My Life In Ten Songs: Nat The Hammer on the tracks that shaped his musical identity

Nat The Hammer is the solo alter-ego of Nathan Loughran, who Joyzine regulars might know as the frontman of North London indie outfit The Reverse. With the band taking a break following the release of their recent Which Way Out LP and If The World Ends Now EP via Blang Records, Nat has put together Making Mixtapes, a collection of his solo tracks written and recorded at home between 2007-2014 and is out now digitally on the usual streaming platforms and as a limited edition cassette on lo-fi cassette label Kylie Productions. More stripped down and lyrical, Nat’s songs have been likened to Leonard Cohen and the lo-fi anti-folk of Jeffrey Lewis. 

We caught up with Nat and asked him to pick ten formative songs that have guided him to this point on his musical journey.

1) What is your earliest music-related memory? What do you remember being played at home when you were a child?

My Dad was and is a big fan of musicals, so I grew up with West Side Story and a bit more subversively, The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack. I have memories of singing along to “Sweet Transvestite” in the back of the car on family holidays at a young age.

2) What was the first record that you ever bought? Where did you get it and do you have any recollection of the experience?

The first record I bought was the 7” single of  “A Hole in My Shoe” by Neil from The Young Ones, which I got from Woolworths. The first album I bought was Dire Straits “Brothers in Arms” on cassette which I listened to over and over again.

3) When did you really start to develop a passion for listening to music? How did that come about and what were you into at the time?

I fell in love with Rock and Indie music as a young teenager. I remember briefly being into The Jesus and Mary Chain and then falling into the world of Heavy Metal for a few years; Motorhead, Iron Maiden, AC/DC etc. Then my cousin introduced me to Jane’s Addiction and that changed everything. Suddenly bands I’d been listening to like Guns N’ Roses, seemed cliched and outdated. 

Then came Nirvana and bands like Pavement, who are still pretty much my favourite band.

I think of this time in the early 90s as the most influential on me personally. 4AD bands like Throwing Muses and Pixies opened up my horizons and I still think My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” sounds like music from the future beamed in from another planet. 

I also got into hip-hop, I love groups like A Tribe Called Quest, who I still listen to a lot now.

Another important band from this time is R.E.M. There’s a song on “Making Mixtapes” called “Long Car Journeys (R.E.M. song)” that is kind of about their influence on me. I remember borrowing some cassettes from my sister who had borrowed them from a friend and on long car journeys listening to their early albums over and over again on my walkman.

“Murmur” was my favourite album and “Perfect Circle” my favourite song as I explain in the song.

4) What was the first gig that you went to? Where was it and what was it like?

Transvision Vamp at Brixton Academy. I persuaded my Dad to take me and my sister. It was fantastic. They played ‘Baby I Don’t Care” twice!

5) What are your memories of starting out making music? What was the first song that you learned to play?

I briefly had a band at school and I remember we played The Velvet Underground’s “Rock N’ Roll” at an assembly as it was an easy three chord song. So that was probably the first song I learnt to play and sing properly with other musicians. Before then I was mostly messing about with Led Zep and Jimi Hendrix riffs.

6) What was your first band/musical project? What music was influencing you at that time? What are your memories of playing your first gig and are there any recordings out there?

Jason from The Reverse and I spent a couple of years sitting in pubs and talking about being in a band before it happened, then I went to University in Sheffield and was in a band called Shiver for a few years, which was the first proper band I was in. Early gigs were very mixed. We had some great ones in Sheffield, though I do remember playing in a small pub that I think was in Rotherham. It had a separate room for the bands that was empty but we started playing anyway, then the few locals in the bar area stormed in and ordered us to be quiet… so we stopped. The landlord refused to pay us if we didn’t carry on… so we started again, played the set and left as quickly as we could! 

A less remembered band who I was listening to a lot at this time and really shaped me were Kingmaker. I wrote a piece about them for The Quietus  a couple of years ago when they reissued their albums. They perhaps never fulfilled their full potential, but they were more sophisticated than they’re given credit for and were a remarkable live band. They also seemed like normal people, so probably more than anyone else they made me believe that perhaps I could write and perform songs.

7) What are your memories of forming The Reverse? What was your first release and what do you think now when you listen back to it? Why have you decided to release music as a solo artist?

Despite only releasing my debut solo album this year, the Nat the Hammer moniker has actually been around longer than The Reverse. Once Shiver disbanded I did some solo gigs as Nat the Hammer in Sheffield. Chris from the brilliant Velodrome 2000 put on the first Nat the Hammer gig at The Speakeasy in Sheffield. 

Once I returned to London I met up with Jason again and we started The Reverse properly, which meant the Nat the Hammer solo alter-ego was mostly put on hold, although I brought him out from time to time. I ran the Under the Influence nights for six years and played these solo Nat the Hammer songs regularly there. So I’ve had these songs for awhile but it never felt like the right time to release them. Now The Reverse is having a break, the time feels right. It’s a proper solo album in that I’ve done everything, even the mastering, ha!

Our first proper release as The Reverse was “A Clean Incision EP” in 2006. We still play Secrets when The Reverse play live. 

8) Which band/artist do you think has had the biggest influence on your music over the years? What is it about them that inspires you?

Leonard Cohen. I remember hearing “Famous Blue Raincoat” for the first time and becoming obsessed. My friend Zeth lent me a cassette of Leonard Cohen’s Greatest Hits. I remember rewinding and playing that one song over and over again. It was beguiling. I wasn’t sure what exactly had happened to the characters in the song, but it sounded like something very important, so I kept rewinding to try and decode the lyrics. I think this sense of ambiguity and mystery alongside a powerful emotion stuck with me and I still try to recreate something similar almost every time I write a song.

9) Who are some of your favourite current artists? What do you like about them?

I like Big Thief and Aldous Harding a lot. I enjoyed the new Kendrick Lamar album. I like a lot of our label mates’ stuff on Blang Records and general anti-folk/outsider stuff, David Cronenberg’s Wife, Sergeant Buzfuz etc. I love Emmy The Great and was lucky enough to perform as part of one of her recent shows in Stoke Newington. I also love The Wave Pictures and was very privileged to support them recently. I’ve supported them twice, once with The Reverse and once as Nat The Hammer. The first time we covered a Bob Dylan song and they responded by covering a Dylan song in their set. The second time I covered a Jonathan Richman song and they covered a Jonathan Richman song. It’s become a challenge! If I play with them again I’ll have to choose carefully which cover to play to see if they can respond. It shows what a great band they are that they can throw songs out without rehearsing them.

For my song choice, however, I’m going to choose Fat White Family. In terms of current bands, they are the band who have had the most profound impact. I didn’t think it was possible to still feel so excited by new music but when I saw them live, about six years ago it was life changing, I felt like I was fourteen again. It felt very exciting and genuinely dangerous. I imagine it’s how people must have felt when they first saw The Stooges or The Pistols back in the day.

10) Youve just released your debut solo album, Making Mixtapes — how has your approach to making music changed since you started out, and how has your sound developed over that time? Is there a particular song on the record that epitomises what youre aiming to achieve or that is particularly special to you for any reason?

Making Mixtapes is a collection of songs written and recorded at home between 2007-2014. It’s kind of a compilation album, which is one reason why I called it Making Mixtapes and why we’re releasing it as a limited edition cassette through lo-fi tape label Kylie Productions. The other reason is that the song “Long Car Journeys” mentions “making mixtapes” in the lyrics and cassette tapes were a very key part of my early musical development. I had lots of albums and mixtapes on cassette and loved them. I love the idea of an album as a physical artefact, even if people can’t listen to it! 

I’m releasing this album now as, despite it containing older songs, I am proud of the songs and feel they tell an important part of my story. 

I think my approach has changed over time. My approach is very different with The Reverse as it’s a more collaborative process and we can do more with dynamics and counter melodies so the solo stuff is more lyrically focused. I think the solo songs I’m writing now are perhaps a little more considered and subtle, although I’m still proud of the songs on this album.

There is a real range. There are songs about my love of R.E.M., alongside more serious songs such as “New York Song” which is an account of the time I spent in New York during the 9/11 attacks and is probably my favourite.

Making Mixtapes is out now on Kylie Productions – order on cassette or digital download via Bandcamp

Find out more about Nat The Hammer on his official website

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