Life’s big themes – love, loss and heartbreak among them – thread through Portland singer-songwriter Nate Botsford’s 2014 indie release Hourglass. The lyrics, which can lean toward the melancholy, are meant to reflect experiences listeners themselves have had; ideally, Botsford says, “They can feel like it was written just for them and find a glimmer of hope.” That said, DJs at Portland radio station Kink FM, which has three of its tracks in rotation, have described Hourglass as a feel-good album, the tunefully acoustic sort you might add to a road-trip playlist or queue up for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Fans of Jack Johnson, Bob Dylan and Mumford and Sons may find a kindred spirit in Botsford, who began playing piano as a 5 year old before switching to the Taylor acoustic guitar his dad gave him at age 14. (“That guitar has been anywhere and everywhere with me,” he says. “Thousands of shows and hours of practice time. Still plays beautifully.”) Inspired by vintage singer-songwriters including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, as well as his grandfather, a big-band pianist, Botsford began to hone his country/folk/pop hybrid style as a teen. From braving finger-numbing temperatures busking outside Starbucks after midnight to logging up to 300 solo shows a year for the last five years, Botsford’s dream of a professional musical career has gradually become rooted in reality.
As a solo artist, Botsford is a veteran of American Idol rounds in Portland and in Kansas City. In 2010, he released the EP Pearl; in 2015, he landed one of two finalist spots in the Aloft Hotels’ Project Aloft online songwriting contest, which attracted nearly 1,000 entrants and was judged by producers from Nashville and L.A. Botsford’s prize included a mentoring session and opening slot with Ingrid Michaelson in New York, with a 25-city solo tour to follow in 2016. Shortly after that victory, he was booked as an opener for Napa’s Live in the Vineyard show on a bill with acts including The Barenaked Ladies and Spearhead’s Michael Franti.Performing is an escape for Botsford: ‘Whenever I’m playing, I’m not stressing or worrying, I’m just in the moment,” he says. That release, and seeing people’s faces light up when they recognize a song, keep his love for playing strong. (Offstage, he recharges by camping, hiking and horseback riding. “There’s something to be said for just getting away, whether it’s nature or whether it’s being alone,” he says.)
Although he often plays solo, he likes gigging with other musicians, too, from a trio to a full-scale band. His goal is to get his music out to a wider national audience, to tour and record, and to leave listeners with lyrics -- stitched together from his own experiences as well as stories he’s heard -- stuck in their heads. “I feel like people can expect to feel something,” he says of his music. “They’ll find at least one song that will match where they’ve been or where they’re coming from. A lot of people have said, ‘Oh, that was just what I needed to hear tonight.’”