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Mike Walker, Daniel Lee & Mike Nardone of Nature’s Neighbor: “Diversity is the key to everything”

Diversity is the key to everything. We have always taken pride in being a multicultural band and in the past have had members from China and Japan singing in their native languages. Most of my favorite albums feature multiple vocalists and more than one language. I think that most young people are naturally open and […]

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Diversity is the key to everything. We have always taken pride in being a multicultural band and in the past have had members from China and Japan singing in their native languages. Most of my favorite albums feature multiple vocalists and more than one language. I think that most young people are naturally open and embrace other cultures naturally though, they don’t really need to be told how to act and in many ways the older generations should be looking to them. But it’s all about education. If you grow up in a closed off environment you can easily fall victim to ignorance unless you try very hard to overcome that. That is why it is important for diversity to be portrayed in the media. If diversity is normalized on TV that will hopefully help it seep into mainstream culture.


As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Nature’s Neighbor.

Nature’s Neighbor was formed in 2010 by Mike Walker, Daniel Lee (You Folk) and Mike Nardone while they completed their studies at Columbia College Chicago and were all living in Lincoln Park under the same roof. In the fall of that year, they began writing and recording songs at home for their debut album, You Me And The People, which took about 13 months to produce before its release in November of 2011. By that time, the group had all moved out of the Lincoln Park house and were living in separate parts of Illinois. This, combined with the ability to use the internet as a meeting ground for their ideas and contributions, made them rethink the notion of Nature’s Neighbor being more of a collective rather than a standard band with fixed members.

Since their debut, they have released at least one album every year with a rotating lineup of musicians, the only constantly recurring members being Walker, Terrill Mast (Murphy Mast), and Seth Engel (Options). Each collection of songs has a different sound and feel due to its unique cast of characters, and the band has placed great importance in their open door policy as the years have gone by. For example, although Walker is the primary vocalist there have been many others who have contributed their own lyrics and melodies, such as his wife, Cheer Zhao, who sings occasionally in both English and Mandarin. For their 12th release, Otherside, Nature’s Neighbor introduced Benni Perkins (Benni Blue) into the mix as their bassist and featured vocalist. Inclusivity, evolution, and change are the core tenets of this group. They want Nature’s Neighbor to be a vehicle for any of their musician friends to tell their own stories. It constantly keeps things new and interesting, and prevents them from making the same album twice.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/07bb3da450cfc3672162e142e53167c9


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in a suburb 45 minutes outside of Chicago. I grew up on Nintendo 64, Playstation, Pokemon, The Beatles, Star Wars, Lord of The Rings.. All the classic late 90s to early 2000s stuff. I lived in my head a lot. I also liked to make things from a young age. I used to take rolls of

scotch tape and make huge spiderwebs from wall to wall. I’m glad my parents were always encouraging instead of yelling at me to do my homework. I mean, there was a bit of that too. Like many kids I had strong ADHD and couldn’t sit still in class but I always loved choir. Most of the friends I made in school were from the choir and musical theatre groups.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Well I don’t really see this music thing as a career path. It’s just something that I’ve always done. I’ve been performing live since I was 12 and making albums since I was 17. I have always had to work day jobs to pay the bills so I probably will not call making music a career until it pays the bills. But yeah, like I said, it’s just something that I’ve always done. I love listening to, making and thinking about music. It is an obsession. But when I moved to Chicago in 2009, it was definitely partly to meet people to form a band with and that did sort of happen in a weird way.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Most interesting thing? That’s really hard. I guess what interests me the most are all the amazing people I’ve met along the way and the places I’ve been able to go. I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing people through the years. I’ve recorded music in Japan, China, Belgium and England. It’s been a wild ride for sure. Sometimes I feel extremely lucky and other times I feel like I have barely accomplished anything.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One time, after a show in Champaign Urbana, my band and I packed everything up into our two cars and started driving to a friends house to spend the night. I was driving for about 5 minutes when a large semi truck started honking at flashing its lights at me. I rolled down the window to tell him off and he pointed to the roof of my car and yelled “Your guitar is on the roof of your car!!!” I thanked him, slowly came to a stop on the side of the road and got out to see that I had indeed left my Rickenbacker 360 on the roof of my car. How it didn’t fall off is totally beyond me but thank God for that truck driver. I guess the lesson is to double check that you’ve packed everything after a load out.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

We are currently working on an ambient album in collaboration with an artist called Wilk that should be coming out this fall. It sounds very different from any other album we’ve previously worked on and features a 12 minute track called ‘The Lives of Stones and Streams’ which is the longest song we’ve ever written.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Diversity is the key to everything. We have always taken pride in being a multicultural band and in the past have had members from China and Japan singing in their native languages. Most of my favorite albums feature multiple vocalists and more than one language. I think that most young people are naturally open and embrace other cultures naturally though, they don’t really need to be told how to act and in many ways the older generations should be looking to them. But it’s all about education. If you grow up in a closed off environment you can easily fall victim to ignorance unless you try very hard to overcome that. That is why it is important for diversity to be portrayed in the media. If diversity is normalized on TV that will hopefully help it seep into mainstream culture.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

If some wise music industry sage approached me at 19 and tried to give me 5 golden tidbits of wisdom I probably would have just ignored them anyway. So I can’t really answer that question.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Remember the reason you started making music in the first place. If you got into making music because you truly love it you’ll probably be okay. Don’t get caught up in who has the most streams, downloads, followers or views. Just keep making music that moves you. It really is that simple.

You are each people of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Well I don’t really think that I hold that much influence if any at all. But if I could start a movement it would be one within pop music to bring sincerity and realness back to the mainstream. Not that sincerity and realness can really last in the mainstream. That was proven in the early 90s. But so much popular music these days is so fake and superficial sounding that it drives me insane. It is so vapid and devoid of any deeper meaning that it all sounds the same to me. I know people like Anthony Fantano would roll their eyes at that statement but he’s already sold his soul anyway so who cares what he thinks. I’d love to kick off a movement that brings that beautiful handmade quality back to music. Stop with the endless pursuit of perfection and get back to that raw quality that makes music so special. The imperfections are what makes each artist so special and unique. And I’m not saying we need to go back to the old ways of recording. I’ve used laptops for basically every album I’ve ever made and I’ve never recorded to tape. But I’ve always refused to use melodyne or autotune on my voice because quite frankly, it sounds awful and takes the spirit out of the vocal. I can immediately tell when a vocal is pitch corrected and it sounds horrible.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My choir teachers back in middle school and high school were basically the only teachers that made me feel like I had any talent worth pursuing. Without them I would definitely not be doing what I’m doing now. I had a vocal coach from age 13 to 18 who taught me basically everything I know about singing and a lot about life as well. He was the one who introduced me to the recording engineer who recorded my first two albums. That was huge for me. Making those first two albums was such a formative experience that taught me so much and I feel extremely grateful for those two guys. They changed my life forever.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’m not really big on life lesson quotes. You’ll learn from your own individual experiences and most likely you’ll learn things the hard way no matter how many life lesson quotes are thrown at you. That’s my experience anyway.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have breakfast with Trump so that I can pour steaming hot coffee all over his hairpiece and shove bacon down his throat until he chokes.

How can our readers follow you online?

Just look up our band name Nature’s Neighbor. We’re on Bandcamp, Spotify, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, you name it. No Facebook though.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success! Thank you very much for having me.

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