Veteran Dallas musician and producer Salim Nourallah walks around his sleek, three-story modern house in a placid street off Knox-Henderson. He moved in only a few days ago, but it may be the tidiest house any single man has ever owned.
He says there's only only one thing he ever struggles to keep neat: his writings. Earlier in the day, he threw away three recycling bins full.
"I'm a very sick person," he says of his compulsive songwriting, "I'd been hoarding piles of lyrics written on the back of bank receipts, scraps of paper, napkins ... and I got the full glimpse of my sickness."
His new band, NHD, with fellow seasoned musicians Billy Harvey and Alex Dezen, is short for the band members' last names. Nourallah calls it a "supertrio." He's made a career in bands and as a soloist and is a longtime collaborator of Rhett Miller. He's worked with Old 97s and Miller's solo project as a bassist, producer and co-writer. Last year, he opened for Miller with a one-man show backed by a portable cassette player he calls "Mr. Boombox."
Dezen fronted the Damnwells for 17 years before relocating from Brooklyn to Los Angeles as a solo artist and writing for artists like Justin Bieber. "I don't do that anymore. There's no money in it unless you're the top guy," Dezen says. "They can write their own songs."
Nourallah met Dezen through Miller and later produced the Damnwells' final album. Musician Bob Schneider introduced Nourallah to Harvey, an Austin-based guitarist and solo artist, now in Nashville. "Bob used to tell me 'You have to check out Billy Harvey; he's better than everyone,' and Bob never says that," Nourallah says.
Nourallah asked Dezen and Harvey to join him on a bill, and they'd play over each other's songs. "We almost instantly became a band," Nourallah says.
Dixie Chicks member Marty Maguire invited them to record at her private studio last year. "Strangely, we all had the same mutual friend in Austin," Nourallah says of Maguire, "and she thought it would be cool if we recorded there."
"Salim, Billy and Alex are all incredibly prolific artists – the individual careers and the chemistry they have with each other is pretty special (and often times hilarious!)," Maguire wrote in an email to the Observer. "Each member has unique qualities that the other two seem to genuinely respect and want to support as a trio ... that is the magic between these three guys."
The album, And the Devil Went up to Portland, came out last Friday, and there was a release show Saturday at Sons of Herman Hall. Nourallah also oversees the label's production and artist development. The group is planning an upcoming national tour.
"I don't want to say people in Texas have bad taste in music," Nourallah says, "but it's hard to achieve a certain amount of success if you're not doing Texas country."
He describes their influence as "the sons of the Beatles music." Nourallah recalls the time his grandmother bought him the White Album from K-Mart as a defining moment in his life. "We don't sound like the Beatles," he clarifies, "but because we like melody, there's a retro element to it.
"I've never been interested in being one of those guys who ran around chasing whatever you're supposed to chase," Nourallah continues. "I went to Europe because I was on a German label, but I would always bring my family with me."
In the last decade, Nourallah's won a Dallas Observer Music Award for Best Producer seven years in a row. "I've been incredibly lucky and grateful every day that I'm still working," he says. "Especially since I've never sold a ton of records or filled arenas.
"If I was just playing gigs, I promise you I wouldn't be living in this house," he continues, staring off into the night from one of his giant balconies. "I've balanced this double-sided career, but production's a job that generates money, and I look at my music as art, period. Fuck commerce.
"We're not by any means household names," Nourallah says of NHD. "We've got massive back catalogs; we've all produced other people; we all sing, write, and play multiple instruments, so to me this is the closest thing I'll ever get to being in the Beatles. They had three guys who could sing and write songs and, well, Ringo. That's the ultimate for me; I never wanted to be a solo act."
Dezen shares the sentiment, saying that part of the group's appeal for him, other than "all the fun they had on the road," is "not having to stand in the spotlight the whole time."
Nourallah's father is Syrian, and he recalls that a radio promoter once advised him to change his name. "He said, 'You're wasting your time in this country. Nobody's ever gonna listen to you because they're gonna think that you're world music,'" Nourallah says. "I told him to fuck off. I would be the stupidest guy in the universe if I thought that what I'm doing right now would make me a pop star. All these famous people are completely fucking miserable. I never wanted it."
Miller is a big fan of the group. "I've actually got a long history with every member in Nourallah-Harvey-Dezen," he tells us over the phone. "I think our fans would love them. You've got this great combination of Salim, who's a very considered, calculating musician, and then Billy Harvey, who's this kind of instinctive, incomprehensible musician, and then Alex who is very funny and savvy and has a lot of swagger, and it does really make a supergroup."
Miller has known Dezen since he was a "fire-spitting kid" starting out with the Damnwells. And Miller has worked closely with Nourallah for Old 97's.
"He's got a golden ear, which is unusual in today's age of pro-tools engineers masquerading as producers," he says. "The most beloved songs off the new [Old 97's] records are songs that Salim and I wrote together."
For the last five years, Nourallah has also been in the Travoltas, which includes two members of the Polyphonic Spree, bassist Emsy Robinson and Paul Slavens from Ten Hands. They just finished recording an album, and Nourallah also has a solo double-album called Somewhere South of Sane coming out this fall or, as he says, "whenever I get around to it."
The Travoltas only played three gigs last year. "We're not very popular," Nourallah says. "I don't wanna play stadiums, so I'm not. I've done a really good job of not being famous. People ask me all the time, 'How do you make it?' And I'm like, 'You're asking me? Good luck.'"
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