N8NOFACE
Courtesy of Valerie J. Bower

With two months clean and sober under his belt, Nathan Hose — the lo-fi punk-meets-EDM performer known as N8NOFACE — is beginning to see the light.

The Ties That Bind UsIt hasn’t been easy, given his background and his long dependence on substances to change the way that he feels. But if there’s one lifeline pulling him out of the shadows and into the light, it’s music.

For Hose, music isn’t just a hobby. It isn’t just a career. It’s something his soul needs, as much as his lungs do oxygen.

“The way I move, I don’t think about it, because I do it every day,” he told The Ties That Bind Us recently. “I always tell people that the way I work is the same way some guys go home and play ‘Call of Duty’ — it’s something they do that gives them enjoyment, that they’re not doing for financial gain. And that’s what I do: I come home, I work out, and then I’m in there, making music. I truly love it, and I would do it even if I had no fanbase.”

That he does — and that his new album, “Bound to Let You Down,” is gaining both critical acclaim and a small but growing loyal cadre of followers — is a bonus. And that he’s enjoying it all sober is something that excites him about the possibilities that exist down the road of an unknown future.

“I’m still trying to figure it all out,” he said. “Finally, at 45, I’m at a point where I just don’t like getting high anymore. Just a year ago, I never thought I would have said that, but I’ve been through some bad, dark shit, and I just don’t like it anymore.”

N8NOFACE: Finding the frequency

Courtesy of Valerie J. Bower

As far back as Hose can remember, music has always been an integral part of who he is. Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, he recalls how, as a child, he would sit enraptured when his mother’s second husband would pull out a guitar and jam with his aunt’s husband, the entire family enjoying some raucous revelry.

“The whole family would gather around and drink and just be there together,” he said. “I remember the whole household having fun, and there was just something about the frequency and the melody that I loved so much.”

Even back then, Hose heard music differently than his peers. Listening to it with an analytical mind helped him break down songs in a way that would serve him well as a music creator, and it’s a big reason why he never felt locked into whatever was popular at the time. He discovered rap alongside his peers as he got older, but at the same time, he fell in love with Buddy Holly — specifically, the soundtrack to the 1978 film “The Buddy Holly Story,” in which actor Gary Busey sang the songs of the late rock ‘n’ roll icon.

“I remember asking my mom to buy me the tape, because I just loved the melody,” Hose said. “And then I remember my dad lived on the East Coast — he and my mom were separated — and even though his wife hated hard rock, he would bring us into the basement and play us this Meatloaf record — ‘Bat Out of Hell.’ I’m 10, and he’s a salesman, and he played it for his boys.

“I didn’t start collecting music at that age, but having it shown to me — and more importantly, who showed it to me, these father figures — really hit me heavy as a child, even though what I do today is synth- and minimal wave and punk.”

But while the men of authority in his life steered him toward music, the peers in his social circles prompted him to discover another outlet. Like most individuals who eventually realize they have a problem, Hose didn’t become an alcoholic or an addict overnight, but even those initial experimentations with drugs and alcohol made him realize, at least in hindsight, that it was about more than just having fun.

“I started drinking in high school, and it felt like it just made me cool,” he said. “I hung out with a bunch of tough guys, but I was never the tough guy. I was never the alpha male, but everybody in my crew was, and when I started drinking, it made me not feel so nervous. It gave me confidence and power I didn’t have, and eventually, I dug in too deep.”

N8NOFACE: Born on those Tucson streets 

N8NOFACE

Courtesy of Valerie J. Bower

Hose doesn’t shade his past with bright colors: He was, he said, part of a street-running crew that fell into the abyss of addiction at an alarming rate, and until he got sober a few months ago, he’d never gone more than a week or two without getting high since he was 17 years old. It wasn’t long before he found cocaine, and it became both a party favor and a commodity among the individuals he counted among his closest friends.

For a long time, he added, he was able to stay on top of his consumption, but there were nights that he spiraled out of control. He and his boys would go out, hit up the clubs, get some drinks, do some lines, hang with some girls, and then his peers would call it a night.

“They would all go home, but then I’m going to a crack house,” he said. “I’m hanging out with these people who didn’t care a thing about me. I mean, they could have killed me, and my friends and family would have never known. And then the next day, my account would be drained, and I’d be crying and hating what I had done, but I’d go back to work.

“I held down my job for a long time, so even though I had this addictive behavior, I never thought I was an addict. It didn’t matter that my account would be drained or whatever; I could go back to work and tell myself, ‘I’m not gonna party this weekend,’ and maybe I would slip by. But then it would happen all over again. That’s why it took me so long to ask, ‘Am I an addict? What am I doing wrong?’”

One of the reasons it took a while, he pointed out, is because of his music. He dipped his toes in the water of the Tucson underground scene with the group I Was a Teenage Monster, a duo that used samples a springboard to explore a more complex sound. Eventually, the duo rebranded themselves as Crimekillz, garnering attention for what they described as “Gameboy punk” — digitized thrash inspired by the old handheld Nintendo video games. It was both retro and futuristic, and it gave Hose the key he needed to explore punk, metal and other genres outside of his hip-hop wheelhouse.

“All of my friends were these narco types, and no one in my circle listened to punk — but one day on MTV, I saw a video by Suicidal Tendencies, and I was like, ‘These look like the kids I hang out with,’ but they were doing music that I connected with because of the frequency,” he said. “I remember running to Warehouse Music and getting the cassette, because I loved it. But then I got away from that, and hanging out with guys listening to a lot of gansta rap, and I started making hip-hop beats for local rappers, and then a friend showed me indie music and punk stuff. And that’s when I decided, 'Let me try to make punk music with drum machines and synthesizers.’”

Locked away in a prison of the mind

Courtesy of Valerie J. Bower

Call it fate, call it serendipity, call it the guardian angels of rock ‘n’ roll — but something was looking out for Hose the entire time he walked that tightrope between light and dark. His music made him special, and the guys in his crew recognized that. Some of them, like his brother, would wind up in prison. Others would meet a harsh end on those mean streets. Both were potential paths that could have easily taken him, he added.

“Those guys would always be, ‘This ain’t for you. You stay home and do music,’ because I just loved it so much, and I was always creating,” he said. “I always got these ideas and thoughts in my head, and hanging out with my buddies would trigger it, and I would want to go create. And the one thing that made me go nuts was realizing that I can’t do music in jail and knowing that if I got into certain trouble, I’d be without it.”

The irony, however, isn’t lost on him: He was never locked away in a physical prison, but the mental one, with bars built by the substances that slowly sank their claws deeper into all areas of his life, was just as limiting. He moved to Los Angeles to intern in music in 2000 but then returned to Tucson to take care of family business. He returned to Southern California a decade ago, and he’s lived in Long Beach for the past eight years. During that time, the cycle of making music, approaching success and ruining opportunities because of drugs and alcohol became painfully obvious.

“I remember one night before a very big show on Sunset here in L.A. with Crimekillz, and I had been partying for 24 hours — and that turned into 48,” he said. “I started on Friday, and Sunday was the show, and my girlfriend had to call my partner and tell him, ‘He’s not going to be able to make it.’ I just remember him being so mad at me, because it was a big letdown. A lot of people had pulled strings to get us that show, and I missed it.”

To escape from the pain and shame of that blown opportunity, he pivoted deeper into his drug use, he said. He went solo under the N8NOFACE moniker, and a few years later, there was another opportunity to open for a much bigger name. Again, he was too strung out to perform. In fact, he said, it wasn’t until he recently got sober that he began to see how many opportunities he had been robbed of because of chemicals.

“I’m 45, and I’m barely starting to get noticed,” he said. “There were times I got noticed, but I’d fuck it up, then be gone for a month, and then I’d be depressed and sad, but I didn’t stop. Finally, I realized that the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle was really killing what I want. Here I was thinking it goes along with it, but really it was taking that away from me.

“Now, I’m getting opportunities again. I have these windows where I pop, and I’m getting another shot, and I’m not going to screw this up.”

N8NOFACE: Escape velocity achieved

N8NOFACE

Courtesy of Valerie J. Bower

It all came to a head last year, when COVID-19 cost him his job and he found himself with idle time, plenty of worry and the desire to escape it all. His girlfriend knew he had a problem, but by partying standards, doing drugs on a night out, even if it turned into a bender, was a far different beast than sneaking out during quarantine to score, then locking himself in the bathroom for hours on end.

“There ain’t even a party no more — I was just getting high in my house, by myself, and for my girlfriend, seeing me lie and breaking her heart was it,” he said. “For a couple of weeks, I was just so depressed, and even though I kept doing it, I didn’t like it. It just took a while for me understand what it was doing to me.”

He needed look no further than his old neighborhood, where the casualties mounted. After every loss, a mutual friend, concerned for Hose’s habit, would text him: “You alright?” Others were locked up for long stretches, and even though that street life made it more difficult to admit he had a problem, he also saw the writing on the wall, he said.

“That shit was scaring me, and all I could think about was, ‘You let it beat you,’” he said. “We all thought we were Scarface, that we were sexy, but as we got older, we realized it ain’t that no more. It’s scary.”

And so he put it down — and so far, the days have begun to add up. It’s given him perspective — he recalls a sober friend reminding him that while getting messed up had its moments and good times, “every bad memory except a few is associated with drinking.” It’s given him clarity — despite his fear that sobriety would stifle his creativity, it’s actually been the opposite.

“I’m in a space where I’m more happy with the shit I’m making,” he said. “I was scared — ‘Is my music going to start to suck because I got sober? What if there’s no more pain? What can I write about?’ But I can always revisit those places, and I’m making the best stuff and getting the best results now because I am sober.”

And more than anything else, it’s given him the determination to take advantage of the opportunities that are coming his way once again. He’s got a publicist now, he’s getting interviews and rave reviews for “Bound to Let You Down” — best described as “a collection of 1-2 minute minimalist distorted dark synth movements and raw acoustic micro rage-ballads” — and he’s willing to go to great lengths to maintain his sobriety so that the momentum keeps trending upward.

“It’s been a little hard because it happened during COVID, and I’m barely starting this, but I really reached out to the right people,” he said. “I want to try a meeting, and it’s become my dream to do the things I’ve seen. I want to get that chip. I want that applause. I want to feel like, ‘You’re finally doing this, Nate!’ But right now, I can’t experience that because of COVID, so I’m looking at Zoom meetings and staying in touch with people who have my back.”

The future's so bright ...

Courtesy of Valerie J. Bower

While much of “Bound to Let You Down” was created toward the end of his active use, there are songs on there that he made after he got sober as well. (The current feature track, "Never Done Dying," is a 1-minute brain burner that overlays straight punk angst with electronic skronk that's visceral.) The common element is that they’re all tales of addiction, heartbreak and friends living outside of the law — drawn from personal experience and filtered through the analytical ear for melody and frequency that’s been his gift since he was a child.

And it resonates: Travis Barker of Blink-182 and designer/deejay Virgil Abloh both follow him on Instagram, and the former has even reached out with words of encouragement. That he’s able to be present for such exchanges is a testament to both sobriety and the fact that the world seems to be on pause for COVID-19, he added.

“People have started to notice my music and are giving me kind words and props, and I’m really, really grateful,” he said. “The world has slowed down for a minute, and I’m excited for what’s possible. I’ve always loved music, and always played around with it, but other times, I would be hung over for three days and not touch it.

“Now, I’m waking up at 5 in the morning. It’s like, now that there’s time available, there’s no time to waste. That’s how I feel — I need to go, man! I wasted a lot of time being hung over or stuck in a room getting high for three days.”

He realizes there is work to be done — his father died when he was 13, and with the help of his girlfriend, he’s come to understand that such trauma left a mark on his impressionable mind at the time. Therapy in one form or another — perhaps in recovery meetings, perhaps on a couch — is something he’s open to, he said.

By the same token, he knows that the genre he loves so much still has to reckon with the glorification of drug culture that’s part of EDM specifically and rock ‘n’ roll in general. The temptations, especially when COVID lifts and he can get on stage again, are concerning — but so too is the example he sets. The drugs aren’t an aesthetic anymore, and he doesn’t want to use it to promote or sell his music.

“I’m making the best shit sober, and that’s inspiring,” he said. “There’s happiness in this shit. Rock ‘n’ roll gives it this sexy vibe, but there’s always this dark side that we don’t talk about. We talk about what’s cool for entertainment, but we don’t talk about the mom crying at the parole denial or the pain that it causes. I just feel like it’s important to me, in my music, to give both sides.”

And make no mistake — wherever it takes him, regardless of the future, he’ll continue to make it. N8NOFACE may have been around for a minute, but now that he’s sober, he’s truly just getting started.

“I might be making punk now, but I’ll be 80 with a banjo on my lap, still doing something with frequency!” he said with a laugh. “I can’t say what sparked it, but that passion, that love for it, has been with me all my life.”