Nathan Thelen had just returned from Los Angeles' Central Library when he hopped on the phone for this interview. Thelen goes to the library a lot. He starts talking about how, not too long ago, he saw a guy on the bottom level of the massive building playing tennis alone against a wall. “Nobody said anything, nobody stopped him,” he recalls. Such random encounters are part of what he enjoys about heading downtown to sit among the books. “I like that it doesn't feel sterile,” he adds.
In truth, there's a lot about Los Angeles that Thelen, half of the duo Drug Cabin, finds inspiring. “I can walk around in any neighborhood and there are so many interesting aspects of living here,” he says., “From the mountains to the sea, there's nowhere like it, in my mind.”
Thelen moved here in 2004. The former Pretty Girls Make Graves guitarist stays in the city while he works and retreats to Morongo Valley when he has time off.
The influence of life in L.A. is apparent in Drug Cabin's song titles: “Hollywood,” “California,” “Beverly Glen.” The last one is from the forthcoming album, Wiggle Room, and, despite its name, the inspiration comes from Italy. “When I wrote the song, it was while watching a Fellini movie,” says Thelen. He can't recall exactly which movie it was now, but says that probably inspired the “old school feel” that the song has. With its melancholy folkiness, “Beverly Glen” (which L.A. Weekly is happy to premiere below) hits the timeless note, never really connected to a specific era or place.
For Drug Cabin, there's a certain magic to Los Angeles. Thelen had actually released the first Drug Cabin EP in 2012, having written the songs on his own. That time around, he worked with his former Pretty Girls Make Graves bandmate, Nick DeWitt. While putting together a live band, Thelen ended up jamming with Marcus Congleton, formerly of Ambulance LTD. Neither musician was familiar with the other's work, but they clicked and kept going. Now Drug Cabin is a duo.
The chemistry between Thelen and Congleton is strong. They often write separately, but a number of the songs do develop as collaborations. The results are eclectic and bountiful. Drug Cabin only released their debut full-length, Yard Work, in February, but the follow-up is out on April 7. They took a month-long studio break in between the making of both albums. Now, while Yard Work is still catching buzz for its groovy soft rock and soaring harmonies, there's another slew of tunes ready to become your next earworm.
Joined by friends Brandon “Eugene” Owens (bass), Sheridan Reily (drums) and Frankie Palmer (pedal steel), Drug Cabin knocked out Wiggle Room in two weekends. They recorded quickly because of time constraints, due to the musician's touring schedules, but the small window of time worked to the band's advantage. Also helpful was the relatively small set-up at analog-centric Gaucho Electronics, located near MacArthur Park.
“There are so many technologically advanced studios in Los Angeles and this isn't one of them, but I think that helps us out,” says Thelen. A studio with a ton of high-tech equipment would have been overwhelming giving how little time they had to work, but at Gaucho Electronics, they were able to record as though they were playing live in an intimate space. “It's not over-produced,” says Thelen, noting that there are very few overdubs. “It's true to who we are.”