Pitt graduate splits time between politics and music

Pitt graduate splits time between politics and music

By Jack Trainor / Staff Writer

Nate Hanson is used to not sleeping. Just a year after graduating from Pitt, he is already employed by the Pittsburgh municipal government by day, and he plays guitar for his Lawrenceville-based psychedelic rock band, Shaky Shrines, by night. Needless to say, he’s a busy man.

“I don’t think I know how to not be busy,” he said.

Every waking second in Hanson’s life seems to be filled with something. When he’s not working in a Downtown office, he’s practicing and writing songs for his band, which just released its first record, Mausoleum.

There seems to be a lot of Hanson’s influence in the record — the songs are all guitar-heavy and swiftly rhythmic, with intense strumming that’s almost as fast as the way he talks. One song is even aptly titled “Can’t Quit.” This is what it must sound like inside Hanson’s head with the perpetually caffeinated lifestyle he embraces.

Between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Hanson wears a gray tweed jacket to an office Downtown. He works five days a week as the administrative and communications manager for District 7, which includes Bloomfield, Lawrenceville, Downtown, Friendship, Highland Park, Morningside, Polish Hill and East Liberty.

There, he applies his media expertise to constituency services, where he uses the official District 7 Twitter and Facebook accounts to announce important events that pertain to the residents of District 7.

His announcements pertain to community meetings, places Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will be speaking and even when trash pickup is running late.

“That’s one component I love about my job,” Hanson said. “A lot of people get into politics thinking about power or ambition. But to me, the most satisfying part … is that immediate relationship that comes with helping someone.”

His government activities often continue even after leaving the office. After hours, Hanson usually attends meetings of Propel Pittsburgh Commission, of which he is a recent nominee. The commission is composed of 15 members between the ages of 20 and 34 who are “dedicated to meeting the concerns and needs of the city of Pittsburgh’s young adults and young professionals,” according to its website.

Hanson credits his communication and media skills to his time spent as the station manager at WPTS, Pitt’s student-run radio station, during his senior year in 2012.

“Nate was successful in that role,” WPTS General Manager Greg Weston said. He added that Hanson positioned “the station in as advantageous a way as possible. I’m not surprised he’s gone on to a career in politics.”

Even now, with all the responsibilities that come with being in a band and having an office job, Hanson rarely allows himself to rest. “I would be totally lying if I were to say that I’m not extremely ambitious,” he said. His focus is always nailed to the present, something in which he takes immense pride.

By the time he gets home around 9 p.m. most nights, he’s thinking about “band stuff,” which is often just aspects of media and communications applied to music.

“The music side and the government side aren’t as far from each other as you’d think,” Hanson said. “They both allow me to do things that I really want to do.”

Not only does he play guitar for the band, he’s also jokingly described as the band’s chief operating officer. Hanson diligently updates the band’s website, responds to emails and handles all of the media-relations issues that have become ever-important for a band’s exposure in this social-media-obsessed day and age.

“Nate will even call me to tell me that he has sent over an Excel spreadsheet in a Google Doc for something band-related,” said Shaky Shrines singer and co-songwriter Braden Faisant.

When Hanson’s not working with computers and band communications, he and Faisant get together to write songs probably “four out of seven days a week,” Faisant said, noting that Hanson’s goal-oriented approach helps keep the band moving forward.

“Obviously, his work life influences the band, and I am entirely grateful, because he keeps us organized and goal-oriented,” Faisant said.

On Sundays, when most Pittsburghers are busy watching the Steelers play, Shaky Shrines practices from 9 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Although they did a release show for Mausoleum at The Shop in Bloomfield on Nov. 2, “we’re not as big on playing shows,” Hanson said. Instead, the band is more focused on diligently recording and releasing music.

Incredibly, they’ve already recorded another EP and are set to record their follow-up full-length record over the next two months.

Despite Hanson’s demanding schedule, he has found a way to make time for both music and his government job. 

“I wouldn’t say one has affected the other,” he said. “If anything, they complement each other nicely.”

He recalls some advice his adviser at Pitt once gave him, which was to cut down on the caffeine and just relax. “But I don’t want to do that,” Hanson said, pumping his fist. “I don’t want to relax at all. It’s working well for me at this point.”

In fact, if he could, he probably wouldn’t sleep at all. “I’ll have time to sleep later,” he said as he sipped his perpetually filled coffee mug.

“Hopefully not for a very, very long time,” he said.