Relix 44: Josh Kaufman and Annie Nero
Welcome to the Relix 44. To commemorate the past 44 years of our existence, we’ve created a list of people, places and things that inspire us today, appearing in our September 2018 issue and rolling out on Relix.com throughout this fall. See all the articles posted so far here.
Post-Jam Power Couple: Josh Kaufman and Annie Nero
“It’s not nepotism—I should be clear,” says Josh Kaufman, explaining how he often recruits his wife and occasional bandmate, Annie Nero, as a session bassist or singer for the myriad projects he produces. “It’s just that she’s really, really good.” The couple fell in love through music, collaborating in several bands—including the now-defunct, psych-rock act Yellowbirds—as they carved out career paths in the bustling Brooklyn indie scene starting in the early-2000s. “We moved to the city and our bands broke up, and we had to decide what to do,” Nero says. “So, there were a lot of outside factors: Do we work on our relationship or our musical relationship? Ultimately, we did both.”
Over the years, as they’ve raised their now-four-year-old daughter, they’ve become the connective tissue of the New York indie-rock world. Kaufman has played with, produced, arranged and written for artists like Josh Ritter, Interpol’s Paul Banks, Joe Russo, The War on Drugs, Craig Finn and The National, the latter of whom recorded some of their early LPs using the couple’s instruments. That National connection became a crucial post-jam gateway: The band enlisted Kaufman as musical director for “The Bridge Session,” a massive ensemble performance featuring a mix of modern rock voices, along with the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir. From there, the multi-instrumentalist co-produced the sprawling 2016 all-star Dead tribute LP, Day of the Dead, and he signed on to helm Blue Mountain, Weir’s first solo album in more than
a decade and first all-original album in over three decades. For Kaufman, a lifelong Deadhead, collaborating with the guitarist up close was life- changing.
“I remember we were sitting at his house together, working on a song called ‘Only a River,’” Kaufman says. “Bob made a suggestion, and I just disagreed with him for some reason and thought we should do it a different way. He paused for a second and looked at me and said, ‘I have to be completely open-minded in this situation. I have to be able to accept this stuff; otherwise, this isn’t going to work.’ I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy. You’re older than my dad,’ and him being able to engage on that level so early in the process was amazing to me. He was creatively generous and ready to open up.”
In addition to playing with The Bandana Splits, Nero has also worked with Weir, Finn and the members of The National and curates regular, often full-album all-star deep-dives celebrating artists like Willie Nelson, Dr. John, Talking Heads and John Perry Barlow at the Brooklyn, N.Y. clubhouse Threes Brewing. She admits that she only recently launched her journey into the Grateful Dead’s catalog via her husband—and after hearing a memorable endorsement in the series finale of Freaks and Geeks. But Weir’s generosity left a mark on her. “He never used his status for any leverage,” Kaufman says. “He was never manipulative with it, and he was always willing to try things any which way, always ready and willing to be surprised by music—just for the adventure of it, in such a way that it was striking and weirdly felt like a lesson. I always thought I was pretty open-minded, and then I met him. His commitment to the moment is extraordinary.”
This article originally appears in the September 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.