Indigenous grows, diversifies with “Broken Lands”

Story By Abbey Thompson
Photos by Piper Ferguson
News From Indian Country 11-08

Since 1995, Indigenous has taken their sound far beyond the boundaries that usually confine blues/rock bands. Yet despite six CDs, countless devoted fans, and sellout shows and tours, worldwide success has eluded the band.

Fans will be delighted with “Broken Lands” (Vanguard Records), as it’s as close to the old Indigenous sound since their groundbreaking 2000 release “The Circle.” Changes within the band have gone through reveal a new sense of melody; guitarist/vocalist Mato Nanji is reveling in newfound artistic expression. Gone is the bass-heavy rock sound that drove some of their fans away in recent years.

Thirteen years have gone by since Indigenous thundered out of the South Dakota plains with their raw power and distinct bluesy sound. The band, comprised of four siblings from the Yankton Reservation in South Dakota, soon went from playing reservation bars to jamming with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, BB King, Santana, Jackson Brown, Big Head Todd, and Los Lonely Boys.

They spent years on the road, crisscrossing the U.S., selling their CDs right from the stage. Indigenous earned their stripes while delighting crowds everywhere. 

After ten years together, things dramatically changed when members Pte, Wanbdi and Horse left the band to pursue their own projects. Mato decided to keep the Indigenous name and move forward with his Stratocaster guitars. He signed on with Vanguard Records – a label known for its artist development, in 2006. “I did most of the song writing and composing,” he said of his decision, “and I thought those qualities were the real Indigenous sound.” His search for new band members yielded top musicians from different bands. “Chasing the Sun” was released that year to critical acclaim.

Mato and his wife Leah were writing during that turbulent time within the band and during the following year of touring with the new lineup. Personal struggles, observations, and stories came forth in the form of new songs. Mato soon found himself with over twenty songs and ready for another new CD.

For the new project he enlisted longtime friend and fellow guitarist Kris Lager, drummer John Fairchild, and bassist AC Wright to work on the new CD in Los Angeles. Broken Lands also features Jeremiah Weir on keyboards, a first for Indigenous, and percussionist Chico Perez who helps complete the worldbeat vibe.

indigenous_7584.jpgVeteran producer Jamie Candiloro infused the bluesy Indigenous sound with the different instrumental tracks, and avoided overproducing. “He’s the kind of producer who records and mixes, and was present during recording and tracking, he’s an expert with harmonies,” Mato said of Candiloro, “He’s produced for The Eagles, REM, Willie Nelson and Ryan Adams, so he’s diverse! It took 14 days to get the CD done, and Jamie took the tracks home in LA and mixed everything. He wanted to capture our SOUND.”

From his home in South Dakota, vocalist/guitarist Mato Nanji recently discussed the new CD.

Can you highlight some of the things, the new sound on Broken Lands?

Mato: I was happy to work with the producer. I also felt very at ease doing this CD. I hope that shows in the lyrics and my guitar work. There’s no color, no heart and soul, in today’s music. Indigenous’ music is deeper than what people see before them, I’ve always loved that; I call it “substance over style.”

NFIC: Where did ideas for the songs come from, in particular “Place I know,” is that about the Yankton rez where you’re from?

It applies to that place everyone knows where there’s a lot of poverty. Of course I’m from the rez myself, and I have also been to a lot of places where poverty is everywhere. The song is about people in general. Isolation, struggle.

How do you think you’ve developed, musically over the last five years?

I don’t know if I’ve changed a whole lot, I keep trying to learn as much as I can, and of course, growing. I try to capture the essence of my heroes and I feel like I have to do my best by those who influenced me. My dad, Greg Zephier, was my biggest influence as person/musician. He always said, “Take what you can and keep on learning.”

Would you like to share anything you have experienced in the last 2 years, obviously working without family members in the band?

It’s all been going well, with the five piece band. I guess I’m enjoying how laid back things are going, how much I have enjoyed it. The Kris Lager Band opened for the old Indigenous and I liked their sound. A mutual friend was always suggesting we get together, we ended up jamming and we’ve been together ever since.

NFIC: Where would you like to be one year from now?

Mato: Touring, doing shows, trying to stay busy… I look after the kids a lot while Leah works. I’d like to keep doing what I am doing, push the CD. The internet is a great tool to help with that. One thing we never had in the past and what I’d like to do is get our music released worldwide.

The comparisons with Stevie Ray Vaughn aside, Mato’s distinct voice has never sounded better. “Broken Lands” is fresh and sonically dynamic. A whirlwind of sounds makes it difficult to classify. It could attract more blues fans but also pull in people from the jam band scene. Don’t be shocked to see Indigenous touring with the Allman Brothers or Black Crowes in the future.

The first single from Broken Lands, the upbeat “Should I Stay,” debuted #2 on blues satellite radio. It’s a song Mato improvised with his own guitar style while recording. “I approached that song with a Jimi Hendrix playing style, and added Indigenous to it,” he laughed.

On the Net: