Despite what studies about millennials are claiming, Nathan Bajar isn’t afraid of intimacy. The Filipino artist’s lo-fi music is covered in warm layers that are tender to the touch, whether he’s sweeping listeners off their feet with romance or chipping away at their fragility with the power of heartbreak. Today, we’re premiering the music video for his woozy tune, “The Table.”
The single is fresh off his debut project, Playroom. In an email to Highsnobiety, Bajar told us that the song is a requiem for his father who passed away on June 11, 2018. As you’ll see in the visual, Bajar is intentional about representing his family’s history within every aspect of his work. Not only is it his way of keeping their memories alive, but he also hopes that it stirs empathy within his audience and inspires them to share their own stories as well.
Playroom is available to stream now via In Real Life. After you finish this personally guided tour of Bajar’s dreamy world in New Jersey, scroll down to learn more about the musician in our short interview.
Tell me about the journey to reach this moment in your career as an interdisciplinary artist.
I started playing guitar when I was 13 and I really wanted to study music and become a recording artist, but I didn’t think I was good enough. I was also getting into photography around the same time looking at music pictures from Jim Marshall and Pennie Smith. So I thought “If I’m not good enough to be a singer, then I’m going to take pictures of music if that is the way I can be around music all the time!”
So I went to Montclair State University and worked with a few professors that helped me really really fall in love with making pictures and I decided “Okay, this is what I want to do and this is what I am supposed to do.” After graduation, I worked at a dark room as an assistant and printer, then started assisting photographers, and eventually worked my way to taking pictures for a living. But I’ve always had an itch to make music.
I take a lot of pictures of musicians for work and a lot of my friends make music as well. Being around it so much and seeing my friends make music made me think “If they could do it, I could do it too!” My roommate showed me how to use Ableton and I began releasing my own music in 2016.
Right before I was going to release this album on my own, I was put in touch with Imran Ahmed and his record label In Real Life. They really believed in this record and convinced me to postpone releasing it and have them help me try and get it heard by a larger audience. So we’ve been working together ever since. Seeing how the album has shifted and changed its shape over time, I’m so excited to finally be putting the music out.
As someone who was immersed in a household full of music from a young age, how has that shaped you as an artist?
I wanted to learn how to play guitar because my dad and my uncles would smoke, drink beers, and take turns playing the guitar at family parties. They all looked like they were having fun and I wanted to be a part of that. My dad put on a lot of music while we cleaned the house and during road trips. He would play a lot of Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd, Luther Vandross, The Stylistics, Michael Jackson, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and Jimi Hendrix.
Our local library had such a large music section and the librarian would put me on to stuff like D’Angelo and Sonic Youth and I would go down so many of these music rabbit holes! The music I like to make is—all at once—rooted in, an extension of, and a melting pot of all the music I grew up enjoying and all of whatever I can to make it my own and to bring something new to the table.
How is the music video an extension of the song? What’s going on in this video?
The music video is more of a tribute to everyone that helped my family and I get through the year. It’s a love letter to my family home. I imagined the camera’s point of view to be my dad following my friends, family, and I on this romantic dream sequence walk-through of my family home. He loved to sleep in and stay at home he loved to be around family and friends—this is his paradise.
What was the experience of working with your family like for this visual? Were there any challenges or was it simply smooth sailing?
Everything was smooth sailing. No one ran out of steam! We had a great team and everyone worked really hard. The biggest challenge was getting the friends and family together because there is so many of us! My mom is one of thirteen and my dad was one of eight, so there is so many people missing.
What was your personal experience like growing up in New Jersey? Are you attached to your hometown?
I was born in Jersey City and then moved to East Brunswick in 7th grade. My parents are immigrants from the Philippines. My mom is a nurse and my dad worked in IT and I have an older brother, a younger sister, and two dogs: Kobe and Fetty!
My mom and dad are super welcoming, very selfless people, and I saw that in the home they made for us and the home they made for other people. My parents opened our home to anyone: extended family that just immigrated from Philippines, friends of friends looking for a place to live, or cousins that needed a place to live during school. It was also where we had all the family parties and extended family spent holidays. When I was growing up there was always cousins and siblings at home to hang out with!
I also spent a lot of time at the library after school watching my friends practice and record themselves break dancing— the library also rents out video games and CDs! I couldn’t do too much on school nights but my parents never had a problem with the library. I like New Jersey and I go back home pretty frequently to see my mom and do my laundry but I’m not crazy about my home town— East Brunswick is so boring! I’m more so attached to the house. I’d be attached to wherever my family is.
What is the narrative behind your debut album, Playroom? What are your intentions with this work? What is the significance of the title?
My family home is the Playroom—it’s where we do our homework, eat, hang out with friends and family. The songs on Playroom are inspired by stories from my family history and is a tribute to my home and the people in it. When you grow up living with so many different people, you experience a lot and you hear a lot of stories and these songs are the soundtracks to those stories.
This record is considered a tribute to your late father. What was your relationship like with him?
My father and I never were outwardly affectionate to each other, nobody in our family really was. But we all had our own ways of showing that we loved each other. My sister told me a story about how my mom was asking my dad why he bought me a guitar and he told her that he thought I wanted to learn bad enough that he thought I could get pretty good. He introduced me to the guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Wes Montgomery and a lot of others! The first song I learned that my father taught me was “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens.
Can you talk me through the creative process that went into this LP?
When I am making pictures I am trying to make sense of place by sequencing them and putting them together in editorials or projects. Ever since I learned how to make music, I’ve been sporadically working on putting together a cohesive album. I arranged, produced, and recorded all of the music on my own at home. The songwriting process either starts with me playing chords on the guitar or recording a voice memo of myself humming a melody. Then I start adding more guitars, bass, keys, synths, and drums. My favorite part is recording and layering all the vocals and harmonies!
The easiest part for me is figuring out melodies, the toughest and longest part of the process is writing the lyrics. I used to be and still am a little self-conscious about my voice and how I write lyrics. I didn’t know what I wanted to say, I thought my lyrics were either too simple or too so much about myself it would be either misunderstood or not relatable. I had wished that I could write “deep” introspective, poetic, witty, and artful lyrics or say what I wanted to say but “prettier.”
I started sharing my music with my friends and they would would let me know what worked and what didn’t. With the help of my friends, I felt a little bit more comfortable with who I am and I started to accept the nuances in my own writing. I started to over think less and start to genuinely not mind my voice or my writing. The songs “Mia’s Song” and “Camille” both feature strings by Maya Balkaran and saxophone by Stanley Mathabane (aka Sunson). I have a few friends featured as vocal guests on four of the songs and the album was mixed by Alex Epton and mastered by Heba Kadry. I also designed and made all the pictures for the album packaging.
I would love to hear more about the concept for the accompanying photography zine and what we can expect to see with that.
The pictures timestamp the album. The zine is a collection of pictures I have been making of my family over the past six years as well as some of my favorites from our family album. I am also in the process of working on a larger monograph of my own pictures.
How are you feeling about dropping your debut project?
I’m feeling a lot of feelings I’ve never felt before. Its a different kind of scared and a different kind of excitement. Scared because I’ve never put myself out there like that before, scared of the idea of being heard and misunderstood. Scared of the idea that I did it for myself, I’ve put so much of myself into it that people can’t relate to it.
It has been weird working on some of the music videos because I’ve had all these ideas in my head of what the video looks like and seeing it all come together perfectly but seeing myself in the frame has been weird. I’ve never imagined myself while thinking of the video treatment and always imagined a better looking version of me in there so thats been weird just seeing me and what I look like on a screen if that makes any sense.
I’m excited because I’m really happy with how it sounds. I think I sequenced the album really well and happy with what I was able to arrange and put together. I can’t wait until we have physical copies. I think once I get to hold a physical copy it will really hit me and thats when I’ll probably cry haha.
Has your outlook on the music industry shifted with this creative transition?
I’m still learning all the nuances of the music industry—the yes and no’s, all the music law and artists rights stuff. I’m learning how to be a lot more patient. Having never worked with a label or really put music out at this scale before, I’ve never had to carefully plan when to release music. I’ve always just done it when I’ve felt like it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Create things that you care about because if you don’t care about what you are making why should anybody else?