An Interview with Tobias Nathaniel of The Red Step

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TOBIAS NATHANIEL — Interlocutor

Long time member of The Black Heart Procession, Tobias Nathaniel has branched out with a new group, The Red Step. A furious and dynamic blend of Post Punk and Garage Rock, The Red Step is everything you’re looking for to satiate your Garage Rock needs. Born out of the need to create during the aftermath of a move to Serbia, Tobias Nathaniel’s new group has their debut album coming out in February 2021, which is titled The Red Step. The group itself came together in 2015, in Serbia, and features some of Belgrade’s finest musicians with keyboardist Boris Eftovski, bassist Rudolf Cibulski, and drummer Vladimir Markoski, all of whom have Serbian Garage Rock coursing though their veins. From the UK, Sarah Jane Seatherton also joins The Red Step on cello, and Tobias handles vocals and guitar. If you would like to learn more about The Red Step, you can head over their Bandcamp here. In the meantime, enjoy getting to know Tobias more. Cheers.

Andrew:
Tobias, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year, hasn’t it? What have you been doing to pass the time?

Tobias:
You’re welcome, thanks for the chat! Yes, it’s been an extremely weird year. I’ve been playing solo Gloomhaven to pass the time (when I have it, which is rare). Mostly, I just look up the rules and stuff.

Andrew:
Tell us a bit about your backstory. How did you get into music? What was the gateway so to speak?

Tobias:
Let’s see. I got into actually doing music after hearing Metallica’s Master of Puppets (on vinyl). That was the catalyst that caused me to want to play guitar. Playing guitar eventually led to my getting involved in the local hardcore scene, which in turn led to discovering and participating in all manner of underground music.

Andrew:
As an artist and pianist, who were some of your earliest and more important influences?

Tobias:
I’ve come to believe that the answer to this is likely Pink Floyd, though not necessarily in a direct way. As a kid, I’d sit glued to the 8-track listening to Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall on headphones. I’m pretty sure a lot of their weirdness embedded itself fairly deeply in me. As for piano or composition specific influences, it’d be Eastern European and Soviet classical music. Alfred Schnittke is without question my favorite composer.

Andrew:
You’re one of the founding members of The Black Heart Procession, but you’ve got a new band, The Red Step. Tell us about the group. What are the origins? How did the name come about?

Tobias:
The Red Step was formed in Belgrade, Serbia, with the help of friends and family in town. I’d just moved to Belgrade, and eventually started playing music with folks. We just kept getting together, and at some point the band’s sound began to emerge. Personnel wise, we’ve got Vladimir Markoski on drums, Rudolf Cibulski on bass, Boris Eftovski on keyboards, Sarah Jane Seatherton on cello, and I handle guitar and vocals. Marijana Markoska (my wife) is also integral to the project in terms of art and design. The name of the band is a mistranslation of a Serbian idiom, which would mean something like, “Jump in at the deep end.” Rudolf said this when describing an unrelated situation, and I really liked the ring of it. At any rate, I think it’s more important that a name not suck rather than be great, if that makes sense. There didn’t seem to be anything particularly sucky about it, so it stuck. On top of that, it’s simple, evocative and happened to be available.

Check out the new video by the Red Step, featuring Tobias of Black Heart  Procession! | Punknews.org

Andrew:
I’ve read that guitar was your first instrument. Is that true? What lead you to the piano?

Tobias:
Yes, that’s right. I’d been studying and playing Jazz pretty seriously. One day I picked up the guitar and realized that my fingers were just kind of moving around in prescribed patterns. I wanted to remove some of the technical and theoretical aspects which had become so ingrained in me, and thought trying a different instrument would be helpful in achieving that. Piano/organ is what I ended up deciding on. To this day, I’m not super comfortable on piano. And that’s fine with me, since my fingers stopped getting in the way of expressing ideas as genuinely as possible.

Andrew:
With the Black Heart Procession, the song structures seem to be really rooted in Classical music, especially nocturnes. What is different about your writing process with The Red Step?

Tobias:
Besides working with different people who perceive things in their own specific way, not a lot, to be honest. However, with The Red Step, I tend to present a core idea (riffs/chord changes/primary melody) to the band, then the details are filled in. At least that’s how it’s gone so far, but things can always change. With BHP it’s a little more complicated – Pall and I both present ideas to one another, some being more fleshed out than others from the outset. We then interpret and fill in whatever gaps may exist.

Andrew:
You relocated to Serbia pretty recently, right? What went into that decision? How has living there informed your music, if at all.

Tobias:
Yes, I did. It was all about vampires, brutalist architecture and rakija, in no particular order. I really enjoy Macedonian Folk music – it’s dark and mournful while still retaining honesty. I think that’s a difficult combination, and something I very much admire.

Andrew:
With the Black Heart Procession on a sort of hiatus, is that what lead you to form The Red Step? Are you looking to explore new ground?

Tobias:
The Red Step happened fairly organically – there was no real reason or intent beyond the simple need to express. It was just time. As for exploring new ground, not especially. Though I’m mostly known for slow and sad piano, my first two bands were Hardcore and Garage, in that order. So, it’s more like a revisiting of the Garage-ish stuff, if anything. Of course, life experience and others’ perspectives certainly play a part in the outcome.

Andrew:
Tell us about The Red Step’s debut album? What was the inspiration behind the record? How did it come together? Was the process very different than with the Black Heart Procession?

Tobias:
As mentioned above, there was a need, and it was time. My process—in whatever role I happen to occupy—is always the same. Observe, internalize, express. However, after so many years of lamenting over said observations, I’ve lately begun an internal shift toward exasperation. So, the output has ended up being a bit more pissed-off, so to speak.

Andrew:
Here is an easy one. Where can we get your new record? When will it be available and on what formats?

Tobias:
As it stands, through Pravda Records, Feb. 26th 2021, on vinyl and digital formats. Direct from the label would be ideal.

The Red Step

Andrew:
Let’s talk about the state of music in general a bit. In your opinion, what’s the state of the music industry these days? What are some things that need to change?

Tobias:
I could say that it’s all going to hell, but I think it’s already been there for quite some time. Of course I’m referring to the mainstream side of things here. Thankfully, there will always be folks who go against the grain and do their own thing, popular sentiment and existing institutions be damned. In terms of what needs changing, it’s the same as it’s been – remove artist exploitation and implement fair models.

Andrew:
In the world we live in today, we are more or less dominated by the never-ending barrage of social media. How has this effected music as an artform? Is an artist’s ability to get their music out there hindered by all this, or helped?

Tobias:
Well, the expectation of instant gratification has greatly affected the shape of things. Though this predates social media as such, I think it’s an ever-evolving theme that’s doing a ton of harm. Quickly churn out whatever pap so that it can be thrust into the mass-advertising arena in hopes of being noticed and ultimately monetized. Nothing really new here, but the scale has become gargantuan. As for artist opportunity, I suppose it’s a double-edged sword. The need for labels, management and other infrastructure can be reduced or outright removed. This is amplified even further by the availability of affordable and effective DAWs. On the other hand, due to the sheer amount of music being produced and disseminated, chances of artists actually being seen in all the chaos decreases. Licensing and live performance can be negatively impacted by this as well. In the end, it’s a windfall for some, and a fucking catastrophe for others. I don’t see much in between, and therein lies the usual problem.

Andrew:
Who are a few artists, past or present that mean a lot to you?

Tobias:
Musically speaking, anything Thrash Metal. Coroner would be one example of that. I’m a huge fan of Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy in terms of Jazz. Post-Punky/Alt-Rocky stuff (I really hate genre definitions) would be Unwound, Drive Like Jehu, Jesus Lizard, Melvins, Birthday Party and Pixies. Portishead got a lot right as well. There’s certainly more, but you’ve got the general idea.

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

Tobias:
Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, due to their (now somewhat) indirect impact on me. Money Jungle, because if you somehow disagree, I’ll immediately un-friend you on FB. Flowers of Romance, since it’s just so weird and so good and all wrapped up so perfectly.

Andrew:
Aside from music, what else are you most passionate about and why? How do your other passions inform and inspire your music?

Tobias:
I love reading – a few of my favorite authors are Cormack McCarthy, Mervyn Peake and Jack Vance. Dreaming (literally) is also a significant source of creative inspiration for me, as I can lucid dream. Observing behavior and questioning the motivation behind it also adds to the pool. Oddly, those things outside the musical realm tend to inspire me much more than those within.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Tobias:
Following through with my last statement, I’m not really a big music listener. I find the weird soup of harmonies and melodies in my head to be extremely important in generating ideas, and adding more to that strange brew can be distracting. However, if I wanted to, I’d probably collect Heavy Metal vinyl. For now, I just shop for vintage pens. No joke.  

Andrew:
Last question. What advice would you have for young artists just starting out?

Tobias:
What to say without sounding cheesy or cliché – just be yourself and be honest. Genuineness is invaluable in art. You’re not only doing yourself a disservice by being dishonest, but people will know what you’re doing is contrived. That said, this works in both directions. If what you really and truly desire is to be the next American Idol winner (though I’d advise against that for a multitude of reasons), go for it with all you’ve got.

Tobias Nathaniel | Discography | Discogs

Interested in diving deeper into the work of The Red Step? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.

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