Interview: Nathan Hardy – Microwave on ‘DIAWB’
Posted: by The Editor
After signing to Pure Noise Records a few months ago, Microwave is in the midst of releasing their third studio album, Death Is A Warm Blanket (DIAWB) on September 13. Since the beginning, the Georgia based alt-rock band has been pushing boundaries. Soon after releasing their first studio album, Stovall, and a split with Head North through SideOneDummy, the group began touring relentlessly. Slowly gaining traction over the years, they’ve created a unique name for themselves.
Much of the conversation around the band has surrounded frontman, Nathan Hardy’s, decision to leave the church when he was 21. Growing up Mormon, and even serving as a missionary for a couple years, Hardy decided to close a door on the religious community he grew up in, and open a new one that led to a major lifestyle change. A large portion of Stovall (which came out shortly after) centers around Hardy’s relationship with religion at that point in his life. Their second studio album, Much Love, discusses similar themes but on a smaller scale. However, DIAWB seems like a step in a different direction.
As everyone knows, the life of a musician rarely ends happily ever after. The affects of non-stop touring start to take a toll, especially when you mix that with a ton of alcohol, heavy music, and Elvis Presley knee-slides. Facing an avalanche of injuries, not being able to hold a steady job in order to tour, and sleeping on couches are just a few things the romanticized fantasies of bands rarely feature. As Hardy started to come to term with these realities, DIAWB began to form.
In anticipation of the record, we spoke to Hardy about the crushing realities of gig-life, his choice to step away from being seen as a “Mormon bad boy”, why new bands should just “Post Malone it”, his affinity for Kanye West, and so much more.
Are you excited to kind of kick off the album release with Riot Fest and then the UK tour right afterwards?
Yeah, I’m stoked. I’m nervous because we’re about to start using some more stuff live that we’ve never used before. I’m starting to use a distortion pedal on some songs on the vocal side. I got this delay thing, and I have to do it myself. I have to set the delay settings and distortion settings in between songs. I have to kind of turn down my pedal board and send three microphone lines out front of house or whatever while we’re up, because we don’t have a designated sound guy. If we had a sound guy that knew our songs, we could have him switch the microphone settings when we’re going live, but we don’t. So I’m going to have to do that. I haven’t done that before. It’s just one more thing to do in between songs before we can start the next song, but I’ve got it down pretty good.
It’s a little nerve-racking, so I’m nervous, but it’s my third time playing Riot Fest, and it’s the funnest thing in the world. I’m just nervous for when we play and then I’m going to party. There’s a free open bar for all three days. And I’m going to watch Ween and the Village People Sunday which, you know, it’s going to be sick.
So other than practicing, what else does your tour prep look like right now?
With the new album, we’ve had to get a lot of new shirt designs and merch design stuff, so we’ve been super busy between that. And we had to film music videos, but I guess that’s all more prep for the album coming out.
You guys have been touring a lot, the past few years, a lot a lot. And I’ve seen that you mentioned that it has had a pretty negative affect on your health at times. Is that something that you could expand on a little bit?
Honestly, the main thing that was an issue was that I was having more sinus infections. I had like five sinus infections in a year. And I think it was probably a mixture of a lot of things that made my sinuses weaker. I might actually get this sinus surgery – like septoplasty- where they open up your sinuses so that they drain better. You don’t get as many sinus infections. I had one sinus infection when we were on tour with The Dangerous Summer that lasted for a month, and I sprained ribs and had a fever for a few days. I had to cut a few sets short and was really sick. I lost like 10 pounds on the tour, which is a bad thing for me.
I think I also saw something about your shoulder.
Yeah I had shoulder surgery three years ago, and that was kind of in the midst. That was also during a time period when we were touring a bunch. Right around when I was turning 26 and lost my health insurance. But I was dislocating my shoulder and tore my labrum so it became easier to dislocate. The last time I dislocated my shoulder was actually while we were playing at Wrecking Ball, the festival in Atlanta. I was punching my guitar and my shoulder popped out at the end of the set, and then I went straight to the ER. You couldn’t put it back in yourself. It was a weird one.
Then I was healing from that while we on a bunch of tours, and I started getting vertigo. I think, while your body is healing, you can only heal so many things at once. When we were on tour with All Get Out, on the last night of that tour, I was really drunk, and we did a stage antics prank thing, where we got up on the stage during one of their songs, and we did this air guitar sort of – I mean not air – we had guitars, we just got up there and I jumped up in the air. I guess it was like an Elvis Presley knee slide, and I jumped up in the air and landed on my knees, and just drove my knee into the ground. I was limping on my leg for 6 months.
It was right when I was getting my shoulder surgery too, so I guess when your body’s healing things, it only has so much healing potential. And I think it gets worse if you’re drinking too much. Your body’s healing potential. And I was definitely drinking way too much. I’ve since cut back a little bit on the drinking. Because after that I had heat induced vertigo. Whenever I’d get overheated while we were playing, or even if it was hot outside, which we did Warped Tour the next summer, so that happened a lot; my equilibrium would get thrown off. I felt like I was going to fall over. I was super dizzy and stuff.
You’ve gone through a lot with dealing with your body. Have you found healthy ways to cope with it while you’re on tour?
Yeah, actually. Essentially a big part of why my shoulder started dislocating was because I was a little bit too skinny. I’m 6’2 and I was probably 155 pounds. I was pretty skinny. So I just started exercising, which I’ve never done in my life. You hit that age, 25, 26, 27 or somewhere around there, I feel like, for most people, if you don’t start exercising you become incapable of physical things. Use it or lose it. Just in general, I think it’s probably a healthy thing to do, to exercise and be somewhat conscious of what you’re eating. But I started exercising and gained 10 or 15 pounds of healthiness.
Of muscle and good fats.
Yeah, and I run three days a week now. Also when you run all the time, you can’t drink as much, because you become more cognizant of the fact that you drank too much last night while you’re running the next day. It makes your desire for alcohol a little less. It doesn’t take getting vertigo and having your shoulder dislocated to realize that you’re drinking a little too much. You recognize it immediately, because you run and you’re like, Oh God [laughs]. So I think that was a beneficial thing. And also, exercising is great for depression and anxiety.
So kind of getting into the album now. There are a lot of themes of you discussing that, like getting older, deteriorating health and relationships. Was this kind of an outlet for you to explore these topics that you are experiencing?
Yeah. I wrote a lot of the lyrics for the album while we were on tour, on The Dangerous Summer tour, and some of the ones afterwards. Just in general, even outside of the health things, we really weren’t making any money for the first three years that we were touring. It sure wasn’t financially viable. I slept on people’s couches most of the time, because I wasn’t making enough money to be able to pay rent and still go on tour. I wasn’t able to find a job that would let me leave and come back. I had six different jobs. They were all paying 10 dollars an hour. Didn’t really make much of a dent.
I mean, rock music is pretty much dead. It’s like a super-underground-subcultural thing. There’s probably more people in each town that we go to that are into vintage, historical farm equipment than that are into indie rock currently. It sort of feels like we’re going around playing obscure card game, or if we were into swing dancing or something. It has a culture that still exists, but there’s a few hundred kids in every major city that really know a lot of us and our contemporaries or whatever. So it’s sort of like what the fuck are we doing?
The sound of the album is pretty reflective of those themes. It’s kind of your darkest album yet. Was it a conscious decision to make the album this “harsh” or did it just happen naturally?
I think it kind of just happened naturally. I think the underlying sort of sense during the last two years was like, this isn’t sustainable. I’m always working on writing music, and I have a million half-written songs that are half-recorded in my computer that have some lyrics and stuff. And the ones that get finished, I guess are somewhat indicative of what’s going on in my life at the time. So that’s always been sort of weird thing with Microwave is we have songs that are all over.
I think especially Much Love feels like that. It’s pretty all over the place with different sounds. But I don’t like having a predetermined construct for what I want to do. This whole release is a little bit more cohesive than Much Love was. But for the most part, the songs that get finished are sort of the songs that are whatever I’m feeling at the time. So I guess it wasn’t thought out in advance, but I have wanted to do a sort of psychedelic R&B thing for awhile, and I have a lot of songs that are like that. But I wasn’t finishing any of them, and then I started writing these whatever, dark, grungy, noisy songs, and then I finished them all really fast. So it seemed like it was kind of the right thing to do at that time.
A lot of the conversation around the band, especially when you guys first started, was centered around your decision to leave the church. Fans can hear the progression of you coming to terms with your relationship to religion with each album. But this album kind of feels like the first album where you separate yourself from that concept. Is it something that you are just trying to move past?
I actually left the church when I was like, 22, 23. When we put out Stovall my parents didn’t even know that I wasn’t Mormon anymore, and I was a Mormon missionary from when I was 19 to 21. So I had just been a Mormon missionary, and then I came home and started the band and wrote Stovall. While it was happening, Microwave was an outlet for writing songs about that, but that was six years ago. Now that’s it’s been six years, I’ve made a somewhat conscious decision that I didn’t want to pigeon-hole myself or brand myself as the “Mormon bad boy” or something.
So kind of moving away from that, could you tell me a little bit more about the recording process?
We recorded all of the guitars and vocals and bass ourselves. Travis Hill, who we recorded Stovall and Much Love with is Tyler, our bassist’s brother. He has been touring with us and was with the band for this record. We recorded at his house, all the guitars and vocals. We recorded drums last. We programmed drums that we recorded the songs to, and then we recorded the drums with Matt Goldman, at Glow in the Dark Studios here in Atlanta. He did an Underoath record or two and and all the Chariot records. He is a really big name and he’s one of the top producers for rock in Atlanta. He’s really good at drums. That’s one of his specialties. So we went to him last and he recorded drums and then he mixed everything. We brought him all of the rest of the files for guitars and vocals. He mixed all that. It was a little weird. Most bands record drums first and then build the songs from the foundation up. But this was a backwards thing.
One of my friend’s bands just recently did the same thing. They had tracked it with a drum machine and then recorded the drums last.
It makes it easier to write songs when you have programed drums, especially if you want to change the song a little bit as you’re going. I feel like the drums are a really important part of the song. They’re the whole. So it’s nice to be able to change things, as you’re thinking about stuff. I guess, ideally, you’d have the whole song written/demo’d and then go record- from that perspective, it wouldn’t matter. But we also kind of wrote really gradually.
More and more, as we’ve gone on as a band, I’ve favored writing songs gradually over a period of time. I also think it’s a lot more conducive to writing better songs. If you can do it in the computer, and do it gradually over time where you can make changes, and you can hear it back and have a feedback loop there.
A lot of bands are really glued to this romanticized concept of- you get all those boys in one room and magic starts happening, like the magic’s in the air or something. But really, when you’re in a room with a band trying to write a song it’s kind of like, ‘stop, stop playing. I’m trying to talk!’ Then you try to explain what you’re thinking about, what should happen in a part, and then you try to play it, and people aren’t understanding because it’s hard to articulate musical things. It’s like, instead of na NA NA na, it’s na NA na.
So kind of going along with that, what do you enjoy most about keeping a large part of the production of it internal?
I’ve gotten more into recording as time has gone on. I’ve actually also started recording too. I’ve recorded four bands this year. I got into recording from trying to mix the demos that I made. Since the beginning of Microwave, I’ve comped vocals, done some of the editing work for our records, and other odd-job projects. But I’ve gotten more into production based songwriting. I don’t know if that’s actually a real term… but the production of a song is a big part of the actual song altogether.
I’m a big Kanye West fan, and that’s kind of his whole thing. The way that things are produced, the kind of snare sound that he uses, and the way the songs are arranged is a big part of the songwriting. He’ll just stomp in a sample for a chorus that’s a completely different tempo, and that’s the chorus. Those kinds of things aren’t really things that you would naturally conceive songwriting without having production in mind, I guess.
So outside of that how do you experiment with different sounds?
Most of the time that I spend working on music is just fucking around with making noises. Once something cool comes up from that, it’s like, “AHA! I know what to do.’ There’s a lot of different plug-ins that you can use that make a whole vibe, that can be used to make weird noises and whatnot. Recently I’ve been messing with a lot of digital drum stuff. It doesn’t sound like electronic drums, but there’s cool percussion noises.
For example, at the end of “The Brakeman Has Resigned”, there’s a drum loop that’s play through a data corrupter pedal. It’s an EarthQuaker Device’s pedal, a Big Crusher, with an oscillator on it so it goes [whooshing sound] over and over, while it’s doing the crushing thing- which is kind of a really fat, distortion kind of sound. And we just ran the drum loop that was playing from the first verse through the Big Crusher pedal and then recorded that and then blended that in at the end. I think a big inspiration for that was Tame Impala. Are you familiar with their music?
I’m not a huge fan, but I’ve heard some of their music. I know who they are.
If they had just a completely dry, natural tone, it wouldn’t work. Like they have that sort of distorted lo-fi thing, with a weird EQ and everything. That kind of creates the whole vibe, and the same is true for a lot of Kanye West’s stuff. A lot of times he’ll have some wild effect and that effect on the vocal is a big part of that vocal mix.
Somebody writing a certain kind of vocal part sort of informs the song. Thinking in advance like the lyrics in the vocal part will be like this- but it’ll sound cool because it’ll mixed this kind of way. If it was dry it might sound kind of funky, but we’re going to track duplicates of the same part of a scream and then put a different effect on a couple of them and pan them different directions, and then it’ll sound right. Essentially I just want to make shit that sounds cool.
I mean Radiohead also has a very similar progression as a band. They started more naturally in a room, and as time goes on, you fuck around with things that sound sort of different. That’s what keeps songwriting interesting and fun and exciting, stumbling upon things that sound cool that you hadn’t heard before. You’re like, ‘damn, I want to do something that sounds like this.’
I forgot to ask this earlier. But you kind of mentioned that you have a lot of half-written songs. And, in retrospect, after listening to the album, “Keeping Up” that song really feels like it was meant as a preface for the album. Was it originally made with maybe intentions that it could be on the record?
I’ve heard the opposite thing too, where people are like, ‘it sounded like you were going to make more of a chill, R&B influence thing, and then you just went the complete other direction and have more of a heavy screaming album.’ Lyrically, for sure, I can see how that would be the case because the themes on that are similar. I have other songs that are written, that are sort of those vibes or whatever, but I don’t try to force lyrics down. I write songs over a long period of time. I’m always writing music, and I have a large collection at this point of sentences that are completely unrelated, and just different things that I’ve written. Whether it’s a couple words or a paragraph or whatever. I pop open the song every few months and look down at what I have. Sometimes the connection is there and sometimes it’s not. It’s all based on just what is going on in life.
I think the lyrics are somewhat of a preface. We were halfway done with the album. I did know what it was going to be like. I think “Georgia On My Mind”, sonically also, is probably somewhat similar.
So kind of moving on from that, Pure Noise kind of seems like a natural fit for the band. After all the SideOneDummy stuff, which I won’t make you talk about, but what went into the decision to work with Pure Noise?
They came out of the gate offering us a really good deal. They didn’t play – a lot of labels like to play games like it’s the 90’s where they’ll offer you 3,000 dollars for a record or your entire discography and they’ll do 360 deals and this and that, and you have to go to a lawyer and go back and forth and try to negotiate it three times to get a deal.
We were talking to a few labels, but Pure Noise just came out of the gate with a really great offer. And we’ve toured with a bunch of the bands on their label, and they all love Pure Noise. And it seemed like Pure Noise has done great things for the bands. I mean, we toured with Can’t Swim like five times, and they’re some of my best friends in the world now. We shared a bandwagon with Knocked Loose, and obviously Knocked Loose is like the biggest rock band – like Nirvana 2.0 of 2019. Their new record is also incredible.
But Pure Noise just seems to have been killing the game within our realm of music the last few years. Within this scene, they have a huge audience and they know how to sell records and they know how to make bands bigger and whatnot. So it seemed like a good choice.
Is there any advice you would give to bands who are maybe lost or looking for a good fit when it comes to finding a label or an engineer?
Yeah. I think for one, I would always encourage people to keep writing a bunch of music. I would worry about it more when you have thirty songs written. I feel like if you just keep working on your stuff long enough that people will take notice. Because people can tell when you’re prioritizing.
If I was starting a band again though, I think new formula in my eyes in 2019 is: you make a single that you’re really confident in, and then you get a really badass music video, and then you Post Malone it. We have the internet now, and they’ve been talking about this for the last five years about how labels are going to be outdated pretty soon, because there’s such an effective direct artist to fan thing. I guess that’s also more applicable depending on the genre of music that you’re doing.
I think our video for “Vomit” from Much Love was a super badass video. We were really stoked on how it came out, and a lot of people have said, ‘Wow that’s one of the best videos I’ve ever seen.’ It’s pretty good for the genre that we’re playing. It had like 200,000 YouTube views. It doesn’t have 10 million or 20 million, so I guess maybe that doesn’t work if you’re making music that sounds like “Vomit”. Or maybe that just didn’t happen for us. I don’t know.
You can do a lot yourself. I also wouldn’t build up a band for touring, because I think that’s a thing of the past. Where you go around playing to 15 people everywhere, hoping that it’s going to make your band big. People will find music on the internet way more. Everyone who’s done a show with 15 people there, which is the kind of ones you do on a DIY tour, knows that people are there because their friend’s band is playing, and you bring all your shit and set up and maybe three new people are going to listen to your band when you leave. And you could have done that with one Instagram post or something.
I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t really want to talk about because there’s that ethic of doing the DIY thing and touring until you’re dead.
I think that’s also one of the romanticized things about rock bands. When people make a band, one of the first things they’re thinking about is: I just want to be on tour with my best friends on the west coast or whatever -I don’t know why I inserted the west coast. It’s an inside joke with me and Tito… [laughs]
It is fun, for sure, but honestly, it’s not when you’re playing to 15 people with shitty sound every night. We also hit a point playing house shows pretty quick, where people were pouring beer all over our pedal boards and ruining hundreds of dollars of equipment and stuff. And you just kind of have to get over it really fast, but you don’t have money to replace your gear.
It’s almost like you’re paying to play a basement show at that point.
You definitely pay. Most of those DIY tours, you’re coming home out of pocket. So you’re just a business. Every business has expenses. You’re operating in the red for a little bit before you can make money. And we still do that when we go to UK and Europe. We still lose money. I guess the underlying thing is, I don’t think a lot of people find out about music from hearing your band on tour, especially those types of shows, they’re more of a social event. So people will go to the show, the house show, 15 people, but half the people stand outside and drink with their friends because they’re not there to find a new band. But, there’s definitely still certain cities and certain bands that will have a really sick house shows.
The craziest thing now is if you’re a band and you have an EP and you put out four to six songs, you just immediately start touring. And then when you’re on tour you just play every single one of your songs. You probably could have just put that one up on the internet, made a video or two, just let it sit for a little bit.
Yeah that’s the other thing, a lot of newer bands don’t really have any songs. Even if you do like the band, you go to buy merch afterwards, they’re like, “Oh we only have two songs on Spotify right now, but if you check us out next year…” And at that point you’re kind of over it already.
The way that people get good at anything is by doing it a shit ton. I’m a big Stephen King fan, and he has a book where he talks about writing, based on things that people have asked him. He talks about how he reads twice as much as he writes, and he spends hours a day writing. When you look at artists like Kanye West, before he started doing his actual solo career kind of thing, he was a producer and he locked himself in his house pretty much for four summers making like four beats a day or something.
It’s more impressive to see any sort of art or craft when you’re like, ‘damn, this guy fucking puts the time in and really tried to do something’. If you want to have your music connect with people, that should always be sort of the focus, not trying to spit out a couple songs so you can go on tour with your band. It should be like, let’s write a hundred songs. Let me just sit here and write for literally hours, spend three hours every day working on music for six months. And if you spend three hours working on music every day for six months, you’d probably likely have something, even if it’s just a few songs out of the several that you worked on that are a little more worth listening to.
For me, I probably use .05% of the words that I write and 1% of the music that I write is an actual song, because I just spend so much time just fucking around. I’m not saying that I think that I’m super great because I’ve done this, because I still am not Trent Reznor or Kanye West. Some people are really gifted in that regard.
When you hear stories about Eminem and Nirvana or someone, they all spent so much time working on their craft of songwriting, and it shows. You know what I mean? It also shows when a band writes four songs when they got together with their friends and drank some beers in a room and then tried to go on tour. That’s kind of what this song sounds like. If you listen to a lot of music, and you’re a fan of music, it’s like, ‘oh I’ve heard this before’, and then you just turn it off.
I feel like, you can really sort of capture your inner soul when you dedicate that time to your craft, because you just really love doing it. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy spending the time doing that.
1. Leather Daddy
2. Float To The Top
4. The Brakeman Has Resigned
5. Hate TKO
7. Love Will Tear Us Apart
10. Part of It
09/13 Cleveland, OH @ Agora Theater & Ballroom
09/14 Chicago, IL @ Riot Fest
09/21 Southampton, UK @ 1865 *
09/22 Cardiff, UK @ The Globe *
09/24 Dublin, IR @ Grand Social *
09/25 Manchester, UK @ Academy 3 *
09/26 Glasgow, UK @ Slay *
09/27 Birmingham, UK @ Institute2 *
09/28 London, UK @ 02 Islington Academy *
09/30 Amsterdam, NL @ Melkweg #
10/01 Paris, FR @ Supersonic #
10/02 Brussels, BE @ Ancienne Belgique #
10/03 Cologne, DE @ Luxor #
10/04 Hamburg, DE @ Uebel & Gefarlich #
10/05 Liepzig, DE @ Felsenkeller #
10/06 Berlin, DE @ BiNuu #
10/08 Munich, DE @ Feierwerk #
10/09 Vienna, AT @ Flex #
10/10 Bologna, IT @ Locomotiv #* w/ Tiny Moving Parts
# w/ Tiny Moving Parts, Lizzy Farrall
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