Nate Salman is not content to sit still. While his band Waterstrider plans the release of their just-finished debut LP, the Oakland musician has done anything but take a breather. He has already started work on new Waterstrider songs, one of which the band premiered at Oaktown Mayhem Fest this past Saturday. He recently sang on Les Sins’ party-starting track “Why,” and danced in a BART car for the video, which was released last week. And now he gives us his first solo recording, “Be Alright,” in which the Afro-pop tendencies of Waterstrider are abandoned for a playful electronic groove and a dance-ready beat. Last week Salman and I sat down at Homestead on Piedmont Avenue to talk about the new song and eat the best beignets this side of the Big Easy.
Salman, who in a red cardigan, salmon-colored pants and mismatched pastel socks could have easily walked out of a Dr. Seuss story, told me that part of the driving force behind “Be Alright” was the waiting game that came with the end of the Waterstrider recording. “
“Be Alright” begins with an outrageously catchy chorus. As it reappears throughout the song, Salman subtly adds and removes synths and various percussion, bringing to mind the moody shifts of Wilco’s “I am Trying to Break Your Heart.” Salman, a newcomer to the distorted, imaginative samples of artists like Arca and Clams Casino, eagerly told me that the high-pitched samples that sneaks in throughout the song is “a pitch shifted chunk of a weird old flute thing, some record that my parents had in their record collection… I reversed it, chopped it into pieces and then played it on a sampler.” With a laugh, he added, “If someone can figure out what the sample is from, I’d be into that.”
But for a song called “Be Alright” isn’t a bit strange that the other lyrics (“I’d bleed for you”, “I’ve been losing my mind inside this cage”) really sound like things aren’t going to be alright? After writing the hook, Salman tried to twist the song into a “stereotypical pop song,” but, “it just didn’t happen.” Instead, he says, “Be Alright” could be interpreted as an account of the zombie apocalypse. Or a reminder to himself that things have a tendency to work out, “even when it seems like there’s no logical path to go down.” Regardless of how you read it, “Be Alright” is a wonderfully unexpected detour from one of Oakland’s strongest songwriters. Salman is striking out on new ground; and now he’s included us in the adventure.
Listen to “Be Alright” below, via Souncloud.