One listen to Willie Nile’s catalog proves that the Buffalo native’s music still remains timeless and relevant, but to see him getting better as the years go on, that’s something that almost defies description.
The 67-year-old rocker has no issues explaining it though.
“I’m a believer,” he said. “I still believe that there’s some salvation and redemption in rock and roll. I believe in the music. It inspires me, it keeps me young, it satisfies whatever deep hunger there is in my soul. And it’s clear that the audience, the people that come out to the shows, they share that.”
If you don’t have plans for Friday night, or even if you do, a trip to the Highline Ballroom should be in order for anyone who still believes in the Church of Rock and Roll like Nile does. Think of seeing an arena or stadium rock show crammed into a small room where the energy is indescribable, with the preacher (Nile) leading the congregation in song.
Over the top? Not really, but you do have to see it to believe it.
“We did a show in Valparaiso the other night in Memorial Opera House,” he said. “Afterwards I signed autographs for an hour and at least 10 or 11 people said it was the best show they’ve ever seen. And someone said it happens every night. We play from the heart, and the day that it’s not special, that it’s not inspiring, that will be the day when I stop doing it. I’m having so much fun, more fun than ever. It’s more enjoyable, and we’re able to share that experience of joy and being alive.”
Currently in the studio working on a collection of songs he describes as “a rip-roarin’, burn down the house album” due out in 2016, Nile’s ability to tear it up on a nightly basis (and I do mean nightly, as this interview took place after a five-night run through Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Valparaiso and Spring Lake, Michigan) may come down to the fact that he and his band (Johnny Pisano, Matt Hogan, Alex Alexander) have been together as a unit for several years, making them a machine on stage.
“The band is so on fire,” Nile said. “We’ve done so many shows over the last two years that the band has gotten so tight, and it’s impacted the recording and you can hear it when we play. There’s an energy and electricity you can only get with a live performance, and we have one of the best bands in the world, and I say that with all humility. These guys are incredible and they play their asses off every night. Sometimes the road can be tiring, but the fans are so great, it’s rewarding.”
Maybe that’s the secret to Nile’s longevity – his energy, sincerity and the ability to find the positives in a world that revels in negativity. Sure, some of his songs can hit dark topics, but there’s always the light somewhere, and the way he sees it, that light will always be there.
“I always want that,” he said. “Life is tough. People live and die, and there’s heartbreak and terrorism and all the things that go on in the world, and I write about whatever inspires me. Songs like “Holy War” or “Cell Phones Ringing (In the Pockets of the Dead),” they’re songs about terrorism and they’re angry songs in a way, but they’re played with fire and passion and I think that’s something that comes through. The great Jim Carroll song “People Who Died,” we play that every night, and it’s a song about death, but it’s such a great, full of life, rockin’ song that there’s some salvation in it. It’s full of respect, it’s witty, it’s full of life. So there’s definitely that design. I won’t make the record or do a concert that is a downer or depressing. I’m not interested in that. Life’s too tough and I play the shows because I enjoy playing the songs with the band. There’s a passion in rock and roll that still burns in my soul, and the band’s as well. We come out, hit the stage and share that joy and passion about being alive. That’s the magic the music can bring.”
Oh yeah, Willie Nile is still a believer, and if you find yourself in the Highline Ballroom Friday night when the lights go down and he hits the stage, you’ll believe too. You have to.
“These are glory days for me,” Nile said. “I’m having so much fun. I’ve never phoned it in and I will never phone it in. That will not happen.”
Willie Nile plays the Highline Ballroom in NYC on Friday, November 20. For tickets, click here.