands of people, but we know we’re young. We haven’t won that many people over yet, and hopefully we will. If not, we don’t and that’s just how it goes. But, it would be nice to go out and play our own shows outside of Southern California and get some really cool crowds.
Cretin: Tell me about the second leg of the tour that you’re about to embark on?
Bardeen: We’re main support for Cheap Girls for a short leg. After that we’ll be doing main support for Bad Books II which is the side project for a few of the guys from Manchester Orchestra. (As of this time, there are no dates in Florida)
Cretin: Last year you supported Flogging Molly. You ended up being one of the fist bands they signed to their new label Borstal Beat Records. What was that experience like?
Bardeen: When we did that tour, it was our first legit national tour as an opening act playing in front of thousands of people. They were rad. They fell in love with us; liked our live sound and our music, and had our Beheading of the Songbird album and they loved it. We knew they were putting out their own label and on tour we started talking about signing with them. We were like “Yeah,” and it worked out great.
Cretin: Let me ask a question back to Beheading of the Songbird, and the title track which I feel is just a great song. On your recent co-headlining tour, you didn’t play it. Is there any reason?
Bardeen: We played it more than a handful of times earlier on tour. We love it and I’ve actually been thinking about bringing it back into the set, so it’s not dead. We really like playing it, but it is a real long song and in a 30 or 45 minute set it cuts into what we can do.
Cretin: Any backlash due to the nature of the lyrics?
Bardeen: No. We just had other newer songs that we’ve been working on and are excited to play. We’ve been playing those Songbird songs for a long time now.
Cretin: So, how has the reception been for the new songs?
Bardeen: Good, really good. Some songs people like more than others, which is totally natural. Some people miss some of the old stuff which is something we need to deal with. We need to put together a good set, try to create a cool mood or weird mood or whatever mood we’re trying to put out. But the response for the new stuff has been surprisingly cool.
Cretin: Who were some of your influences?
Bardeen: I was a lifetime Smiths fan. Ever since I first heard Morrissey and The Smiths in Junior High School. (Their music) just hit me and I’ve always been a fan. I’m also a huge fan of Tom Waits, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Leonard Cohen and The Pogues. I like the moody crooners.
Cretin: Some dark stuff there, and definitely some great songwriters.
Bardeen: That’s what makes me move and that’s the music I like to listen to. I think the lyrics are beautiful, the lyrics fit with the music, the music fits with the lyrics, the melody, the vocals. It’s the perfect fit for me. Those guys do it well, My goal is to always make it fit and whether I do that or not I’ll never really know, but that is my ultimate goal; to make the melody, the vocals and the strain of the vocals fit the strain of the guitar, so everything is one piece that works.
Cretin: That’s cool. So, let me ask a bit about your background. The night I saw you, you played guitar, keyboards, mandolin, melodica and sang lead vocals on every song. What’s your musical background?
Bardeen: I would say I’m unschooled. I picked up a guitar when I was eighteen and I picked it up pretty fast. I loved it and it immediately became my passion. I also have a huge love for traditional Irish Folk music, and that made me want to learn the mandolin, the fife and banjo and a bunch of other things. Right now, I can get by on 14 or 15 different instruments, anything like the piano, mandolin, suzuki, banjo – anything with strings pretty much. I love to learn new instruments, I love playing them, I love writing on them, I love just jamming out with people to different styles. I started at eighteen and lord willing I can do it the rest of my life, and hopefully when I die I’ll be able to play one hundred.
Cretin: On All of the Unknown, it seems as though you’ve taken your vocals to a new level from where they were on Beheading of the Songbird. Have you seen yourself grow as a vocalist?
Bardeen: I have, and I’m loving it. When we did the Beheading album, we weren’t playing out as much, but after touring more and more and singing every night, I was really hurting my voice, so I had to learn how to sing better. On the Beheading album, I was yelling. I still yell now, but I’ve learned how to yell better. And, I’m enjoying it because I’ve always wanted to be a better singer. I always want to sing with passion, but I’m learning to control my breath a little bit more both live and on track.
Cretin: It’s nice getting to listen to that evolution.
Bardeen: I’ve definitely noticed the maturity in my vocals and I’m very excited about it. I’ve never been confident about my vocals. I know I can sing, I just had to work on it, do breathing exercises and learn how to control it. I’ve been happy with it. I hope I can always sing and I look forward to twenty years from now what I sound like.
The Drowning Men Tour Dates