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Nathaniel Ratecliff

Tour Spotlight: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

What a difference a record makes. The eponymous debut by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (2015, Stax/Concord), including the Number One track “S.O.B.,” rose to the Top 5 on Billboard’s Rock, Alternative, and Folk charts, and sent the group on a seemingly endless tour in support. The band barely had time to go back into the studio to make their follow-up, 2018’s Tearing at the Seams.

Now with another Top 10 album released, Rateliff & The Nightsweats are beginning the latest leg of a theater/amphitheater tour, playing their rocking, soulful roots music to ever-growing audiences, with an ever-growing production as well.

“Our tour used to be pretty simple,” says front-of-house engineer James Mefford, who has been out with the band since the first record dropped. “When I started touring with the band a few years ago, we were carrying a few mics and backline, but that’s changed in the past year or so. Now we have a full semi for production.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats play “Never Get Old” in Belgium. Rateliff’s electric and acoustic guitars are taken direct and from his Fender Princeton amp, via a Shure KSM313.

“This summer has been a mix of solo headline dates and others co-headlining with The Head and the Heart. For the co-headlining dates, the band carried an L-Acoustics K1 P.A. rig. Right now, we are using house P.A.s, but we’re carrying all of our control.”

Mefford and the band rent all of their gear from Brown Note Productions out of Denver, Colo. “They’re our hometown guys, and we’ve been working with them for a while and have a great relationship,” says Mefford, who is mixing FOH on an Avid S6L.

“I was an early adopter; I really love this console,” Mefford says. “I’m also a studio engineer and I work in Pro Tools a lot. The fact that I can run a lot of the same HDX plug-ins makes it easy to move between those worlds. I also record every night’s show to Pro Tools, and then I use those for virtual soundchecks the next day. It’s the easiest virtual soundcheck I’ve done.”

Mefford mixes the band’s live releases as well, so the seamless transition between stage and studio is beneficial on that side, too. The engineer says he sticks mainly inside the box for live processing; the only outboard piece he’s carrying right now is an Empirical Labs Fatso that he uses for parallel drum compression.

“The Fatso gives us a dirtier compressed drum sound—a little more old-school sounding like Nathaniel likes it,” Mefford says. 

Rateliff & The Night Sweats do have an old-school sound on many levels, but their arrangements also include distinctive sonic elements that set them apart from strictly retro groups. On record, those elements owe much to their late, great producer Richard Swift, and Mefford is making a concerted effort to emulate some of Swift’s touches.

“More so with this tour, I’m trying to implement Richard’s mixing style, including the way he approaches drum compression and some of the delays he used,” Mefford says. “For example, he did some long delays on horns, to make everything more chaotic, in a cool way, and that’s something I’m implementing live. I use the Tape Delay plug-in, in the Avid for this. I would say that making their shows sound more like the records has been my goal for the year, something that’s been easier to achieve while having the time to virtual soundcheck and explore small nuances within the mix.”

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