Nathaniel Bellows discusses being a poet, novelist and musician

Nathaniel Bellows is a widely respected and broadly published poet, novelist, and visual artist based in New York City. Each of the songs on The Old Illusions was written in private, without audience, virtually unheard by anyone, for many years.
When the composer Sarah Kirkland Snider heard these sequestered songs, she emphatically encouraged him to properly record them and get them out into the world. With the help of multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer Aaron Roche, Bellows began recording the music he had written in isolation, but which had always served as an invisible, invaluable parallel companion to his poetry, prose, and visual arts.
The result is an assured set of spare, personal, emotionally and cerebrally textured songs, featuring arrangements by Roche, Alex Sopp (yMUSIC, NOW ENSEMBLE), David Garland (of WNYC’s “Spinning on Air”), Julie Lee and Dan Burns, and DM Stith (Asthmatic Kitty). Rigorously lyrical, with dynamic, complex guitar work, and sung in a voice of equal parts grace and grit, The Old Illusions demonstrates a wholly original mind exploring word, image, narrative, and melody beyond the written page and into the boundless realm of song.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Bellows to discuss the record, which drops January 22 via Harmon Blunt Music.

When did you first begin writing the material for The Old Illusions?  
In general, songs take me a long time to write, and most of these songs have been in the works for years—ten years, at least. Because I never really had the aspiration to properly record and release them, I just took my time writing, allowing each one to slowly evolve and come together on its own. So, this has been an ongoing process—taking place in the background of my other creative endeavors—for quite some time.
You’re a well-loved poet, novelist, musician and visual artist. Is there a particular medium you most identify with? Is there one you get the most enjoyment out of?
Although I work hard to keep all three disciplines active and progressing, I’d say my first love is drawing—I read a lot as a child, and I took piano lessons for 11 years, but most of my time was spent drawing or painting or making something visual. I still find the practice of drawing to be both relaxing and challenging, meditative and rigorous.
“Oh, Now” is such a moving song. It depresses me, even though much of the lyrics are so vague. If it’s not too personal, could you tell me more about that song? 
Thank you. Like all my songs, there are a few different ideas being explored here, but more than the other songs on the record, “Oh, Now” is built upon a slightly embittered premise—a kind of melancholy jadedness about love, connectedness, the pursuit of art-making, the struggle of individualism, the allure and danger of compromise. The song wonders aloud if, in fact, “you cannot win at life by being you.”
Did the songs on The Old Illusions influence Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Unremembered? Or did she hear all of this after she had recorded that album?
Sarah had heard these songs well before Unremembered was recorded. We were in the process of working on that record when she encouraged me to record my music. But I think my own songwriting does inform my libretto/text writing for Sarah, mostly because I am familiar with writing lyrics for my own voice, and, through reading and writing poetry, I’m comfortable exploring formal, poetic conventions—line length, rhyme, enjambment, meter, etc—which can benefit text that is meant to be set to music. That being said, working with Sarah has taught me so much about music—her command of instrumentation, musical styles, melody, text-setting, along with her cerebral and emotional approach to her art is completely inspiring. The new songs I’m now writing have benefitted so much from our ongoing collaboration.
Do you ever play out as a musician? If so, any plans to do some shows this winter?
I have only played one show so far. But my goal in 2016 is to add to that number!
(Visit Bellows here: