Nathaniel Rateliff sits in his South Broadway home somewhat distracted — record labels are once again on his mind. It’s a few weeks before the wide release of his sophomore solo album, and the topic keeps sneaking into his conversation.
“Your life is surrounded by people who blow smoke up your ass,” Rateliff says. The internationally known Denver artist has a history of tough decisions when it comes to signing contracts.
In 2009 he stood in this very back yard and tore up an offer from the major label Roadrunner Records. He went the more independent route and signed with Rounder Records later that year, which released his first solo album, “In Memory of Loss.”
On this afternoon, he’s admittedly not in an optimistic mood. His new album, “Falling Faster Than You Can Run,” would see a wide release in a few weeks, but not on Rounder. The label decided not to pick him up for his second album, which led to “Falling” being distributed by a temporary label.
Once more, he has a tough label-related decision to make: Rateliff has another stack of papers awaiting his signature, one that could define the next few years of his music career.
Here’s his struggle: On one hand he values the autonomy and creative control possible without the oversight of a label. While writing “Falling,” Rounder suggested he needed to write more radio songs. And in response, Rateliff wrote “Another Radio Song,” which is “about doing exactly what the label wants me to do,” he says.
On the other hand, Rateliff knows that as an artist, he needs a label to help him grow, make money and succeed in the industry.
“Making music and putting music out there is a weird, weird thing,” Rateliff says. “I’m always reluctant with a label. I have been ever since I started working with one, but at the level I’m at it’s kind of a necessity.”
When Rounder dropped Rateliff in 2012, “Falling Faster Than You Can Run” — which he had been working on since 2010 — suddenly had no home.
“I really cared about (“Falling”) and I wanted the music to be out there,” Rateliff says. “I was like, ‘we should just give it away.’ ”
But before Rateliff could give his music away, his management company, 7S, decided to start a label called Mod y Vi Records to release the album.
“Out of passion for Nathaniel and belief in him we set up a label,” said Chris Tetzeli of 7S Management, who was also a founder of ATO Records.
So, after years of business hurdles, “Falling” — which nearly became a free download — finally saw its release on April 1 to widespread acclaim.
“Mr. Rateliff’s old introversion hasn’t disappeared. His lyrics are elusive and imagistic, but telling,” the New York Times wrote.