Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Members: Nate Martinez, Dan Brantigan, Josh Kaufman, Andy Nauss
Album: Behold, This Dreamer!
For Fans Of: The National, The Antlers, Wild Beasts
You probably haven’t read Behold, This Dreamer! Walter de la Mare was a moderately famous author who wrote moderately famous poems. Behold, This Dreamer! was one of his lesser-known anthologies, which he edited and published in 1939. “I love the title’s syntax,” says Nate Martinez, the man behind Thieving Irons. “Behold. Comma. This Dreamer. Exclamation mark.”
Martinez was in creative limbo when he walked into a bookstore in Chicago. Behold, This Dreamer! seemed to present itself to him. “I remember reading the cover page: ‘Behold, This Dreamer! Of reverie, night, sleep, dream, love-dreams, nightmare, death, the unconscious, the imagination, divination, the artist and kindred subjects.’ At first I just thought, ‘What the fuck?’” Inexplicably it all started to make sense, the thoughts of ambition, freshness, loneliness, vulnerability and hope were all given firepower by this little book, its existence completely insubstantial until he saw it. It was fate, magic, happenstance or a long-overdue artistic spark depending on the way you look at it.
Martinez would buy this book and share its name with his album, but he would never read it—perhaps instead opting to preserve the magnitude of its bursting first-impression. The book would become something of an abstracted spirit-guide for the record he was making, like it was the tether between all of his ideas. Behold, This Dreamer! is an album made with close friends in a particularly fertile, focused environment. The songs are wrought, considered, purposeful—delicately structured and impeccably stated. It’s pretense-less guitar-framed rock ’n’ roll, but with a cosmic, almost startling energy. Rarely does something so ostensibly commonplace call for such meditations.
Nate Martinez takes music very seriously, and he certainly always knew he wanted to be in a band. In fact, his story is shared in countless American youths. He grew up playing along to Hendrix before falling in love with grunge. By high school he was reading the right magazines and hanging out around the right record stores, slowly becoming cognizant of the emerging slackjaw indie-rock scene around him, (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was of particular importance.) He ended up in college, majoring in music and fixing himself as a jazz musician. It was there he met Josh Kaufman and Andy Nauss. “We just hit it off immediately in the first week of school, so we decided to form a band. Two weeks later we had a gig and it just blossomed from there.”
Fifteen years later, they’re playing the songs Martinez is writing. He talks about it almost as if it’s a family reunion, old friends getting back together, returning to the bonds that initially solidified their relationships. “It wasn’t a band really,” says Martinez, “we just kinda got together in a studio to see what happened. It came together so easily, it confirmed that we were supposed to be making music together. I hope that when people listen to the record they get a flowing, natural experience, which is what we felt recording it.”
Behold, This Dreamer! does not redraw borders or break down walls; in fact, I doubt it will incite any fiery debate. Thieving Irons is gloriously above all that. Instead it presents wonderfully, confidently powerful pop songs, dictated by a particularly keyed-in songwriter. It’s the sort of album that makes plenty of other bands look like they’re underachieving. It’s living proof that ruffled old indie-rock tradition doesn’t have to be boring, that its treaded aesthetics can still feel urgently fresh given the right care. You get the sense that Nate Martinez is willing to put in the hard work. “We’re just trying to make good music” he says towards the end of our conversation. He’ll go far with a goal that noble.