SONG PREMIERE/INTERVIEW: Salim Nourallah Exudes Indie Rock Cool and Sharp Songwriting Skill on “Born with a Broken Heart”

When asked to sum up his 25-year career in music, singer/songwriter/producer Salim Nourallah says, “I feel like the Texas version of Nick Lowe, except I haven’t entered my silver-haired crooner phase yet.” When he was a kid, Nourallah looked up to Lowe, mainly because he was the best example teenage Salim could find of a musician who led a double life of sorts, making his own records while also producing other artists. It’s still a relatively uncommon phenomenon.

Salim Nourallah has been releasing solo albums since 2003. His seventh, the 21-song, double album, Somewhere South of Sane, was released in the fall of 2018. His notable production credits include the Old 97’s, Deathray Davies, Rhett Miller, and The Damnwells. Nourallah has been recording and producing music from his Pleasantry Lane Studios in Dallas for as many years as he’s been making his own. He’s also in a supergroup trio called NHD – Nourallah, Harvey, Dezen. The H in NHD, Billy Harvey, is another accomplished songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist cut from the same cloth as Mr. Lowe and Mr. Nourallah. Salim enlisted Billy’s help last year to record the four songs that make up his forthcoming Jesus of Sad EP, which comes out on Palo Santo Records on January 31, 2020.

Nourallah’s long-time friend, Rhett Miller, also figures into the equation. Nourallah and Miller wrote a handful of songs several years ago that ended up on a variety of their records. Two of the most well-known songs are “Jesus Loves You” and “She’s Hates Everyone (Misanthrope).” Both compositions found their way to the latest Old 97’s album, Graveyard Whistling, along with a third tune called “I Don’t Want to Die in This Town.”

The EP’s title, Jesus of Sad, also gives a wry nod to Nick Lowe. Lowe’s debut record from 1978 was called Jesus of Cool, but in the UK only, since Columbia Records was uncomfortable with the title for a US release.

Today Glide is excited to offer an exclusive premiere of Nourallah’s new single “Born with a Broken Heart”, one of the standout tracks on the upcoming album. Sang with a sort of cool, deadpan that brings to mind Cake and the early work of Beck, the song is a sprawling and autobiographical piece of indie rock. Nourallah wrote it while his mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s. She died within two days of its completion. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, there is a playfulness that comes across in the lyrics in the music. He seems to take a sense of pride in making serious music that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is well-deserved considering that is his strong suit as a songwriter. Musically, the song balances fiesty indie rock guitars, an almost spoken word-like cadence, and a funky pop undertone.   

Listen to the tune and read our quick interview with Salim below…

What inspired you to write this song specifically? Your press materials talk about your mom, but was there one moment or occurrence that gave you the idea for it?

I had been struggling with depression around the time my mother was dying. A phrase came in out of the blue one day – I was born with a broken heart. It made me kind of chuckle to myself in the same way the world is full of people who want to hurt you did when that came in 15 years ago. It was dark but amusing in its darkness. So that idea started the ball rolling and an avalanche of words followed. It took me back to my childhood and reflections on some of the things that were ultimately heartbreaking, like the way I felt my mother was treated. The next thing that came in was the first line of the song: Let me take you to the desert/to my humble start…

What kind of musical vibe were you going for with this song?

I tend to like production that sounds classic. I’m happiest if you give me a bunch of tube gear, old German microphones, and keep the reverb units out of sight. So as usual, I was going for that vibe, sonically. We were shooting for good performances recorded and mixed in a non-dated way. The fact that it’s 2019 is neither here nor there to me. “Current,” “now,” or “modern” are all useless terms to me when referring to production.

Do you think your recorded version matches what you imagined in your head?

The production definitely surpassed the vision I had in my head. I dug the radical scene changes from the subdued groove of the first half to the dreamy, Plastic Ono bridge, to the rapid-fire words and crazy rhythms in the last section. Melodic motifs subtly come back, but the listener never gets to go back to a previously established soundscape. It’s like a musical road trip within the confines of one song. Conrad Choucroun also did this beat-box thing with his mouth on the back-half of the song that blew me away. It was so much fun watching him do it, too.

What do you hope listeners take away from having heard this song?

I hope they can get some insight into my background as a first generation Arab-American, get a hold of a chorus they can sing along to and also enjoy some food for thought on religion and the lack of equality or women’s rights in the 1970s. The rhythm section is also just so tight and funky. Maybe they could even sneak a little dance move in.

Because you have your own studio, do you find it easier to create, or is it harder to find time for your own music among the producing projects you have?

I’m in a situation now where I only take on a limited amount of production jobs. That’s given me way more time to focus on my own music. About ten years ago, I was engineering and producing all the time and putting in tons of hours in my studio. So at the end of the day or week, it was pretty difficult to have any energy left for my own stuff. I kept at making my own records due to sheer force of will or stubbornness. I eventually happened to find this great studio in Austin called the Treefort when I was making Grand Theater with the Old 97’s. Even more importantly, Jim Vollentine was attached to the studio. He’s the patron saint of recording. I started making trips to Austin and working at the Treefort because I could get away from all the domestic distractions and put in marathon days. I made my fifth and sixth solo records, Hit Parade and Skeleton Closet, with Jim, but money got tight, and a few years ago I had to stop making the trips. Billy Harvey and I have miraculously had a chance to go back there to work on this new material, and it’s been really special. Almost like the return of the prodigal sons!

Salim Nourallah tour dates with Rhett Miller:

Feb 5 – Toronto, ON / Horseshoe Tavern
Feb 6 – Buffalo, NY / The 9th Ward
Feb 8 – South Salem, NY / The Heights
Feb 9 – Washington, DC / Black Cat

Photo credit: Casey Pinckard

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