Michael Nau. A singer-songwriter based out of Cumberland, Maryland. I first laid eyes on Nau at a random house party in Jackson, Wyoming in September 2009. A hard Rocky Mountain rain fell from above as my friends and I huddled under a sagging tarp in the front yard of the humble abode with the ancient Grand Tetons looming in the distance.
Nau and his band, Cotton Jones, were headlong into their set, a swirling mix of rock and folk. Alongside his wife, Whitney, the songbird couple resembled some psychedelic version of Johnny and June Carter Cash. Their voices intertwined with such sincerity, you knew, immediately, that they had seen things, for good or ill (but mostly good) together, and were figuring their way along the journey of life as all of us were, too.
The more one listened, the more you found yourself completely captivated by the group. Who were these guys? Where have they have been all of my life?
And that’s the thing with the words and tones echoing out of Nau. He soaks in the world around him, the noises and emotions and happenstances, only to radiate back out his interpretation of it all, of nothing and everything, through melodies that instantly stop you in your tracks. It’s a kaleidoscope of sound, one where your ears are picked up by the circus and carried out toward the unknown horizon, where the future doesn’t seem so bad, just as long as you know the sun will rise tomorrow, as it always does.
Nau’s latest solo release, “Mowing,” is an ode to the good life that surrounds him these days. He’s a father and husband. He’s also a beloved troubadour whose music grows step-by-step with his listeners. We throw his music on during special occasions, which is anything in life, really, depending on how you see the world. Do you see doom and gloom, or do you see beauty and chance? Nau gives you the power to pursue the latter.
Garret K. Woodward: How has being a father shifted, or perhaps justified, your career as a musician?
Michael Nau: First, it confused me. I spent some time trying to figure out how to continue to do it. I had a lot of songs recorded, and thought I had a plan. I woke up one day, and must’ve forgotten what the plan was. Four years passed, and it was kind of the same thing over and over, musically. Having a kid helped me to see I was being silly to take it so seriously. So, I stopped over-thinking it, and things moved along. Friends helped me around the wall. I realize it’s not a big deal. If I can make an OK living doing this, that’s great, but there are other pieces to my life, worth way more.
GKW: “Mowing.” What’s the significance of the title? For me personally, when I saw the title, for some reason, I pictured you doing yard work, humming along to a new tune you had in mind.
MN: The instrumental song “Mow” was originally called “Mowing.” I thought it’d work as a title. We did go through a lot of songs. Sometimes when you mow a lawn, you come upon a little patch of something that you’re fine with keeping around.
GKW: People who gravitate towards your music always try to pin it down, to describe it and figure out just what that “Michael Nau” or “Cotton Jones” sound is. What do you see your sound as?
MN: I suppose there are natural threads that tie the songs together, years apart. But, as far as a sound, I like to feel like it keeps changing — that it can really be any way you want it. It depends what instruments are being used, who’s playing them, and so on. In a live setting it’s different. I used to feel like I should try to lock into something. I’m glad I never really did. I feel like I can explore whatever it is without thinking about it, and continue to grow. It’s not something I need to control.
GKW: It’s 2016. Is there where you saw yourself, as a person and as a musician?
MN: I’m sorry, I have no idea. Today was a nice day. I don’t know how to assess it all — I can’t. I’m less concerned about where I am as a musician. Sure, I’d like to get better at guitar, or learn to play the saxophone. But those are things I could work at. It doesn’t change anything. I think I’m more willing to admit I’m just riding the waves.
Want to go?
Acclaimed singer-songwriter Michael Nau (of Cotton Jones) will be performing at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 30, at The Grey Eagle in Asheville. He will be opening for Laura Gibson. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 day of show. www.thegreyeagle.com.
1 A modern remix of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the stage production of “The Fall of a Sparrow” at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26-27 and March 4-5 and at 2 p.m. Feb. 28 and March 6 at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville.
2 Ruth’s Chris Steak House will host a dinner consisting of a custom-created five-course menu paired with wines and spirits at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort.
3 Americana/folk singer-songwriter Scott Low will be performing at 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26, at Tipping Point Brewing in Waynesville.
4 Katy Simpson Smith will present her new novel Free Men at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.
5 The Freight Hoppers will be performing at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 3, in the Mountain Heritage Center at Western Carolina University.