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What I Learned at Bandcamp: Nola Gras

Nola Gras, Bandcamp, interview

Over the past five years, multi-instrumentalist Sahm Zalta has recorded numerous LPs and EPs, but it wasn’t until this year that he decided to share that music with the public. In January, under the name Nola Gras, the solo musician dropped his first release, an album of covers called Living in Darkness.

On March 3, Nola Gras released Paraiso Terrenal, a four-part album meant to be listened to as a whole, or as four distinct movements– part one: tracks 1-4, part two: tracks 5-9, part three: tracks 10-12, part four: track 13. The album can be streamed on Bandcamp.

“I treat an album like a book or a movie,” says Zalta. “Where, if you hear one song, it’s almost like you’re only reading a chapter or watching one scene. You need to listen to the whole record to really understand what the work is all about.”

Read The Spec‘s interview with Nola Gras, below…

Tell us a little about yourself…
I’m a 25-year-old Brooklyn native. I’m a Mets/anti-Yankee fan, watch too much TV and have obsessively cataloged every show I’ve ever attended.

How long have you been making music?
I’ve been writing/playing music since I was about 14 years old. In high school, I was in a punk-rock/noise group with my brother and a friend. Over the past five years, however, I’ve been writing and recording more pop-oriented music on my own but have yet to share any of the recordings with the general population. This record, Paraiso Terrenal, will be my first release, outside of the promotional cover EP, Living In Darkness, which was released last month.

Who/what are your influences?
For song/album structure, my biggest inspiration is the unfinished Smile record by the Beach Boys. Years before the recent box set came out – with all of the neatly organized studio outtakes – I spent most of my time on the internet/at record stores searching for bootlegs of the record (either studio sessions or fan-made versions of the album, which were made by editing the audio from those sessions to piece the parts of the recording together like a puzzle).

I had over 10 hours of digital bootlegs on my computer. Listening to these sessions, as well as the fan-made bootlegs, taught me that pop songs don’t need to exist as separate entities, and that you can cut those songs up or, creatively, reuse certain sections in different songs for a more cohesive and thematic album. I was already a fan of “the album” as a concept, but the Smile bootlegs helped me realize it could go beyond just a collection of really great songs, and more of an experience or journey.

In terms of sonics and composition, I’ve been inspired by many different artists. For this record, however, I tried to combine different elements of the following artists work: Spacemen 3, Low, Galaxy 500 (and all of Dean Wareham‘s projects), Jeff Buckley, Alan Ball (especially his work on Six Feet Under), Joanna Newsom, Elvis, Lee Hazlewood, Vladimir Nabokov, Nagisa Ni Te, Charlie Kaufman, Tim Buckley, Big Star and Bardo Pond.

What is your favorite song you’ve released and why?
From the most recent record, I really like the way that “Some Velvet Drone on Mount Vernon and Fairway” segues into “Callous Fingertips.” The former track is a sound collage I did that samples Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra‘s “Some Velvet Morning” and a bootleg of Brian Wilson performing – probably the weirdest song by the Beach Boys – “Mount Vernon and Fairway” for a few friends, in his house.

I’ve played “Callous Fingertips” at every show since I wrote it, about a year-and-a-half ago. The intro is just a slowed down version of the chords for a track that appears later in the album (“Baby, Please Don’t Go“). Aside from that, it’s a really simple track and probably the most straightforward song I’ve ever written, but I like the way the tambourine is playing at a different time signature then the rest of the instruments, and the way the song shifts from a major key, in the verse, to a minor key, in the chorus.

Upcoming projects, where do you want to go from here?
More than anything, I’d like to be more open to sharing my music and playing more shows. I’ve been very shy with this in the past, but I think it’s time to try and get over that.

I’m already working on my next record, which will be a mix of Stooges/Howlin’ Wolf style rock/blues, Emperor Tomato Ketchup kraut-grooves and the repetitive/harsh elements of Swans. I’m going to try and get a full band on stage (for the past year, my shows have consisted of just myself and a keyboard player) and have a more energy in the live show.

If you could no longer be a musician, what would you be or do for a living?
​The musician thing is kind of my side project. I just don’t have the courage/drive to commit fully toward that. My main gig does revolve around music. Over the past five years, I’ve been working in the industry, at a variety of labels, and am currently working at a record label in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, called No Shame.

If I weren’t working with music though, I’d probably be pursuing my doctorate to become a professor of American Studies. My interests seem to indicate that I am allergic to money.

What musicians of bands do you look up to?
Nick Cave, J Spaceman, Sonic Boom, Animal Collective, The Beach Boys. I know everything you need to know about each of these artists (discography, history, etc.). Aside from the Beach Boys, none of these artists have played it safe, and continue to keep me on my toes with each release they’re a part of.

Why do you make music?
I’m not a religious man, however, I do believe in some sort of higher power. Any sort of creative pursuit, to me, is a reinforcement of both the humanity and the godliness in the universe. This might sound ridiculous, but I like the way writing music allows me to play God and feel uncomfortably mortal, at the same time.

Anything else you’d like readers to know that we haven’t asked you about?
I’m finally releasing music because I’m hoping that someone out there – outside of myself and my immediate group of friends/family – might have a connection with it. If you like it/have any questions, my email is on the Bandcamp page, and will respond to whatever questions/comments you might have. ​

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