The Michigan-bred Songwriter Nathaniel Stephen "Comfort Zone (Out Of My)" feels like an Indie-Pop performance routing influence from the waffling synth orchestrations behind "Hot-chip" and the tender soul-searcher narratives Andrew Bird endows his Indie-Rock instrumentals with. Like a connoisseur at a wine-taster, Stephen lives utterly in-tune with these unspoiled fruits of influence, reflecting over losing-self and highlighting aching turbulence for love in his opening cut from the heartfelt Extended Play, "North Store."
When Nathaniel mentions love over every stanza that looks in-wards over, "can you commit to something for once in your life?" or, "do you remember what the light feels like?" his reproaches lead the way into one same inquiry: "and the last time you felt love?"
Here, in the verses, Stephen's voice swims in a vast minimalistic expanse where electric guitars denote hypnotizing vibes—garnished with a mystifying vibrato effect—while a gooey low-end operates as melodic support. What's most infatuating is how captivating Stephen manages to deliver his instrumental support with evolving energy.
Whenever he mentions the word "love," the stanza punctually sinks into a hooking chorus: an ocean of oscillating synths, burgeoning drums, and a gooey low-end bass that detaches away from its mid-range stanza and dips its notes into a juicer register for the fleshiest portions of this cut.
As Nathaniel Stephen diffuses his anecdote of self-reflection that ends up feeling like communal gospels, "Comfort Zone (Out Of My)" beings to render-up like a spiritual waltz between minimalistic verses, buoyantly swimming in an ocean festooned with supernal guitars, and heaving choruses, where Stephen's unified vocals ring over librettos that brim with electronically fueled enthusiasm: "did we lose ourselves? Is there more than one way home? Did we lose our way again?".
These hooking lines make this latest take on losing-yourself an instant-classic, especially when the leading chorus slaps across your ear-drums behind the reactive word: "love."
For the indie-natured Michigan-based songwriter, it's an exciting first set to more ubiquitous Musical horizons to come.
Can you walk us how you made "Comfort Zone (Out Of My)"? Where did the idea present itself to you initially? Was it through a melody, a profound life experience, or a few MIDI notes on your DAW?
When I write I typically approach a song or an idea in several different ways. Sometimes I write starting with a bass line, or on an acoustic or electric riff, or even sometimes with a drumbeat or a few chords on the piano. With this song, I started with a sample that caught my ear and then added some fuzzy chords and harmonies for the verses to create some dissonance.
What was the narrative behind "Comfort Zone (Out Of My,)" and why did you feel it was the song you needed to open "North Star" with?
I guess the reason for the title is because this isn't necessarily the style of music I typically write or make, so I decided to challenge myself by jumping out of my comfort zone to see where it took me. I opened the album with this song as an attention grabber, in hopes you might stay for some of the stories and melodies presented later in the EP.
What were some of the emotions you found yourself channeling into for the performances you've captured on "Comfort Zone (Out Of My)?"
In this song, I was channeling a want/need to return to a more innocent time, a better time before COVID, before adulthood, before responsibility.. when time moved slower and friends were kinder. A time before moving around the country every 3-6 months. It sort of turned into a song about hope and love essentially and trying to find a way back to feeling those emotions, or perhaps a longing to put down roots somewhere.
What been some musical influences you've found yourself tunning into during "Comfort Zone's" production process? Was there something that sparked your interest in using synths on "Comfort Zone (Out Of My)?"
At the time I was listening to Simon and Garfunkel a ton! Not really a synth inspiration to be true, but definitely had a part in sending my mind back to a more innocent time. In their song "Old Friends/Bookends" The Bookends outro says: "And what a time it was, a time of innocence, a time of confidences. Long ago it must be, I have a photograph. Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you." - And that was on my mind while writing this song.
What has been your biggest inspiration while creating new music this year, Nathaniel?
My biggest inspiration has been experiencing new places around the country over the last few years and seeing how the local music and local culture affects my songwriting. I lived in New Orleans for over a year and then moved to New Mexico, and before that, I lived in Boston and also Michigan. I'm now in California and am very excited to create more original music here as well.