Interview with Nat Keefe, Guitar Player/ Singer Hot Buttered Rum
Hot Buttered Rum is playing with the Kyle Hollingsworth Band at The Fillmore
Hot Buttered Rum playing with the Kyle Hollingsworth Band at The Fillmore
Friday, May 4 8:00 pm
ER: Hot Buttered Rum has been in my life for as long as I can remember. You guys are one of my all-time favorite bluegrass bands. I've spent New Year's with you, danced to you at festivals, and even had the pleasure of singing along with you in the middle of a redwood forest on a Sunday afternoon at Camp Deep End. But I actually don't know — how did you guys get your start?
NK: That's sweet and so cool to hear! It's through adversity and struggle that we in Hot Buttered Rum found our brotherhood and common cause. We met in a Hoarders Anonymous support group. I'd hit rock bottom, I had National Geographics piled in my hallway and I could no longer reach my kitchen. I knew it was time for a change, and Bryan and Erik were there for me. Together we hiked in the Sierra Nevada backcountry with instruments on our backs. We set out to make a high altitude bluegrass, a west coast high n lonesome sound. Lofty aspirations! It's been a pretty rambling 19.5-year ride, with some big ups and big downs.
ER: How do you guys continue to develop as a band even as people have moved to different places — I think Erik is in Colorado and Zeb is in Portland?
NK: We make a point of getting together before or between tours. We might rehearse more hours now than when we lived in three corners of the Bay with bridges between us!! Last week we played Lucidity Festival in Santa Barbara then holed up at our friend's beautiful permaculture farm before going on to the Bender Festival in Las Vegas. They set us up with a lovely cobb-built house tucked up the canyon aways. We just played music for two days, went running, cooked food and drank beer. When you've got open time like that you can be really loose. We worked out lots of new songs and also worked out bigger picture things. The guys asked me to teach some Ghanaian drumming polyrhythms that I'd learned over there. We were hitting on drums, then playing body percussion, then we put the rhythms on the strings! Good stuff.
ER: You have found a way to make being a musician very interesting. Like that time you went to Africa…and those white water trips…tell us more about all of that…
NK: I usually focus more on the women and drugs than the music part…. But the music is super fun too… (laughing) And you're right, we strive to find ways to keep ourselves challenged and engaged. The Middle Fork of the Salmon River trips have been an opportunity to play in some extremely beautiful and remote places. It's not our most profitable week but it fills some other accounts. This year we're mixing it up and bringing Bill Nershi from String Cheese Incident. A special six days for us… and for the 20 guests too! And my three trips to Ghana have been an awesome opportunity for learning and sharing, and recording album Girl Thursday with Ghanaian musicians, Erik from HBR, Bonnie form Elephant Revival, and others. (I just put this on Spotify, so you can check it out, I'm really proud of it. Under Nat Keefe.)
ER: I recently did an article for Marin Magazine about people finding a work-life-music balance, but you are someone who's made the choice to go all-in on his musical career, as well as being a Dad and husband. How do you make it work?
NK: I'm glad you think I'm making it work! To start with, I got Butter off the ground before having kids and that was good to do before parenthood. We worked so friggin hard! So much time on the road. Now I've got a three year old and one year old. Last year at this time, with a new baby and a toddler, it took everything my wife and I had just to tread water. Things are a bit more manageable now and I've begun to wake up from the sleep-deprived daze. I've been feeling ambition and my old hyper-active energy again! I'm putting a lot of time into Butter, and also working on a bluegrass trio, Lost Radio Flyers, and a solo electronic/vinyl dance music project called Beat Mower. I'm fired up to spend so much time with my two beautiful boys and be doing music. Often people have to choose one or the other.
ER: What's next for Hot Buttered Rum?
NK: We've got the run of shows this week: 2 nights in Sacramento, then Santa Cruz, the SF Fillmore, Tahoe, Chico. Most of those shows are co-bills with (String Cheese Incident's) Kyle Hollingsworth Band. We're about to release a new album, "Lonesome Panoramic" which we recorded above Stinson Beach. It was our un-concept album. Just five dudes hanging out in a mansion on Panoramic Highway following their bliss. It ended up very bluegrass, several songs with mandolin and no drums. There are also some mid tempo Americana rockers with lots of 12-string and Nashville-tuned guitars, which I chalk up to the passing of Tom Petty and having his music in my ears a bunch. There are some songs I've been keeping in my back pocket for a long time, like "Leaving Dallas" and "Spirits Still Come." They've been the shy kids hiding in their mother's skirts but I'm glad they're seeing the light of day. "Sprits" is a heavy one, about my aunt passing away. I wasn't sure I'd share it with the world but it's feeling good to sing it out.