When Israel Nash moved down to the Texas Hill Country seven years ago, he didn't realize just how large an impact the endless rolling hills, open range and limitless skies would have on his creativity. It was just over two years ago that Nash began building his Dripping Springs studio, Plum Creek Sound, an ever-evolving Quonset hut structure that has slowly but surely come into its own. Now, with his forthcoming full-length Lifted, the genre-bending rock 'n' roller begins to fully explore that space with a transformative soundscape that reflects his hill country home.
On "SpiritFalls," Nash guides us through a dreamy and imaginative odyssey. Built around a shimmering guitar melody and ornate piano, "SpiritFalls" sweeps across like a gentle glide across a cloudless sky. The Cascades of familial harmony vocals are sweet to the taste with a sun-kissed warmth.
"I've had a lot of silence and quiet times out here," Nash tells Wide Open Country. "It's a lot of time thinking. It's being in my own head and trying to get out. 'SpiritFalls' is about seeing my own reflection. There's a lot of self-inquiry on the song."
"You are scattered like light from a sunbeam, piercing the heart of an oak tree that tower if not for the pines. You're spinning me out of my mind," sings Nash on the chorus. It finds the Americana artist searching through a meditative state. That self-reflection is in many respects the culmination of his time out in the rolling hills of Texas and understanding what it's given to his creative flow.
Still, even while "SpiritFalls" soars for some incredibly powerful and dynamic moments, it isn't just that. It slowly unravels and unwinds into a toned down intimacy that draws you in slowly. A choir of chirping crickets helps set the mood. Soon, you see Nash venture off into the cool night for a solitary stroll. As Nash says, "at times you're at the foot of the mountain looking up and others you're on top looking at the great far-reaching view."
Emersed in the Moment
Those crickets, are in part, a series of various field recordings done by Nash and company that help ground Lifted in a very specific world--namely, the one in which he has created at Plum Creek Sound and his Texas ranch home. It's become a sanctuary and muse for Nash. Inspired by the experimental methods of John Cage, Nash uses these "room sounds" to add a lived-in texture. He then randomized the sounds before rearranging them according to the I Ching (The Book of Changes).
Throughout the album, there are drum sounds captured from rain collection tanks, water rushing against limestone, frogs, leaves rustling in the wind and even a rattlesnake. They're undoubtedly unique, but there's still a comforting familiarity to them.
"I was drawn to these ideas of being mindful and present of the moment," says Nash. "We tried to incorporate this woven fabric of sound that says something about the place where these songs are being created."
More so, like previously shared singles "Rolling On" and "Lucky Ones," "SpiritFalls" finds Nash contemplating existential questions. That exploration sets the tone. At times, he zooms in for small, detailed observations. Other times, it's grandiose and expansive. Still, they're not too dissimilar from one another. They offer a necessary context. In short, it's when you're aware of just how insignificant you are in the grand scale that you realize just how important and vital the small fine points are. That strong maturing perspective is one of Lifted's most transcendent qualities.
Texas Hill Country Inspiration
"When we first moved here, it was just meant to be close to Austin," says Nash. "But getting out here, slowing down and really connecting with nature, it's all really changed my life, which in turn has impacted the art. There's this emotional and spiritual impact. It's been trying to create sounds that mimicked the feeling I got out here."
For the first time, Nash, co-producer and engineer Ted Young (Kurt Vile, The Rolling Stones) and his longtime band were accompanied by a string and horn sections. With the help of Jesse Chandler (Mercury Rev, Midlake), Nash was able to add a bed of arrangements that created a newer depth. They were joined by Kelsey Wilson and Sadie Wolf (Wild Child) on strings and members of Austin's cumbia/funk compadre's Grupo Fantasma on horns.
"Music is such a visual thing to me. It's really a sonic picture," says Nash. "Records from guys like Van Morrison and Phil Spector, they always had a great string and horn sections. There's so much emotion brought on by strings. Nothing cues you into a specific space quite like a song that blends these soundscapes."
At times, you get lost within Nash's world of multi-hued rock and vibrant sonic palette. Songs bleed into one another creating a vivid presentation. It ebbs and flows. You're fully immersed in Lifted. It's something Nash describes as a "3-D kind of sound."
"At the studio, we have these big double doors that open up," says Nash. "There's this big wooden deck as well. That view is always a part of it." It's in those little sparks of inspiration that ultimately drive Nash and company forward for an ambitious and boundless spiritual epic.
Lifted is due out July 27 via Desert Folklore Music and Thirty Tigers.