Stories of how bands come together are rarely interesting. Musician A is introduced to musician B who knows musician C and they all start playing together. That’s usually all there is to it. It always seems to happen gradually, too. Gradual things are usually boring.
Natural Child is not boring, and neither is the story of its formation. The Nashville garage band’s creation tale has been told so many times—it’s even in Natural Child’s
all-caps Facebook bio—that it has practically become a myth. Of course, it bears repeating.
“We were eating weed brownies and we had been wanting to do our own band, but we didn’t really know what yet,” bassist Wes Traylor remembers. “It just sort of struck me and I called Seth and said, ‘We’re going to make all our rock ‘n’ roll dreams come true together.’”
As is the case with almost every musician with a dream in this country, the three members of Natural Child—Traylor, drummer Zack Martin, who was present when the call was made, and guitarist Seth Murray, who was on the other end of the line—had been playing gigs around their hometown, waiting for some serendipitous moment to catapult them into a position where their passion could be their living. Usually weed perpetuates this state of waiting, but for Natural Child it allowed for a divine moment of inspiration, which in turn led to what might be one of history’s greatest examples of actually following through on a wildly ambitious plan made while stoned.
Kids, don’t try this at home. Natural Child’s members are professionals.
For the next two years Traylor, Martin and Murray drove around the country in one of two mini-vans, making their aforementioned rock ‘n’ roll dreams come true. They average over 200 dates a year. They also wrote. A lot. It was just the three of them.
“That probably had a lot to do with why we were able to write for two years straight,” says Traylor. “It was just the three of us listening to music all day and talking about what we wanted to do. We weren’t necessarily writing. We were just talking about ideas. We came up with stuff really fast.”
The result was essentially a trilogy of albums. The first two, For The Love Of The Game and Hard In Heaven, were released on Los Angeles’ Burger Records in March and September of 2012, respectively. The farther you move inland from the West Coast and its plentitude of lo-fi psych rock, the fewer Burger bands you’re going to find. But the rough-around-the-edges charm of Natural Child’s garage rock made Burger, who initially approached the band at SXSW about releasing a cassette, a natural pairing. Traylor also notes how if you visit Burger’s Fullerton offices, as the band usually does when they’re in California, “you better be ready to smoke one never-ending bowl.” That probably helps, too.
For The Love Of The Game and Hard In Heaven, the latter of which was recorded in only three days, are perfect representations of the devil-may-care rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle the band led on their initial two-year tear through the country’s dive venues, sounding like a sloppy Rolling Stones in the best way possible. Their songs are for getting drunk, tilting your head back and singing along, for hunching over, stomping your feet and clapping in rhythm. They’re raw and raucous and deeply indebted to Nashville while at the same time exhibiting a kind of lackadaisical stoner affect that, again, reminds listeners why they fit so well on Burger’s roster of artists.
But the trilogy’s final piece, Dancin’ With Wolves, which Burger will release Feb. 25, took a little longer to come together, and with good reason. After putting out For The Love Of The Game and recording Hard In Heaven in March and May of 2012, respectively, Natural Child began to crave a more family band-style live sound, inspired by listening Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings while on the road.
”[We were listening to] big bands with a lot of members that would play for like an hour and a half in the ‘70s,” says Traylor. “We wanted a live show like that.”
They brought in fellow Nashvillian Luke Schneider to play pedal steel, and to man the keys they recruited Benny Divine out of New Orleans, whom Traylor calls “one of the greatest musicians I’ve ever met” even though he initially resisted joining the band for fear that he wasn’t good enough. For the rest of the year they tightened the new dynamic on stage and, early in 2013, went into the studio to cut Dancin’ With Wolves.
Recording for the first time as a five-piece, Dancin’ With Wolves easily became the most fleshed-out, polished and complete record Natural Child had to their name. The wild spirit is still there on songs like “Saturday Night Blues” and “Firewater Liquor,” but the rough edges have been bevelled. Dancin’ was approached with a greater sense of care and craftsmanship than anything they’d done previously, and when the presence of Schneider’s pedal steel and Divine’s keys are added to the mix, the resultant sound brings to mind Neil Young, Canned Heat, Bob Dylan, The Band and a number of other influences from the ‘70s in a way that is far easier to discern.
“We got a lot of things done on that record that we’d been trying to do for a couple of years.” says Traylor.
Now Natural Child is at home in Nashville, working on their next album, Okie Dokie, and relaxing before they head to SXSW and then out on tour with The Black Lips.
“We’ve been touring more than 200 days a year for like three years,” says Murray. “It’s really nice to just take a minute not to do that. We made it. We didn’t kill each other. We’re strong.”
“We don’t want to burn ourselves out and we don’t have to,” adds Traylor. “We get to sit at home and make a little bit of money. It’s nice.”
In other words, their passion has finally become their living.