Nate Todd’s journey to his debut solo album, Revolutionary Loser, has required everything the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has learned up until this point. That includes his involvement in activism from an early age (thanks, in large part, to his parents), learning to play music as a kid by watching his father and uncle’s band, co-founding the award-winning Colorado group, Whiskey Tango, and releasing his debut EP, Sky Cloud Machine, in April 2020.
But it was in recording Sky Cloud Machine — a concept EP where each song was penned on an airplane — that all these aspects of Todd’s education began to come into play. “When I set out to record Sky Cloud Machine in the fall of 2019, the idea was to do a series of themed EPs,” Todd explained. “Given Sky Cloud’s escapist nature, I wanted to do something in the opposite direction for this next project in the series.”
For Todd, the opposite of an escapist EP would be a collection of songs addressing a number of issues facing society today, no small feat in a year like 2020. That kind of thinking was something that had been with Todd his entire life. “My parents were both involved in activism,” Todd says. “They went to college in the Vietnam War era and in the 1980s, they were active in the vigils on the White Train, which transported nuclear weapons. There’s a picture of my mom holding me as a baby with my dad and a few other like-minded individuals as the White Train rumbled through North Platte, Nebraska. That picture ended up in the newspaper. So I’ve had that activist way of thinking my whole life.”
The photo Todd speaks of, in part, inspired the title track on Revolutionary Loser, Todd’s latest collection of songs which is now a full-length album. “I realized that protesting was kind of at the core of my being, how I was raised, always taught to question things,” Todd related. “And that has always kinda gotten me into trouble. People who ask questions or offer alternative thinking from the status quo don’t fare very well historically. They are discredited and cast as dangerous to society. Revolutionary Losers.”
Todd played nearly every instrument on the album including guitar, keys, bass and lap steel. He mixed and mastered the album as well. “I was sort of getting back to my roots in a way. In high school, I used to record on my dad’s old Fostex four-track, playing every instrument from drums to guitar, bass and keys.” But Todd did enlist a few friends for the LP.
Guitarist Erik Hill plays on the title track, “Revolutionary Loser,” with Todd adding the lyrics. “I remember Erik showing me a progression he’d been messing around with,” Todd recalls. “I already had some chords to the lyrics but when I heard what Erik had, I knew that was the progression. A year or so ago we tried it out in a band we were playing in and it didn’t really take,” Todd added. “But I felt it was a good song and it really was the spark that ignited this project.” The record also features contributions from guitarists Tessema Degen Tessema and Logan Green of Colorado band Flash Mountain Flood.
Another track important in the album’s evolution was “Realize.” While the songs on the LP span twenty years, Todd penned “Realize” in early March 2020. “Although the past four years have been a shit show, it really seemed like the world was finally coming unglued this past March,” Todd remembers. “I think most of us have come to expect that every time we fall off a cliff, there’s another cliff on the horizon. It’s easy to sink deeper and deeper into despair, but it’s important to remember that we’ve battled fascism, racism and hatred before. The war is far from over, but ‘Realize’ is about knowing your enemy and also realizing that the people have the power. I hope the fact we’re witnessing the largest civil rights movement in history is a sign that we’re moving in the right direction.”
Todd shared “Realize” in June to raise money for the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund and also marches in Denver-area actions whenever he can. But being active hasn’t always been easy. “Some of the record is also about losing hope in humanity and spiraling down into nihilism, which has happened to me on more than one occasion,” Todd says. “In the winter of 2003, I was still a teenager living in Austin when the fictitious case for war with Iraq was being made by the Bush administration. I was involved in the protests there to try and prevent the war. But after Shock & Awe, I felt like we failed. It was a really depressing time for me personally and I’m sure many others, as well. There’s a few songs on the record that deal with those dark times when you feel like nothing matters and you’re at the end of the road.”
As Revolutionary Loser ultimately attempts to impart, the road to a better world must be traveled no matter how difficult and seemingly unending. But some roads don’t really end. Nate Todd’s path to Revolutionary Loser sees him at a crossroads, where one journey finds its way into another.
Revolutionary Loser is out this coming October 30th.
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