IN JANUARY OF 2008, Nate Lacy's phone rang. On the other end was the singer of Modest Mouse. Isaac Brock wanted to make a record.
At the time, Lacy was attending Lane Community College in Eugene. So on the following Saturday he grabbed a few CDs with "Mimicking Birds" scrawled across the top, got in his car, and drove up I-5 to meet Brock at his Portland home. After talking a bit and listening to the home recordings it was settled: Mimicking Birds would join Brock's label, Glacial Pace. "I was shocked," Lacy remembers.
None of this would've happened if it weren't for Jason Scribner, a friend of Lacy's since grade school. Lacy might have been completely comfortable had no one ever taken the time to hear his music, and he explains to me quite earnestly that his art is created for art's sake. While he enjoys the process, he fears its perversion. "I kind of like the idea of keeping it a secret," Lacy said. "Like making drawings and keeping them in a portfolio instead of putting them up in an art gallery every month."
But Scribner thought his friend should share. "He was the initial driving force as far as pushing me to try recording," Lacy explains. And it was Scribner who sent the Lacy's recordings to Glacial Pace; it was the only label he reached out to.
"I fell in love with it," Brock said of the wistful demos. Underscoring the truth in his label's name, Brock kept listening to the CDs "for like five months," making sure they held up over time. Only after finalizing the decision did Brock learn that Lacy—who grew up in Portland and has since moved back—lived nearby. "I get music sent to me from all corners of the world and it's usually pretty garbage," said Brock. "I really lucked out that Nate was here."
But unlike most artists who find a label, the work was really just beginning for Lacy. He had no band. Worse yet, he'd never played a single live show. "I just didn't have any interest in the whole scene," Lacy admits. After a 20-date tour opening for Modest Mouse, performing can still make him feel "inside out." But opportunity outweighed apprehension, and again old friends came through, with Tim Skellenger (percussion) and Aaron Hanson (guitar) coming in to round out Mimicking Birds. At Brock's house they recorded sporadically throughout 2008, and although Modest Mouse was closely involved—contributing structural ideas, guitar, and even some vocals—the self-titled record is all Lacy.
Led by his hushed but lush vocals and deeply toned acoustic guitar, Mimicking Birds' debut is ethereal, pensive, and austere—a calm, chilly night spent gazing at a clear, starry sky. Like Lacy himself, the record is sweet, understated, and full of much more than a glance would ever allow. Lacy's not giving anything up easily. But somewhere, beneath the layers of skin and sound, there is pain alongside the peace. And with enough patience, the comets quietly sparkling in the distance become clear.
Indeed, his friends and Brock were right; Lacy has something special to share. It's just a matter of how much he wants to share it. I hear it all the time that people don't really care how their record sells; but I've never believed it from anyone as much as I do from Lacy. Sure, he'd like people to take something from it, and he doesn't want Brock to take a bath, but that's it.
"I've got nothing to lose, really," Lacy says of Mimicking Birds' success. "I don't mind working a job for the rest of my life. Music can be my hobby, as opposed to my profession."