Q&A: Ryan Pickop of Nature & Madness

Q&A: Ryan Pickop of Nature & Madness
Courtesy Photo The live band for Nature & Madness consists of (from left) Meredith Kimbrough, Grant D’Aubin, Ryan Pickop and Eric Whithans.

Courtesy Photo
The live band for Nature & Madness consists of (from left) Meredith Kimbrough, Grant D’Aubin, Ryan Pickop and Eric Whithans.

Sparse, folksy songs populated with dense, evocative lyrics is the kind stuff you’re going to get from Ryan Pickop, who goes by the moniker Nature & Madness.

The latest release by Nature & Madness, Where Will We Go, was released in early September after a two year process of recording on and off while living in Waco, Texas, and after Pickop moved here to Fayetteville.

Relatively new to the scene, Pickop first got involved with the Fayetteville scene by playing drums for Smokey & The Mirror. After playing a few solo Nature & Madness shows at Backspace, Eric Whithans and Grant D’Aubin — of Lost John — saw him play and pitched the idea for playing as his band. He was down. Now Pickop is backed by Whithans on slide guitar, D’Aubin on double bass and Meredith Kimbrough on drums.

Inspired musically by artists like Guy Clark, Neil Young and Low, the name Nature & Madness comes from an essay by Paul Shepard of the same name. The idea of the essay mused the idea of why a paradise that is Earth is constantly being destroyed and abused by its inhabitants, who surely must be insane to continue hurting it and expecting different results.

Maybe 24 hours after returning from a brief tour through Texas and back, we got to sit down with Pickop and discuss Where Will We Go:

TFW: So you recorded Where Will We Go about two years ago. Do the songs feel distant at all to you?

PICKOP: They don’t feel distant at all, which is really fun. I’ve put some new releases out that I do feel distant to, but these songs still feel so close to me and I think it’s because a lot of the songs are rooted in feeling unsettled. Feeling aimless in our lives. While we totally love being in Fayetteville, it’s easy to always be looking to the future and where we’re going to end up. Uncertainty is always looming I feel like. So yeah, I feel really close to “Where Will We Go” in particular.

TFW: Throughout the 13 songs on your album, when you set out, did you have a specific vision you wanted to achieve or any themes you wanted to explore?

PICKOP: I think so, but maybe not on purpose. Mostly about place and where we call home, what is home, what does it mean to be settled, what does it mean to move around. Place is an interesting thing. I’m interested in the idea of habitat as a place. Your natural surroundings. All of those things that have sustained us for years and years. Longing for that ability to be in one place and feel like that place is home is really important to me. At the same time, super hard to attain. I feel like most of us are longing for something. I feel like those themes comes up a lot in the record.

TFW: Now that the album is finished and you’ve moved here to Fayetteville, do you feel like you’ve gotten past those sorts of feelings?

PICKOP: No, I feel like I’m comfortable. That song, “Where Will We Go” came about when we lived in Waco. We were looking for a way to leave, but then we bought a house. We were so gearing up to leave, and then something came up and we decided, shit, let’s hang out for a while. In the same way here, there’s always a cool place around the corner. Teaching yourself and allowing yourself to look around where you’re at and say this is pretty sweet, we’ve got a cool thing going here. I guess I could say I just recently lost a job, and this community of Fayetteville has been incredible opening its arms to me and checking on me and helping me find new opportunities that may have been somewhere else. It goes without saying how grateful I am for this community.

TFW: Let’s talk about the music of the album. I’d definitely say its defining characteristic is sparse. What’s your approach to your songs and how you sort of hear them before you write them, so to speak?

PICKOP: That’s definitely on purpose. We worked on this record for two years. We could have put a lot of stuff in it. For me, the music I’m drawn to is intentional. Not necessarily lyric driven, but I want the focus of the record to be obvious. For me, the focus of my music is my lyrics, the idea I’m trying to get across and everything else, while it’s supportive, it is at the same time ambient. It’s pretty and it’s pleasing, but there’s not going to be any guitar solos that rip you in the face. There’s a time and place for that, but I don’t want that necessarily to be in the forefront of what I do.

In the early 90s there was a genre that popped up called slow-core. My favorite band is Low, and they’re out of Duluth, Minnesota. They were called slow-core, and they resented that, because it’s a silly name. It’s very slow, sparse and intentional. And that’s a word I really try to focus on in my music. I played drums, I played guitar and I sang. I was able to harness the moods I was looking for in those instruments. Most of it was me, but I had buddy that played pedal steel, and a buddy that played bass.

TFW: Yeah, your lyrics certainly take on the job of filling the space between musical lines in your songs. Tell me a little bit about your songwriting, what are you trying to accomplish?

PICKOP: Really, I’m trying my best to tell the truth. It’s totally possible for me as an artist, or really just a human being, to tell the truth all the time, but I want to. I want to be open and allow the listener to be present in my life as much as possible. That’s one aspect of it. Another aspect is expressing beauty in the small things. The small things and the natural things. The first song on the record is “Canadian Geese,” and you can hear in the first line, “You can hear in the streets Canadian Geese fly.” That phrase is not necessarily connected to the next phrase in the song, but to me it’s important because that was an actual moment. I was in the backyard and Canadian geese flew by. I don’t know why it’s important, but to me it was intrinsic to the music. It’s kind of a funny thing. It’s almost like filler, but it’s not filler, because it actually is important to me. Some of that nature imagery can transport that listener to a place to receive a bit of truth in that place. Maybe. I like that idea, I might think about it more.

My writing approach is different all the time. I haven’t been writing much since I’ve been in Fayetteville. A lot of my songs are rooted in discomfort and hurt. But being in Fayetteville has felt so good, material has been harder to come by which is interesting.

Upcoming Shows

South on Main, Little Rock – Friday, Sept. 30

Smoke and Barrel, Fayetteville – Friday, Oct. 7


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