by Monica Ng
I came across Defend the Rhino thanks to a follow by Cups N Cakes. Cups N Cakes (IG: @cupsncakesnet) is a volunteer run promoter of Canadian indie music. I’m huge on Canadian music and nature, so when I saw the drone footage of a beautiful landscape with incredible ambient music on Cups’ post, I took a listen to the song and was instantly hooked. I write this a lot, but I get so excited when there are many songs that I like from the same artist. It’s very satisfying to be able to dig deep and delve into their entire discography.
Make Do (2022) – Album
A+ (2021) – Album
Wing It (2020) – Album
Glisten (2019) – Album
Fabricated (2018) – Album
Static Breeze (2017) – Album
There’s No Place Like Home (2016) – Album
Nathaniel is composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer based in Edmonton, Alberta. He produces music under his own name, but created Defend the Rhino for his ambient and cinematic music. Nathaniel is passionate about scoring music for films and videos and embraces opportunities for the creative process.
Me: Hey Nathaniel! It’s always an honour to interview musicians whose work I’m a huge fan of. You record music under your own name – which based on my listen is alternative with lyrics. My favourite songs produced under your name are Perfect Time and Wing Tech 3000. What motivated you to produce music as Defend the Rhino?
Nathaniel: Hi Monica! I appreciate the love! I originally began writing music under my own name, using a portable digital recording studio (a MRS 1608 16-Track Digital Recording Studio to be exact) and it produced very lo-fi recordings onto CD, but helped me create my first recordings as a musician. I started writing music based on indie-rock influences such as Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie. As time progressed, I discovered more artists and my list of influences grew. I started to really get into instrumental post-rock artists, one of those being a band in the UK called, Mogwai. Once I discovered Mogwai, I bought their whole discography. I knew that I’d love to attempt to make music like that someday.
Defend The Rhino was born this way, I pieced together instrumental melodies and riffs that I just loved, and built onto those sounds using drums, bass and even synth. Using this method, There’s No Place Like Home became my first release and Mint 400 Records helped me release it, which was a wonderful experience.
Me: It’s great to hear how your project started. I checked out Mogwai and can definitely hear their influence on a few of your songs. I recently sent off my interview questions to Shierro – a super-talented beatmaker/music producer from the Netherlands. I told you that you guys should do a collaboration piece. That would be wicked! Have you done or plan to do any collaborations?
Nathaniel: Actually, yes! So, after releasing my second album Static Breeze with Mint 400 Records, the label asked if I’d be interested in having some of their artists provide vocals for some songs that I produce. At that time, I had four unreleased songs that I wrote but they didn’t make it onto any albums. I thought this would be a great way to collaborate with artists on the roster. And so Fabricated became a collaboration, featuring Fairmont, Tiegan, Young Legs and aBIRD. It was such a fun experience and I would absolutely do more collaborations down the road. I follow Shierro now, he’s on my radar for sure!
Me: I’ll have to take another listen to Fabricated now that you mention the collabs and looking forward to collab work between you and Shierro.
I’ve danced alone in the forest so many times to Bucket List. There’s something so invigorating, happy and hopeful about that tune. You said that it’s your favourite song as well. I love that so many moods are expressed through your music, but I’m especially fascinated by the organic feel. I’ve used so many of your tracks in my IG reels and stories and I haven’t run out of songs yet. What inspires your music?
Nathaniel: Haha, yes! I thank you for using my music on your reels and stories. Bucket List is definitely one I’m proud of, just the way it builds up and explodes at the end. I love those kinds of songs. Actually, Mogwai is a lot like that, they’re a huge inspiration to me (have you noticed!? Haha). Other inspirations include a great soundtrack to a film. It’s my opinion that a great soundtrack can make even a mediocre film look amazing. One of my favourite movies of all time is Big Fish, the movie itself is just a nice and wholesome flick but the soundtrack makes it so much better. Danny Elfman and Nick Ingman worked together on that one. I love it.
Me: I do sense that Mogwai is a source of your inspiration lol. The first thing that I thought of when I saw your name were the poor rhinos being poached for their horns. Then I saw one of your posts about Sedan, a rhino who had died. How did you decide on Defend the Rhino as the name for your project and how does it tie in with your music?
Nathaniel: Yes, it’s so tragic. At the time when I was deciding on a name for this project, they had guards protecting the last male Northern White Rhino, Sedan, it broke my heart.
When I began this project, it was nameless. I decided to solely work on the music and the name would just come naturally. After I had finished There’s No Place Like Home, I started listening to the completed tracks on a consistent basis. I attempted to picture myself in different scenarios along with the music, I would close my eyes and see where the music took me. It wasn’t until I heard about the last Northern White Rhino being protected by an armed guard 24/7 in Kenya that my mind started to become visual with the music. I would envision myself as a soldier, defeating poachers and saving the rhinos. It was like a movie in my head along with the music. That is how the name Defend The Rhino stuck with me.
Me: That’s a pretty intense and dark visual of you as a soldier and I get the chills when you mention the 24/7 armed guard. It’s depressing that they had to resort to full time protection for an animal’s survival. That speaks volumes about the destructive nature of the human race. When will the destruction end?
You posted that your music starts with an idea, but it boggles my mind that these beautifully layered and rich songs can be created from a few plucks on your guitar or bass or by pressing down a few keys on the piano. I can’t play instruments so it fascinates me how this can happen. As a multi-instrumentalist, what instruments do you play, what goes through your mind as you put together a piece and what is the creative process involved?
Nathaniel: My main instrument is guitar but I dabble in many instruments, such as bass, piano, drums. I just know what I like and the music that I want to make, so these are my tools to do so. It’s hard to explain the creative process but it really does usually just start with an idea. Maybe it’s just a simple melody that loops throughout a song or maybe it’s drum pattern that a bass riff would be perfect for. It really all depends and the outcome can be amazing, or go nowhere – there is no in-between, haha.
Me: I love how musicians can put melodies together in their heads. I guess it’s similar to when I write – a word or thought will enter my mind and it has potential to spin quickly into a story.
It’s amazing that your score music for films and videos. BTW – anyone looking for music for your projects or films, Nathaniel is your guy.
Nathaniel, I challenge you to a new piece about the pandemic. While you’re working on it, tell us…if you had to score a song about the pandemic state of the world, in words, what sounds/feel would you imagine?
Nathaniel: Oh gosh, yeah it would be a somber song for sure, with a slow tempo, lots of reverb and probably some gentle orchestral strings in there. I can almost hear it.
Me: I’m looking forward to listening to the piece. I have such a strong connection to Canadian music. Most of what I listen to is Canadian. What does the music scene like in Edmonton and what challenges do you face getting your music out there?
Nathaniel: I’ve been heavily involved with the Edmonton music scene for a long time in various ways and I can say that it is very welcoming to almost any genre of music. Got a punk band? There’s a place for it. Got a blues band? There’s a place for it. Got an experimental noise band? Yeah, there’s a place for that too.
I think the main challenge to be faced here (which is not really any different than anywhere else) is just getting your music heard. Especially with so much competition out there, it can be difficult to stand out, but I think that’s a challenge worth accepting and figuring out how you can make yourself known.
Me: For sure challenges can be seen as a good thing if you can accept it. Your pages are very interesting. I love the Fisher Price tape player video clip on your IG page @nathanielsuttonmusic. It’s amazing that the tape recorder can still play. Quality is definitely a thing of the past! Because the tune on that post caught my interest, I asked you for the song title and you said that it doesn’t have one yet. What are your plans for releasing gems like these?
Nathaniel: I’ve been really getting into tape recording lately, there’s something nostalgic about hearing that hiss that comes with recording and playback of cassette tapes, much like the subtle crackles you hear on vinyl. So, I found an old Tascam MF-P01 tape recorder on Kijiji and have been messing around with tape loops and recordings. I have more in the works. I’m not sure what my official plan is yet for these recordings but I enjoy making them and will hopefully release them all as a collective down the road, just for you Monica! Haha.
Me: That is too absolutely sweet! I will definitely buy the collection if you release it. And if you don’t, I am open to you sharing your music file with me. I love your mini mic singing post on @nathanielsuttonmusic too, and you have a tiny music piano cranking out creepy tunes. Where do you find all the interesting props shown on your page?!
Nathaniel: Thrift shops! I find a lot of cool things going to the thrift shop. That’s where I found that creepy toy piano, I’ve also found old shoebox recorders that you’ll soon see on my @nathanielsuttonmusic page. I’m always working on something behind the scenes.
Me: I can picture a mini band with all of your tiny instruments lol. Looks like you have a lot of nature-related tattoos on your wrists. I love tattoos. What are they symbolic of?
Nathaniel: Yes, I’d like to get a sleeve eventually but tattoos are so expensive! My right wrist is trees and mountains which represents land and my left wrist is ocean waves which represents water. So, behold! Land and water, I just thought it was “cool” Haha.
Me: I agree that tattoos can get expensive – especially having a detailed sleeve. Ok, now my mandatory get-to-know-you question – who are top three favourite musicians or greatest musical influences?
Nathaniel: Well, one artist that I’ve been mentioning throughout this interview is Mogwai, so they’re definitely on the top three list. Another long-time favourite band of mine is Pinback, they’re packed-full of melodies and inspired a lot of my earlier music. Kurt Vile would make this list too, I’ve been listening to his latest album “(watch my moves)” on repeat. I really dig his style and find his unconventional vocal style – so soothing, weirdly enough.
Me: I’m listening to (watch my moves) as I’m writing – wonder why Kurt put “watch my moves” in parentheses. Upon a quick listen of this album – I agree that he has unconventional vocals and style.
In my opinion, there’s nothing like live music. Not sure how it would work with your instrumental music, but as yourself (haha, that sounds weird and I can’t figure out how to word it properly, but you know what I mean!) – do you have any plans to play live?
Nathaniel: If you look at the cover photo of my album Wing It, that’s actually a photo of me performing my first time live as Defend The Rhino. I performed instrumental music while Nisha Patel read her poetry and it was a really neat experience. When I played live, it wasn’t music from any albums, it was improvisational-based guitar riffs and loops. That’s the way I’d have to do it live unless I ever got a band together to play music from my albums live, but I don’t foresee this happening as I have been putting more effort into composing music for visual media these days.
I do agree though, live music is a much different experience than just listening to a recorded album. It’s something I look forward to getting to do again, going to see live shows after two years of being deprived, due to the pandemic.
Me: I’ll let you know in advance when I visit Edmonton so you have time to arrange a show for me. I will be there. I’m so happy to have discovered your music and thrilled to have a chance to chat with you. Thank you so much for your time and enthusiasm. Everyone, you know the drill – stream and buy music, buy merch, follow on socials…and MOST important, be generous and share music with everyone! I’m a musical sponge too, so keep sharing music with me.
Nathaniel, is there anything else that you would like to share?
Nathaniel: To be honest, my latest release Make Do will be my last release as Defend The Rhino (for now, or perhaps indefinitely). I’ve been really focused on building a brand, under my own name, composing music for film/visual media, and I want that to be my main focus for the foreseeable future. I’ll still be releasing albums/music but it will be under my own name, rather than an alias. I’m so thankful for people like you, Monica, @cupsncakesnet and for the labels that helped me get my music out there. Most recently Shady Ridge Records, who have been such a huge help in reaching a new audience. A few cassettes/CD’s are still available through www.defendtherhino.bandcamp.com
In the meantime, you can follow me on my social media pages:
Me: While wrapping up this interview, I bought one of your last Make Do CDs. It will be a collectors album now that you mentioned it may be the last from Defend the Rhino. I’m sad to hear this, but I wish you the best in your future endeavours!