Nadine: The Right Combination of the Wrong People

I walk into Pop’s Blue Moon on a Tuesday night. Well, not just any Tuesday night. The Tuesday after the Monday that is Labor Day. It’s just me and a couple of bartenders facing off in a pinball game. From what I can gather (and based on my own previous life experience working in a convenience store), this is much more than a game; it’s a tournament. A never-ending tournament with weekly (if not nightly) match-ups and Stanley Cup–level implications. As I take in the scene and listen to the knocks and pings of the pinball machine, the meaning of this day is roundly defined. This particular Tuesday—the day after a three-day weekend and the semi-official end of summer—no one, including me, is ready to go back to work. Our bodies may have spent the day standing at counters or sitting at desks, but our heads were still lying by the pool. As my mind is still pondering this observation, I am joined at the bar by Anne Tkach, bass player and destroyer of my brilliant theory. Apparently this reluctance to return to the land of the energized affects only those who are not members of the band Nadine. Anne is up. She has a sense of purpose, an air of possibility. If she weren’t so endearing, I’d be annoyed.

The aura of determination that accompanied Anne into the bar is compounded exponentially with the arrival of three of the other four band members, singer/guitarist Adam Reichmann, keyboardist/guitarist and all-around musical savant Steve Rauner, and guitarist Jimmy Griffin. Drummer Brian Zielie is not in attendance, but judging by the group in front of me, wherever he is, he’s there giving off a resolute vibe. With drinks in hand, we make our way to a small, private room in the back of the bar with a table and chairs. The ceiling is low, and the lighting is dim and tinged red. As Reichmann points out, it all feels very Goodfellas. The comment is made in passing, but in truth, it’s rather appropriate: the feeling around the table, beyond the shared determination, is a mix of deep camaraderie and “this thing of ours” scheming.

Nadine is definitely up to something. The band recently signed with Trampoline Records, the label started by Pete Yorn, Marc Dauer of the Jukebox Junkies, and Rami Jaffe of the Wallflowers. Their new album, Strange Seasons, was just released by Trampoline earlier this very same day. This whole week is filled with radio interviews and television appearances; their homecoming show on Friday, September 5, at Mississippi Nights marks their CD release party for Strange Seasons and the end of a recent spate of touring. All good things to be sure, but to understand the magnitude of Nadine’s current momentum, you have to know where they’ve been, especially over the year and a half.

In March 2002, the songs that make up Strange Seasons had already been recorded and mixed and were all but waiting to be heard, but Reichmann and Rauner, Nadine’s founding members, both felt that neither the time nor the situation were right to release it. It was a gamble that came with a couple of potential hazards. One is purely keeping the interest and excitement for a piece (any piece) of as-yet unveiled art alive, including one’s own enthusiasm for having created it. More simply put: the record’s done, but it ain’t out there yet. It’s just sitting there, staring at you, making you question its validity and integrity and begging you to keep fooling with it. And the interest of the fans does have a shelf life. The other potential hazard is much more practical, shopping a finished body of work to a record label. Rarely are record companies interested in signing a new artist they can’t put their thumbprint on in some way. Add to this the fact that, other than Tkach, the band went through a long period of instability in its lineup prior to the arrival of Zielie in March of this year—and, a few months prior to that, the arrival of Griffin, which prompted Rauner to move from primary guitarist back to (almost) full-time on keyboards. “I can’t tell you how many times Adam and I got a six-pack and sat up on the roof and said, ‘Okay, what do we do now?’” says Rauner.

Changing members will always have an effect on the chemistry and culture of a band. This was particularly true in Nadine’s case, as they were looking to evolve their sound away from their Americana roots as well as trying to find the right people. And that meant looking beyond candidates with like-minded tastes seeking a like-sounding situation. Before joining Nadine, Zielie had pretty much given up on playing in bands altogether and was planning a move to Nashville to become a full-time studio musician.

The addition of Griffin as Nadine’s new guitarist was perhaps even more of a stretch. Griffin’s background is almost purely hard rock. He got his start with the heavy metal band King of the Hill in the late ’80s at the age of 19 and, after a succession of other hard rock bands over the years, was making some new headway with Neptune Crush, an outfit that is much more A Perfect Circle than Tom Petty. How he came to join Nadine is all in whom you ask. According to Reichmann and Rauner, they had been looking last summer for a new keyboard player, but were having no luck. “So we were like, ‘What about guitarists?’” says Reichmann. “And Steve said, ‘There is probably only one guy in town who can really do it,’ and he was talking about Jimmy.”

For followers of the St. Louis music scene, it was not readily apparent this was a match made in heaven. Fans of Nadine wondered what they were doing with “the metal guy,” and those who knew Griffin from his hard rock days weren’t sure what to make of “the twang thing.” The band even admits it took a few gigs to get the chemistry right and let everything fall into place. But when they did find their sweet spot, they absolutely nailed it. Nadine’s live shows have a whole new kind of energy to them, due in large part to the sheer delight the band exudes while playing. Zielie lays down a rock-solid foundation that seems as effortless as the smile on his face. Tkach still manages to uphold the bass player’s tradition of unaffected cool, but bubbling underneath is a kind of giddiness that makes you wonder if she was pulled from the audience and asked to sit in. Rauner, while always focused, radiates Phantom of the Opera madness. Griffin’s stage persona is somewhere between the chain-smoking swagger of Keith Richards and the bliss of a two-year-old running naked around the house. But it’s Reichmann who is the most fun to watch, because the enjoyment that emanates from him is seemingly deeper. He is one part proud father, one part prodigal son, and another part soulmate. He looks around the stage at his bandmates the way an old man, still in love after 50 years of marriage, looks at his wife. He sings into the microphone with a sense of real satisfaction—as if he’s finally found the people that can convey to the audience the emotion in his words that he’s always heard in his head.

And truth is, he has, a fact Griffin sums up nicely with a simple statement: “It’s the right combination of the wrong people.”
It’s the feeling of that right combination which has spread throughout the band, the feeling that is so present in the atmosphere of this shadowy back room. In many ways, it’s as unspoken as the communication musicians have with one another onstage: just a look and a nod, and all are on the same page. In other ways, it’s more overt. Rauner and Griffin could not be more different in how they approach guitar playing, but when they discuss each other’s abilities, the kinship and enormous respect they both feel are obvious. Tkach lights up when talking about working with Rauner on arrangements for Strange Seasons and how her bandmates have made her a better musician. Reichmann echoes that sentiment, noting how everyone naturally pushes everyone else. He also extends the solidarity to their manager, Jeff Jarrett, whom the band credits with inking the Trampoline deal.

But as serendipitous as the new lineup is, it was not purely the alignment of Nadine’s planets that has gotten them to the launch pad. It has everything to do with the careful guidance of Nadine’s two founders, Reichmann and Rauner, a musical relationship not unlike that of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Rauner is the consummate composer, while Reichmann writes the lyrics. Where Reichmann is the spark that ignites the flame, Rauner is the one who quietly stokes the fire and keeps it burning.

It’s a couple of weeks later, and I am standing in the doorway of the studio where Nadine practices and where Reichmann and Rauner do their day jobs, editing and scoring TV commercials. Rauner is laying down a nasty blues riff with an old Silvertone guitar he just got off of eBay, while John Horton of The Bottle Rockets accompanies him on bass. Blasting past me in a full sprint, Reichmann yells, “I gotta play drums on this!” and jumps behind a kit and joins in. Even with the past week off and with Reichmann fighting a cold, both still have their enthusiasm at full strength. The CD release party packed the house at Mississippi Nights and featured an impromptu appearance by Rami Jaffe. The general consensus of the band is that it was their best performance to date. Later, as Reichmann and I are having lunch at Dapper Dan’s, another poorly lit room, we talk about what’s next for Nadine. They’ll be opening for Pete Yorn this month at the Pageant and possibly a few other dates as well. Their initial pressing of Strange Seasons is already dwindling. Sitting across from Reichmann, I am reminded of something else that was in the room that night at Pop’s Blue Moon, something bigger than a record deal or a new album or even new band members: belief. In themselves. In this band. In their music. And most of all, in the idea that this is only the beginning.

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