On a wonderful warm summer evening at Little Bear, in Evergreen, CO, we had a great time chatting with Jason Walsmith and Mike Butterworth of The Nadas – an awesome rock / country rock / all around great musical experience band out of Iowa. Even better, we got our second opportunity to hear this fabulous team perform, and what a terrific performance. Not only are these guys great musicians, but honestly… they’re funnier than hell! It’s a great show all around.
The Nadas are performing in our own little hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado this coming week, Oct 22nd at Avogadro’s Number, and they’ll be in Denver at The Bluebird, Oct 21st and back at the Ghost Ranch Saloon in Steamboat Springs on Oct 24th. Check out their complete tour schedule here. We’re thrilled they’re coming to town, and hope you’ll show up when they’re in your area as well!
The Nadas are Mike Butterworth (guitar and vocals) and Jason Walsmith (guitar and vocals) fronting the band, with drummer Scott Dawson, Jon Locker on bass. This evening in Little Bear, they were also joined by Nathan Peeples (a most excellent Colorado local) on saxophone.
June 26th, 2009, Little Bear, Evergreen, Colorado
Savvant Music: You guys have been together for 15+ years – to what do you attribute your ability to stay together, to persevere and to keep inventing new and interesting music?
Jason Walsmith: We attribute our longevity to stubbornness, and lack of options <laughs>.
Savvant: So you don’t have any other career options waiting in the wings?
Jason: Actually, I think we both have a lot of things that we could do, and it’s been because of this. So, we both dabble in other things, doors and opportunities that were opened up because of what we do here. So… that was kind of a fib, I guess!
Savvant: So what kind of opportunities are those?
Mike Butterworth: No.
Jason: … of his own house!
Mike: I wanna some day hang out a shingle <smirks>. And you work for Templeton Rye Whiskey!…
Jason: And I work for Templeton Rye Whiskey!
Mike: … which started as a song – an anthropological look at an era.
Jason: Yeah, it was a song before it was a product and then because they liked the song I started talking to the guy who started the company. He was an MIT grad and had a lot of numbers ideas. He knew a lot about the history of it, but I just sort of brought a lot more of that to him. So he hired me.
Mike: You know what the bottom line reason why we can keep doing this — is because our fans are so loyal. And I don’t know why exactly. I don’t know why our fans are so loyal to us and like the bands that we’re trying to help can’t seem to get these loyal fans. So there’s something that happens between us, but that’s the bottom line. Because really, financially, that’s the reason we can keep doing things.
Savvant: So you know you can get a crowd?
Jason: If they didn’t show up, we’d be playing in our living room.
Mike: We could go out of business in a month – and it’s always been that way for 16 years.
Jason: We spent many years really worried about whether people would show up. We still have to work hard to make that happen, but we’re pretty confident that people are gonna show up.
Savvant: Well, you guys do seem to work pretty darn hard!
Jason: … I look at it this way, we’ve always had, because of those loyal fans have always been important to us, and I think that we’ve maintained them because we have a relationship with almost all of them. It’s a community between us and our fans. And the Internet, and Twitter and Facebook and all of that just kind of break down those barriers and make it so easy, you know? So far it’s been great.
Mike: In the olden days where we had a physical mailing list where we’d mail out a news letter every month, it got to the point where it cost three grand a month, just in postage. So, the Internet has been our friend like it has to a lot of bands.
Savvant: So, I am really surprised to hear that you guys have never been signed to a major label…
Mike: I kinda am too.
Jason: Its been a series of weird events that have stopped that sort of progress for us. Probably to our advantage.
Mike: It saved our career.
Mike: Like the president of RCA was coming to Ames where we lived at the time to see a show with a record contract in hand.
Jason: To a venue which we had sold out consistently for about eight years.
Mike: … it was right after 9/11… so he didn’t come! Everything fell apart. Just little things like that throughout the years have kept us independent. And now I feel like we’re in a good spot because we sell our own music – we have the physical mail part of it, but we have our own download site, and we don’t split it with anybody.
Jason: We’ve had a lot of friends who have been on major labels, and only one band that we’ve ever associated with have had good things to say about their major deal and that’s because they were deep in something and had like a huge hit…
Savvant: You have your own label, Authentic Records, and you have some other artists on that label — are there any that are really outstanding ones that we ought to be looking at too?
Mike: Absolutely. I’m excited! I’m working as the responsible manager for Bonne Finken who’s a woman from Des Moines. She was a single mother and an ovarian cancer survivor before she was 21. In order to have the money to make her record, she moved out of her apartment and lived homeless for a year so she could have that money to make the record. And it’s a powerful, passionate record – and she works hard – and she’s an amazing performer – and she’s got a great band behind her!
Jason: And Todd Pipes, who was the lead singer and the songwriter from the band Deep Blue Something, and he made two records with The Pipes Brothers, and we were fortunate enough that he released his solo record on our label.
Mike: It’s just cool! It’s a cool record.
Jason: It’s short, but it’s really great.
And then She Swings, She Sways is a band which – it’s funny because historically we’ve only signed people who are our friends. Like we’ll be out, and you know, we’ll run into an opening band and we’ll party. We’ll see them again six months later… and we’ll be come friends. Those are the bands that we put on the label. But these guys sent us a letter that said “This is why we should be on your label…”, and we were like … “Amazing!”
They’re in it for all the right reasons and the record was great – it sounded good already. You know, we didn’t have to do anything to it, and they’re our hardest working band, and they really sell a lot of records because … just from their hard work. It’s awesome.
Savvant: What kinds of things are you doing to help and nurture and grow these bands along?
Jason: Everything from like the most basic, like, making sure that they have a good web presence to helping them pick the right van to tour in so they don’t… you know… we’ve done all this. We’ve made the mistakes. We’ve bought the wrong van, and it bit us in the ass. So, we help them at every level. We help them find musicians to play in the bands and then we help them with the promotion as far as … do you want to do an online thing, do you want to call up radio stations?
Mike: And then we try to open doors. I mean, we’ve beat down a lot of doors over the years, so most of the time those doors will just be open to us.
But it’s up to them to play and make fans.
Jason: Yeah, it’s like they get the opportunities that would take someone working on their own five or six years — they get them right away.
Savvant: You guys mentioned that you find people that you know, when you’re on the road… We’ve noticed that a lot of times experienced artists are the ones that really discover the new artists. I don’t know, you have the best view in, or something… Anyway, I was wondering – is there any other unknown talent out there that you guys have discovered?
Jason: Not yet!
Mike: We’re working on our A&R now, actually. We’re just trying to find the bands that we want to work with, because we’ve got our artists and we’ve got them all up and running and they have their record and we’re working the records…
It’s about time for another record, but we don’t have anything to put out.
Savvant: We may have one we’ll send you.
Mike: Yeah! Absolutely.
Savvant: They’re still brand new, so they’re not ready to tour, but…
Jason: The thing that’s weird that especially artists don’t ever really understand is – its not so much, especially for our label that’s not very well funded, it’s not just do they have a great record? Or do they have a great sound?… It’s more like, how everything fits together and whether they want to work and how we get along and whether they like our philosophy. I’m sure there’s a lot of great music out there and some of it will never ever leave their garage, you know? So, for us it’s about whether or not they want to be part of our family, or we want them to be part of our family.
Savvant: You guys are like social media mavens! It’s impressive. What kind of impact does that have on you guys in terms of marketing, and also in terms of, like, distraction?
Jason: Distraction.. ok… I’ll answer the first one first because I’m not sure about the other one… I mean, I’m pretty distracted all the time…
Mike: It’s a massive distraction. It’s a distraction when driving, and when trying to have a conversation. I’m surprised you’re not twittering right now!
Jason: I did right before I walked in and said I was about to sit down with her. And that’s what’s amazing. It ties all the people who listen to you to all the people who listen to us — all of a sudden they’re all listening to each other. I mean, I think it’s amazing.
Mike: It’s unbelievably powerful.
Jason: It’s really hard to quantify the impact it’s had, because I don’t think that life has really changed a lot for us, but I think it’s kept us relevant when we maybe would have just sort of gone away, even if we kept working as hard as we did. It’s like… we can keep people interested in this time where people are only interested for a second.
Mike: That’s what we’ve found. We found that the life of a record used to be about a year, and now it’s six months – at best. At best, it’s six months.
Savvant: Speaking of how long it takes to do a record… I’m really intrigued by your Almanac Project. It’s really bleeding edge and seriously cool. I’m wondering, how did you come to that idea, and how is it working for you?
Jason: We came to the idea… I mean, there are a lot of people that are doing a lot of those things involved with Almanac kind of individually. There are people who are recording and releasing songs all the time, and there are people who are blogging all the time, and there are people who are streaming all the time. But I think ours is unique in that how we put it together and what that package is that’s different from those individual things.
How’s it working for us? I don’t know. It’s definitely an experiment.
Mike: I thought that it would be huge. Because it is a new concept that no one’s really done. There’s been similar projects, but nothing where the fan can watch us – right? Watch us record, watch the mix, and then have it delivered to them via a download. But, it’s not… we have maybe 150 subscribers. Which is like crazy low.
Jason: We had an expectation based on who pre-ordered our last record – which was amazing – when all we did…
Mike: We pre-ordered over 500 albums for our last release.
Jason: And that was just where it came out… you got it a month before everyone else. That was it. But I think a lot of people are just waiting for the record. A lot of our hard core fans. And part of it is I think, that we’re asking people to pay for a blog, where everyone else is giving away a blog. And we also have other blog content, stuff we’re giving away all the time. So that a leap. We look at it as: These people are funding our record, and they’re really in on the ground floor, and they’re really allowing us to do it. But, that wasn’t as big as we had hoped.
Mike: You know it’s funny that there’s three subscribers that are kind of the most vocal on the chat – from Phoenix and Chicago and Steamboat – there’s a guy from Steamboat. They came here just to hang out for the weekend around this set of shows, which is pretty funny.
Jason: The best thing that came out of Almanac so far, besides the fact that we’re forced to write [several] good songs, is that we get more press about this than we have anything else because, finally after all these records that we put out there’s something different and interesting to talk about. So we’ve hired publicists and we’ve had social media consultants and never really got anything placed. And then, all of a sudden, we do this on our own – we don’ t even talk about it – and people are wanting to do stories, and we’re on the radio. We’re getting radio play where we didn’t before, so…
Mike: It’s all about having a story.
Savvant: You guys are doing this webcasting in the middle of set ups and warm ups and what did I see you recently doing a minor league ball game some place. How do you think that’s going over?
Jason: We’ve had a few of those where we’ve had more people watching that than were at the actual show, so..
Mike: We stream every show that we can. We have this cellular Internet that we can bring with us, so it’s like very few shows that we can’t actually stream. And we have multiple cameras.
Jason: … I think it’s been amazing. You know, it’s just that there’s ten thousand ustreams going up at the same time so how do you stand out in that. So, we rely on our fans. Our biggest nights are like the weeknights that are early-ish shows, and then there’s a lot of people. But I think in Steamboat there were over 130 people over the course of the show that tuned in. It’s fun… it’s weird, but it’s fun… I streamed him driving the bus the other day!
Savvant: Was that while it was on fire or after that?
Mike / Jason: That was a couple of weeks ago, yeah… [We smoked the brakes on our bus] all the way down from Rabbit Ears Pass [outside Steamboat Springs, CO]. All the way down.
Mike: It was unbelievable. He tweets this, and while it’s happening I’m getting texts saying, “Everything ok?” … like six or seven texts … I had to call my wife — “I’m fine!” because I know she’s looking at the same thing I am and.. “I’m fine. I’m not dying. Don’t worry about it.”
Savvant: So tell us more about your record label… What’s the mission of Authentic Records?
Jason: Our mission statement on our label is pretty simple… It just says that we are presenting artists who deserve to be heard and who you deserve to hear – authentic artists.
Savvant: No wonder we liked you guys all along! That’s exactly what Savvant Music is about too! That’s a challenging place to make money, especially if you don’t want to take money from the artist.
Mike: We haven’t made any money from our artists.
Jason: We pay … it doesn’t make a dime
Mike: There’s one band that sells some records… that’s us.
Jason: Yeah, that’s right. We’re the only band that really sells any records.
Mike: And there’s a couple others who, you know, have at least paid their way, which is awesome.
Savvant: What about goals? Where do you want to go? Where do you see yourself going?
Jason: We’d like to be able to…
Mike: I think we need to freshen up our bus a little… <laughs>
Jason: I’d like to maintain – I’d like to find some new markets. We’ve had some markets disappear. Things were really good for awhile. For awhile we started thinking it was us, you know. Earlier in our career we’d be really worried if a market would kind of dip, but now we realize that it’s … the market, you know? There’s either a live music fan base, or there isn’t – and we’re not going to have all those live music fans, but we’re going to have some of them. And, if it’s a good strong base, we’re going to have those fans.
Mike: We gave up fighting it years ago when it wasn’t working… Let’s stop throwing our time and our money at this… it’s not going to happen.
Jason: So we need to find new ones. Phoenix is a pretty new market for us, and there’s two people from there here tonight. And we’ve only played there for a few years. Steamboat – we just played this trip for the first time, and that’s going to be a new market for us. But it’s hard to find new markets.
Savvant: You guys will be an awesome fit for Steamboat Springs – Summer time or ski season, you’ll be an awesome fit.
Mike: Yeah, we did a 150 people first time in [Steamboat Springs], which is way more than I thought. I thought there might be 30 or 40 people there, actually.
Jason: And they charged a decent ticket. You go into a town where they’re scared to charge a cover or even scared to charge over five bucks, it’s like – that doesn’t really work for us, because then you’ve got to come back ten times to build it to where it needs to be. We need to be able to go into a place, have 300 people and have them be willing to pay $10-15, you know? So this place did it right. They advertised, they had press – It was like all the pieces fit.
Mike: But, we need to figure out a way to find these new markets somehow.
Savvant: Which venue did you play?
Jason: It’s new – The Ghost Ranch Saloon.
Mike: You guys should check it out.
We’d heard The Nadas once before (the previous fall at The Gothic in Denver) and knew we were going to enjoy this show, and yet we were still impressed by both the caliber of the music and the overall entertainment value of the show, because these guys are just hilariously funny.
Mike has an amazingly versatile voice, ranging from a soaring, floating falsetto down to a deep baritone which blends smoothly with Jason’s emotive vocals with an ease indicative of their years of singing together. Terrific harmonies, exceptional instrumental support and awesome songwriting combine with superlative showmanship to complete a night of great music and entertainment.
The instrumental and vocal efforts of other members of The Nadas’ band are also note worthy. Drummer Scott Dawson lends additional great vocal harmonies, and bass player Jon Locker is simply amazing.
Make sure you catch The Nadas when they’re in your town!
You can follow The Nadas here -
The Nadas’ website: thenadas.com
The Nadas on Facebook: facebook.com/thenadas
The Nadas on Twitter: twitter.com/thenadas
The Nadas on MySpace: myspace.com/thenadas
The Nadas’ Almanac Project on Twitter: twitter.com/nadaalmanac