by Len Lear
If you show up at the Mermaid Inn on Saturday, Dec. 8, starting at 6 p.m., you may be able to say someday that you were there when a star was born. That is because you will have seen and heard Nate Henry Baker, a 42-year-old singer/songwriter (“I’m older than I look and younger than I feel”) who has everything it takes to be the Next Big Thing.
Check Baker out on YouTube, and you will see why this Brooklyn-based musician blows away audiences who are tired to hearing the same old music on the radio. Baker, a native of Indianapolis, attended Indiana University in Bloomington, where he lived with songwriter Jason Molina (Magnolia Electric Co.) and Chris Swanson (founder, Secretly Canadian Records); he lived in San Francisco from 2002 to 2017 and made two records at Tiny Telephone Recording (the studio owned by musician John Vanderslice) called “One Day In May” and “4 on 10.”
OK, so you never heard of Nate Henry Baker. But remember, there was a time when nobody had heard of Bob Dylan, John Lennon or Freddie Mercury. Baker has opened for Ron Sexsmith, AA Bondy, Daniel Bachman, Marisa Anderson, Tim Easton and Jessica Lea Mayfield, and he plays bass in NYbased Bowery Boy Blue.
Baker moved to Brooklyn last year with his wife and is recording a new album called “Towns Called New Hope.” He majored in philosophy at Indiana U. (which qualifies him to work in fast food), but “music has been a big part of my life one way or another since I was in high school. My adult jobs have all clustered around technology, and I’ve been fortunate to have had some really cool roles in the music-tech field. I think of my songwriting more as a craft.”
In Baker’s music you can near influences of Americana musicians like John Prine and Townes Van Zandt, cult figures who never achieved household name status. In other words, folkie music that might be characterized as melancholy in sound and delivery with rich and poetic lyrics.
“But the most important singers for me are my mom and my maternal grandmother,” Baker told us last week. “They both sing/sang beautifully. Michael Stipe of REM was a big early influence, as was Morrissey, from The Smiths.”
Baker moved to San Francisco because “it was 2002, and I was in my early 20s. I wanted to live in a big city with a thriving creative scene, and I had several good friends who were in San Francisco. I miss it a great deal, so I suppose I did ‘leave my heart in San Francisco.’ I also left my wallet there!”
Baker’s wife, Sheila, who is not a musician, is a talented visual artist and karaoke champion (their wedding day ended up in a karaoke bar in Chinatown), had lived in New York prior to their meeting in the Bay Area. They were footloose after a long backpacking trip and came to New York because he had a gig. And they haven’t left yet!
How did the Mermaid Inn gig come about? “I played there in July and loved it. I really can’t say enough about that room. Joanne Mekis (the owner) is a true patron. Because it was my first time to Philadelphia, she called around and asked friends to come hear me play. Who does that?
“One guy who showed up was Mike McNichols, who runs the open mic night at the Mermaid and is a great songwriter himself. He and I wound up trading songs for an hour after my set. He played (Mt. Airy resident) Tom Gala’s ‘Witch Hazel,’ a song that absolutely floored me. I sometimes include it in my sets now.”
What was the hardest thing Baker ever had to do? “Grow up emotionally. That may sound like a cop-out of an answer, but it’s true. I’m still working at it.”
What was the best advice Baker ever received? “To treat my mistakes or my perceived inadequacies as opportunities.”
Which talent that Baker does not have would he most like to have? “If I could snap my fingers and be a quality guitar maker, I would do it. One of my best friends makes wonderful instruments, and my dad is a carpenter, so I’ve been around woodworking skills a lot but have never attained them myself.”
If Baker could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, who would it be? “If this includes the dead, I would say my paternal grandfather. He died before I was born, and I would have loved to ask him about his life. He brought his family to America from England in the mid-1950s.”
For more information, visit natehenrybaker.com