Mimicking Birds: The Best of What's Next

Music Features Mimicking Birds
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Portland, Ore., native Nate Lacy gives thanks for a lot of things. The piano lessons that first introduced him to the world of music as a gradeschooler. The guitar he later picked up out of curiosity, and the TASCAM four-track recorder he then learned how to implement to quietly capture his various vocal and instrumental musings on disc under the odd moniker of Mimicking Birds. But mainly, he’s grateful for his current 32-hours-a-week hotel straight job—which has helped sustain him throughout the lengthy process of tracking his new sophomore set, Eons—and his sympathetic boss who kindly gave him the time off to undertake Mimicking Birds’ current comprehensive tour.

“They’re a big company with a few hotels in town, so they can move people around a lot,” says Lacy, 29, sighing with relief. “And I’m a decent worker, so they’ve been really cool with me. I’m a bellman and valet, and I do room service and other duties like that.” And he’s seen some things on the clock. Scary things. “And things in some rooms that I would have been better off not seeing, some, uhh, personal items,” he adds. “But the place has got a really cool energy, because I used to work construction for a long time, and it was awful. It was so physically taxing, it rarely left me time to work on musical stuff.”

Lacy is also pleased with his schedule. “I can’t do any more than four days a week, especially with trying to work on the music,” he explains. “And three days off is just great—you have the time to devote to anything creative you’re working, and take care of any personal stuff, too.” Which perfectly fits the man’s songwriting modus operandi—he’s slow, meticulous and it’s taken him nearly a decade to get from private bedroom recordings to his recent signing to—appropriately enough—the Glacial Pace imprint, run by Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock. “Time has just kind of flown by,” Lacy murmurs, almost to himself.

Ergo, Eons feels thoughtful, carefully considered, adrift in gentle, mostly acoustic chiming and Lacy’s feathery, reverb-edged ruminations. In the piano-pulsed “Acting Your Age,” his words are so condensed, compressed in the verses in the verses that they practically scramble over each other trying to escape, until the spacious, expansive chorus gives them room to breathe. Over a military drumbeat in “Owl Hoots,” he marches like a Cub Scout through a nocturnal forest, a trek that continues into the subsequent backwoods-rustic reflection “Spent Winter.” Amid sci-fi sound effects and a stop-start percussion pattern in “Seeing Eye Dog,” he compares notes with a canine companion, apparently leading him to his next otherworldly experience.

Lacy makes no bones about it. The amateur mycologist absolutely adores nature, and he spends many of his off days hiking, camping, fishing and foraging for edible mushrooms like the basketful of morels he just collected on a tour stop in Virginia. He even incorporated a field recording of a great horned owl into “Owl Hoots,” he says. “Because I’ve definitely heard those around my area, and I see them a lot when I’m out mushroom hunting. But they see me first, I’m sure.” He’s a pet lover, too. “I’ve always been a cat man,” he says. “So I have a cat named Carmelo. He’s a Bengal and he’s my buddy.”

Across such a verdant backdrop, this lone wolf has always howled in private. When he began composing, it was only to amuse himself. “I was just making the songs, one song at a time, just as an art form,” he recalls. “I didn’t really plan on doing anything with them. I was just learning how to play the guitar and learning how music is made, and slowly progressing. I was making something that was very personal to me, and I enjoyed that process—writing a song, recording it, shaping it, mixing it down, having it, and then moving on to the next one. Until they started piling up.”

That’s when a close friend of Lacy’s named Jason Scribner stepped in. Having heard said stockpile of quirky, quiescent material, he slyly forwarded some to Brock without telling his chum. And Brock was duly impressed. Again, however, a contract didn’t materialize overnight. “He sent me a message on MySpace at first, saying ‘Hey, we’re Glacial Pace and we really want to talk to you about your music and where you want to go with it’,” Lacy says. “So I gave him my other contact info, but then several months went by. And then (Brock) called me randomly one morning and said he’d definitely been a fan, had been for a long time, and that he really liked my darker stuff.” Then? More months elapsed before the pair finally met, face to face.

Soon after signing in 2008 (an eponymous debut arrived two years later) Lacy and Brock got to know each other quite well, very soon. Mimicking Birds had rarely played live, and was a far cry from the fleshed-out combo it is today, when Modest Mouse hired the group as its opening act for a 20-date juggernaut. It was worse than a trial by fire, Lacy moans. “I got thrown to the dogs there. I got eaten up. I mean, most bands build up to something like that, you know?” Instead of staring dumbfounded at Modest Mouse’s huge crowds, he did his best to focus on playing his intricate songs well. Now that he’s more seasoned as a performer, he’s started to flip the script. “I’ve been working on playing off the energy of a crowd instead of pretending they’re not there, and that has, in turn, helped me focus and play my songs even better,” he says. “I’m still a bit timid. But I’m gaining more and more confidence.”

Lacy admits that there are moments when Mimicking Birds overlaps with his doorman gig. Sometimes a lyric or chord change for a song he’s been working on will pop into his head, mid-morning-shift, and he’ll have to grab a piece of hotel stationery to scribble it down. “Because I’ve let some ideas slip away that I wish I hadn’t,” he sighs. Have any guests ever discovered his secret identity? No, he swears. “I try to keep Mimicking Birds on the side, you know? And if I gave somebody my CD, I think they’d feel obligated to have a reaction. So it’s almost better to have never done that, than to give them a CD and have them not say a thing about it!”

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