Just a few weeks ago, Nathaniel Rappole was at local venue Hole in the Sky, setting up his merch of individualized silk-screen shirts. He also put out a huge bag of animal crackers for the taking. As people came to check out the awesome variety of thrift stores Ts, Rappole pulled out another interesting merch item — a squirrel-hide satchel, handmade by his very own nephew.
“He killed it, skinned it, put it together, and even ate it,” Rappole told us, everyone is awe. “There was no waste.”
Rappole says that his spirit animal is a squirrel, even though his band is named after a certain squealing sea bird, and his past band’s name is after a certain squealing sea mammal (Ultra Dolphins). There’s something spiritual itself in Gull‘s music. His visual setup shows it at first, whether its his drum kit lined in rabbit fur from a destroyed coat, or his skull mask, which almost has a Day-of-the-Dead design. Hearing him execute guitar at drums at once though, whilst singing, is where the magic really begins. Gull will be performing tonight, with Buildings, at a Petworth house show around 7 p.m.
All Our Noise: Upon digging through the Internet for some music and videos, I came across a few quick clips of Gull busking. This brings us to that one-man-band concept, the ultimate busker, solitaire, vulnerable, and completing multiple tasks at once. What brought you into busking? Was it more for art, or as a means to live?
Nathaniel Rappole (Gull): If you are a taxpayer, a portion of your taxes goes toward protection (i.e., police, fire rescue and such…). It is my feeling that busking, like the police, is a public service. The difference being that there is no middle man for the service that buskers provide. They entertain as people go about their daily business and leave it up to the individual to decide whether they want to pay for this service. Civil disobedience does not apply, and you will not be punished for failing to provide the busker with some cash. There have been times where I have relied on busking to pay my bills, but that is a difficult road to follow. Presently, I have no other job, but I also don’t have a home other than my car. I’ve toured with bands for close to 10 years, and busking/traveling alone is the only way that I have found to have it make any sense. Not that it needs to make sense, but then there has to be some other job supplementing the habit. Music is like a beautiful addiction, but there are not many avenues for making money within it to support it.
Whilst busking, how did the public generally react to your performances?
Resistance often comes in a uniform. Certain business owners and people who shouldn’t live in cities will sometimes call upon the police to get rid of me. The general public seems to enjoy it for the most part … and that’s who I play for.
You are quite dexterous when you perform. It’s a skill to execute such punctual hammer-ons and pull-offs single-handedly as you create beats with your other hand. But which hand do you find to be your absolute dominate hand? Or perhaps, do you find yourself to be ambidextrous?
My grandpa Albertus Whitney Rappole was ambidextrous. When I was a child, I would throw with both hands. At 6, my older brother and his friend played a game called “snag” in which they had me run as fast as I could and pull my arm in the opposite direction. I would fly up in the air like a dumb puppet. I dislocated my right arm and have favored my left ever since.
Did it take time to become comfortable drumming and playing guitar simultaneously, or did this performance style come as more natural for you?
I am a drummer. The guitar is just another drum.
I’ve seen your live set twice now, first at the legendary Old Bridge Fest, and second at Hole in the Sky, a rapidly growing favorite local venue in D.C., where booking tends toward edgier sounds — experimental, hardcore, punk, etc. It felt like a privilege to see your set in these more collective-minded environments, rather than at a bar or some other typical venue. This being said, is there any particular, and possibly unusual, performance location that you’ve played in the past that stuck out to you?
I was just in Mexico for a month. I performed on the street quite a bit. … Mostly in Veracruz and Chiapas. It was an incredible experience. One night I performed in the harbor in Veracruz City for a couple of clowns, a bunch of locals, a party bus full of tourists and two Mickey Mice. That same night I played in the center of the city for some Brits who were making a movie about music in Mexico.
Going back to your audiences’ reaction, through observation, I remember people using the words “spiritual” and “magical,” as well as “badass” to describe your music. Do you feel that sort of connection whilst creating and performing? Does it feel like you are channeling a particular form of energy?
Creating in its truest form is spiritual. Performing takes on different feelings and depends on the situation. Sometimes I am too aware of my surroundings to truly remove. Other times, usually when the audience is receptive, I am able to exist elsewhere.
I would also describe your music as primitive; it makes me think of an intuitive nature in music that connects on the same level as our ideas of early and tribal music. Would you say you go with intuition and instinct when you create your music?
Playing two different instruments with the limitation, for the most part, of one hand is not only challenging to execute, but probably challenging in a sense that you must constantly push yourself. How do you avoid falling into boxes and formats and repeated ideas whilst composing? Sometimes there is a sense of repetition, but to me, I see it as a return to different movements. Do you think that your music is thematic, as moving in movements? I’ve also heard that D is a centering note. Do you agree with that? Does D have a certain effect on you? Do you play in various alternate tunings or use capos to change your view on different guitar patterns ever?
I have tried in the past to make it so I do not repeat myself in my music and have found it to be very difficult. Every band that I have ever heard has at least a couple of songs that sound alike. I definitely revolve around certain themes. I will often return to a certain time or tone. E is where I have been. D is where I am at. Goldenshadowfish second life virtual capos are the way of the future.
Gull Plays tonight, Feb. 9, with Buildings at The Pocketship in Petworth.