Interview with: Nelson Kempf of Old Believers

Jason Quigley

Photo: Jason Quigley

Last week I got the chance to chat with folk pop outfit Old Believers. Nelson Kempf manned the phone but band mate Keely Boyle was at his side and chimed in every once and while. We discussed everything from Alaska to the East Coast.

Check out what Nelson had to say and also preview “That’s All” below:

Jessica, PopWreckoning: How did you personally first get involved with music?
Nelson Kempf, Old Believers: As music fans, I guess. There’s a really strong choir program in my town in Alaska, where we’re from. I think that was kind of.
I grew up a lot with my grandma who listens to a lot of classic country music and bluegrass music. I think that I really have a lot of nostalgia for those sounds. That turned me onto a lot of that kind of music.
There’s also quite a bit of music in my family, so it’s kind of a natural thing.

PW: How did you and Keely meet and start making music together?
NK: Keely’s dad was my English teacher in middle school. Our parents went to high school together, so our families knew each other. At some point in high school we finally met. I don’t even know how, some kind of school program. Then we just kind of hit it off and started playing guitars together and eventually formed a band. We played in blues rock bands and cover bands in high school together, and decided to continue afterwards.

: As Alaskan natives what prompted the move to Portland?
NK: We were originally planning on moving to Seattle — Keely has family in Seattle, and we wanted to be on the water. Our drummer that was in our band originally told us to go to Portland because there is just so much going on there, so we were like, “OK. We’ll do it.”
He didn’t end up going with us but we decided to follow through with our plan anyway.
PW: I’ve been to Seattle — it’s gorgeous — but not Portland. I do hear great things about it, though, especially the music scene.
NK: It’s great!

PW: You’re sound encompasses so many different styles without being overwhelming or becoming muddled with all that’s going on — who were your musical influences growing up and now evolving?
NK: Everything, really. For Eight Golden Greats we were listening to a lot of Patsy Cline and a lot of electronic music: Hot Chip and David Byrne and Brian Eno. Also The Smiths and Mount Eerie or The Microphones, The Talking Heads, Mississippi John Hurt. A lot of everything.
For the album we were definitely trying to fill out a nostalgic sound. I think I naturally went those ports — roots and Americana music. It’s just warm and homey.

“That’s All”

PW: The new album, Eight Golden Greats, is beautiful. What did you guys learn from the making of the Some Songs By Old Believers EP that you were able to apply to the new record?
NK: We actually started the new record before the EP. When we left Alaska we started recording Eight Golden Greats. We ran out of money because we’d been recording in a professional studio, but we had a little 8 track recorder album and a microphone. We didn’t have enough money to continue working on the project so we decided that we would do something simple. Just something to represent us. We made Some Songs By Old Believers in the mean time while we continued to save money.

PW: Two of the songs made it on the EP – “Waltz #3” and “There It Is” — how did they make the cut from the EP to the album and the others didn’t?
NK: Those were already set. Some Songs By Old Believers was kind of on a whim. We just recorded in our apartment so it didn’t need a lot of planning. We just wanted to make it simple so we just recorded the songs we were playing a lot live at the time.
They were just kind of fresh in mind so it was just a natural thing. There wasn’t really any intention there, as far as having songs on both albums.

: Speaking of touring, do you guys plan on hitting the east coast to tour the new album, since you recently finished up a west coast tour?
NK: In March we toured the US. We’re kind of tired. We’ve had an apartment for a year and we haven’t had a lot of time here. Everything we own is in storage. We really want to get back to Portland and settle down and start thinking about a new record.

PW: So even though you don’t want to tour for a while, if you could put together a dream tour, who would you want to share the stage with?
NK: Oh, man. That’s a good question. [to Keely in background] Dream tour, anyone living or dead, who would you want to share the stage with?
[Keely inaudible]
NK: Nooo… [pause] Keely says Billie Holiday.
PW: That’s a good answer! I like that answer, Keely.
NK: I’d say, more that I’d love to tour with them than it would work really well: The Talking Heads. We both love The Talking Heads. For the “Stop Making Sense Tour” maybe the Funkadelic players. That would be really fun.

: What are you guys listening to right now? Anything new and good or some stuff that’s classic?
NK: I just bought the new Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy record. They’re awesome. I just bought a Microphones record, Mount Eerie. No New York, it’s a New Wave compilation by Brian Eno. Get Lonely by the Mountain Goats.
A lot of Portland music. There are so many great Portland bands. There’s a band called Doubledutch that just released a CD that’s awesome that you should send everybody out to check out. And then Eskimo and Sons. They’re another Portland band that’s really, really wonderful.

PW: I will be sure to check them out! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat.
NK: Thanks for the interview and for really liking the album.

Old Believer: website | myspace | Eight Golden Greats on iTunes



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