As frontman of Nahko and Medicine for the People, Nahko has shared a lot of himself with listeners since the band formed in 2008.
His time leaving his home in Oregon to travel the country, the experience of meeting his birth mother, all led to the creation of the world music collective, which released “Hoka” last year.
As open as he’s been on the band’s three albums, which lyrically revolve mostly around all things socially and spiritually conscious, Nahko has kept his pre-Medicine life mostly tucked away.
But with a break in the band’s schedule, Nahko decided to revisit that time, officially recording songs that have bounced around YouTube for years, piecing them together to tell the story of his pre-Medicine life, a time when he was known not as Nahko, but as David Bell.
The story, told on Nahko’s debut solo album, “My Name Is Bear,” brings Nahko and Medicine for the People to the Knitting Factory on Sunday.
Born Joel Miguel Nahkohe-ese Parayno, Nahko was named David Joel Nahkohe-ese Bell after he was adopted.
Nahko, of Puerto Rican, Filipino, Mohawk and Apache descent, grew up in a white household in Oregon.
In his late teens and early 20s, he wrote music as he traveled the country. When he arrived in Hawaii, a friend suggested he go by Nahko, which means “bear.”
“I reclaimed the name at this time …,” Nahko said in a news release. “It’s a statement to myself. I’m no longer a little bear. I’ve reached a place where I’ve progressed through this journey of music. I can share these songs from a very specific period today.”
Revisiting those songs for “My Name Is Bear” proved to be an interesting experience for Nahko.
“In the art of it, it was super fun to get to explore the version of the person that I am now telling those stories now,” he said during a recent interview with The Spokesman-Review.
Looking at the music as an older musician, Nahko said the meaning behind some of the songs had changed.
The message behind “Dragonfly,” in particular, changed for Nahko when he filmed the music video, which stars actress Paris Jackson (daughter of Michael).
Nahko wrote the song at 18 after an experience with his first love that began in Alaska and ended in Louisiana.
In the video, Jackson goes on a bike ride, runs on the beach and dances among the trees and in the ocean, with many scenes played in reverse.
After presenting Jackson with the video treatment and hearing about certain things happening in her life, Nahko felt the meaning of the song shift.
“It was really cool how it lined up and the meaning changed to be a song that became her story,” he said. “That the beauty of art is it really is malleable.”
Four tracks on “My Name Is Bear” – “The Vow,” “Too Much Kerouac,” “Bearly Thoughts” and “Stoned On a Stone” – aren’t songs but rather snippets of daily logs Nahko recorded on a Radio Shack tape recorder during his time traveling the country.
Nahko found these tapes in a box in his mother’s attic, and though there was a lot of static and random pieces that wouldn’t work, he found a few clips he felt fit the flow of the album and helped tell his story.
“My head has been spinning all day and I want it to stop,” he says in “The Vow.” “Therefore I will spend time with beautiful people, listen and play beautiful music, drink and smoke beautiful things and inspire myself with beautiful thoughts.”
“I gave the listener a bit of a window into how I sounded, what I would talk about to myself,” he said. “It really gives you an idea of where my head was at.”
Nahko hopes “My Name Is Bear” gives Medicine fans a look at where he was coming from when he wrote songs for the band, but he doesn’t think listeners need to know much about the band to appreciate the album.
“You can just put it on and enjoy it,” he said. “It’s not like it’s a previous Medicine record where it’s very oriented around social empowerment, social justice or politics or even spiritual conversation.
“The simplicity in which I wrote back then is actually really fun to go back to, even though I sort of felt like it was cheesy at first … But it’s cool giving the mature voice now to that youthful person that hadn’t really seen the world that much yet.”
Nahko has been calling this release volume one and said there’s enough material from his pre-Medicine days for a volume two.
But for the time being, he’s focused on “My Name Is Bear,” paying less attention to reviews and more to how the album has shifted the band’s live show.
Nahko said Nahko and Medicine for the People shows usually entail pumping up the crowd and moving them through an experience whereas shows behind “My Name Is Bear” have been more laid back.
“I don’t want to say more thoughtful but certainly a different approach to how we provide this kind of record from how I built the stage to how we built the set,” he said.
Nahko said this experimentation will help set up the next Medicine record because it will allow the band to see what works as far as how they engage fans and also how they work together musically.
“I’ve been thinking a lot more recently about how we approach being musicians,” he said. “We’ve been doing a very similar set for the last three years, a mixture of the last three records, so this is my time to transform a bit and take a new perspective on our musicality and where we take our fans.”
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