Nate Fredrick and the Wholesome Boys photo by Aubrey Wise
Nate Fredrick on the Formation of the Wholesome Boys
Nate Fredrick & the Wholesome Boys released their debut, self-titled EP in March 2023, and it represented a big development for all of the band members in terms of finding each other, becoming bandmates, and building their initial sound. They had all accrued a fair amount of musical experience in Nashville, and Nate Fredrick had been releasing successful solo work, but it took a kind of personal and musical alchemy for them to build their relationship together, and one of the tenets of that relationship has been their mutual path to sobriety. This includes Nate Fredrick on lead vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, Dylan Miller on drums and percussion, Frank Patrick James on vocals and electric guitar, and Andrew Foreman on bass.
A big part of the band’s story is that it’s built not only on sobriety but on experiencing life, and the musical life, “awake” and on new terms. But there’s a deeper level where it’s about creating personal relationships among band members that extend beyond writing and performing and act as a support structure through life. On those terms, the making of music for the Wholesome Boys is increasingly about collaboration and communication, and that’s also been tested out on the road with some intensive touring at both large and small venues. I spoke with Nate Fredrick about the meaningful process he’s experienced in watching the band come together and contributing to their future success together.
Americana Highways: I understand that it’s a really significant thing that the band has come together as a unit with similar goals, particularly for you. How did that come about?
Nate Fredrick: Me and Frank, my guitar player, had been kind of playing as a duo for about a year and a half. Dylan, our drummer, had played drums with us a few times, sparingly. But Andrew hadn’t played with us yet. I thought, “Let’s bring the band together and see what’s up.” Dylan had been telling me for a while, “I’ve got this band.”
But I had been going through some personal stuff and I really only had the energy and funding to make it me and Frank. I didn’t want to be responsible for three other people before! And I don’t know that they would have wanted to follow me. But we brought them out at the right time and it felt like we’d been playing together forever. It felt so right. It was pretty magical. I’d played with other musicians and I’ve had bands, but I’ve never been in a band where the personalities fit.
We have a connection, even when the instruments are not in our hands. It’s a lot more than that. It’s much more of a cultural experience. The rest of them are in their own journeys of sobriety also. I’m a few days away from a year sober. Frank is six months sober, and Dylan and Andrew are both eight months sober, so we’re all on this side-journey of recovering our lives as men and playing music together. For a while, I tried not to make that a huge narrative, but that’s such a big part of our story that it has to be mentioned.
We’re all pretty raw and fresh in living our lives awake and so we get to experience that music together. I definitely think it has something to do with how we relate to music together because we’re all getting high on that. We’re able to have better conversations and feel better in the van, and not fight. All those things that come with not numbing yourself all the time.
AH: It sounds like Frank kind of knew, like he had an intuition about you guys getting together. That eventually it would work out.
NF: Frank’s always known. He is the visionary of this sound. We all have a common goal and we all just want to play, but we definitely look to him. We ask, “Does this pass the Frank test?” If it does, we do it. I’m more of a “get it done” guy, but Frank upholds the quality of the stuff that we do. We’re lucky to have him for that, and sometimes he says the hard things. He’s kind of the big brother, in a way, and he knows a lot about amps and guitar, also. I’ve learned so much from him since this is my first time playing in the electric realm with guitar, also. He’s definitely the bandleader, to say the least.
AH: It’s interesting because if you look at bands that have had some longevity, there’s usually someone who understands the personality of the band and kind of keeps the band on that path. That sounds like Frank.
NF: Right! Because you can have four people who are all super-creative and great artists in their own right, but they all have individual voices. To keep grown men on the same page takes a lot of communication, sacrifice, and hard work. You have to ask, “Is this what we’re going for?” The further you go down this road, the more people turn up and they can either help you or throw you off course. You have to check in with each other about this. It’s very much like what they talk about in recovery, a support system, but in a musical endeavor. There are struggles of being on the road and the struggles of life in general. We are a band on the road and we are also a band through life together.
AH: I was reminded of the fact that you’re never going to be the same age again, recently. In this case, you’re never going to be where you are in your journey again as you are right now, with each other. You’re sharing that moment.
NF: Yes, we’ve said that to each other. The odds are against bands staying together, and we know that. But if it stopped today, we would all be better people for it, and we’ve all enjoyed it. In the same way as with sobriety, we show up for that day and are thankful for it. We bust our ass and we’re having a ball. I’ve lived in Nashville for eight years, and we’d all kind of done the thing and we’re feeling pretty dejected, in a way, before. Now we have a crew who have the same goals. Give me the person who I want to hang out with, and who believes in what I believe in, and we can figure out how to play together. That’s the most important part of being on a musical journey with someone.
AH: How do you feel about collaborating together as a band and releasing independently right now? You said that you’ve kind of “done the thing” already, so is this a step into greater agency for you?
NF: In the beginning, I was just working on songs that I had written, with my crew. But now there’s a song that Frank wrote and a song that Dylan wrote that I sing, that people just love. The more that we move forward with this project, the more that it becomes a collaborative effort. I’m really pumped for that. I’m all about it because I know that I don’t know everything. The less that I can make this about me, the less burden that I have to carry. It makes the weight a lot lighter. I have an abundance mindset this time around. Our ceiling is so much higher with four hyper-creative, hardworking people, instead of just me or hiring people out. You have to share, and it can be a challenge to communicate, but it’s a really beautiful thing. We’re all adults, we’re all in our 30s, but we’re living a kind of 8th grade dream together.
And I think the only way that we could do that is independently. We’re knocking off all those grassroots steps without being thrown onto humongous stages all the time. We’re not getting our heads too big while we’re having to figure this out, and I think we’re the better for it.
AH: It can happen that when there’s a big label presence, bands are treated a little like children. They are put on a bus or a plane, told where to go, what to do. It can keep them in a less adult state and that might contribute to problems down the line. The labels can act parental.
NF: I think knowledge is power and sometimes labels want to keep some control. I think we would all kind of being a bit expendable, within the band, if we were with a label. To have our own job security is great. We’ve also all worked within the service industry. We’ve all been bartenders. We’ve all worked at Neighbors, in Germantown, in Nashville, together. That’s where we met. So we don’t mind loading in, loading out, cleaning up, talking to people, because it’s just a shift. It’s like working a shift together at shows, but it’s a lot more fun. It’s almost like that part, in the beginning of a band, is really formative. If and when a band does get with a label, at that point, the band might be a little more solidified. Then we also will have earned the right to understand what we’re doing.
AH: You’ve played smaller venues and you’ve also played some quite big venues in your recent touring. Was that an odd experience for you?
NF: We’ve played shows recently where there were only 50 people there, but people said, “Man, you guys play like you’re playing a big venue.” We had just gotten off those shows with Morgan that were sold out with thousands of people, and we played the same show on that stage. It feels the same with the boys on the stage, whether it’s small and intimate or large. The people get the same experience. We appreciated the people at the small venue saying that to us. We always play the same show.
AH: That can be really clarifying for bands. I was just reading about how Led Zeppelin went back and did a pub tour at the height of their fame. People thought, “They are crazy. Why would they do that?”
NF: I can understand that, because it’s a different energy on the small stages. In small rooms, you can feel that energy, and on a big stage, sometimes you have to manufacture it, in a way. Our first show of the June road, where we go on the road with Muscadine Bloodline, and we go all the way out to Seattle, is at Bearsden Pizza in Arkansas. We go to some smaller clubs, then larger ones, then smaller ones. We’ve mixed them in. It’s so humbling to play a pizza joint and then play these big shows, but it’s the same show. This is us, too. It’s just a different form of us, and in some ways, that’s refreshing. People are so amazing and engaged at the smaller shows. That’s been cool to experience.
AH: Do you have any thoughts about how to grow and build things as a band in a way that’s sustainable in terms of energy and resources?
NF: The music industry is not meant to be beaten or to be won, but it’s meant to keep doing it. Whatever you can do to keep playing, and to stay out there, that’s winning. To keep doing it is winning, because then it doesn’t ever end. Set yourself up to keep doing this, and that’s as good as it gets. I don’t see how you can do that without acknowledging or having people around you. It’s too lonely and too sad to do it without them.
AH: I think that’s true in a lot of creative fields, that “winning” is simply continuing to do what you love. A lot of people don’t quite realize that, and it’s like the difference between a sprinter and a marathon runner in the way that they think.
NF: This chapter in my life has been a hello to me about what music can be. The songs on the album have stories behind them, but the “song” that this band is writing has a lot to say. That’s our experience and what we are actually creating. That’s a little bit bigger than the songs on the EP. That’s it’s own creative process, outside of any notes being played. I’m super-pumped to talk about that today, since this is the foundation that is going to get us further down the road.
We’ve got a lot of stuff in the works, like a live album. We’re going to do a full-length record, too. This EP is truly an introduction.
Thanks so much for chatting with us, Nate Fredrick. Find more about Fredrick and the band here: https://www.natefredrickmusic.com/
Enjoy our earlier coverage here: REVIEW: Nate Fredrick Different Shade of Blue Reflects Maturity