Pure X’s Paradiso

Published April 3, 2014

ABOVE: PURE X

In 2012, Austin, TX’s Pure X went through hell. Guitarist/vocalist Nate Grace tore up his knee in a skateboarding accident, and when coupled with a number of interpersonal problems, that physical injury put just about everything into doubt for the trio. What resulted from the year of pain was Crawling Up the Stairs, a totemic, heart-wrenching record that chronicles a descent into hell and the eventual rise back out of it.

But since that album, life has taken a turn upwards—a fact appreciable in the group’s new record, Angel. AM radio rock guitar lines make way for newfound optimism courtesy of Grace, bassist Jesse Jenkins, new multi-instrumentalist Matt Davidson, and drummer Austin Youngblood. Grace caught us up on the life changes and processes that spawned the new record.

COLIN JOYCE: This record seems like a pretty quick turnaround compared to the last one.

NATE GRACE: Pretty much when the last album came out we’d already started writing new songs. The last album took a long time to get together. By the time it was out, we had already pretty much moved on. We did a little bit of touring and then pretty much over the summer we wrote and wrote. We went on a tour opening for Youth Lagoon and used that to practice the new stuff we’d written. We came straight out of that tour and went into this studio and recorded pretty much live.

JOYCE: What was that process like?

GRACE: We rented out this hundred-year-old dancehall out in Hallettsville, Texas, near Shiner Beer. Our engineer is part owner of Wied Hall. It was built in 1903, Hank Williams played there, all kinds of country badasses. From the outside it looks like this creepy weirdo ghost shack, but inside it has this huge vaulted wooden ceiling and a huge wooden dance floor. We brought all our gear their and pretty much made a studio in there. It took us a day or two to set up, and then we banged out the record in five days. It was something we’d been dreaming up for a while.

JOYCE: It was by design, then, that you were going to get this one done faster.

GRACE: Oh, hell yeah. The last one, with my knee getting fucked up, it took so long. For other bands it might not be that long, but we like to keep recording constantly if we can and to keep putting stuff out. For Crawling Up the Stairs, that was impossible. We’re on Fat Possum now and things are moving a lot faster.

JOYCE: Were there any different musical reference points this time around?

GRACE: Well, we added a new member to the band. Matt Davidson had been touring with us previously. He brought some really good songs. I think that has a big thing to do with the sound of this record. We’ve also been listening to a lot of soul music and Eddie Rabbitt, who we like a lot. A lot of it came from the space we recorded it and the way we recorded it. With the last album we had hundreds of hours to sit around and tweak things, but we made this record in just a few days. We had better gear this time around, too.

JOYCE: You said that Crawling Up the Stairs resulted from a lot of improvisation, was this one more structured?

GRACE: Crawling Up the Stairs was a lot more improvisational generally. It was purposefully trying to dig stuff from the unconscious, and for me the best way to do that is to just come straight off the dome. This one was definitely more structured songs on tour that had already been fleshed out. The song “Heaven” I wrote just a week before we went in. Some of them our first time playing them was in the studio space, but they were already demoed out.

JOYCE: The last album was inspired by that knee injury and the generally crazy year that preceded it. Was this one not so hellish?

GRACE: It was a lot different, for me anyway. Number one, I could fucking walk. I feel incredibly grateful for that. A lot of things have been happening in my life personally that are positive. I had to go through all of the incredible hellish bullshit. I had a lot of just gnarly things happening, but I had to go through all that stuff to get to where I am now. It’s just this complete opposite zone where I actually feel happy about life and excited about possibilities of the future which was not something that had been possible for a while. Because of my knee getting hurt, I got into a more healthy diet. I’m just living more consciously. It’s been life-changing in 100 different ways. This record is called Angel—to me it’s obvious that it’s about this new transcendent state.

JOYCE: Even sonically, it seems like you’re in a much better headspace.

GRACE: I love Crawling Up the Stairs and Pleasure, too, but they totally are reflections of what’s happening in all of our lives at those moments. I think that’s our main focus is making art that reflects the reality that we live in. This is just a continuation of that, but things are a lot better for us in a lot of ways. Maybe not every way. We’re still grinding, trying to eat like everyone else, but just generally I’m aware of new things I wasn’t aware of before.

JOYCE: It fits nicely with the arc of the last record, too. It was a descent into hell and an ascent back out, is this what comes after by design?

GRACE: The last track of Pleasure foreshadows the coming of Crawling Up the Stairs, and the last track of that foreshadows Angel. To me I see it as like some Divine Comedy, like Dante thing. It’s flipped a little. Pleasure would be purgatory and Crawling Up the Stairs would be hell or the inferno and Angel would be paradise.

JOYCE: Not only does it seem removed from the darkness of Crawling Up the Stairs, but Angel seems to have a celebratory air about it, too; am I reading too much into that?

GRACE: No, I think that’s absolutely right; to me it is a celebration, because Crawling Up the Stairs was the darkest period of my entire life. To make it through that and to still be a band and still be making music… there were periods during Crawling Up the Stairs where everything in our lives, including the band, including being alive as far as I’m concerned, was up in the air. To be able to make it through that and make a record like Angel feels like a triumph. It maybe not like dancing in the fucking sun naked or that sort of thing, but it’s like, “Damn, we made it through, we’re doing this.”

JOYCE: To even just allow yourself to be happy after a time like that can be cause for celebration.

GRACE: You hit that on the head. That’s one thing I’ve come across in the past year. It’s like, I can actually let myself be happy, allow myself to be content. It’s incredible. That was something that was really hard for a lot of reasons. I had to go through the bullshit to see that, goddamn, I have a beautiful and blessed life.

ANGEL IS OUT NOW. PURE X WILL PLAY MUSIC HALL OF WILLIAMSBURG TONIGHT, APRIL 4, AND BABY’S ALL RIGHT THIS SUNDAY, APRIL 6. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, PLEASE VISIT ITS WEBSITE.