Local Listen — The Music of Nate Todd Incites Change by Making Society Personal

Nearly four years since we last spoke with Nate Todd, the ever-versatile and impressively flexible multi-instrumentalist is releasing his latest full-length solo album this Friday, February 16. Like his last two solo records, this next one — aptly titled Empty City — follows the tradition of the album diligently following its theme throughout.

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Like the last record, Revolutionary Loser, the new album is the vessel for Todd’s social and societal commentary and the way through which the artist does his part to incite thought, some slight discomfort, and — hopefully — change. While time does change things, those things Todd finds faulty with our world have neither been fixed nor have they disappeared and personalizing these faults is what Empty City achieves within its nine tracks.

From learning how to play drums at seven years old under his “uncle’s tutelage,” Todd gained that “sense of solid rhythmic foundation [that] is so key to developing as a musician.” As a teenager, Todd picked up his dad’s guitar and was quick to discover the high level of competition for guitarists. Then came the bass, until one day in 2005 a bandmate picked it up himself. “There was a keyboard in the room and I figured, ‘Well, I play this now.'” This positively malleable energy and eagerness to learn and try new things ultimately helped to bring about Empty City, which was written completely on keys.

The material for Empty City was in the works not long after the release of Revolutionary Loser, which coincidentally coincided with the election of November 2020, and a shift in American society as we knew it. Todd, a natural-born musician and activist had to speak up once again. Reading one of his old “cinema studies textbooks, Film Noir by Andrew Spicer,” Todd found a passage that illuminated the theme that would shape Empty City:

“…the city is corrupt, disorientating and threatening, often depicted as a dark, confusing labyrinth, a nightmare city that is the seamy but enticing underside to respectable American life. This city is an emphatically masculine world, concentrating on male ambitions and lusts; and, it must be emphasized, their fears and paranoias.”

“That passage planted the seed for the title track to Empty City and the whole record,” Todd said. Arguably more serious and certainly less tangible than democracy itself, Todd felt that something deeper was being threatened during and after the 2020 election — “What’s under threat is being kind to your fellow human, compassion, love and truth.” What to do? “Address the psychological effects of the pandemic, gun violence, police brutality, inequality and mental wellness,” which is the intention behind Empty City.“Like a film, it’s meant to be listened to in one sitting.”  

Todd wrote, produced, mixed and mastered Empty City, with his father, Rick Todd, providing additional production and mixing. The album features Todd playing all instruments, “save for an outstanding performance from my Flash Mountain Flood bandmate Kevin D’Angelo.” That’s another fabulous thing about Todd’s musicianship — he seamlessly flexes between his solo work and playing with other bands. He also co-founded Whiskey Tango at the beginning of the 2010s, which he referred to as the “renaissance in the music scene” in Denver and the Front Range. 

2024 looks like it will be on an upward trajectory for Todd, with Empty City being his first record to be pressed on vinyl. He’ll also be kicking off the album release tour in his “old Texas stomping grounds, “playing a stripped-down concert in my hometown of Amarillo at Chalice Abbey” and reconnecting with more old bandmates for shows at Houston’s 8th Wonder Brewery and Austin’s Green Mesquite. On March 30, he’ll be joined by his bandmates from Flash Mountain Flood for the album’s official release party at The Woodcellar in Evergreen.

Listen to Empty City by Nate Todd here.