Something had to give in the year since we last saw Nathaniel Rateliff. "I've been OK," he says, taking a deep breath. "Made a record. Pretty excited about it. No longer married. That kinda stuff."
Tearing at the Seams is the Colorado truck stop rocker's second album with his burly biker-soul ensemble, the Night Sweats. They threw it down pretty fast and loose over a few weeks stolen from one of the more punishing road schedules known to bloke and beast.
"Let's see, I fell off the back of a motorcycle… that was at a festival," he recalls. "And we did a tour with our friend Matt Vasquez all through Europe. That was a pretty crazy time. We were on this bus where there were, like, 15 or 16 of us…"
Since their last hell-for-leather romp through Melbourne, the Night Sweats have played a relatively modest 70-odd shows across the US and Europe. Rateliff has to admit the away time didn't help his marriage, but at least the memories are colourful.
"I remember we were eatin' Adderall and mushrooms, running around Paris," he recalls of one leg of the sojourn. "That was a pretty good time."
Any train wrecks on stage?
"Disaster can always happen," he chuckles. "Someone is always gonna have that one extra drink before they go on stage and they're gonna fall over the edge. We try and do our best to limit it. But yeah."
The upside of the hangover is a perfectly road-hardened act that spilled onto tape this time with little studio jiggery-pokery. The opening track of Tearing At the Seams, Shoe Boot was a two-take jam that sets a sleazy tone a little reminiscent of the Stones' Exile On Main Street – albeit with filthier bass.
"Thanks," the singer says. "I won't tell you how we did it. You'd laugh. It really was the junkiest setup. It's funny to have so many nice amps and then going to a studio to use the crappiest stuff you can find and the shittiest bass.
"You know, great albums are made in garages all over the place and have been for years. You go into a room with the hardwood floor and you'll be OK, you know?
"Motown, when they first started, I think they had a dirt floor and they had to put plywood down to put the piano in there. For Exile, yeah, they just set up in the basement of that gorgeous house Keith was staying at in France, right? A bit of spill between instruments, that live sound, you can't go past it."
Which only left the spill from the frontman's personal life to deal with. A little heartache can be a good thing for an album, but he had to take time out somewhere in the crazed stage/studio shuffle to rethink some of the songs.
"We thought we had a record but I just felt like it sounded … sad. I was like, man, we can't just have this divorce record." He sighs a barrel-chested sigh. "So we ended up back on the road for about 10 weeks. It was a pretty hard time. I was just working non-stop and I kinda felt like 'What in the f--- are we doing out here? I'm killing myself'."
A drying-out spell in Arizona put a healthier sheen on the album, and inched the Night Sweats back to the Hallelujah place that Rateliff has been dreaming about since he was a teenage drummer in a Missouri church.
"Yeah, it's that 20-something year overnight success thing," he laughs. "You know, I still feel like we're just working on it. It's becoming what I want to be. I just keep trying to navigate it to be more of what we want it to be."
Tearing at the Seams is out now.