Tragedy seeps into our lives at its own pace. Contaminating our thoughts, actions, and emotional responses slowly like an unknown infection, tragedy lays waste to our mental health over time. Unaddressed, it may have negative consequences on our personal and professional lives. Despite what Hallmark cards, the media, and older kin may insinuate, there is no proper way to grieve. Some people (seemingly) bounce back seamlessly while others struggle to come to terms with the occurrences in their lives. Everyone has difficulties whether financial, professional, interpersonal, or romantic. On top of that some people are dealing with addiction, depression, anxiety, and other disorders or diseases. Regardless everyone responds differently to tragedy and trauma.
Time is the most precious commodity. It is the only valuable asset to life that we can never get back, for better or worse. When tragedy comes into our lives, the very essence of time becomes even more difficult to circumvent. Days bleed into nights as dreams repeatedly form into nightmares. Your emotions feel very constant, but somehow still in flux. A good night’s rest may only carry you through noon. Time is always around and within us, and as we age, tragedy seems to gain the same parallel design. It’s within Nathan Bajar’s blend of surreal, dreamy and nostalgia driven music that the sands of time broken during tragedy seem to settle into place and begin to make sense.
Noted photographer and musician Nathan Bajar dropped his entirely self-produced debut project Playroom last month. Named after the place, “where we do our homework, eat, hang out with friends and family. The songs on Playroom are inspired by stories from my family history and is a tribute to my home and the people in it.” From the first listen, the influential music of Nathan’s youth are fully honored in detail. A large Stevie Wonder fan, his stylings of R&B layered vocal melodies is filled throughout this record.
Bajar, a Filipino-American born and raised in New Jersey, lost his father last summer and pays homage to their relationship through the album. In a very emotionally-driven record with more than a handful of love songs, Bajar expresses a range of emotions from heartbreak to the shock of suddenly losing a family member. As Bajar admits on “The Table,” “father time won’t you please, / tell the reaper / he’s come a little early / this doesn’t seem all that right.” Nathan’s appeal to time demonstrates our complete lack of control in different aspects of our lives.
It’s in this loss of control that an artist as meticulous and well-detailed as Nathan may shine. Take time to thoroughly view his photographs, which I was able to do last month in the gallery showering before his album release show, and you’ll find an artist who is able to capture the very intimate and exact emotions of specific moments in time. His pictures have an “old” quality to them, but the warmth of color feel as vibrant and new as your favorite brand’s summer/spring collection.
Despite the apparent dourness of the tragedy and heartbreak that plague the record, Nathan seems rather at peace with how his life is playing out. On the Prince leaning, “Devil Girl”, Nathan cries that, “love ain’t a friend of mine / guess i’ll sleep alone tonight” without even a hint of annoyance. His matter-of-fact acceptance, coupled with his driven bass line, show an artist willing to allow his artistic muscles to flex his emotions. Less is more for Nathan. As songs blend together in a dream-like mosaic and a coda repeats throughout the album, Nathan is caught up in a vibe that he wants to push himself to explore. On top of extended outros and jams, the calming nature of the music, despite somewhat sad boi lyrics, fits well into the styles of his contemporaries — from Toro Y Moi to Blood Orange. It should be mentioned that these artists have also developed artistic skills outside of composing music.
As the album flows along at a steady pace lost in time, Nathan’s musical prowess is on full display. Genre hopping ever so slightly from synth driven, lo-fi beat hitting and acoustic guitar sliding, Nathan does his best to show all potential collaborators what he is capable of bringing to the table. The mid-album cut “Heck” does a strong job of presenting himself as a burgeoning SoundCloud style lo-fi producer.
Nathan’s musical strengths are in his instrumental building skills, a recent recording endeavour as of 2017. While his lyrics are often simple, they are never juvenile and get the point across effectively with little heavy handed writing. When Nathan plainly states, “i can’t fathom the thought of you laying with him” on “Camille” it is obvious he means what he says, admitting, “do i have what it takes to turn away from you?” Like tragedy, heartbreak can often leave us wallowing in a negative headspace that often feels deserved or comforting if we have have been there too long. Kurt Cobain was onto something seemingly true, if not unhealthy. The therapeutic stylings of playroom give the album a personal look into his emotions and family life. It will be interesting to note how Nathan develops as a photographer as well as musician and if the personal will continue to inspire him in such an astounding way.
I was able to catch up with Nathan over email a few weeks ago before a close personal friend passed away. Defeated by tragedy and anxiety, the record became a sort of distractor. A way to live in nostalgia smoothly and pass time in a relaxed lucid manner. Check out our conversation about influences, photography vs music, and his lack of Robert Pattinson knowledge.
GSC: How do you identify?
NB: Stright filipino male.
GSC: What role does identity play in your music and your art?
NB: identity plays a significant role. my art is informed by both my family and my own past, present, & future.
GSC: What does masculinity mean to you?
NB: being masculine is having balance. there is just as much strength in being vulnerable as there is being stoic.
GSC: When do you find yourself the most inspired?
NB: probably in the shower! mostly because Iʼm in there by myself its really private and it feels like no one can hear me but myself (even though I know Iʼm probably really loud) sometimes Iʼll have my phone recording a voice memo while I shower because I sing and hum so much random shit that there might be a melody or an idea in there!
GSC: How does the feeling of performing music differ from than of taking photos?
NB: Performing is a lot scarier at the moment.
Taking pictures can be nerve racking at times especially when its for a job because you want to do the job well, but Iʼm behind the camera and because Iʼve been doing it for a while its definitely more comfortable for now.
Hopefully I can be equally as comfortable doing both!
GSC: Who are your biggest influences?
NB: my family when it comes to making art. my friends in my photo and music communities. Anime, Craig Thompsonʼs books Habibi & Blankets. Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd. That movie Bicentennial Man. There is this photo by Nobuyashi Araki in his book called Sentimental Journey of Arakiʼs wife in a casket full of flowers that has been in my brain since I first saw it a while ago. Really love Lieko Shigaʼs pictures, Alec Soth, Larry Sultan, Jason Fulford, Rinko Kawauchi, Garry Winogrand, Ed Templeton.
GSC: What do you think of the hypebeast movement?
NB: I imagine its a lot to keep up with.
GSC: Are you a Robert Pattinson fan?
NB: I havenʼt seen enough of his movies to like or dislike him. Give me a Robert Pattinson movie rec! [writer’s note: Good Time, Remember Me, and High Life are all really good films.]
GSC: What’s your dream collaboration?
NB: This is such a hard one! Iʼll probably have a different answers by the time this is published haha. Would be really cool to get a Stevie Wonder Harmonica solo or an Andre 3000 verse.
I would also make a really silly insanely long song featuring all my favorite guitarists alive and dead. They would all get there own guitar solo. It would be so redundant but also so badass at the same time.
GSC: Did you have many friends growing up or were you more shy?
NB: I was shy but I had a solid group of friends.
GSC: How you feeling right now? How do you take care of your mental health?
NB: Just waking up so Iʼm feeling rejuvenated! This is so boring but I take care of my mental health by taking pictures and making music. I need to make things everyday. either that or throwing a baseball back and forth with my cousin or my sister or just sitting around with my friends.
GSC: Do you find making and writing music is more emotionally work than taking photographs?
NB: I think both writing music and taking pictures take equal amount of mental prep and both take as much work emotionally and physically.
I will say that I think music is a lot more universally empathized with than photography. I feel like people feel and understand music easier than pictures.
There are definitely exceptions for like pictures of tragedy or war, but say I have a picture of like my dogs humping each other or like a picture of the ground. People would “be like why do you have a of your dogs humping or a picture of the ground?” Its so personal and special to me but others might not get that.
GSC: Have you ever felt othered in the “art” scene?
NB: Everyone has been really supportive and excited about the stuff Iʼve been making so I havenʼt ever really felt othered. And if I donʼt fit into whatever category or genre of art I am okay with being in a world of my own. I also generally keep my friend circle small and try to stay away from negative energies or anything that could distract me from making stuff and doing what i love!
Check Nathan out on tour if you can. His shows are intimate, well crafted, and perfect summer/fall music. If you’re looking for escape from the tragedy around you or to even better understand it, Nathan’s music is a good place to start.