By: Ashley Duong
In 2022, Nathaniel Banks, lead singer of alternative/indie band Arlie, experienced long overdue musical achievements straight out of an indie musician’s dream. Arlie released their debut album, BREAK THE CURSE, had a successful headlining tour, then accompanied The Wrecks and Flipturn, gaining more popularity with every show they played. Yet Banks is musically insatiable, proven by the fact that he and his touring band recently packed into a van yet again and are hitting venues all over the U.S.
Arlie’s (and subsequently Bank’s) growing success is of no shock. With every new song he writes, each show he plays, and all his in-studio recording and producing sessions, one string of similarity ties each experience together: He envisioned this life from the start. Throughout all of the hardships and confusions, Nathaniel Banks’s life turned out exactly how he expected to be.
This mindset was ingrained early on in his life. “It was definitely a life-long childhood dream,” said Banks. “I couldn’t picture myself doing anything else.”
While his motivations for a rockstar lifestyle began early in his childhood, it wasn’t until college that his desire to pursue this career was solidified. Upon arrival, Banks met new people every day, people who challenged his preconceived notions that his dreams of being a musician were only dreams.
“When I got to Nashville, it was this whole spectrum of hobbyists all the way to legendary,” said Banks. “You see all the things that make it possible to go from one side of the spectrum to another and that’s just what sort of opened it up for me.”
Through learning from these extraordinary musicians that doubled as his classmates, about their music journey and how tangible it was, Bank’s familiar childhood dream resurfaced. He began to compose with them, fulfilling a childhood dream to write songs, and inadvertently starting a new beginning.
Banks’s college music courses aided his journey as a songwriter — and eventually, a professional musician. His songwriting class forced him to eventually finish the song snippets he worked on, which led to him showing people his completed work.
“It proved to me that I could do it,” Banks said. “Before that, it was always just like, I had hundreds and hundreds of unfinished things. It just took a little bit of a concentrated push to actually start finishing things and get some feedback.”
While his music classes taught him the technicalities and nuances of music creation, his other classes were just as important: serving as inspiration for his music. His experience in history, philosophy, and literature classes were endlessly impactful on his lyricism.
“It would always feed into my songwriting in ways… just to be putting what I’m doing into the context of the bigger picture, of humanity at large,” said Banks.
After finding his concentrated push and his lyrical inspiration, everything started setting into place. He put together a band, played live performances around campus, and, in 2018, released Wait, Arlie’s first EP. After this EP’s release, Arlie’s return to the music scene seemed to be halted: a necessary break for Bank’s mental well-being.
In 2019, Banks experienced a mental health crisis, one that threw a wrench in his long overdue childhood dreams. He realized that he needed help, pausing his songwriting to see different therapists and receive the needed support. Throughout his time, he luckily had an incredible support system, including his record label.
“A lot of people might get dropped from their label when they have a mental health crisis… and my label was really supportive of me,” said Banks.
As he climbed out of his depressive episode, he returned to a path that was lined with a newfound uncertainty, as his timing coincided with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet this was a blessing for him, since it alleviated the pressure of returning to society before he was ready. He took this blessing and began working on what we now know as Arlie’s debut album, BREAK THE CURSE. He had 30 songs in various stages of completion, rotating between them with different producers and collaborators.
“I often get to a point where I’m just chasing the inspiration as long as I can and then I’ll set it aside, so I don’t get too lost in the details when I don’t have the perspective,” said Banks.
This production process was filled with trial and error, all during a raw healing period — an unfavorable combination for creating music. With choosing between one vulnerable song lyric to another, or between different production styles, his mental health crisis was hindering his decision making process.
“It’s hard to trust yourself creatively if you don’t trust yourself in general, in life,” said Banks.
Luckily, his friends Adam and Ryan, who played with his band in the past, helped bring his vision to life. Working through COVID quarantine protocols, it was a process of “problem solving our way to the finish line,” said Banks.
With an unorthodox approach of having no deadline, they worked on the album for the next eight months. “We went super, super, super detailed in a way that maybe will never happen again,” said Banks.
The album’s release, and Arlie’s subsequent headlining tour, were huge milestones for not only the present Nathanial Banks, but the version of him making demos and writing songs in his college dorm room.
While the childhood Nathaniel who dreamed of singing, writing songs, and being a composer couldn’t definitively articulate how his life would turn out, the future version of himself confidently proclaimed that he was always meant to live this life.
“Honestly, I did think that my life would look like this. I did not think that the path would look like how [it] looked to get to where I am,” said Banks. “Where I am now, it’s like, ‘yeah this kind of makes sense to me.’ But how I got here, I’m like, ‘what in the world…’”