Though Nina Nastasia’s previous six albums quietly mastered the art of subtle devastation, they won’t have prepared listeners for her seventh. The Los Angeles-born singer-songwriter came to cult acclaim in her thirties with her 2000 self-released debut, Dogs, recorded by Steve Albini, who passed a copy on to John Peel. Both became champions of Nastasia’s powerful songwriting: compellingly direct, darkly skewed alt.country which evolved through storms of strings, saw, fiddle and accordion on The Blackened Air and Run To Ruin, via collaboration with the Dirty Three’s ingenious drummer Jim White on You Follow Me, to grand orchestral drama on Outlaster.
In April, Nastasia revealed that her 25-year relationship with her partner and manager, Kennan Gudjonsson, had been marred for most of that time by emotional abuse and control. After she ended it in 2020, he killed himself. Her stark new album, Riderless Horse, unsparingly documents her grief and her survival; “I am ready to live”, she sings in the last moments of its final song.
(2000, Socialist Records/2004, Touch And Go)
Songs of subtle and shifting moods that still haunt with their sense of hushed aftermath
I’d been doing music organically, from having a shitty job and being desperate to escape in writing songs, to doing little open mics, then slowly, slowly doing shows in New York City. And then when I met Kennan, he ended up being a kind of producer for all the records after that. He was a real force; he was the one who said, “We need to record this with Steve Albini.” Walking into such a beautiful studio, and working with Steve, that was a super-lucky, great, great way to do the first record. He can make it sound like you’re in the room. And it could be fun. At the start of recording, we were having trouble getting “Nobody Knew Her” to sound great. And Steve said, “I have a suggestion. Everybody take your balls out.” So everybody did, and that was the take we used. I think that broke a lot of ice.
The song that I’m most proud of is “Stormy Weather”. I’d never really call myself a real guitar player and “Stormy Weather” doesn’t pay attention to any rules that, if I were to start learning the guitar, I’d maybe have to think about. So I was maybe going a bit more sophisticated than I was aware of, musically. And also, I’m happy with the lyric writing, how it gets across certain things that I grew up with – my mother, and her illness [Nastasia’s mother died when she was 18]. She would go through cortisone psychosis due to the steroid medications she took for her lung condition. Some of those episodes were quite scary – there was a moment where she pulled me out of the shower and said, “Oh, my God, the house is on fire,” or she’d be talking on the phone and nobody was there.