In conversation: Nassau on their new album, collaboration, the future of music + more

When in Brooklyn, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jeffrey Silverstein and Justin Giles-Wilcox— who together are the band Nassau. They played A Song A Day’s first show last year after the release of their first EP, Hoss. Not only are they one of the first bands I’ve ever booked, they’re the first I ever interviewed. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a more gracious set of people to share both of those first-time experiences with.

We met at El Cortez before their show at Throne Watches in Bushwick to kick off a short east coast tour. We set out to chat about their new album, Heron released on Fire Talk Records this Friday, September 8th and their journey as a band. However, we found ourselves diving deep into the future of the music industry, streaming, balancing creative projects, and more.

I hate myself for using these words but listening to Heron feels like listening to the seasons change. If you listened to Hoss, you won’t be shocked but you’ll definitely pick up on the more nuanced sense of heart, soul, and intention that went into this record. Not to say Hoss was lacking in any of those elements, but you can hear how the relationship has evolved.

There were times I was listening to it while working and forgot what I was listening, zoning out per usual— then a song like “Champagne” would come on and I thought “ooo what’s this?”. I think we’ve only skimmed the surface with Nassau and I can’t wait to watch their story unfold.

Check out the full interview below and pick up your copy of Heron here.

On producing their sophomore release and first full-length album…

Justin: “From a production standpoint, this one is a little more developed and our voice as a band is a little more defined. I think that has the potential to be alienating at times but hopefully not too alienating. I think the material here has a lot more depth than the first one. Any time you see personality coming through in music, it makes people pick sides a bit more and I personally like seeing that in artists. The more personality in music, the better for me. And I hope that is the same for this release.”

Jeffrey: “I think we took our time a bit more. We were a little more intentional lyrically and thematically compared to the first one. We still have a quick approach to things but the first one came together in an even more casual way — like ‘hey did that sound cool?’ ‘yeah, sure’. With this one, there has been more of a ‘did that work? Let’s try this or fix that’ dialogue. I think ultimately, intention is the word we were thinking about when producing.”

On working with Fire Talk Records

Jeffrey: “So far, I don’t think there could be anyone better to work with than Trevor [of Fire Talk Records]. Even with a newborn son, he’s so supportive and relaxed with everything. He’s able to do so much although it’s just him and we’ve been clear that we’re not going to be the band who’s touring and creating music all the time. We like the way he handles things.”

On songwriting and collaborating with one another…

Justin: “I’d say, generally speaking, a lot of the ideas start with Jeff on the guitar. Then he’ll either have a finished melody and lyrics that are nearly finished. Or sometimes he comes in with a guitar line and I’ll sing over it and write lyrics. It’s very collaborative.”

Jeffrey: “A lot of times, if I do have a melody it’s pretty rudimentary. Then when I hear what Justin does — it takes it to another level. It’s easy to say ‘no, let’s go with that!’ which I really love. Justin has also been supportive of me attempting to sing again on a handful of songs on Heron, which is nice.”

On being in different geographic locations…

Jeffrey was getting ready to move to Portland, OR when we met. They say since the whole project is so casual and comes together at their own pace, they’re not too worried about continuing to create music as Nassau. It seems as though they already have a non-plan, plan for their third album.

Jeffrey: “I think on some degree, it’s just about goal setting. We’ve both been very clear on setting goals like ‘let’s try to play a show by this date, let’s try to do a weekend tour by this date.’ For the most part, that’s been really helpful. If we didn’t do that, we might have just released a song. We set goals and give ourselves something to look forward to.”

On balancing multiple projects and jobs…

Justin composes music for films, documentaries, and commercials. Jeffrey just graduated grad school and is a teacher for children with special needs. And they both have other music and creative projects they work on in addition to Nassau. They credit their ability to balance it all to goal setting but their dynamic also plays a role.

Jeffrey: “I’ve gotten better over the years but I can be a pretty anxious person generally, and Justin is always unbelievably relaxed about most things. I think having that balance helps. Goal setting and letting this project be whatever it needs to be is the approach we take.”

Justin: “A part of my motivation is that it’s a learning process too, especially in production. In the distant future, I’d like to get more into a production role. And since this is a studio-based project, it allows me to produce and manage a project front to back. Even though I play on it, it’s still a good experience for me recording wise.”

Jeffrey: “It’s been so cool for me to watch Justin get even better at that too. I’ll come over and he’ll have some shortcut that makes whatever we’re working on 20x easier than it was the last time and that’s because he’s putting in the work. I’m learning stuff every time we’re doing this too. It feels good, it’s been a little bit of a confidence boost. It’s like ‘yeah, you guys can write songs. And music can feel fun.’ It doesn’t have to be too serious.”

“I think it’s just changing your vision on what success is or should be. I was a wreck when my last band broke up. But you can work hard, find success, play shows, and put out records and it doesn’t have to be everything that you do.”

On redefining success as a part-time musician…

I asked if they feel like age plays a role in their laidback approach, seeing how both of them (and I) are hovering somewhere around 30 years old. Laughing, they said absolutely yes.

Jeffrey: “If I was 23 or 24, I’d be like ‘Justin, drop everything you’re doing and let’s do it.’ It’s not that we’re not working on it, we clearly are. I think it’s just changing your vision on what success is or should be. I think we have a different view on that now regards to music. I was a wreck when my last band broke up. But you can work hard, find success, play shows, and put out records and it doesn’t have to be everything that you do.”

Justin: “When you think about that, I don’t know if this project could take the form it has if we did take it too seriously. I think it hinges on it being casual. We’re proud of it so we share it and if it does well, great.”

On music trends, how artists make money, and the future of streaming….

Jeffrey: “I think there’s a big shift towards musicians having to be multi-disciplinary. There are so many who have multiple music projects and are also doing graphic design as they’re traveling. I think we’re part of this shift.”

Justin: “I try not to think about it [the current state of the music industry and how artists make money] because it’s frustrating and depressing. It doesn’t feel the way it used to. It’s such a deep subject. I feel like a lot of artists do a lot of things and do music but that’s out of necessity. It’s because there isn’t as much money coming into the music industry, period. Most artists can’t afford to do it even if they want. Whereas, ten years ago it was a bit easier. There was more money coming in and more opportunities for artists to get their music heard. Now, well…it’s interesting.”

Jeffrey: “In regards to digital music, so many conversations I’ve had are about Spotify and the power struggles within Spotify with the labels. There’s something interesting about people trying to figure out how to pull the power away from them from different angles. No one has yet but I think there’s enough people who care about that happening that it will….there has to be something next. It can’t just be Spotify forever, that’s not how that works.”

“The second conversation I’ve had is about performing as a privilege. I think it’s way, way harder for a lot of people to have the opportunity we have tonight. It’s so hard for people to be in a band right now. It’s a privilege to stand in front of people and perform. You should take that seriously and I think it makes it a more pleasant experience for everyone.”

Justin: “Unfortunately, it also makes music feel disposable. It doesn’t seem like they [consumers] care. I’m even guilty of that. You don’t listen to an album in full anymore. You pull a few songs you like here and there. Most of the time they won’t even learn an artist. You just think ‘hey, that sounds cool’ then move on with your life. And I think Spotify is perpetuating that.”

Jeffrey: “The thing is, Spotify is of value to us. I don’t think either of us expected to make any money from this project. But then a song gets added to a playlist and then you do have a couple extra bucks to go on tour. And then you have people trying to hack or dismantle this huge thing [Spotify] with silent tracks or tricking people into playing terrible covers of a popular song. It’s crazy.”

On marketing themselves as a band…

Jeffrey: “I truly love writing emails. I do [this is where I called Jeff crazy]. I like taking the time to find the right writer on Twitter, seeing what they’ve written, and making things personal as opposed to just blasting people with nothing. Making messages personal — going through sites and digging through is crucial. You have to ask: would this person even want to listen to our music. With my first band, we were talking to some small PR agencies but decided that it’d be better for me to handle our marketing and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made personally. For Nassau, it’s a tag team approach with Trevor at Fire Talk too. I feel less alone.”

Justin: “I was in a band in Tennessee where I did all the functions of a label — independently pressed the vinyl, managed a marketing team, and the people in the band. It was a nightmare on top of writing the songs and managing the recordings. Having someone to manage the label side makes a huge difference. Maybe because it’s been such a positive experience with Trevor, but having a label is a huge help.”

All three of us reflected on how the music blog landscape has changed. How Pitchfork and NPR are almost on the same level as Rolling Stone now. Gold Flake Paint is doing a great job but we all miss the ride of blogs like Gorilla vs Bear and other blogs on that level.

On what they listen to…

Jeffrey: “There’s definitely a clear bond between us over the Grateful Dead and today’s guitar slinging dudes like Steve Gunn, William Tyler, Phil Cook, Cian Nugent — that are kind of blending guitar with electric elements. Artists who let music breathe and expand. Justin didn’t listen to the emo bands but that was a huge influence in my life.”

Justin: “Because of Spotify, I listen to a lot of different artists. But one I’ve been into is Jim Steinman who wrote all of Meat Loaf’s early work. The way him and Meat Loaf are entwined is such an interesting story. But he also wrote “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” which was a huge feud of Meat Loaf. It’s such a long story. He also wrote Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” He apparently lives in New York and sometimes plays shows at Jo’s Pub in which they reenact the original video they did for “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.”

Jeffrey: “I was so happy about the new Land of Talk record. Big Thief has certainly been on the radar, and I’m eagerly awaiting the new Hop Along album. I was really blown away by that Hand Habits album — she might be the best guitar player of our time.”

On the proliferation of music…

Justin: “That’s probably because songs are less precious now, artists are able to experiment. When you put something out every few years, it matters so much more to you and your audience.”

On who they’d tour with if given the opportunity…

Justin: “Meat Loaf! [chuckles]”

Jeffrey: “Kevin Morby would definitely a contemporary songwriter I admire. I’d love to go out with Michael Nau. I think it’d just be so exciting to be asked to go out with anyone on tour.”

Justin: “We got the chance to open for Michael Nau and he’s such a great musician and the scene fit well.”

Ok, now go get your copy of Heron! ✌️