Meet Nate Sallie
Equally gifted in high school as a musician and athlete, Nate was being courted (pun intended) by leading colleges for a full ride on a basketball scholarship. At the same time, he was gathering attention for his promise as a musician and singer. As he neared graduation, the classically trained pianist was facing a dilemma: Should he pursue his musical interests, or play ball—possibly ending up in the pros? With promising opportunities in both fields looming, Nate felt paralyzed.
The fates (or Providence—Nate doesn’t believe in luck), however, made the choice for Nate. Late in his senior year of high school, he broke both his ankles, ending any chance for a career in basketball. Without sports, Sallie found a new focus and energy in his music, as well as a distinct clarity of purpose.
“I was suddenly free to give music my undivided attention,” Sallie remembers, “and it was like opening a spigot to my imagination. Where before I dabbled in songwriting, it became my passion—something I had to do all the time. My playing became more intentionally curious, more adventurous. What started as a deep disappointment became the best thing to happen in my life. It gave me focus.”
That focus led to a growing confidence as an artist, as well as an expanding audience for his work. Throughout his college years, Nate experimented with different styles and voices, learning what he could from the various forms and structures of pop music while playing clubs and coffee houses. His initial demo, completed while in his senior year, found its way to record company desks, and by graduation he was being wooed by several major labels. But what followed was the classic case of getting caught in “the business”.
Nate’s first label put a freeze on new releases immediately after he signed, which meant he never even got into the studio. After being released from that contract, he immediately signed with another label, only to have the songs he tracked for them languish as the label battled for the “right” distribution deal. But these years of “in between” were far from wasted on Sallie; in fact, Nate sees them as a critical, if frustrating, season of growth, both personally and artistically.
“I was sure I was going to do the overnight sensation thing,” he reflects. “But the time I was forced to spend waiting taught me about myself and my own sense of calling. While there were some things out of my control, I was forced to examine the things that were in my power to change: how badly I wanted this, whether I was willing to persevere and hang in there when things weren’t easy; whether I was in it for the glory or for the music. And just as importantly, the time I spent waiting was an opportunity to push the boundaries of my music, to really explore what I could do and refine my songwriting chops.”
It was in this period that Nate found, for the first time, his lifelong love affair with the piano to be limiting.
“As I began to push the envelope of my songwriting, I found I couldn’t make the piano sound like the music in my head,” says Sallie, “I was writing songs that I knew had great energy, but my piano arrangements left something short. And while I love the classic pop piano players like Billy Joel and Elton John—and even the old pioneers like Jerry Lee Lewis—those approaches just weren’t working for me personally, especially as I was drawn more and more to a sound grounded in a more aggressive, rhythmic underbelly. So I picked up a guitar and started to experiment, and discovered a whole new world. The guitar gave me permission to explore, to wander places I’d never been to musically. It was more visceral, more primal, freeing. But oddly, in that exploration, I feel like I found my way back to more solid, tight song structures as well. I fell back in love with the three-and-a-half-minute pop song.”
This newly energized approach to songwriting once again found Nate being courted by several labels, a predicament resolved when he received a call directly from Mike Curb.
“I needed to be with a label that I knew would really get behind my music, and there’s nothing like a call directly from the president to give you confidence.”
Having inked a deal with Curb, Nate immediately began writing and recording with producers Mathew Gerrard, Chris Estes and Greg Biek, quickly finding a musical chemistry that further tightened his songwriting chops. The resulting tunes are energetic, taut, guitar-driven, pitch-perfect power-pop anthems with genuine cross-market, multi-format appeal, perfectly balancing monster hooks with a raw energy that nods respectfully back to the power of early punk. Think Robbie Williams without the smirk, with a touch of Nirvana, a dash of Axel and a heaping helping of Timberlake style.
In other words, think “radio is gonna love this.”
And just as importantly for Nate, the songs suggest the growing sense of ‘calling’ that guides his craft.
“I believe I have a responsibility as a writer to reflect the things that move me most deeply. I want energy and melody and power, but more importantly, I want honesty, grace, transparency, I want kindness. I want to find those points of resonance, those deep places that ring true in our life and experience.”
For Sallie, that means everything from the joys and insecurities of first love to wrestling with a crisis of faith are fair game, and on his Curb debut he offers these up in heaping helpings.
The disc’s first pop single, “Inside Out,” is a playful declaration of love that could easily become the self-esteem anthem of a generation. The track oozes whimsy, but underlying its playful exterior is a decidedly serious challenge to the superficiality of much of contemporary pop culture. Those sentiments are also echoed in “Beautiful Surprise,” in which the protagonist is asked to see herself from the perspective of the song’s narrator—a narrator that could be either a lover or God.
“I was thinking about girls I knew who just didn’t believe they were as wonderful as they were and thought: ‘If you could see yourself through my eyes you’d see that there’s so much more to you than what you see or understand.’ But for too many kids these days, ‘worth’ is measured in how we look and what we have. This automatically leaves about 80 percent of any group on the margins, and the other 20 percent is constantly second-guessing itself. But what makes us most valuable is not the designer’s name on our backside—it’s the fact that the designer’s stamp is on our soul. I can’t think of anything more important to say to anyone—especially pop music fans.”
“All About You,” which will be released to CHR as a single, was written as a direct challenge to the narcissism of contemporary culture, as was the disc’s opener, “Without You,” a riff-heavy guitar track that Nate describes as his favorite to play live.
“I wanted to focus my listeners outside of themselves; to find a way from our self-centeredness to the most important things. I wanted to create a kind of anthem that made it clear our best is found in giving our lives away, in losing ourselves in love.”
That commitment is also found in “Whatever It Takes,” though this time it is grounded in a mid-tempo confessional that finds Sallie giving a modern treatment to the ancient ideas at the heart of the parable of the prodigal son.
“I’ve learned that in a world where much can be out of our control, the most important decisions we have—who we love and how we love—are still in our hands. And that means we can choose to matter, to embrace beauty, that we can change our lives, and the lives around us—for the better. That’s what I want my music—and my life—to be about.”