Smile Politely

Tapping into Nat Baldwin

It was pretty cool growing up a Baldwin. People thought I might be related to someone famous. In high school, everyone assumed I was related to the chemistry teacher (which wasn’t particularly cool, now that I think of it). I was, in truth, related to my grandfather, a doctor, who was respected and well known in his community. Mostly it was convenient to have a last name that people knew. I had to clarify only occasionally, so I usually said “like the piano” or “as in The Baldwin Brothers.” Once I go a pizza with “Beldren” scrawled on the box. That was weird.

It’s rare that I get to meet another Baldwin. While I didn’t actually sit face-to-face with Nat Baldwin, it was nice to tap into his brain for a moment. Between his schedule and mine, there wasn’t a lot of time to chat. I was able to whittle his persona into three fine points. And they are so fine…

Smile Politely: When and how did music grab you?

Nat Baldwin: I started playing the end of my junior year in high school. I was equally into The Band and Charles Mingus, Sam Cooke and Ornette Coleman. I was attracted to the role of the bass, that low bottom laying down the foundation, yet keeping mostly out of the spotlight.   

SP: I love a good bass line, too. Let’s hear about how far your musical talents span! Did you take accordion lessons when you were a kid or something? Choir in high school? Harmonica while doing time?

Baldwin: All I did was play basketball until i was 18. I took my basketball to class. I slept with it. I shoveled my driveway on snow days when I was 7 to practice left handed layups. I woke up at 5am everyday when I was 11 to practice before school. I broke my right hand when I was 13 and still shot 500 shots a day, lefty, with a cast. I was a maniac and then I transferred that into playing music.

SP: You never know where your passions will lead you. I thought I’d be a dancer, for crying out loud.

Who inspires you as an artist? As a person? 

Baldwin: Joanna Newsom, Larry Bird, Gary Lutz and my gramma Norma are just a few of the many people/artists that inspire me. They all get maximum results within minimal space. In different ways but basically the same.

Baldwin’s album, In The Hollows, was released this past April from Western Vinyl. I listened to the title track and I felt a transition. I’m invited to an emotional visual montage of heartbreak and healing, the kind that makes you want to call your loved ones and tell them what they mean to you.

Nat Baldwin is playing at Mike ‘N Molly’s tonight. It is, in fact, Ninth Letter presents a Pygmalion Lit Fest Summer Show event. It’s a free show and Megan Johns will be there with Moonwish. Also Jensen Beach, Jim Warner, and Roya Khatiblou will be reading for you. I mean… it’s free and it’s filled with talent. Take advantage. That’s why you live here, isn’t it?

Photos by Lindsay Metivier.

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