Interview: NF speaks out about his self-titled EP

NF Interviewby Sam Robinson

Nate Feuerstein, better known as NF, dropped his self-titled EP earlier in August, his first release on the label Capitol CMG. Read our review of the EP here. NF is also the first hip-hop artist signed the label and big things await him, including a full-length album in the near future. I recently sat down to speak with the Michigan artist about his love for music, what challenges he faces as an artist, and whether he gets sick of being compared to Eminem.

SAM: Nate, where in the world do I find you today?

NATE: I’m in Gladwin, Michigan. I moved here when I was pretty young. A tiny little town man, really small, out in the middle of nowhere. If you’re born in the city and you come to Gladwin there’s like two lights…

So no traffic jams or anything like that?

No. Not even close, man.

No traffic, maybe?

No – every once in a while when people are going camping you might get traffic out on the highway but there ain’t a lot. I just flew out of Houston and I could never live somewhere like that. I’m not a very patient person, it’d just drive me crazy, man.

Fair enough. Well we’re talking about your EP. It just dropped. Can you tell me about the road to the release of the EP?

I’ve been working on it for a while. I had a transition between my old label, leaving that label, trying to work on some songs to pitch to some other labels… I ended up getting with my current producer, who is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and we made Wake Up which is on the EP. He produced the whole EP. And that song was pitched to Capitol Records and they loved it. We had some meetings and then we started working on songs and then we all decided: let’s do an EP and get some music out there as soon as possible for people to hear. We just wanted to see how it goes and see how people connect to it. Then the last song I recorded was All I Have which is actually the single. And when I started writing that song I just knew it had to be the single. I could feel it, you know? So we ran with it, shot a music video for it… It’s been a process. Quite time consuming. By the time you get everything mixed… I’ve heard the songs way more than I need to hear them. [Laughs]

It’s taken a long time, but when it comes to making a full-length album, do you think it would be even more of a task? Or will it be a similar process?

I think it’s going to be better because even though there might be more songs, I’m signed to Capitol now, we’re all working together well. And with my producer, I work the best in the studio there when it’s hands-on. When we put in a day working on tracks, recording vocals while I’m in there, I get very inspired in the studio. If I go home and try to write, I second-guess stuff even though it’s probably good enough, y’know? I just feel more inspired writing in the studio and knowing I’m going to record it right after. Sometimes I’m a hundred miles an hour and I want to keep going. But we’ve got big things coming up, man. I’m going to start working on the album.

We’ll talk more about that in a second. But back to the EP, it’s out now, it’s charting very well. Has the reaction been a surprise?

I didn’t know what to expect, honestly. You never know. The thing I’ve learned about the music industry is that you just have to be ready for the ride. It might be a real slow one or it might speed up, you don’t know. So I never know what to expect. I know what my goals are, and what I hope, all these things but I’m definitely excited about what’s happened. Some people have opened their eyes, ‘Maybe NF’s a real artist?’ It’s reaching people and getting attention which was my hope with the EP. To get some people interested, ask who I am, and want more.

Like a little taster.

Yeah. I think the EP is good, but I know what I want to do on my album and it’s going to be good, man. I’m excited about it.

So you’re setting the bar on the EP and then you’re going to raise it on the full-length. Is that what you’re saying?

Yeah. I’m going to put tonnes of pressure on myself for the album. It’s gotta be. I never want to take a step down from what I’ve done in the past. I want the production to be better. I want the lyrics to be better. I got a lot of stuff to talk about, man. I got a lot to talk about that I haven’t talked about yet.

Do you want to share some of those things?

Yeah I’ll share them on the album. Surprise you.

Fair enough. Now in the lyrics of this EP and also in your bio you’ve shared how you’ve struggled in past, growing up. But also you talk about music giving you purpose. Could you tell me more about how music has helped you?

Yeah man. I don’t know why, whether it was God or not, but I didn’t have the worst life. You talk to a lot of people and you have no idea what they’ve gone through. But I did have some things that really moulded me and shaped me as a person in some negative ways and some positive ways. My parents divorced when I was younger. Me and my two sisters lived with my mom for a little bit and then her boyfriend was physically abusing me. So my dad ended up taking us from that situation. I grew up having a lot of anger and not even realising what it was from. It was from more than just physical abuse. But with music, I really wanted to listen to it. And I started getting into rap. So what I’d describe as rap as DC Talk… I’d show my buddies. Then my buddies were like, ‘No, you need to hear T-Bone.’ I started listening to his The Last Street Preacha album. And the Gospel Gangstaz. GRITS. And then I just fell in love with hip-hop in general. That’s all I listened to. I’ve definitely grown in what I listen to. I used to only listen to hip-hop. Even in the past few years I’ve listened to a lot more than hip-hop which definitely influences my music. The more you hear, the more you realise everything has a hip-hop element to it. But it’s not all rap. That’s what I want to do. I don’t want to sound like everybody else. I’m definitely influenced by different artists…

So music’s been a support and grown you, but something else you’re passionate about is Jesus. What does the hope of the gospel mean to you, personally?

I grew up in church so I’ve always known about God. The one thing that I’ve realised, and I talk about this on my single… I always talk about how I feel and what I’m going through. Even on Wake Up. I have a lot of problems. It’s very hard for me to give up things, to give control to God. But I do know what it’s like when I do give up that control. So as far as hope, I know what that’s like, even though sometimes I get close to God and then back off because I just have this control thing where I want to control it and figure it out myself. I just notice I need God. That would be hope to me. When he smacks you in the face and shows you, ‘I am real! Are you an idiot?’ Maybe not everyone believes in God but to me, at this point in my life, I can look around and see there’s no question there is a God. Believing in God doesn’t make you a Christian anyway. But look around, look at the trees, how our bodies are made, how children are made. You can’t tell me there’s not a God. There’s gotta be a God or something weird’s going on.

Now you mentioned that All I Have is your favourite track on the record?

Yeah. That and Wake Up. But that’s one of my favourite songs because it gives you the perspective of an artist. I don’t think people realise – and I feel I say the same thing in every interview, but whatever – it’s how I feel. I don’t think people understand what goes on with an artist. For example, just because I’m charting on iTunes doesn’t mean that I’m rich or famous or don’t have to work to try and make extra money to do this and that. When I was younger I used to see big-label artists on the main stage of a festival, their CDs in stores. I thought that if your CD was in a store, you were rich! They’ve made it, I wish I was them. Now I know that don’t mean nothing. That’s how All I Have comes across. I think some might watch the music video and think that I’m lucky. ‘Nate finally made it!’ I haven’t made it man, I’m working my butt off still. I’m just excited for the opportunity. I’m definitely getting opportunities from it but I got a lot more goals. I just want to keep pushing. So when people listen to All I Have I think it gives fans the inside look. The real NF. There’s more than just music. Behind the music there’s a lot of stuff you have to do and it’s not all great. I don’t make tonnes of money. Sometimes I don’t make any money. I missed my flight for my own release party and had to buy another one!

I was going to ask you about that. What a horrible release day!

Yeah man. I had to drop about $500 on a new flight to get to my party in time.

But you did manage to arrive in time?

Yeah, I got there in time. It’s just… the next flight wouldn’t have got me to Houston until 4.30pm. And that would have been rush hour. And I probably wouldn’t have made it. So I had to buy a new ticket and it was $560. But that’s just one of those things. Financial stress is another thing for artists. You’re putting everything into this dream. I feel like you don’t get that comfort back.

You’ve talked a bit about this, is this something that concerns you about the future? Financial security in doing what you do?

Oh, definitely. I think that’s something you should give to God. If you feel like it’s your calling, you need to give it to him. But that’s really hard for me to do, man. Let’s face it: I’m a male, I want to be a provider. I want to be able to save money. I want to do all these things. I’m sick of renting the same house and barely ever being able to save any money. I’ll have a kid, I’ll have a wife someday. It’s very stressful to me. That’s one of the most stressful things for me. How am I going to pay for this? It really stresses me out. You know, that’s probably something I’ll talk about on the album!

There you go! Got a scoop! One question that I’m wondering, after reading through various reviews of the EP, do you get tired of being compared to Eminem?

Yeah. Definitely. I see why people would do that, because I’m from Michigan, I’m white, I rap, I had problems with my mom, my mom was addicted to pills so I have some anger issues… There’s so many similarities no matter what. And Eminem influenced me, growing up. I related to his music so I listened to it. If you listen to my old old stuff, you can hear it in my voice. What annoys me about it now is that I feel like I’ve come out of that a lot more. I know there’s still similarities, but I really feel I’ve come into my own. Every artist you’ll hear something from someone else or it’ll sound like someone else to you. That’s instantly what someone does. But people will say what they say and there’s so many songs that come out that aren’t even in that category. Eminem would never do a song like Only One. He just wouldn’t do a song like that. And I have tonnes more songs like that that he would never do. So those will slowly fade out. Eminem isn’t the only white rapper now, too. There’s tonnes of talented hip-hop artists now. MGK, an amazing artist. Talent-wise, he’s crazy. Macklemore. Eminem. Andy, Andy Mineo is amazing. It’s just different now. Hip-hop’s not the same anymore. If you’re talented and people think you’re good then they’ll listen to you.

Let’s talk about Only One, which you just mentioned. It’s a bit of a party anthem, would you agree?

I wouldn’t say it’s a party anthem but it’s definitely pop, and it has some hip-hop in it. I sing more than I rap. I just think it’s a good break. The whole EP is in-your-face rap, you know what I mean? Sometimes rap albums can get annoying. Every song might seem the same. If on every song it’s like, ‘I’m just being me! This is how I grew up! Bla bla bla…’ I think every album needs a break from that. If you don’t like pop music you’re probably not going to like that song.

Another track that stands out to me is Hands Up. It’s loud, has that dubstep sound to it. How did that track come together?

Because a lot of my music is very emotional – All I Have, Wake Up, Thing Called Love, Just Being Me – they’re all emotionally intense songs. So Hands Up is kind of like, ‘Man, we need to get a song that’s a concert track,’ you know what I’m sayin’? Something that people to listen to and bob their head to, and they don’t have to feel like they’re inside my mind in this aggressive… I mean it’s still aggressive and it’s still me, and I find ways to incorporate emotional things, but it’s more a bob your head track. I love performing that one live. It’s crazy. That was definitely planned though, to do something a little lighter. Not lighter, but you know what I’m sayin’.

Do people feel required to put their hands up when you perform that live?

Yeah. I will literally attack you if you don’t put your hands up in that song. [Laughs] That song, like I said, is one of my favourites to perform. I love performing All I Have, Wake Up, Hands Up. Those are all fun songs to perform. To come out at a show and do All I Have for the first song – I go off on that song because it’s so personal to me. I think people can see the passion. I’m putting everything into that song when I do it. I think people see that. That’s when people realise, ‘OK, he means what he’s saying. It’s important.’ That’s how people relate to artists, when they can feel the emotion of the artist. That’s when you make fans, they relate to you.

I want to ask about Thing Called Love because personally, it hit me hard as you question what love really is. Can you tell me more of the story behind that track?

Thing Called Love – if you listen to it, you’ll find it’s a rollercoaster, basically. I talk about so many different ways and problems with love. Positives, negatives, some people think it’s just physical and you don’t need anything else. It talks about a million different things. Without going into an insane amount of detail, love can be very complicated, especially as an artist. It’s hard to juggle being in a relationship. It’s not because that person’s not important to me or someone who’s not an artist. Maybe you’re struggling because you’re trying to get a job or work hard or follow your dream or your goals, and you’re trying to show someone the love that they need. That song was me going off about how I feel about certain things about love. That song was written a long time ago. But I still feel a lot of things in that song. So I brought up some of my old songs, and felt I needed to do this song because everybody has felt love, everybody has felt pain. I do a lot of love songs because I don’t think love is something to shy away from. The problem isn’t love itself, it’s not like love is a bad thing – God made it – the problem is we abuse it, I abuse it. Whatever it is, we’re the problem. Love is not the problem. I want that song to take people to a place. But it is a rollercoaster, back and forth, and it gives you different perspectives. Makes you want to rethink some things.

There’s been a lot of talk about you being the first hip-hop artist signed to Capitol CMG – that you’re this next big thing in Christian hip-hop. How do you feel about those claims? Is there pressure with that?

I feel like there’s always pressure, but I put more pressure on myself than anybody’s ever going to put on me. That’s the truth. When I do my album, anything you say to me I’ve probably already said to myself many times. The label has been amazing, Capitol, Brad O’Donnell at the label, the marketing team, they’ve all been amazing. It’s new to them. Obviously they’ve known about hip-hop, but this is their first step into hip-hop. They’re very open-minded about it. They didn’t just come and tell me what to do, they’re working with me and allowing me to say my vision. I came up with the idea for the music video for All I Have. I just wanted it to be basic – in a white room like it’s in my mind.

They’ve been awesome, I couldn’t ask for a better label. As far as pressure, people will think what they want to think. They’ll like it or they won’t like it. I just gotta keep working my butt off. Releasing music is the most important thing to keep people interested. It won’t be an EP and then a sucky album. I’m not going to release music I don’t like.

The last track on the EP, Just Being Me, it’s a real punch to end the record. You talk about your passion for music, and you ask the question: ‘Whatever happened to music that meant something?’ Why close the EP on this note?

Just because sometimes I feel like I’m listening to songs that aren’t about anything. And I’m very connected to my music. Sometimes I’ll hear a song and wonder why it was written. You can tell sometimes that it’s just for radio, there’s nothing else. I just feel like sometimes there’s no effort put into a song. And I feel like I put so much time and effort into it. Not saying that I’m the best artist ever or anything, but as an artist that puts that much time into something, I just don’t like hearing a song that has no depth or no meaning behind it. Only One, yeah it’s a pop song but it has a meaning. That song was just me expressing that I’m very passionate about my music. It wasn’t hating on anything that anyone does. Some people like pop music that they can just bob their head to. I’m just not wired that way.

What’s next for you? What does the next year look like for NF?

As far as goals for me, I want to keep the momentum going. I don’t want new fans and old fans to be like, ‘The EP was great, I wonder when the album is coming out?’ I want to constantly keep releasing and giving stuff to fans. I’m hoping to start a music video soon for Wake Up. I think that music video would be awesome. But I don’t have anything locked in, but I’m starting to record some stuff.

Thanks so much for your time, Nate. Looking forward to the full-length.

Yeah, this is just the start. A little bit of NF but there’s a lot more coming. There’s some exciting stuff coming that hasn’t been announced yet. Some stuff that’s going to open the eyes of some people. I’m looking forward to it.

NF EPNF by NF is available now on iTunes. Read our review here.

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