Last September, Nathan Honoré—a Milwaukee singer-songwriter who performs under the Next Paperback Hero namesake—released his debut full-length. That album, the self-recorded Morning Skies & Heavy Eyes, found the multi-instrumentalist doing pretty much everything on a 35-minute release spanning nine meticulously crafted songs. Today, almost exactly one year removed from putting out that album, Honoré released a new Next Paperback Hero EP into the world.
That EP, Nowhere To Run, is a three-song follow-up that finds Honoré taking his project to exciting new territory. In doing so, the once-solitary creator has opened himself up to collaborating with others in ways he wouldn’t have before. Prior to today’s release of Nowhere To Run and before Next Paperback Hero’s release show at Linneman’s on October 1, Honoré told Milwaukee Record about artistic highlights from the last 12 months, his decision to involve others in his solo venture, what it’s like to hear his songs on the radio, and goals he’s set for the near future.
Milwaukee Record: It’s been almost exactly a year since you released your debut full-length. What are some of the highlights or standout experiences for the project from the past 12 months?
Nathan Honoré: Most of the highlights stem from playing live, meeting new artists, and collaborating. I played Cactus Club for the first time with Honey Creek and The Sinner And The Saint, and the response totally blew me away. Another really special experience was when Ellie Jackson and I played a show at Circle-A to a packed room with a really engaged crowd. We played on a couple of each other’s tunes, and she let me write a verse for one of hers. It’s those moments of unexpected magic that have helped fuel my entire year.
MR: What prompted you to get right back to work on Nowhere To Run? Were you itching to add to the momentum? Were you sitting on a bunch of new material written during the pandemic? A little bit of both?
NH: Definitely a little bit of both. When I released the album last year, I knew I didn’t want to be a flash in the pan, that I wanted to build something. At first I thought of doing a standalone single with “Begin Again,” but it didn’t feel like me. That song was written in the heart of the pandemic, but when I wrote the other two tracks this spring, I saw a through-line between them and it felt more like the artistic statement I wanted to make versus an industry strategy.
MR: Though it’s a relatively small sample size at three songs, do you feel the new EP is taking you in a new sonic direction? How does it differ from previous releases?
NH: Morning Skies & Heavy Eyes is definitely more introspective, and this EP takes the next steps by trying to channel that reflection into action. To me, it’s a very natural evolution from where the album ended with the powerful emotional release of “Don’t Take My Energy.” That confidence and spirit carry over with the lyrics and more dynamic arrangements on Nowhere To Run. The EP is about 10 minutes, but the three songs feel like a complete arc that push the sound and songwriting of Next Paperback Hero to new heights.
MR: It seems like you’ve amassed a nice list of trusted collaborators to help add touches and flourishes to your work. Is it hard to let others take a turn behind the wheel of your creative vehicle? And what do folks like Ian Olvera, Justin at Mystery Room, Joe Tomcheck, and Samer Ghani bring to the project?
NH: For a long time, I was caught up in an almost obsessive pursuit of perfection. That manifested in some unhealthy ways, such as being a control freak and a pretty terrible band leader. It’s taken a long time to not only acknowledge that, but have the courage to start over and try again. Essentially, I needed to build confidence in myself and my art while identifying my goals and purpose. Once I had those things sorted internally, I was able to be more open and vulnerable to others. I started trusting people to do what they do while also advocating for my own vision. Collaboration can create magic that can’t be replicated by yourself, and I’m very fortunate to have connected personally and creatively with people I respect and admire in the Milwaukee scene. I’m now at a point where I’m eager to collaborate, intentionally leaving space for others. It’s exhilarating to see what other people can bring to a song. Having Joe Tomcheck contribute backing vocals on the EP is a great example of that. I’ve always done my own harmonies, but I left it open and gave Joe the freedom to do what he wanted. And he gave me stacks of vocals that I wouldn’t have dreamed of.
Ian Olvera and Justin Perkins are a mixing and mastering dream team. They understand what I’m trying to do with my home studio recordings and make it all exponentially better. Samer Ghani is so much more than a photographer or videographer. I could go on for days about his talent and drive. He truly inspires me. But he’s also imparted some serious wisdom when I needed it the most. After one of my first shows of the year, I asked what he thought of my performance and told him “I know I can tighten it up, I can be better.” And he stopped me and said “Perfection is not the goal. If people want perfection, go listen to the record.” I think about that every time I get on stage.
MR: How did it feel to hear “Begin Again” on 88Nine last week? Does it ever get old hearing your music on the radio?
NH: It’s amazing. Both 88Nine and WMSE have been so supportive. 88Nine has been great with premieres from both releases also including “First Impressions” in rotation, and Craig at Shape Of Rock on WMSE has regularly shared my music all year. It will never get old hearing my music on the radio and I don’t take any of this for granted. As a white male in a diverse, yet segregated city with so many rising artists, I firmly believe that for my art to warrant any attention it needs to be undeniable. I’m not here to take up space and I know that I’m not owed shit. I want to be a part of the scene in a way that helps make it better, and for me that starts by creating undeniably strong music. Hearing my songs on the radio shows that I’m on the right path.
MR: After managing much of your early output during the worst of a pandemic, you’re now finally able to do a full-fledged release show in support of this EP. What can people expect to see, hear, and experience at Linneman’s on October 1?
NH: This is my first release show and I’m looking to make it something special and something unique that folks will remember. It’s the first time that Next Paperback Hero will be playing as a full band, which will bring a whole new energy to these songs. Ellie Jackson is one of my favorite Milwaukee artists and she brings such an emotional and strong performance every time. And Dial-Up Stepmom is a vibe. They’re a saxophone trio with crazy improvisational chops. Sometimes they cover artists like Bon Iver, but they always bring a sonically rich and warm sound. We’ve got a few on-stage collaborations in the works too. One member of Dial-Up Stepmom, Nick Zoulek, is an old friend and plays on my records, but we’ve never been able to play these songs live together. We actually had a show booked at Var Gallery in March of 2020 that got cancelled in the early days of the pandemic, so this has been a long time coming.
MR: Now that the EP is out and the release show is in the books, what’s next? And what are some hopes or plans for Next Paperback Hero in the future?
NH: Many of the opportunities that I’ve had this year have been unexpected and unplanned, so I always try to leave room for that. I really want to play one of our local Milwaukee festivals, especially now that the band is up and running. This summer I had two opportunities fall through, so I’m putting it out in the universe that Next Paperback Hero is ready to play a festival in 2023. I’ve got a special collaboration in the works, but that’s all I can tease for that. But as always, I’m hoping to keep playing shows and collaborating with good people. I play guitar behind Milwaukee poet Kavon Cortez-Jones as well, so I always look forward to seeing his words resonate with new people.
MR: Anything else you’d like to add?
NH: It feels like the Milwaukee music scene is on the verge of leveling up, and I just want to encourage us all to keep pushing forward. Expect a bit more from each other, actively help one another, share experience and knowledge, and don’t be afraid to hold people accountable. Change is hard, but it’s easier if we do it together. That goes for musicians, fans, venues, media…all of us. If every musician consistently works on their writing and performance, if we book and attend more mixed-genre shows, and if more places spread opportunities around to folks who are putting in the work instead of the local equivalent of legacy acts, then we could sow the seeds for some real growth.