Indie alternative band Nature’s Neighbor released their single “Monday Morning Drive” on March 12. The single is the first release from the group’s upcoming album, Otherside, releasing May 14. Like most songs on Otherside, “Monday Morning Drive” was written remotely via email. It was written during the first wave of COVID-19 and is about feeling grateful for health and the companionship of loved ones. The song features a voicemail exchange between band members Terrill and Brandon where Terrill checked in on Brandon’s family during the pandemic.
With a soft acoustic backing and mellow vocal layerings, “Monday Morning Drive” is a gentle reminder to hold even the most simple privileges tight and never take anything for granted. “While making this album, it really felt like the world was falling apart all around us and I think the songs strongly reflect that feeling,” says Terrill. “We poured all our fear, joy, and reflection into this album.” Band member Mike Walker says Otherside quickly came together when the group just continuously wrote and created new songs. “Monday Morning Drive” reflects the eclectic, but easy listens that fans will find on Otherside.
Nature’s Neighbor was formed in 2010 by Mike Walker, Daniel Lee (You Folk) and Mike Nardone while they completed their studies at Columbia College Chicago and were all living in Lincoln Park under the same roof. In the fall of that year, they began writing and recording songs at home for their debut album, You Me And The People, which took about 13 months to produce before its release in November of 2011. By that time, the group had all moved out of the Lincoln Park house and were living in separate parts of Illinois. This, combined with the ability to use the internet as a meeting ground for their ideas and contributions, made them rethink the notion of Nature’s Neighbor being more of a collective rather than a standard band with fixed members.
Since their debut, they have released at least one album every year with a rotating lineup of musicians, the only constantly recurring members being Walker, Terrill Mast (Murphy Mast), and Seth Engel (Options). Each collection of songs has a different sound and feel due to its unique cast of characters, and the band has placed great importance in their open door policy as the years have gone by. For example, although Walker is the primary vocalist there have been many others who have contributed their own lyrics and melodies, such as his wife, Cheer Zhao, who sings occasionally in both English and Mandarin. For their 12th release, Otherside, Nature’s Neighbor introduced Benni Perkins (Benni Blue) into the mix as their bassist and featured vocalist. Inclusivity, evolution, and change are the core tenets of this group. They want Nature’s Neighbor to be a vehicle for any of their musician friends to tell their own stories. It constantly keeps things new and interesting, and prevents them from making the same album twice.
How has COVID-19 affected you, your band, your community?
Well, it has and it hasn’t. We didn’t play that many shows in 2019, so when live performances came to a screeching halt we weren’t devastated, just bummed out. I certainly feel bad for my friends that had to cancel big tours, but in a way it has sort of leveled the playing field a bit which is very interesting to observe. Since no one can play live, people have had to figure out other ways to connect with their fans. That being said, we recorded our last two albums in a studio and the pandemic made that impossible, so we resorted to recording at home and emailing ideas to each other. But we have made albums in that long distance style before the pandemic so the process wasn’t uncharted territory.
What is your relationship like with Social Media and how does it play a role in your music career?
I used to ignore social media like the plague, but at the same time I would be disappointed in the lack of response to our releases. I was really shirking the responsibility to promote my own work. Doing your own PR is a big part of the whole DIY process and ignoring the marketing side of things because you think it’s “beneath you” as an artist is a great way to get yourself nowhere really fast. I had to learn that the hard way I guess, so over the past three years I have started to embrace social media and the massive role it plays in getting my music out there. I am glad that I came around to accept it as part of the process, but at the same time I do feel myself slowly becoming addicted to that small serotonin hit that comes with getting likes and gaining followers—which does worry me. I think it’s up to each individual to regulate themselves when it comes to social media and to take breaks when you feel like you need to.
How have you encompassed live streaming into your performances? If so, what is your favorite platform?
I have not done any livestreams on platforms like Instagram just yet. But during the end of 2020 I started taking our YouTube channel way more seriously. I make a point of uploading a new video every three days. The videos I upload are usually of me performing original songs or covers and sometimes I make long distance collab videos with other members of the band. It’s definitely my favorite platform and I think it is important to remain fairly consistent with it. It’s a great way to connect with new and old fans.
How do you see the music industry changing after this global pandemic?
Well, I think for many people, masks are here to stay. There are so many people that desperately want to go back to how things used to be before the pandemic but I don’t think that is necessarily going to happen. The shows we usually played were more in the DIY house show side of things and I do think that someday people will start putting on basement shows again but I don’t know, maybe we’ll start seeing that guy who takes five-dollar bills at the door also holding a thermometer gun. That’d be a weird sight but I personally wouldn’t have a problem with it.
What are you working on right now?
Besides the rollout for our upcoming album ‘Otherside’ we are currently working on a new 10-track album that combines ambient music and folk in a way that has been really exciting for us. It is our first album that dives deeply into the ambient side of things and we are making it alongside an incredibly talented artist named WILK. We should be able to release it this fall if everything goes according to plan.