An Interview with Nate Maingard
Writer Colleen Ryor talks to musician Nate Maingard in 2015.

Q: You were born in the rural outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. How did growing up in nature near the mountains and ocean affect you as an artist?

A: In every way. My songs are so much about our connection with the earth and nature. The symbols of nature appear strongly in my lyrics, and the way I was shaped by those early days on the mountain and in the water certainly come through in my tunes.

Q: You’ve been traveling since 2004, and performing as a professional musician since 2011. What made you finally decide to make the jump a few years ago?

A: I went through a series of challenging experiences. Falling in unrequited love, traveling to California for the first time, seeing a mystical psychic who told me things I needed to hear. When I arrived back in South Africa in 2011 I began working full-time in an incredible raw food company called Soaring Free Superfoods. It was the best full-time job I could ever have wished for, and yet I was still so unhappy there. 

I finally realized that if I didn't follow my own heart, I would never really feel my own sense of "rightness." Living a dream, no matter how beautiful, is still a nightmare if it's not your own dream. 

I realized that if I didn't commit to my heart's desires then I would arrive at my deathbed and look back wondering "what if I'd tried."

Q: What obstacles have you overcome in order to be where you are today? What are you still working on?

A: MASSIVE self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness. I was 28 when I finally surrendered to my calling. I still didn't really believe that my music or my stories were actually worth anyone's time or money. I still have days like that sometimes, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.

Q: Your father is a musician in his own right and made custom guitars in a workshop when you were a boy. Your mother was a poet. Being around such artistic parents surely had a hand in your appreciation for music, and art in general. You mentioned The Beatles, Neil Young, Nick Drake, and Cat Stevens as particular musical influences while you were growing up. What musicians today do you admire?

A: I'm fortunate to be surrounded by an incredibly inspiring tribe of musicians, so my best friends are also my favorite artists. People like Roaman, Sam Garrett, Thomas James Smith, Ny Oh and Jesse Sheehan, to name just a few.

Some other artists I've been greatly inspired and influenced by include Radiohead, Death Cab For Cutie, mewithoutYou, Ani DiFranco, Mason Jennings, Rocky Votolato, Tallest Man On Earth, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes...okay, I'll stop, the list goes on and on, ha.

Q: As far as poetry goes, our readers would love to know what poets you’ve been influenced by. Do any spring to mind? Do you think having grown up with poetry influences your lyrics today? I think of Jim Morrison, who actually wanted to be known more as a poet than he ever did a rock star. He wrote reams of poetry and, in his later years, was disappointed when his fans began to look at him solely as a rock star, while ignoring his poetic merits, for the most part. You haven’t claimed to be a poet, that I’m aware of, but you have said that it’s very important to you that your audience has individual interpretations of your lyrics, and that they can feel a human connection with you and with humankind as a whole while experiencing the stories your lyrics convey.

A: I don't actually read as much poetry as I might, but my favorite overall is Hafiz, who was a 13th century Sufi poet. His words helped me more than I can say, helped me to feel a liberated clarity about my relationship with the Divine spirit alive in all things.

I also love E. E. Cummings.

Thing is, I came to music through lyrics, so I always seek out music which is also poetry. Many people have told me that my music is just poetry set to music. 

I also enjoy prose which flows as though it's poems laid out in lines upon pages.

Q: When you write your lyrics, you often don’t know where they’re coming from at first. Is it almost like a stream of consciousness thing coming out on the paper (assuming you even use paper; I’m old school when I write and still use a notebook). Only later do you start realizing the meaning of some of your lyrics. You talk about translating your own lyrics for your listeners so that they can interpret them on a universal level. Robert Frost famously said, “Poetry is that which is lost in translation.” Is there anything lost in lyrics, or only gained by each listener’s interpretation? Individual experience of art doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, does it?

A: We are each subjective awarenesses experiencing reality through the filter of "I." So when we look at the grass and say it's green, we're only imagining that everyone else calls the same thing green, but it could be entirely different for each individual. 

So yes, I believe art, lyrics and poetry are all experienced subjectively by whoever is absorbing it.

At the same time, it's been shown that when people play music together, their brainwaves align and begin to pulse on the same frequencies. So, art also connects us back to the "One" consciousness, to our birthright of connectivity and community.

Q: I also noticed that you don’t seem to refer to your listeners as “fans.” Later, in preparation for our interview, I came across something in which you said, “I'm not a rock star; I don't get up onto the stage to separate myself from my audience. I'm not interested in fame for its own sake. What I'm excited about is the conversation between me and those who listen.” That statement confirmed what I already sensed about you as an artist: you want to share your music with others, and in that sharing, to experience something with them as well. You’ve found that house concerts have been particularly suited to this mission, and you’ve performed them in South Africa, the U.K., Germany, and California. How are the house concerts more conducive to the level of intimacy and sharing that you want with your audience? For someone who’s never experienced one before, how would you describe the atmosphere?

A: Imagine your best friends, the ones you trust the most and feel the safest with. You can be vulnerable with them, you know that even at your worst they will be there, loving you. 

That's basically what house concerts almost always feel like to me. In that space of intimacy and closeness—through sharing my music which is so much about open-heartedness—we all let go and become connected. The illusions of separation dissolve.

It's also just way more fun. As an audience member, you get to have an incredible artist sitting feet away from you. You all get to share stories, songs, conversations, dreams. It's a shared experience rather than a performance.

Q: You’ve said that your songs are very strongly story-oriented. How does this tie in with being a modern-day troubadour, or minstrel, if you prefer?

A: A troubadour is a storyteller, a voice of the people. This is, to me, what folk music is. I go deep into my experiences and attempt to tell the truest stories of them that I can, through my songs. The closer to my own truth I can get, the more my songs become universally relateable. 

In this way, by being the voice which speaks what others feel, I am a troubadour.

Q: You’ve actually traced your heritage back to a specific ancestor who was indeed a troubadour. Did you find this out before or after your decision to become a modern-day minstrel?

A: I knew that we had musicians going way back in my bloodline, but I only found out about Aimeric De Peguilhan (13th century troubadour) about a year ago! 

Q: Patreon has made it possible for you to travel the globe on several continents, thanks to your loyal listeners whom you affectionately refer to as the “Nateives.” When did you first hear about Patreon, and what made you decide to sign up for it?

A: I heard about Patreon through listening to the CDBaby podcast. They interviewed the founder Jack Conte. 

I signed up immediately as I knew it was what I had been searching for. 

My music is not about a product, or commercialism. It's a direct connection from human to human. I don’t ever want to put a price on that. With Patreon, I can offer my music to the world for whatever price they choose. Those who can afford to will pledge more, those who can't can have my music for free. It's a beautiful, sacred exchange. 

Q: Have you ever received criticism for using Patreon by people who might view it as a modern-day form of begging? How would you address such concerns? Forbes recently wrote an article about Patreon, explaining that it often serves artists and content creators much better than Youtube when it comes to earnings. The business model consists of people paying you because they want to, not because they have to, correct? This means that you have the most loyal audience members willing to invest in your music, if you will. Does this make you feel any pressure to create more music within a certain period of time for the Nateives?

A: I have had a few people over the years tell me I should get a real job, and to stop begging. They haven't seen the messages and letters I've received from all over the world, from people who have been healed by my music. I've heard from those who had broken hearts, who were depressed, who had given up hope. My music came to them and they felt the spark of life again, the flame of hope and optimism igniting in their chests. 

Those people are the ones who value my music enough to support me in it. We know that our exchange is pure, and no one else gets to dictate whether that's okay or not.

Q: You receive messages daily from listeners all over the world, and are known for being accessible and receptive to these messages. You’ve even said that you often become overwhelmed by heartfelt missives describing how your music has helped people get through bad times. Coincidentally, when you found me on Twitter, I was going through a rough time myself, and your page happened to be a serendipitous bright note in my night. A friend of mine was going through some dark times and I sent your music to her, which she appreciated. How does this affect you as an artist? How do you find the time in your day to connect with people from all over the world, work on your songwriting, performing, and travelling? Is sleep a rare commodity for you?

A: Those messages I receive are soul-food for me. In my dark moments they are the light I need too. It's an exchange, always. My music goes out and I use the energy that comes back in to keep me going.

I struggle with balance in my life in general, so some days I do more online stuff, and some days I'm just out in the world, sharing and creating with my tribe. It's an ongoing challenge for sure.

Q: You have the Taoist Yin & Yang symbol on your guitar strap. This theme of balance ties in nicely with my interpretation of the lyrics to my favorite song of yours to date, “In the Shadows”:

It’s hard to open up my eyes
When I feel like I’ve been blind
All of my days, now I’m
Wandering through the haze
And the world is looks so crazy
Maybe that’s just me
Maybe it’s just me

We all find our secrets
Patient in the shadows
Right there where we left them waiting
No matter how far we run
They run right beside us
Our demons know our names
Better than anyone

See me trapped within this construct
Beating at the locked up door and
Gripped tight deep within my fist
Is the key to all I’ve missed
That the pain is just the teacher
And the cage is just a myth

We all find our secrets
Patient in the shadows
Right there where we left them waiting
No matter how far we run
They run right beside us
Our demons know our names
Better than anyone

I spend oh so many hours
Building up and giving power
To the worst I can imagine lives in me
And now oh to my surprise
When the ghost as me disguised
Is the best at breaking everything
Everything, everything I dream.

You who presume you can stay dry by
Dodging all the raindrops falling
Thick, try lifting up your tongue
To the rain not just the sun
Nothing quite so simple
Was ever so much fun

We all find our secrets
Patient in the shadows
Right there where we left them waiting
No matter how far we run
They run right beside us
Our demons know our names
Better than anyone

To me, this song represents embracing the darker times in life, or at least not running from them, as it’s futile at best. Meeting them head on and realizing they will pass if we do so will make us stronger and better human beings for it. Would you share your translation of these lyrics with us?

A: Sure, you've definitely picked up on a lot of what I was thinking when I wrote it. To go further, I would say that the realization is that the Shadows are actually there to teach us, to be guides taking us further into our true selves, if we only let them. To embrace the darkness, to love the shadows, to surrender to the emotions. In that is a healing beyond just "being happy all the time." Our shadows are our teachers disguised as our enemies.

Q: You actually handcrafted your own guitar, aptly named Melody. Do you plan on making one named Harmony to join her? I have a cello named Fritz, but unfortunately I didn’t make him. He did survive a fire, though. I was happy to hear about this, because I don’t know many other musicians who name their instruments. The first thing I read on your Twitter bio was that you were “proudly weird.” When going through that rough week, I happened to post a Facebook update a few days before we crossed paths, saying something to the effect of “I like people who are weird, because they’re the only ones I don’t feel weird around.” Somehow I knew you’d be a neat guy to follow back, and so I looked more into your music. I don’t just add everyone on Twitter who adds me, especially musicians. I actually go and listen to their music and check it out if I’m not familiar with it. So when I read that and then listened to your music, I was impressed, and wanted to share your unique message and personality and wonderful music with our readers. There are a lot of people making good music out there these days, but you have more stories to tell, which is why I have you here being interviewed today. You’re not the average musician requesting people on Twitter. What makes you “proudly weird”?

A: When we live in an insane and psychotic society, feeding our fear on toxic media, poisoning us with junk food, killing our sense of wonder and joy with mind-numbing jobs...well, when we live in a world like that then the only way to be sane is to appear insane to the current status quo.

I am proudly weird because I think it's okay to be vulnerable, it's okay to eat food which comes naturally from the earth, it's okay to talk about sacred sexuality, it's okay to love the Divine Feminine, it's okay to be afraid, it's okay to live the life you dream. We are all OKAY! 

In a world where advertising tells you everyday that you are not ok, I am weird because I say that YOU ARE ENOUGH!

Q: You’ve gotten quite a bit of media attention lately: while troubadouring in England a few weeks ago you were a guest lecturer at the SAE Institute and also had lunch with Cindy Gallop, TED speaker and founder of website Make Love Not Porn. She shared a letter you had written with other members after being particularly impressed by it. Tell us about these experiences.

A: Alan Watts has a great talk called 'What If Money Was No Object'. 

When I surrendered to my passions, suddenly the universe began connecting me with people who were so excited to support my journey onwards. 

Through my enthusiasm and curiosity, I have connected with a global community and been invited to participate in incredible experiences. Speaking at SAE was like that. Through my friend Tommy Darker of Darker Music Talks, I was invited to lecture at SAE.

Through my excitement about open and honest conversations around sexuality, I connected with Cindy and MLNP. 

The rest, as they say, is history.

Q: You tweet about the idea of sex becoming more normalized with some regularity. Why do you feel that sex is an important issue in today’s’ society? What do we still have to work on in the 21st century in western culture?

A: Turn on the TV, or open a newspaper, and you will be bombarded by hyper-violence and ultra-sexualized imagery. Anyone can open a newspaper—children, elderly—anyone. But try to have an open conversation about sexuality: what turns you on, how does communication in sex work, etc...just try, and see how quickly people will shut down. Children are googling about sex from 8 years old and all they will find is hardcore porn, which is just another symptom of suppression. When we can openly talk about sex, we liberate ourselves. Every one of us is the result of people having sex! It's okay to talk about it, it's okay to be vulnerable, and it is SO MUCH MORE FUN to talk openly with your partner about your needs and desires!

Q: You’ve also been featured on New York Times bestselling author Chris Guillebeau’s unconventional living and traveling site. How did that come about, and how did it feel to share these experiences with his readers?

A: My friend Katie told me about Chris's blog, so I started reading it. At some point they asked for submissions from unconventional travelers, and I guess they liked my story, cos next thing I knew I was on the blog. 

I was honored to share, and I hope my story inspires others to follow their own dreams too!

Q: Finally, where are you off to next in your travels?

A: I'm heading to Tenerife with my tribe of Lyrical Nomads, then back to South Africa for a family visit...and then, who knows where the wind will take me.

NATE MAINGARD is a modern troubadour, storyteller, global nomad, indie-folk singer-songwriter, and professional musician into sustainability, romance, gaming, meditation, community, fantasy novels, local and organic vibes, magical hugs, yoga, writing, poetry, reading, listening, surfing, and smoothies. Nate was awarded a South African National Arts Festival Ovation Award in 2012, and in the course of one year he played over 100 shows around South Africa. His last EP, In The Shadows, was crowd-funded, and recorded in London with artists who have worked with Adele, Paul McCartney, Jason Mraz, and many more. Listeners can find Nate's music here: and here:

COLLEEN MARIE RYOR founded The Adirondack Review in the spring of 2000 and lives with her sons in northern New York. Her website is 
The Adirondack Review