For singer-songwriter Nate Jones, a Cleveland native who recently moved to San Francisco, the time he spent playing and recording in Northeast Ohio was essential to his development as a musician. Just out today, his new album, The Nate Jones Band EP, is a terrific collection of diverse songs that shows off his incredible range. He alternately evokes smooth operators such as James Taylor and more contemporary neo-soul guys like Amos Lee. Jones returns to town to play a CD release party on Thursday at the Beachland Tavern.
“When I was in Cleveland, I started figuring out how to make music work as a full-time endeavor,” he says via phone from a tour stop in New York. “I would fill in between club dates with bar and restaurant dates. I would just sit with a guitar and sing for hours. It was like a paid rehearsal. I developed a lot and because of that I became a much better singer in that year or year and a half. I started an acoustic trio that I expected to turn into an electric trio. It got stuck as an acoustic trio and that was good too. The last couple of years have been good stuff for development.”
Jones grew up listening to classic singer-songwriters such as Paul Simon and James Taylor. Those musical influences come across on The Nate Jones Band EP, a nice showcase for his naturally soulful voice. On the album’s first single, “Another Night, Another Town,” he sings with a bit of drawl, giving it an alt-country feel. The organ riffs in the song also give it a roots rock vibe. But he doesn’t necessarily think his music fits into the alt-country mold.
“I love music that touches on different sounds,” he says. “I get bored with playing blues or country. Anything but jazz in its pure form bores me. A lot of my favorite singers and songwriters are able to draw from a lot of different genres while being firmly in their own voice, which I think is the goal as a songwriter. I don’t want to be stuck in one sound. I want to drop into different styles but in a natural way. Not just like, ‘Here’s a country song and here’s a blues song.’”
A self-taught musician, Jones immersed himself in the sounds of the ’70s while growing up.
“I started playing guitar when I was 13,” he says. “I just taught myself and used my dad’s old songbooks. I learned pretty much everything from the ’60s and ’70s. All the Paul Simon, James Taylor and Beatles. I figured out how to fingerpick by trial and error. By the time I was 15, I started playing in public.”
While attending college at Tulane University in New Orleans, he picked up what he calls a “soulful, bluesy vibe.” It’s that sound that comes across clearly on The Nate Jones Band EP, which was recorded locally at the studio run by Dave Douglas, the former drummer for the Christian rock group Relient K.
“I gave [Dave] a general idea, and he made it perfect,” Jones says. “He has this intuitive quality. He hadn’t done anything in my genre. I would tell him what I wanted it to sound like with very general instructions. Part of it was that I didn’t know exactly what I wanted. What he did was incredible. We did all of it together. It’s not like I recorded everything and he sat in a room and then came up with it. It was great to work with him and see him work on the spot because that’s how most of the ideas came about.”
Long-time fans will like the fact that the album includes a cover of that Band's “Ophelia” that the group regularly plays at live shows.
“I’ve been playing it for so long,” Jones says. “Our band just plays it all the time and people like it. I figured some people might be disappointed if we didn’t record it. It turned out really good. We felt like we had to include it. We gave it a little swing and a little funk too.”
The challenge for Jones is to distinguish himself from his influences.
“I have struggled with that over the last couple of years,” he admits. “I feel like the more you listen to different sounds, the more naturally, you’re able to reshape them into something original. I think I have done that pretty well. I think I’m getting better. I think every song shows I’m getting a little stronger. You don’t want to do what’s been done before.”