Nathan “Nabob” Shineywater sung every word of his most recent tour with an arrowhead resting in his mouth. “I was not singing for war, but to engage the spirit of the maker of the arrowhead itself, to offer up Peace, that his warrior effort find a new respect, and to help my own warrior spirit sing in Peace,” he writes on his label’s web site. Nabob, the lead singer of the critically-acclaimed and nearly indefinable alternative/southern/gospel/easy listening band Brightblack Morning Light, has taken many steps toward reducing his impact on the environment – all as non-traditional as his music. He and his bandmate and lifelong friend, Rachel “Rabob” Hughes, are committed to touring, recording, and living in an environmentally-neutral way.
Much of this sentiment undoubtedly comes from Nabob and Hughes’ connection – and subsequent disillusionment with – rural Alabama, where they both grew up. On their web site, they say, “We both left [Alabama] for the same reason, the environmental degradation due to corporate development is staggering & unchecked, it makes us disgusted. However, in the Western USA we are gathered with the many folks to protect wilderness, rivers & oceans. Ecology has a place in the West’s culture, even if it’s on a small scale right now.” This intimate relationship with nature is evident in the lives of both individuals. Before the band started growing in popularity, Nabob enjoyed a nomadic lifestyle, sleeping on the beach or in tents upon returning from tours.
Brightblack Morning Light has made touring a green initiative as well. There is a standing notice on the band’s web site: “If we are playing your town and you have some new information specifically on local environmental justice issues, please approach the band’s vending table with any printed pamphlets explaining the issue with ways folks can take action.” Recently, the band has also started purchasing carbon credits to counteract the unavoidable pollution produced as a result of travelling.
After returning from the tour in support of their album Motion to Rejoin, it was not the beach that Nabob turned to – but instead an adobe house in a remote and unpopulated area powered by only four solar panels. Described by Jay Babcock in a recent feature for Arthur magazine, the house is twenty minutes from the nearest paved road and complete with its own water tank and an extensive garden – making it completely off the grid. In an interview with Babcock, Nabob said, “I know I sound like a hippie going back to nature…[but] this lifestyle has the best karma for me. I look outside and have a relationship to the land. In the city, water and electricity are metered. Walking down the sidewalk, chances are there’s a camera pointed on me. Where do I draw the line between capitalism and what I define as freedom?”
The album, called one of the ten best albums of 2008 by UNCUT in the U.K., was recorded entirely using solar power. The lyrics contrast bucolic images of the American southwest with haunting undertones of anti-coal and anti-nuclear sentiment. Their meagre, understated way of life is reflected in the music they make. Propelled by crawling baselines, slow horns, trembling piano, and Nabob’s ambient vocalization, there is a simplicity and ease reflected in it – a comfort with the surroundings, sparse and simple though they may be.
What sets Nabob and Hughes apart from other activists is that their dedication to the environment is not merely a cause they are championing, but a lifestyle in which they have completely immersed themselves. They are not the sort of celebrities who speak out against poverty, only to return to lives of extravagance and excess. They are devoting themselves to something they truly believe in, completely altering the way they live. Though, as Nabob revealed to Entrepreneur, there are times when the solar power gives out mid-rehearsal. These are the times he pulls out the acoustic guitar and plays under the light of the oil lamps.