Israel Nash was songwriting mode when he discovered No One Saw A Thing, an engrossing 2019 documentary series about a rural Missouri town upended by a case of vigilante justice that went unpunished despite numerous eyewitnesses. Ever since the 1980s shooting of the town bully in broad daylight, tiny Skidmore has come apart at the seams, enduring an disturbing string of violent crimes. “I was making this rock record, and I was on this mission for stories,” says Nash, referring to a full LP of music he’s hoping to release on vinyl in late summer. “It just blew my fucking mind … What a crazy story.”
No One Saw A Thing wasn’t the direct inspiration for “Down In The Country,” the second track on Nash’s new five-song teaser EP, Topaz. But the rigorously self-sufficient mindset that defines most of Skidmore’s few-hundred residents is one that Nash is intimately familiar with. He grew up in a small Missouri town not unlike Skidmore. “There’s some real poverty, and I had a lot of family that were along those lines.” he says. “People can get fooled so easily—and not just by politicians. Things aren’t getting better, but someone is telling you they are—so you’re all for thatI wanted to tell that story from the perspective of people who live in these rural areas. The struggle is different for everyone, and there’s a lot of pride in those places.”
Nash recorded Topaz at his home studio in Dripping Springs, Texas, during breaks from touring 2018’s Lifted, an album that embraced the studio as an instrument in its own right as it shifted away from the hazy Laurel Canyon-inspired folk rock of his previous few releases. Like the rest of Topaz, “Down In The Country” finds Nash nudging the guitars back to the forefront. Hard Proof, an Austin-based collective inspired by Fela Kuti’s Africa 70, supplies distinctive brass accompaniment for a vibe that’s classic ’70s R&B with a windswept soul.
“I’d been listening to the Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland song ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City,’ and I was inspired by that,” says Nash. “It all turns on those horns.”