In the twilight of the European tour in support of their third -- and best -- record, Lit Up from the Inside, St. Louis band Nadine (Reichmann, guitar/vocals; Rauner, guitars, vocals; Anne Tkach, bass; Todd Schnitzer, drums) are finally able to relax for a few days, sit in a hotel lobby and strum some of their songs. The tour consisted of 25 dates in 31 days, with stops in Denmark, Germany, England and Scotland, and, over the phone, the band breathes a tiny sigh of relief that the schedule is coming to a close. However tiring, the dense run is the result of a simple truth: Europeans want to see Nadine live, and the band is touring there because of demand.
"So many dates in a row, your sociopath ratio increases, so it's nice to have a couple days off," says Reichmann. "I feel like a normal human being again. It's been pretty fun this time. Last time we were over here, we didn't know what to expect every place, and some of the places we've gone this time, we've returned to the same places, and it's remarkable how well not only these people remember us but we remember them. We just spent a night with them, but now we've got -- I guess you could call them friends -- over here, just because we get a lot of partying in on a single night."
The night before, they were on the BBC, performing their songs. The next night, they perform in London. Then it's on to Scotland before heading home to celebrate the stateside release of Lit Up at Off Broadway on Friday, Dec. 15. Most surprising to all of them, it seems, is the fervor with which they've been greeted; the crowds aren't huge, but they're dedicated. Rauner describes one such encounter with a German fan, who asked him, with a straight face: "So tell me, exactly why did you decide to play a different solo on this song than on the record?"
"There's this group of particularly Glitterhouse label bands' fans," he says, referring to the record label to which they're signed in Europe. "They're like Grateful Dead fans. This one couple of people came to 10 shows this tour. This one guy drove 16 hours to Alborg (Denmark). It was crazy. And they're all avid bootleggers, so they'll bring you a CD of the show you played two nights before. Anne gets the worst of it, because she's such a babe. She had this one guy show up with a T-shirt that he made with a picture of her on it. They're kind of crazy." ("Oh my gosh," say Tkach of the fan. "We saw him a couple of times on this trip. His name is Mike, and he plays blues guitar. He doesn't speak very good English, so it's kind of hard to communicate -- a lot smiling and nodding.")
"It's cool," continues Rauner. "Not to get heavy about it, but I think the German people -- probably these particular people are so into American rock music because they really think it means a lot in terms of the American free-spirit thing. They impose, I think, a little more than what's really going on in the situation, but they're really into the idea of the American frontier. These are the same dudes that rent the Winnebagos and go traveling around the American South and the Midwest and down Texas and the mountains."
Nadine does play American music, even if the two acts the group most closely resembles these days, Neil Young (circa Tonight's the Night) and the Band, are Canadian. Last year's Downtown, Saturday showcased a band discovering its voice, one that mixes a touch of twang with a hearty pop hook and an inherent existential sadness. On Lit Up, that sadness runs even deeper, punctuated with moaning organs, strange, quiet beats and the occasional pedal steel. A thunderstorm is directly overhead during most of Lit Up, but, unlike other American bands drawing from similar wells of inspiration, Nadine doesn't wallow until the emotion becomes flat, doesn't abuse the genetic sorrow inside country music as lesser bands do. Rather, Reichmann, who writes the lyrics and sings the songs, tosses difficult, big-picture questions out there and then wrestles with them, setting them within vivid landscapes and peppering any answer with an equally compelling follow-up question. In the core of Lit Up runs a thick vein of sadness, but the record is hopeful because Reichmann understands that sorrow is inevitable and the only way to succeed in this world is through the simple acceptance of sorrow's pervasiveness. Reichmann takes comfort in the truth that when the world seems its most grim, beauty is most vivid; on a stormy day, a stray sunbeam can set the world ablaze. Sings Reichmann in "Hope Is Like the Rain": "When words are only names/and places are picture frames/then hope can feel like the rain/falling down on you again."
Nadine visits secret, dark places where, it seems, only a bare bulb offers light. "The places I walk, the sun doesn't touch," sings Reichmann. Such words stand the chance of sounding melodramatic; the band succeeds, though, because the emotions they examine aren't shallow but dense and complicated. Reichmann tells little stories, sets them in faraway places close to home. On "Angela," one of the album's highlights, Nadine carries us on a "highway traffic flight, up the dusty golden way" to Angela, who "stands tall, her black eyes taking in it all." Nadine shines when relaying such vivid visions.
Recorded at Nadine's Undertow Studios on Washington Avenue, Lit Up from the Inside, like its predecessor, is graced with a sonic depth that paints each song with richness. Lead guitarist Rauner is concise, and his ability to complement a melody with counterpoint is one reason many of these songs shine; if the German fan was disappointed that Rauner didn't replicate exactly a solo when performing live, it was probably because his solos are often so exact that any extant note seems to go against a perceived logic. Too, the record's depth is the result of the band's willingness to augment the four-piece setup with strange, unearthly sounds and the occasional synthetic beat, and the result is an aural density that, in less-skilled hands, could muddy the intent. In Nadine's hands, the result is beautiful.
"I think the consensus, which we're all happy with, is that we've done something that actually sounds like our band, sort of broken free a little bit," says Reichmann. "It's much more a band record, a forward-looking record. It's really nice to play songs night after night, because everybody gets so tuned into everybody else, so we can bend stuff around. It's like you're not really even playing your instrument anymore; you're just kind of standing up there doing an interpretive dance, and so every night it can be so different. It's kind of a shame that we can't record a record twice -- like, record it once, then go on a big long trip and come back and then reinterpret it."