By Brenda Hillegas
You most likely know Michael Nau as one half of the duo Cotton Jones, a band he formed with his wife, Whitney McGraw, that blends indie-pop, Americana and psychedelic folk influences. Their signature sound led them to a record deal with Seattle’s Suicide Squeeze Records, and for the last eight years, Nau and his wife have written songs with a rotating cast of characters. Now that Nau and McGraw have a family, however, getting on the road together isn’t always the easiest task. As a result, he dusted off a stockpile of notes, ideas and half recorded tracks and crafted it into a debut solo album, Mowing, set for release on February 19th.
“Mowing is compiled from several mini-sessions,” Nau explained, when I had the chance to pick his brain about his new musical direction. “We were planning to do a large group, more like a collection, scattered 25-30 songs. The number sized down to 11, which seemed to work alright together. With previous records, we’d record an album’s worth of songs over about a two-week period. With this, it was just a matter of picking a few – there were a few options with different track lists, and this is the one that stuck.”
Releasing the tracks as Michael Nau– rather than creating a pseudonym or a specific project name– felt right. “I thought about calling it something else,” he confessed. “I don’t know… this seems like the most flexible option. At this point – it can happen in different forms. Plus, I think that this particular group of songs combines the various recording processes. I’m not constrained by any perception of how it’s supposed to be. They’re just random recordings – it’ll all change in a live setting.”
Right now, Nau has no plans for a tour, though. Or even a release party. It just seemed important for him to finally release this collection of older songs and ideas. According to Nau, Mowing’s lead single, “Winter Beat,” was actually recorded about five or six years ago. “We agreed to start [with that single] and it felt fine.”
Parts of Mowing were recorded in Cumberland, Maryland, where he and his wife currently live. Other locations included Nashville, Burlington, VT and Groton, CT. It seems fitting that this album wasn’t created in just one place. As with Cotton Jones, the songs on the album had a myriad of influences and many contributors, including (unsurprisingly) wife Whitney, Will Brown, Benny Yurco, Kenny Tompkins, Scott McMicken, Seth Kauffman, Oliver Gebhardt, Greg Bender, Josh Grapes and Ryan Spellman.
As Nau points out, finding a great set of collaborators can make the process a breeze. “The songs I’m most pleased with are those that were recorded with a band, together in a room. They’re the most recent of the group. There’s not as much thinking involved, everyone just does their thing. It happens once, really quickly, and then you move on. Even with the post-production, song selection – I have a lot of people to thank for stitching it up.”
Michael Nau is excited about moving forward as a singer-songwriter, even if, at the moment, that largely means unearthing the past. He has years of lost songs that he hopes to one day share with his fans, so expect more material before you know it. For now, you can pre-order Mowing via Suicide Squeeze Records here.