Photo credit: Stacie Ledden
Twenty years in the making, Nate Todd’s debut album, Revolutionary Loser, filled with perseverance, honesty and rebellion, has arrived. What started as a small collection of protest songs turned into a nine-track autobiographical memoir that negotiates how one man’s personal, micro experiences can be seen, heard, and felt on a larger scale. Looking both within and beyond himself, Todd explains, “Some songs are in protest of the rampant injustice going on around us. Some of the songs are in protest of myself. Others protest the bounds of reality.”
Check out Revolutionary Loser as you read on for Todd’s insight on each of the album’s nine tracks. In conjunction with the release, Todd is raising funds for Vote.org and donations can be made directly through Todd’s official Facebook page, or by purchasing the album over on Bandcamp.
The music for “Realize” was inspired by King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard. I wanted to write sort of a riff-driven upbeat rocker a la King Gizz. I began writing the song in March 2020 when the stay at home orders were put into place. But the tune as a whole is an indictment of the Trump administration and how they’ve made many of the major problems we’re facing as a society so much worse than they already were, and that’s saying a lot. The last verse is a plea to clean up this mess so we can leave a better world for future generations. It’s ultimately about realizing that the people have the power and that we need to exercise that power for the greater good.
My friend Erik Hill plays guitar on this track and it’s one we use to play live with a band we were in. We started playing the track’s false ending live where we’d count it back in, then Erik would just shred a solo. I wanted to capture that same energy in the recording and I think we did. As far as subject matter goes, I started writing “Too Much” sometime in early 2015. I actually penned the chorus first and I always thought it was catchy, but the song is more than just a hook. Relatively speaking, although 2015 may seem like a calmer time, it was a pretty turbulent year. So I wrote another songlet that became the verses for the track which are largely about climate change. I often talk about how Revolutionary Loser as a whole album sort of zooms in and out between the personal and the bigger picture, and I think this tune is a great example of that. The character in the song is seeing all this crazy shit, presumably because he’s high, but then you go, “some of that stuff is really happening.” It’s a catchy tune but I hope it makes people think, too.
So this whole project sort of grew around “Revolutionary Loser.” I wanted to write a song about activism and I originally had an arrangement along with the lyrics, but I never really liked it. Then Erik showed me a chord progression he had and I said, “that’s it.” It’s got a folky, almost gospel vibe that I love. We worked it up and actually tried it with the band but it never really stuck. I always wanted to record it, though. The first verse was inspired by a photograph that ended up in a newspaper featuring me as a baby with my mom and dad at a protest vigil for the White Train, which carried nuclear weapons during the Cold War. That photo, although I don’t remember it, always served as a visual flashpoint for my lifelong involvement in activism.
“Beautiful Distraction” is another one Erik plays on. We used to do this one live and when I first brought it to the band, Erik came up with the Queen-sounding intro riff. He also added the killer guitar harmonies on the recording. Although it wasn’t a single, I feel like it’s the sleeper track on the album. “Beautiful Distraction” is about the ethereal nature of inspiration and the creative process as a whole.
On the Cliffs Above the Sea
This is an old song I wrote when I was about 19 living in California. It’s inspired by the beauty of Big Sur. My friends and I had taken a trip to the Bay Area and we stopped there on the way back. I began formulating the song standing on the cliffs and running through the forest. I think I came up with the riff later, strumming my guitar on the beach back home in Southern California. I filled out the lyrics at home, too. Our apartment had this courtyard and one night, I was wandering through it when all these fantastic medieval images came to me, lights shining though patterns in courtyards and whatnot. My bandmate, Logan Green from Flash Mountain Flood, added that stellar, pedal steel-sounding guitar riff and Erik put down some guitar as well. The song as a whole is pure psychedelia and more than a little Led Zeppelin.
I put “Cliffs” and “Crystalline Dream” back to back because they come from the same era when I was living in California, a formative period in my life. I wrote “Crystalline Dream” just sitting on the beach watching the world go by. I think I may have scooped the title from The Doors movie. The song is ruminations of a beach bum observing the world through dilated pupils. I still love the wordplay on the chorus but there are some political undercurrents in some of the verses, as well. Musically, it’s probably the funkiest song on the album and I love the way the synth symphony at the end came out.
“Isosceles” is both entertaining and informative. I got the idea from a Seinfeld episode where Kramer says he would name his kid “Isosceles.” I started thinking about what someone named Isosceles would be like. Then I realized it was a great opportunity for an extended metaphor. For me, Isosceles is a woman with a “three-wheeling spirit,” sort of this beautiful, beatific figure. As human beings, we all have different sides to us and that’s a wonderful thing. There’s a lot of fun geometric wordplay in this one, not to mention a lot of Chuck Berry and The Rolling Stones. Erik plays all those great Chuck Berry licks a la Keith Richards and added a smokin’ solo, too, which I hear a little Steely Dan in as well.
Nothing At All
“Nothing At All” is another oldie but goodie. I wrote this one when I was about 20 living in Austin, Texas and the riff was inspired by a Phish song. It’s another one that waxes political. I wrote the song at a time when the George W. Bush administration was leading us into the so-called “forever wars” that are unfortunately living up to their names. I was very concerned about Bush’s agenda and it was on my mind, even, or maybe especially, when I went to the liquor store. The very first verse reflects that: “The lights of the liquor store were flashin’/Liberty a passin’ fashion for us all.” I remember actually standing on a corner just looking up at a flashing liquor store neon in a daze thinking “How did we get here?” I feel the tune is still pretty relevant today. My friend Tessema put down some phenomenal guitar on this song, especially those tasty licks at the end.
What Can I Do?
Tessema added some perfect stuff on “What Can I Do?” as well. He really captured the feeling of the song with these sort of frenetic runs and buildups. This track, along with “Realize,” “Revolutionary Loser” and “Nothing At All,” were the four original songs that were going to be on what I intended initially to be an EP. I feel like “Nothing At All” and “What Can I Do” really go together because “Nothing At All” ends with the refrain: “Nothing at all/Can make me feel fine.” But what can make you feel better at least is action, to paraphrase the great Dr. Jane Goodall. I wrote “What Can I Do?” around the same time I wrote “Realize” in Spring 2020. I think it reflects how a lot of people were feeling around that time and are still feeling. While there is a lot of doom and gloom in this song — you can throw your hands up and say “what can I do?” — it’s ultimately about taking that first step toward action and seriously asking, “what can I do?