Grey skies hang over southwest Ohio when Substream arrives at the doorstep of Eric Nally‘s home. A native to the Cincinnati area, Nally lives with his wife and two children in an unassuming house on the corner of two suburban streets. Travel more than a few blocks in any direction and you’re bound to hit a busy street, bustling with shoppers filling locally owned businesses, but here it’s quiet. The only sound is that of our feet on the pavement and the light rain falling all around. You would never guess the man inside the two-story structure with a fenced-in backyard makes a living touring the world as one of the most beloved alternative vocalists of the modern age, known largely for his frantic stage presence and penchant for creating musical chaos, but it’s nonetheless true. This is simple, pleasant living, and it’s the only way of life for Nally.
“I’ve always lived in this neighborhood,” he says as we sit on his back porch listening to the sound of the late summer drizzle dancing off the roof above. “I plan on staying cause I like it, it’s slow. I like all the surrounding states, like you can go to Chicago the big city and stuff, so it’s kind of in the middle too. Commuting is easy where we are.”
An anomaly in the world of music, Nally is a chameleon capable of adapting to whatever genre speaks to him. Though he’s wearing jogging clothes when we speak, including a neon green sweatshirt, he’s more commonly seen dressed in a manner that informs those unfamiliar that he’s a rock ‘n’ roll frontman before they can think to ask. His stage presence is best likened to a manic event inspired by love and a desire to help people escape the woes of the world. From moment to moment during his live performances, Nally can be found throwing himself around whatever space is allotted to him, dropping to his knees only to spring back like one of those inflatable toys children knock around in their free time, all while wearing a smile you can probably see from space. He made his mark in alternative music with the band Foxy Shazam, but it’s his recent work with rapper Macklemore that has helped make him a household name.
“One of the guys that works [with Macklemore] and is part of his band live and stuff, he caught Foxy Shazam at one point and just reEricNallyEricNallymembered that,” Nally says. “When he was producing the record that ‘Downtown’ was on, and they were looking for that type of big vocalist, he just said ‘I have a guy in mind’ and he called me, basically.”
The rest, as they say, is history. For the past two and a half years, Nally has toured the world with Macklemore, coming out each night whenever “Downtown” appears on the set list. “It’s perfect for me,” Nally explains. “I get to save my energy all day and give it all during that one song. I also get to see places all over the world I could never see before when touring with Foxy.”
Nally also contributed to Macklemore’s 2017 album, Gemini, which gave him further reason to continue touring alongside the “Thrift Shop” hitmaker. Nally tells us that the opportunity to continue playing shows and creating alongside Macklemore is one he never takes for granted. “It’s one of those things that’s like, it feels good for an artist like him to embrace an artist like me, you know what I mean? I think it helps in a lot of ways,” he says. “It gives me a platform where people who wouldn’t necessarily understand me or maybe just not give me the time of day kind of take it serious for some reason now.”
In addition to performing his guest vocals each night on Macklemore’s late 2017 headlining run, Nally was also given a chance to perform a song from his upcoming solo debut EP, Madville. “It’s going to make [the song] feel just right,” Nally says. “It’s a cool opportunity, and I think again another example of how not really conforming to any particular way of doing things leaves me open. I like giving people a little less always, I don’t want to give them more. I don’t want to be too much Eric Nally.”
The title, Madville, comes from Madisonville, the place where Nally grew up and where his mother still lives. From where we’re sitting, it’s less than 10 miles away, and it’s clear when Nally speaks that it’s a place still very dear to his heart. “There’s not too much of a big connection with the songs and that, it’s just since I grew up there, it felt right to say.” Three of the singles Nally was able to share showcased very different ideas. The sound of the material ranged from a throwback to the synth-driven rock of the ’80s (“Ruby”), to a pop-friendly twist on the inspirational anthems of Foxy Shazam (“Believe”), and even a bit of modern funk (“Black”).
Nally also tells us about a fourth song, “Spirits,” and how the track plays into a bigger theme of sonic exploration that stretches throughout the record. “Basically, the way that this record came together is that I was able to do something almost all over the place that makes sense together, and that’s kind of cool,” he reflects. “I did each song with a different producer so each song is from a different studio, sometimes same state but sometimes not, so it’s kind of all over the place. But that very fact, that it’s all over the place, makes it consistent with each other.
Some may claim this scattershot approach to creativity is a new development, but Nally disagrees. “It’s very quiet, it’s just this little thing that guides me and I’ve been following that my whole life.” He continues, “Even with Foxy, what I brought to the table with Foxy is the same thing that I’m bringing to the table with my solo stuff. But I’m collaborating with different people, I have different platforms to show it on, and it grows, it transforms, but it’s me still holding onto that thing like this one little vision like I said before. So, I’m always feeling like I’m doing the same thing. That’s why when I’m putting out new stuff and people are like, ‘What is this, go back to Foxy’s stuff!’ To me, it’s like, I am. I’m literally doing the same thing.”
At the time of the interview, Nally still hadn’t set a release date for Madville, but he hoped to have the record out early in 2018. As for tour plans and how he hopes to support the release, Nally is quick to express his desire to perform, but claims he is in no rush to do so until he feels ready. “The cool thing about people discovering me again is I have the opportunity to build. I want to build anticipation and I want to have the right production and the right place to play that and the show and make it cool, so I’m building, and I can’t wait for that. I want to give a really quality show. You don’t feel like at all you were ripped off and you don’t feel guilty spending a little money.”
If it seems like he has everything planned out, Nally would probably say you’re mistaken. “I feel like there are things in the music business that I see and are scary things to figure out,” Nally says. “Finding a team, independence, labels, all that bullshit that you don’t want to think about it…I don’t consider it a limitation, I consider it… I guess I just don’t even think about it. I mean, it’s definitely there, but it’s something that you just figure out and you navigate through and you utilize. The thing I know I have a point on is that vision, and as long as I focus on that and make sure that’s exactly what I want, all that stuff around it is just this type of thing that I’m like, ‘How do I apply this in order to get in front of more people or let more people hear me?’
A version of this interview ran in the current print issue of Substream Magazine