Singer/Songwriter Nathan Salsburg on His New Record, ‘All Gist’

Nathan Salsburg Interview

Photo courtesy of Nathan Salsburg

As one of the more endearing singer/songwriters of his generation, Kentucky-born Nathan Salsburg never ceases to amaze with his striking imagery via song and his inspiring performances via guitar.

Salsburg’s music ranges from semi-traditional to wholly experimental, but regardless, it’s always within the listener’s grasp. Listening back to records like Landwerk No. 3 (2022), Psalms (2021), Landwerk No. 2 (2020), Landwerk (2020), Third (2018), Ambsace (2015), and Hard for To Win and Can’t Be Won (2013), you’ll find that Salsburg’s work is brimming with emotion, songsmith, and unequaled excellence via his quirky sonics, and memorable melodies.

And that’s why his latest creation, All Gist, which came about via a collaboration with fellow artist James Elkington, is so exciting. This time, Salsburg is leaning full-on toward folk, with songs like “Death Wishes to Kill,” “Numb Limbs,” and “Explanation Point” clocking in as some of his most poignant yet.

For the uninitiated, all of Nathan Salsburg’s records can be found via Band Camp and most streaming services. As for All Gist, it’s out now via Paradise of Bachelors and represents ten songs and 39 minutes of pure folk bliss. Better still, Salsburg beamed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to dig into the record and his history as a working musician.

What inspired you to become a musician, and what keeps you inspired?

My father sang and played guitar to me as a child, and I learned my first guitar chords at a farm camp in Northeastern Pennsylvania at the age of ten. The thrill and satisfaction of discovery—as a listener, researcher, collector, accompanist, and composer—and the concomitant thrill of sharing these discoveries—as a performer, record-maker, and reissue compiler—keep me inspired.

Tell me about where you grew up. What was the scene like?

Louisville, Kentucky, was home to a vibrant and exciting punk/hardcore/post-rock/adjacent-creative-music community in the ’80s and early ’90s. While it was on the national touring circuit, homegrown talent was the primary focus.

A local band with virtually no profile outside the city could bring 800-1000 kids to a Friday night show. It was a glorious period that produced tremendous music (Squirrel Bait, Slint, Palace Brothers, Crain, Rodan, Freakwater) and put Louisville deservingly on the map of wonderful weirdness.

What were some of your favorite spots to take in shows as a kid?

Tewligans (alternately known by its anadrome Snagilwet) was the primary site, c. 1990-1992, for all-ages shows. A neighborhood dive bar a few blocks from my house was where I saw most of the bands I loved in that period, with the most memorable being Fugazi in the early summer of 1990. I remember how hot the place was and how it seemed to rock on its axis when the band played “Waiting Room.” I also remember that I left the next day for Jewish summer camp, where I’d be preparing for my bar mitzvah (also swimming, playing kickball, etc.) later that summer, so I would have been 12.

How did you pick up the guitar, and what was your first guitar? 

My dad’s rendition of “Railroad Bill,” processed through several degrees of the 1960s Folk Revival, was my primary inspiration. When I showed an interest in learning to play, he quickly gave me his instrument. I think he had lost interest himself and was glad to pass it on – maybe because it was a totally Frankenstein build given to him by a friend. All I remember is that it had an Epiphone headstock and really low action, which I appreciated for my first years of playing.

Of your older work, what albums mean the most, and why? 

I feel particular affection for Hard For to Win and Can’t Be Won, which was mostly written over a year I spent in Maine trying to make a relationship work. I loved my time there, but because I knew it was temporary. I knew the relationship wouldn’t last – the whole experience was tinged with not exactly melancholy but a wistful sense of finitude. The songs functioned as kinds of monuments to my experience there, as well as the passing of time, while also existing – enduring – outside of it. May they continue to endure.

Where are you pulling from regarding songwriting for your new record, All Gist?

Jim [Elkington’ and I each brought fragments – some shorter, some longer – to the table for the other to weave his parts into. We’ve always worked that way. The pieces that I contributed were all born over a couple of months I spent in the summer of 2022 in Northwest Michigan by Lake Michigan, a place where my family and I spend a lot of time and that’s extremely conducive to creative activity.

Which song means the most to you, and why?

I suppose it’s our arrangement of “Buffalo Stance.” The idea for it came to me in a flash while I was playing my then-not-quite-two-year-old daughter the original – it hit me how melodically compelling some of the riffs are. I figured Jim would be up for the challenge and the fun of working up an arrangement together. Now, my daughter, who is almost three years old, likes our version but really loves Neneh Cherry’s.

How do you view the way you sing today versus the past? What has changed most? 

I’ve never been a super comfortable singer—which I think is obvious—and these days, I try to sing as little as possible and succeed at doing so. When I’m on stage with Joan, though, I’ll sing some harmonies, and I’m pleased that middle age has brought me a deeper register, as I think it works well alongside her voice.

Tell me about your gear: guitars, amps, pedals. 

My primary acoustic is a well-worn mid-90s Bourgeois JOM. I also play a Pleinview that I love very much, built by Raymond Morin and Adam Rousseau in Pittsburgh, modeled on a Waterloo WL-12. My only electric is a beloved 1973 walnut ES-335 I bought for $1300 from a heavy-metal guitar shop in Malibu in the early 2000s. I play it through an unremarkable and totally serviceable recent-ish [Fender] Princeton reissue. I don’t use pedals.

What’s one thing about you as a musician that you’d like people to know and understand?

I’m still buying my strings [laughs].

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