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How musician Nathaniel Rateliff stopped ‘treading water’ and found his sound

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats has been attracting attention for its soulful rhythm and blues and its frontman Rateliff’s song lyrics--but it was a long road to get here. The NewsHour spoke with Rateliff before a recent show at the Anthem in Washington, D.C., about his previous career as a gardener, feeling like he was “treading water” and how his father’s death influenced his music.

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  • John Yang:

    And, finally, another in our occasional series My Music.

    The group Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats has been hitting its stride with soulful rhythm-and-blues and front man Rateliff's lyrics.

    Before a recent show at the Anthem in Washington, D.C., Rateliff talked about his decade-long struggle before finding inspiration for the band's sound.

  • Nathaniel Rateliff:

    My name is Nathaniel Rateliff. I'm in a band called The Night Sweats.

    What is a night — a night sweat, now, I guess you could — it's a menopausal symptoms. It's also a symptom of alcohol with drugs. It's a good sign of heart disease. And then it's eight or seven other dudes that I travel around the country and work with.

    Over the years, it's been a lot of different things. Painted houses for a while. I was a gardener, worked at trucking companies for about 10 years.

    And after years of being a singer-songwriter, I was really just kind of discouraged and felt like I had been treading water for a long time. And it was either be a gardener or find something that wasn't so — that felt less discouraging.

    I didn't really know what else to do, and I just had a friend who was like, you should come over and record a couple of songs. I was like, I don't want to do anything with an acoustic guitar. He said, well, do something else.

    I was like, I always wanted to play like soul and R&B. He is like, well, do that. I was like, I don't know how to write any of that.

    When my dad passed away, he left his record collection. And kind of digging through those records, it was sort of like a piece of him that he left to me.

    All different sets of genres of music, kind of the start of rock 'n' roll, and blues, and soul, and R&B, and I was curious about it and just kept wanting to know more about it. So all of it was there.

    I went home that day, and I kind of had this idea of like trying to write a song that sounded like The Band and Sam & Dave. And then from there, I just kind of — like, it just kind of made sense to me.

    It was really exciting. It was new. And after, you know, probably 10 or more years of doing the other stuff, you know, it just felt refreshing.

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