It’s been a good long while now since Nato Coles called Milwaukee home. Back in those days, Coles was one-fourth of the hard-touring Husker-esque Modern Machines, a four-person democracy where every band member contributed songwriting. But after a detour in Brooklyn with the short-lived Used Kids, Coles settled back in the Midwest. Now a four-year resident of Minneapolis (“in the one part that kind of resembles parts of Milwaukee—corner bars and the older generation has last names ending in ‘ski’ and ‘ia’”), Nato’s been traipsing across the country with his Blue Diamond Band, who released their full-length debut, Promises To Deliver, in June of last year. Their latest stop finds them at Quarters Rock ‘n Roll palace Friday on a one-off Wisconsin weekend that will also take the band to Sheboygan the following night.
Promises To Deliver is a rollicking collection of classic, Springsteen-flavored singer-songwriter rock ‘n’ roll that would fit right next to the average Milwaukeean’s Trapper Schoepp records, but Coles is the first person to point out that the Minneapolis punk rock influences of his younger days still inform his tunes.
“I still listen to the Mats and Huskers all the time,” Coles says. “That stuff is on in the house a lot. But not more than Springsteen or Thin Lizzy. Or the Reigning Sound. …Springsteen’s been with me since my late teens, when I was a kid griping to the iconic Paddy [from Dillinger Four] about the pianos on Born To Run, and he said, ‘Dude, you ever check out Nebraska? It’s the gateway drug.'” Yet Coles doesn’t deny the evolution in his songwriting, either.
“With the Modern Machines, we definitely had a decent stylistic spread between the multiple songwriters and even just the individuals writing different-sounding stuff, but at the end of the day, it was very hard in that band to go too far off the template,” Coles says. “Only when we broke up was I able to make my main focus a more classic rock ‘n’ roll band—filtered through punk, garage, all that stuff of course. I feel I’ve matured as a songwriter. You know, even Ted Williams had to take batting practice.”
As Coles has grown in his songwriting, so has he in his willingness to take more creative control in his projects.
“With the Blue Diamond Band, we all chip in with input on the songs as they are fleshed out at practice, but unlike any other band I’ve done before, this one doesn’t really have a pretense of democracy,” Coles says. “At the end of the day I’m guiding these songs, and it’s my name in the band name so if I fail, I in particular fail. So I got to do things right.”
The idea of growing up and maturing is even touched on lyrically in album standout “Julie (Hang Out a Little Longer),” a song Coles says is about “a perhaps hypothetical East Bay-Cometbus pop-punk fan who was getting old a little too fast.” As he sings “Think of the way it used to be/Lookout! bands and East Bay zines/I ain’t changed don’t think you did either/You and me babe we’re believers,” it’s hard to deny that the song feels more than a little autobiographical, although he insists “my problem is the opposite—I sometimes feel trapped in amber. You keep playing the kind of shows I play, going to the ones I go to, you get around 30 years old and bam, you’re just about the oldest person in the basement.”
Not that it’s slowing down his road warrior ways. “We spent eight weeks on tour this year, not counting weekend road trips here and there,” Coles says. “I’ve played 100 shows this year or thereabouts.”
So a more “mature” sound isn’t slowing down Mr. Coles any time soon, which is great news for anyone who loves straight-up, earnest rock ‘n’ roll songwriting with heart. The Blue Diamond Band has lots planned for 2015, including a live record that Coles says will include lots of live favorites he says would never fit on a proper album, as well as writing the band’s second full-length. And for those old school Modern Machines fans who might be a little concerned that a more classic sound could mean that the punk energy of Nato’s former bands could be ebbing, fear not; Promises To Deliver is full of crackling, hard-charging energy, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.
Nato Coles And The Blue Diamond Band plays Friday, December 5 at Quarters Rock ‘n Roll Palace with Raging Nathans (Ohio), Indonesian Junk, and Sin Bad.