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The Sound of Animals Fighting Frontman the Nightingale Talks Returning to the Stage, Anonymity, + the Future of the Band

Porter McNight

It’s been seven years since enigmatic supergroup the Sound of Animals Fighting have played live. Fans and even the musicians themselves thought the band’s limited run of 2006 shows would be their final outings, and yet here they are, preparing to hit the road in March on a seven-date tour from Philadelphia to Pomona, Calif.

The Sound of Animals Fighting is the product of former Rx Bandit Rich Balling, whose vision of a separate, more anonymous project gave way to a new identity: the Nightingale. Along with the Walrus, Penguin, Ram and many more musicians-turned-animals, the band has crafted a multifaceted project that has inspired live painting from artists Aaron Nagel and Norton Wisdom.

Diffuser.fm caught up with the Nightingale himself as he prepares to take the stage once more with the Sound of Animals Fighting. In the course of our conversation, he waxed poetic on the organic approach the band takes in all that they do, how age has made him more comfortable with himself and what might be next for the supergroup.

Let’s address the elephant in the room: Your bandmate Anthony Green begins We Must Be the Change We Want To See by explicitly stating that this would be the only time fans would see the Sound of Animals Fighting on a stage. What was the impetus for returning to performance?

Good point. In interviews surrounding those performances, we were never shy about the consideration of a future East Coast run to mirror what we did on those West Coast shows. Even still, we all accepted the fact that the chances of gathering for more shows were remote. So in the passion of that moment, that probably was an accurate statement. We have all been busy with our other projects over these last seven years that the timing has just never felt right for making good on that idea of an East Coast run, until now. The reason behind adding a couple West Coast dates to this really just stems from our 2008 release of ‘The Ocean And the Sun’ having never been performed live, and the feeling that if we are going to do this, we should try bicoastal performances to provide ample opportunities for people to experience it.

Green recently did a reddit AMA and said that it was “very possible” that the Sound of Animals Fighting could put out more music. Are you currently recording new material, and did that influence the decision to tour once more?

He did the AMA just as we began discussing these shows, so I am fairly certain that was what he was speaking to. There is no music being written as of now. Maybe these shows will inspire another album, and maybe they won’t. The project has always been very organic. Things are done only when they feel right. Which is why we have turned down some pretty amazing offers to play over the last seven years. It just didn’t feel right then. Maybe recording more music will feel right down the line. If we never recorded anything again, I would still be completely satisfied with what the project has accomplished. I think the fact that we are not overly active aids us in maintaining a loyal cult following. That sort of following is the only one that matters anyway.

The Sound of Animals Fighting is essentially a supergroup that has seen many great musicians in the studio and beyond. What’s your current line-up looking like? Will it stay that way for your string of tour dates?

At its core, there have been four constant members. Myself, Anthony Green, Matthew Embree and Chris Tsagakis. Other musicians have made guest appearances along the way and have contributed to the collaborative nature. The only “guest” that has appeared on more than one album is Matthew Kelly. As I mentioned, these live dates are driven in part by the fact that we have never performed ‘The Ocean And the Sun’ live, and the four original core members from ‘Tiger & The Duke’ who also crafted ‘The Ocean And the Sun’ will be performing on these dates, along with guest vocalist Matthew Kelly, who shows up on ‘Lover…’ and ‘Ocean…’

Los Angeles is an important tour stop, given your Southern California roots. What influenced the other venues you wanted to perform at?

Interestingly enough, the one thing that put the idea of actually doing these shows into motion was the thought of playing the Wiltern. It is sort of a dream come true for a few of us. Thinking about the capacity of that room, and the years that had passed since our one and only other tour dates, it was clear to us that we had a shot, and the rest was set in motion. I remember seeing Lucinda Williams at the Wiltern. It is legendary.

The mythos of the Sound of Animals Fighting is a fascinating one. Where are you taking the band’s story next? What can fans expect to change in aesthetic and what elements are you looking to keep?

I can’t be certain what the future will hold. We have been a bit loose with the animal aliases in recent press releases and in interviews like these, mostly because of the questions we are getting about who people can expect to see on the tour. But the aliases live on, even if Wikipedia charts them all out for everyone. It is a matter of principle, to say, “Here is a wall separating the celebrity from the work, the man from the music,” because it really is the music we want to speak for itself. This outlet is a side project that allows us to explore things we don’t otherwise, so the end product should be able to stand on its own. These shows will definitely have a visual element to them, details are still being mapped out.

I’ve always found it interesting the way you handle press, especially given the fact that a majority of the interviews you give are with smaller publications and websites. Is that decision influenced by the fact that you’re now (and I’m assuming this given the interviews) a high school English teacher?

That may play into it subconsciously. But really, I recognize the collective power of smaller publications and websites, especially when one recognizes the fact that those forums are almost always run by avid fans of music and/or the arts. The people that care enough to start up a grassroots publication out of passion. We are also not very snobbish when it comes to press. In other words, with this project, we want to talk to those that are interested, and not simply posture in pretentious outlets so we can be cool and exclusive. I think the project itself already feels like a club; either people have bought into the club or they haven’t. So we don’t need to posture in the press to achieve that.

I’d imagine anonymity plays an important role in the classroom and where you live. How many students know your “true” identity?

For a long time, I staunchly separated my music life and my professional life. I have lightened on that a bit just this year, actually. I turned 36 this year and am comfortable enough in my own skin and with my own accomplishments that I feel I am in a rare place to use these accomplishments to help inspire the kids I teach in the classroom. Pop-culture leverage, I suppose.

Have you found any inspiration from teaching that carries over into your music?

Nope. If anything it is the other way around.

What other projects are you working on, music-related and otherwise?

Since 2008, I have found my primary project to be the band Pyramids, who have released on Hydra Head Records and other notable labels. We are working on a record for 2014. In 2010 I orchestrated two massive collaborations: Sailors With Wax Wings, and White Moth, and currently run the record label Handmade Birds out of my home in North Texas.

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