So, you’re in one of the 21st century’s biggest bands. You play internationally loved songs on enormous stages. You’ve done pretty bloody well out of bass playing, essentially. And now you want to progress.
If you’re Nate Mendel – of Foo Fighters fame, as well as Sunny Day Real Estate and the Fire Theft – you do this by taking singing lessons, picking up a guitar and cutting an excellent record as Lieutenant U.S. Three years in the making, it’s an impressively textured, stirring work of pop rock; pensive, gauzy harmonies one minute, harder rock hooks the next.
“I hadn’t written songs for anybody, I hadn’t played guitar for anyone, so I was fairly nervous about it,” Mendel says of the recording process, for which he enlisted members of Helmet and The Shins, among others. “I don’t wanna waste anybody’s time. But it turned out to be fun and creative.”
Of the record’s man-sized title – deep breath… If I Kill This Thing We’re All Going To Eat For A Week – Mendel assures us it’s not based on personal slaughtering experience. “I’m a big fan of the show Survivor,” he chuckles. “But yeah, I love that turn of phrase. There’s a hint of an existential question in it: ‘If everything works out we’ll be okay for a minute. But then we’ll have to figure it all out again.’”
The dominant lyrical themes are similarly deep ’n’ meaningful, despite certain reservations: “I really don’t like love songs,” Mendel laughs. “But it happened to be the place that I was at in my life, where it was time for me to think about what that means. [He married girlfriend Kate Jackson in November 2014]. Basically, a lot of it’s about the position of the self inside of a bond between people; how much of yourself do you give up to create that kind of bond, that we humans seem so driven to create?”
For a man who initially got into music via 80s hardcore, Lieutenant U.S. marks a notable career trajectory point. “A lot of people of my generation followed the same kind of path,” he muses. “We figured out a lot in that hardcore environment. That’s a young man’s game. As you become a better musician your interests move on. These days I want things to be layered and complex, but also immediately catchy.”
Looking to future Lieutenant U.S. opportunities, Mendel’s ambitions are clear – having played just two gigs to date. “I made this record with no pre-conditions, so it’s pretty varied. In future I’d like to focus on one area more. I wanna make this a fuckin’ party,” he enthuses. “That’s a weird thing to say for somebody who’s such an introvert, but I like that.”
As for nerves about stepping into the solo spotlight. “I’m not particularly nervous,” he says, “because I’m not going to read the reviews. I’m glad I made it, and I’m proud of it.”
FOR FANS OF…
“I get inspired by Talking Heads,” says Nate Mendel. “My record doesn’t sound so like that, but I’m totally inspired by everything about them. They’re probably my favourite band. Remain In Light would be the record I’d choose, because it’s so incredibly beautiful and complex, but funky as well.”
If I Kill This Thing is out now via Dine Alone Records.