Massive sound, euphoric heart: Nané could be Austin’s next breakout
On the band’s self-titled debut album, Austin six-piece Nané churns a tidal wave of emotion that will rock your body and shake your soul. Lead singer Daniel Sahad is a big man with big hair, a big voice and a big heart. His vocals soar on glorious swells of sound rich with funky riffs and exuberant polyrhythms. Nothing on this album can be described as small.
Lead single “Always on my Mind” saunters in with the syrupy swagger of a Saturday night slow dance before exploding into a bombastic dance floor banger with Sahad’s voice building from a sweet falsetto to an unbridled wail over crashing cymbals, furious piano chords and throbbing bass. Grimy blues riffs spin into psychedelic flourishes on “Wolverine,” and “Clementine Tree” is an agonizing close up of the end of a relationship that feels cinematic in its scope.
The latter track required a strong arc, Sahad said on a recent episode of Austin360’s streaming show, the Monday Music Mashup. Centered on mustering the strength to let someone go, the song morphs from tender and quiet to angry and empty, and then to resolute and positive.
“I think all of these things are super important to tell the story of how this actually feels, to let go of something,” Sahad said.
He believes “the energy and the emotion” he’s able to share with people draws fans to his shows, he said.
That energy also inspired singer Brittany Howard to choose the laundromat party video for his ode to beachside dreams, “Blue Velvet,” as one of her top five selections for this year’s edition of National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Contest.
“I already love this person. The singer is just no holds barred. He is just loving himself, feeling himself,” Howard said in an NPR video about her favorite songs in the contest. “I’m inspired by the dude and I want to share that kind of energy with everybody and I think that’s the kind of energy that should be spread out in the world.”
Sahad describes hearing Howard’s praise as “the moment my soul left my body.”
» PHOTOS:Brownout and Nané at ACL Live
“There aren't really words to describe what it feels like when your hero — your actual hero, like the one, not one of five, but your actual hero — in this slim chance of, like, life recognizes something within you,” he said.
For Sahad, who made the decision to walk away from medical studies to pursue a career path with rampant “potential for missteps or failure,” Howard’s words of support were “gratifying and beautiful,” he said.
The child of immigrants from the Dominican Republic with familial roots in Lebanon, Sahad grew up in the small panhandle city of Amarillo. Throughout his childhood, he struggled with a sense of displacement. Though Spanish was his first language, on trips to the D.R., his accent set him apart from the rest of the family. Back at home, he faced the “overt and covert racism that you experience regularly growing up in North Texas, as one of the only, like, brown kids of the city,” he said.
Early on, he realized that he could harness the weight of words to “actually change people's minds” and get them to “see life through my lens,” he said.
“I've been writing speeches and songs and all that since I was a little boy, because I thought words were so powerful that when used the right way, they can change everything,” he said.
Still, when it came time for college, he felt obligated to follow a sensible path.
“When you're the child of an immigrant, you feel a bit of responsibility to do the best that you can, in the most economical like, and fruitful career choice,” he said.
He enrolled in the University of Texas at Austin’s honors pre-med program, but two years in, the late nights cramming biochemistry were taking a toll on his soul.
Staring down a daunting decade of medical study, he was “suppressing something much louder” within himself, he said.
To blow off steam, he would find a piano in one of the dorms and sing and play. Though he was singing for himself, people listened.
“They would clap afterwards. And I always thought that was funny,” he said. “But I started realizing that it was bursting out within me. And then there just came a point in time where it was undeniable and I had to pursue music.”
One of those late night dorm sessions led to a connection with Gary Powell, a former Disney executive who was teaching production in the university’s music department. Powell began mentoring Sahad, training him as a studio vocalist. Through Powell, Sahad met Ian Green, who was studying guitar in the school of music. The two had easy chemistry and rapidly became close. They began to play late night jams for friends.
“People were just so engaged. And we realized we had this thing and this potential,” Sahad said.
Sahad graduated from UT in 2016 and roughly two years later, he and Green began writing together in earnest and assembling a band. They connected with John Speice IV, the Grammy-winning drummer for Grupo Fantasma, Brownout and Golden Dawn Arkestra. Speice had been wanting to get into production, “but he really needed to believe in the band that he was working with,” Sahad said. He felt honored when Speice, whom he describes as “a genius at what he does and a good leader,” agreed to take on Nané.
The group recorded their debut in the early part of 2019, simultaneously debuting a live show featuring the energetic 10-song set on the album. The shows crackled with electricity and the buzz spread quickly. By the time January 2020 rolled around, they pulled a capacity crowd for a headline set at Empire Garage during Free Week.
In the front of the audience, “people were screaming my lyrics back at me,” Sahad said. A fan of theatrics, he included a balloon drop in the set. That night now seems like it was years ago, but watching videos of the show, “you can just feel the pulse of energy,” he said.
Momentum around the band was building and it’s easy to imagine an alternate universe where a summer of ecstatic festival sets and packed club shows across the country launched the band into the national spotlight.
“But knowing the safety ramifications and what's going on obviously takes priority,” Sahad said.
The biggest disappointment was scrapping a planned tour.
“I've never done anything like that. I was really excited to do that,” he said. “But I have patience.”
To celebrate the album release, he’s throwing a pair of small capacity seated shows at Empire Garage. For fans who aren’t ready to party in person, he’s been releasing more videos. He has a short film in the works that will give fans a behind-the-scenes look at his personal story.
“I still want to give them the emotion that they feel from the show. So I want them to feel inspired and energetic,” he said.
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AUSTIN360 ARTIST OF THE MONTH: NANÉ
Band members: Daniel Sahad (vocals), Ian Green (guitar), Scott McIntyre (bass), JaRon Marshall (keys), Gustavo Hernandez (percussion), Jordan Espinoza (Drums)
Current release: “Nané,” 2020
Upcoming shows: 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Nov. 13 at Empire Garage. Tickets are sold in socially-distanced pods. Go to empireatx.com for details.