How a whirlwind cross-country collaboration launched the new Philly-Omaha band Astute Palate, and a solo record from songwriter David Nance - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

It’s the night before David Nance’s new album, Staunch Honey, comes out and he’s cooking with whatever is left in the fridge in his Omaha, Nebraska, home where lives with his wife. He’s whipping up potatoes, cauliflower, tomato sauce and white wine. But tomorrow has bigger meaning to him.

Nance’s meal has more in common with Astute Palate’s debut album he contributed to coming out next month on Petty Bunco, a Richie Records imprint, than it does with Staunch Honey. Just a few days before Nance cleaned out his fridge, the other three members of Astute Palate are seated around a drumset in guitarist and singer Emily Robb’s Bok Building recording studio in South Philly. Turns out what started as a simple request from Richie Charles, Astute Palate’s drummer and head of Richie Records, for Nance to play at Ortlieb’s became a much larger project over a single weekend due to a scheduling conflict.

“I was putting together that concert series at Ortlieb’s and I wanted Dave to come out,” Charles says. “But I definitely couldn’t fly his whole band out. So, I told him to come out and play solo and he was like, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to write a few songs and we’re going to start a band.’ And sure enough that’s what we did.”

Charles suggested Nance play solo so to not diminish his full band gig in Philly earlier in the month. But Nance knew that his years-long friendships with Charles, Robb and bassist Dan Provenzano was to his advantage. The timing was just right.

“We’re all on the same wavelength, so we should just make something else,” Nance says when asked if he expected his friends to back him on his own songs. “It was like, these people are cool, we should do something because I don’t want all the focus to be around me. Everyone is talented and brings something to the table.”

Nance was kicking around a few riffs at the time that would naturally become Astute Palate songs. He shared them with Charles, Robb and Provenzano to feel out before he flew into Philly so that when he touched down, they can get start jamming. But then the next conflict presented itself: Nance’s flight got delayed, moving his arrival from Friday to Saturday. The weekend that was originally intended to be a couple days to catch up with friends while casually jamming to prepare for a Monday gig got a little tighter.

But they decided to record the weekend’s sessions. Provenzano says he expected two or three songs to come from the practices and, maybe, they’d get an EP from the recordings. And slowly they realized something special was documented and an album was created. They’d taken the four riffs Nance showed up with, the searing “No Queen” Robb had in pocket and “Treadin’ Schuylkill,” which Robb says came from Provenzano starting a bass groove that she knew to just press play on the tape and get the resulting thick, slow-burning jam.

“The whole intent that we would just play this show,” Robb says. “But since I have this recording setup here, we thought, sure, if we throw up some mics and if we get some recordings, cool. But the main focus was to get together for this show. And then we ended up having even less time than we thought we were going to have.”

Once they finished recording music in just two nights, only vocals were left on Monday. After meeting at the Bok Building studio, Charles and Provenzano left to load in at Ortlieb’s. And much to their surprise, Nance didn’t need much time at all. By the time he and Provenzano pulled up to the venue they received a call that the vocals were complete and Nance and Robb were on their way.

“I was like, ‘Why don’t I set up a couple different mics and you sing into both and we’ll use whichever one sounds better,’” Robb says about how she offered to record Nance’s vocal rracks. “And he’s like, ‘I’ll just sing into a 57.’ And we just banged them out and 20 minutes later we were done with all his vocals and we headed to the show.”

The combination of Nance being comfortable using any equipment, even singing into an instrument mic, with his prolific writing, including lyrics he wrote on the plane ride from Nebraska, is just what was needed to inform the stomping psych rock self-titled album to finish it on time. But he thinks Robb’s command of her studio was the only secret switch Astute Palate needed to flip when it came time to finish recording quickly before Monday’s gig.

“I wasn’t feeling it. I was into it,” Nance says about Monday’s time crunch recording before their gig. “Maybe Emily was feeling it a little bit. It felt like the burden of, you know, she’s recording it. I feel like the burden of how the record sounded kind of fell on her. Not to say that everyone else was apathetic to what was going on with it. But she was recording it, it was her baby a little more. She had a little more at stake.”

Nance is no slouch when it comes to home recording though – he got his first Tascam tape recording setup at age 20 – but it’s Robb’s that he airs a touch of jealousy for.

“Man, it was pro as hell,” he says about Robb’s studio setup. “She’s got that nice Tascam 388. That’s always been the crown jewel machine for me. Seeing someone have one and be able to navigate it was fucking cool to watch. But especially for how it turned out, she really knows that machine. I’ve got the later version of that. It’s basically the cassette version, the layman’s version. The 388 requires some more finesse and skill, which Emily has. I was kind of baffled when she was fucking with that machine.”

It wasn’t long before the Astute Palate sessions that Nance began working on his latest album solo album, Staunch Honey, released on Trouble in Mind Records. And it couldn’t be more of the antithesis to Astute Palate. Where Astute Palate was first takes, impromptu recording sessions and laid to tape by happenstance, Staunch Honey was changing not only personnel, but studios, too. Nance felt he had to get it just right.

Putting an emphasis on songwriting, Nance gets delicate and dusty on “Save Me Some Tears,” just before the loose country rock of “July Sunrise.” Staunch Honey finds nuance that isn’t necessarily as clear on his prior albums, while keeping some long haired lo-fi rock like that found on the anthemic “My Love, the Dark and I.” There’s direction to the album, a clearly defined line connecting psychedelia with Nebraska blues on display throughout the wah-infused guitar freakout on “If the Truth Ever Shows Up,” ending the album.

Nance says he wanted a more “song-based” album, and that his guitar playing just naturally lends itself to a more country vibe. Having a specific vision for the album being in that way he had to focus on how his own songs sounded, rather than that of the full of the band.

“I’m in town in Omaha now,” he says. “But before I was living out in country and I brought the band out there and we recorded [Staunch Honey] but it just didn’t turn out. The other album (Peaced and Slightly Pulverized) we were touring on for like a year and then recorded the album, so it took, like, two days. It was just in and out; we just recorded it in my friend’s basement.”

After Nance’s sessions with his full band didn’t pan out as he expected, he tried recording in a studio in town. Again, he knew what he was looking for, but it wasn’t found there, either. So, he started over, going back to what was familiar to him — recording himself on his own. Aside from some backing help from Kevin Donahue and Jim Schroeder on drums and bass, respectively on select songs, Staunch Honey is largely all Nance from sessions he began in February of this year just before lockdown for the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The lockdown allowed him to treat making the album as his job, while his main gig as a bartender was put on hold.

Since then, he’s picked up odd jobs flipping records online and helping a local restaurant open in spite of the pandemic. While Nance is just cleaning out the fridge tonight, it’s because he and his wife of five years are celebrating being together as partners for 11 years tomorrow and they have plans to order out something nice to eat. And regardless of when the pandemic allows Astute Palate to start working together in person, he shares that they’ve already started workshopping some new material via. text.

But Nance knows his his friends on the east coast well enough that some of his material is to stay in the Midwest.

“I think the most straight-ahead rock things, in my mind, are now delegated to Astute Palate,” he says. “I know Richie doesn’t like country music, but I don’t know how Dan and Emily feel about it. So, I think if I brought in an acoustic, they’d probably just laugh me out of the room.”

Astute Palate’s self-titled album is available here, via Petty Bunco; David Nance’s Staunch Honey was released in November, and is available here.

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