Based in Denver, Colorado, Nathaniel Rateliff is a striking, emotive tenor vocalist and songwriter whose work runs the gamut from simple folk and Americana to roots rock & roll and vintage rhythm & blues. Although he earned critical acclaim for his quieter, more introspective folk-based albums, he broke out commercially in 2015 with the release of Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, the eponymous debut from his high-energy and soulful live band. Signed to the legendary Stax label, the band spent the next four years enjoying a high-profile career, releasing a live album and studio follow-up before Rateliff returned to solo work with the reflective 2020 album And It's Still Alright. The Night Sweats’ third album, The Future, appeared a year later.
Rateliff was born in rural Missouri, the son of ardent churchgoing parents. The church was an enormous influence on his childhood and early teenage years. He learned to play drums at age seven, and began to teach himself guitar at 13; he wrote his first songs a couple of years later. In his early teens, he listened exclusively to Christian rock but found a copy of John Lennon’s Imagine album in his father’s collection. The title song haunted him and gave rise to spiritual questions that would impact his life in significant ways.
Rateliff left school at the age of 16 and began working in a plastics factory. He and bandmate Joseph Pope III left Missouri for Denver as part of Youth with a Mission, an evangelical organization. While in Denver, he began to question not only the rigors of religion, but the existence of God. He left the organization and began working odd jobs. He built decks and later got work at a trucking company, where he stayed for ten years before eventually becoming a gardener and getting married.
All the while, he and Pope were playing music. During this period, they formed the band Born in the Flood. Though they played everything from classic rock covers to garage rock originals, Rateliff had begun to distinguish himself as a singer. He studied the recordings of the great R&B and country singers and began to carve out a persona and voice of his own. Simultaneously, he began to write quieter, more introspective songs. With the assistance of friends — Pope included — he formed another band called the Wheel. He played in both bands for a time, but the Wheel eventually claimed his attention and his pensive, stark original songs came to the fore. Their debut album, Desire and Dissolving Men, was released in 2007.
The Wheel began to work the road, and Rateliff became increasingly comfortable fronting a band on-stage. As a result, he also began playing solo shows. During a CMJ showcase, he attracted the attention of a Rounder Records executive who signed him. He moved to Chicago to make his debut for the label with producer Brian Deck. In Memory of Loss was issued in 2010 and widely acclaimed for its poignant, introspective songs. He left Rounder — and moved back to Denver — for his sophomore effort, Falling Faster Than You Can Run, which was released by the independent Mod y Vi label in 2013.
Rateliff had begun writing songs that required a band, so he formed the Night Sweats, whose was rowdy, soulful sound was deeply influenced by vintage R&B, soul and gospel traditions, Van Morrison, and the Band. A formidable live unit with a reputation for stage-quaking shows, they were signed to Stax. Rateliff released another independent solo record in January of 2015, the intimate Closer, which continued to draw the attention of listeners and critics. Meanwhile, he and the label enlisted producer Richard Swift to capture the band’s live attack in a studio. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats was issued by Stax in August, preceded by appearances at the Newport Folk Festival and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. They toured globally in support of the album. While still on the road, they issued A Little Something More From, an eight-track EP that featured a combination of new tracks and live favorites. Capturing a performance on August 21, 2016, the one-year anniversary of the group’s eponymous debut, Live at Red Rocks followed in late 2017.
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats returned with their second studio album, Tearing at the Seams, in March 2018, debuting at number 11 on the Billboard 200. Following the band’s touring cycle, Rateliff began working on a more subdued set of songs that harked back to his earlier solo efforts. Exploring themes of love and loss, 2020′s warmly introspective And It's Still Alright was inspired by both the singer’s then-recent divorce and the death of his friend and producer Richard Swift. In December of that year, Rateliff contributed the cathartic, Billboard-charting single “Redemption” to the film Palmer before resuming work with the Night Sweats, who released their third album, The Future, in October 2021. ~ Thom Jurek