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May 18, 2021

Interview with Nathan Cavaleri

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Nathan Cavaleri at Byron Guitar Festival

Byron Bay Guitar Festival

Byron Brewery  |  Saturday & Sunday  |  $50 for one day $90 for two

Nathan Cavaleri was first introduced to Australia, aged just seven, when the Today Show covered his meeting with one of his guitar heroes, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. This came about after Nathan was diagnosed with leukaemia, aged six. A year later (while still undergoing treatment) he was granted his wish to meet Knopfler through the Starlight Foundation. That kicked off a massive career for a boy who had picked up the guitar at three, and by 12 was a veteran who’d toured the world and performed with his heroes –BBKing, Jimmy Barnes, Tommy Emmanuel and Diesel.

You first got media attention as a kid on Hey Hey It’s Saturday, and touring with Johnny Diesel and Jimmy Barnes FFS! How did you create that? Did you have the world’s best manager / entourage / guiding angel in your corner? Or was it actually just your immersive love of playing and practising guitar even so young?

My entourage, my parents, my band; 2 bricklayers and a guitar tech. Some things you just can’t engineer. After the Starlight Foundation granted me the wish to meet Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits, I received a lot of media attention and from there things just naturally snow-balled. My parents have always been the opposite to stage parents and only ever supported my passion to play. I played and opportunities just seemed to arise!

No doubt you have answered hundreds of questions about those early years and your experience working with Australian and American music legends (including Mark Knopfler and BB King.) Do the experiences and the lessons you learned back then still guide you today as you move through different stages of your career?

Unfortunately I was just too young to ask the types of questions that I need the answers to now! However, the green eyes of youth kept me from being star struck, which had me absorbing a tonne through observation; from stage presence, song writing and production, to how they conducted themselves as human beings. Last year I started a Q&A series on my website that features artists talking about the more human aspects of being a creative. I guess this is my way of broadcasting the types of wisdoms I need now as an adult.

Following your early explosion onto the scene, there followed what seemed to be a period where you dropped out of the spotlight – but these weren’t, as some people may have thought, ‘dark years,’ were they? It wasn’t actually an unhealthy relationship with milk and cookies that took you to sugar rehab. In an interview in 2000 you are reported to have said ‘I just totally escaped music… It can be a dark time when you’re finding yourself creatively.’

Would you like to tell us more about your experiences back then? Perhaps share something that may help today’s young musicians struggling with their own creative dark times?

Early 2000’s I was experimenting with various creative ideas, but the darkest times happened in the late 2000’s when I found myself dealing with what many deal with: anxiety, depression, fatigue… It has many labels, and mostly unhelpful ones that prevented me from seeing that phase as an opportunity to learn and wake up. My lack of education on how to deal with those challenges and symptoms is how so many aspects of life shut down. I went from touring the world, with all the confidence and freedom in the world, to not being able to stand in a cafe, drive to the studio, or have a beer with a mate without feeling irrational fear and dread. Eventually it followed me on stage, which is when I turned my back on music – for over 4 years! I thought I was stuck like that forever. But thanks to a solid support network, I was able to learn and apply, until bit by bit, I found ground again! Today, it’s better than ever. It’s still a process, but I’m well-and-truly out of that dark patch! There’s always a way. ALWAYS!

You are currently on your 2019 Demons tour, named after one of your three most recent singles Demons; a cover of Cold Chisel’s Rising Sun  and your newest single 29 Gold Stars , what’s it like touring nowadays as a veteran of the industry, at such a young age? Is it the rock’n’roll dream many would imagine? Or is it a much more low-key affair?

Fuck no. Not the type of RnR dream I imagined as a 7 year old! Hahaha! I didn’t think I’d have to overcome stage fright again, and arsing around with the more pragmatic and systematic sides of music (business!) BUT I’ve also never felt more in-touch with myself, my music and the audience. The current show involves some story-telling about my experiences growing up in music, as well as the things I’ve learned through recent mental health challenges. I feel like this tour is one of the most important tours I’ll ever do, because it’s teaching me so much and setting me up for the future on a spiritual level! The feedback has been magical! I’ve met some really special people this year – purely from being myself.

You are on your way up to The Byron Guitar Festival, on 12–13 October, have you played in Byron before? Did your previous tours ever bring you here to perform, at the BluesFest perhaps?

I LOVE BYRON! It was always a family holiday location and I have many amazing musical memories attached to it. The first Byron show I ever did was BluesFest around ‘95! Last time it was with my old band, Nat Col & the Kings when we also played BluesFest. It’s a special place.

What can your fans up here expect from your Byron Guitar Festival show?

I’ll be playing my latest music using a hybrid duo set up. Myself on guitar and vocals, my mate Kenny Jewell on guitar and BV’s and a few extra colours using an SPD and stomp board. Whilst my material centres around blues, it’s by all means no longer traditional. Traditional blues didn’t allow me to express what I wanted to express, so it leans toward many other styles. Depending on the environment, I’ll be telling a few stories and may get up with a few mates too!

What else is on the cards for you in 2019-2020? Any big news you’d like to share with the people up here in northern NSW?

If last year was about dipping my toe in the water, this year was about swimming. I swallowed a bit of water for a while, but definitely free-styling now! Next year I want to be surfing–by doing some mad collabs, expanding on my YouTube channel with a filmographer on the road and the completion of an album! I wouldn’t say there’s a tonne of stuff on, but it’s all purposeful. For me, it’s all about purpose these days!

Nathan Cavaleri is at the Byron Bay Guitar Festival this weekend at the Byron Brewery. Tix are $50 for one day or $90 for two. Workshops, stalls, seminars, guitar displays and some bloody awesome players! Saturday and Sunday. For tix and program go to byronbayguitarfestival.com

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