The muse of mu­sic town

Natalie Prass gother workrate from Nashville and her mu­si­cal soul from the ‘amaz­ing ladies’ of the 1960s. She tells Jim Car­roll why re­leas­ing her de­but was worth the wait

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

There’s a les­son here for mu­si­cians wait­ing around for an al­bum to be re­leased. Natalie Prass recorded her de­but al­bum back in 2011 and 2012 but, be­tween the jigs and the reels and her Space­bomb la­bel get­ting busy with Matthew E White’s

Big In­ner al­bum, it took un­til now for the al­bum to ap­pear.

So what did she do be­tween then and now? Prass wrote songs, recorded two al­bums that might not see the light of day and toured as part of Jenny Lewis’s band. Oh and she started a dog wear busi­ness.

“It was called Ana­log Dog and I made sweat­shirts and hood­ies, like dog streetwear. It was very lu­cra­tive and I need to bring it back in some fash­ion.”

She leans back in her chair and laughs. Prass is in Dublin to sup­port Ryan Adams, and it’s clear that she won’t have much time for dog at­tire in 2015.

Her self-ti­tled de­but al­bum is win­ning over many with its ten­der-to-the-touch songs about love gone bad and love gone mad, all tied up in mu­si­cal bows that re­mind you of pre­vi­ous blue mood chron­i­clers such as Dusty Spring­field, Dionne War­wick or Ca­role King. It’s mu­sic for any­one who had a heart – and had that heart bro­ken.

It took time for Prass to write th­ese songs. Born in Cleve­land and raised in Vir­ginia Beach, she ended up in Nashville af­ter her dad moved there for work.

“I did the whole Nashville shuf­fle – you know, writ­ing and record­ing and play­ing with other peo­ple. Be­fore I went there, I al­ways thought it was a coun­try mu­sic town, but I was proven wrong. It’s re­ally a song­writ­ing town, a mu­sic town.”

Nashville made her who she is to­day. “It’s a very tough, com­pet- itive place, which is what I was crav­ing when I went there. It’s where I learned a lot and paid my dues big time and it’s shaped me and made me the hard worker that I am.

“It was re­ally ben­e­fi­cial be­cause I could see so many mu­si­cians at dif­fer­ent stages of their ca­reer which al­lowed me to ob­serve and work out who I wanted to be. You could see ev­ery­thing that could pos­si­bly hap­pen to a mu­si­cian’s ca­reer and work out what your val­ues were as re­gards your own ca­reer, what you were pre­pared to do, and what you weren’t go­ing to do.”

She had spent time in the Berklee Col­lege of Mu­sic in Bos­ton and on a song­writ­ing course at Mid­dle Ten­nessee State Uni­ver­sity.

“The real world was more of an ed­u­ca­tion for me as a song­writer,” she ad­mits. “School is a way of buy­ing your­self time to grow up. It’s a safe en­vi­ron­ment to ex­per­i­ment and try out your ma­te­rial.

Re­spon­si­ble song writ­ing

“School did teach me how to be a re­spon­si­ble song­writer – if I’m not al­ways in the mood to write a song, you have to do it no mat­ter what be­cause this is your job. It taught me how to switch my mind into cre­ative mode on any oc­ca­sion, which is very use­ful.”

What came next took Prass back to her old stomp­ing ground of Vir­ginia Beach. She knew Matthew E White from her school­days and heard he was do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia so she was ea­ger to find out more about the Space­bomb col­lec­tive, la­bel and stu­dio he was in­volved with.

“I knew Matt from my past as this amaz­ing gui­tar player, but I hadn’t re­alised he was a pro­duc- er or ar­ranger or all the rest of it. When I first talked to him af­ter we met up again, it made so much sense. Fi­nally, I thought, I’ve met some­one I can connect with and who un­der­stands what I’m try­ing to do and my in­flu­ences and he gets me.

“But then when I heard about Space­bomb and that there was go­ing to be 30 peo­ple play­ing on this record, I went, wait a minute, am I be­ing an id­iot here? Peo­ple don’t do this any more. I was scared. Even be­fore the record came out in Jan­uary, I got a scare. What are peo­ple go­ing to say and think? But you al­ways feel that as an artist as soon as you put your work out, you have

no fur­ther con­trol over it.”

‘Amaz­ing ladies’

Prass knew the gist of the al­bum she wanted to make and es­pe­cially who she was seek­ing to em­u­late.

“I wanted to cap­ture the spirit of those amaz­ing ladies who had gone be­fore me like Dusty

Spring­field and Dionne War­wick. They had cre­ated such beau­ti­ful mu­sic that sounded per­fect to my ears. I could lis­ten to them for­ever. I knew I wanted to do some­thing like that, but Matt and Trey [Pol­lard, co-pro­ducer] and ev­ery­one else took it way be­yond what I ex­pected.”

The in­flu­ences Note­wor­thy singers

Dusty Spring­field

Dusty In Mem­phis Dusty Spring­field ar­rived in Mem­phis in 1968 with a rep­u­ta­tion as the pop singer with a pen­chant for big bal­lads. The Mem­phis mafia she was about to work with had a rep­u­ta­tion for aid­ing and a bet­ting such soul stars as Aretha Franklin and Wil­son Pick­ett. Could Dusty swing? One minute into the al­bum and you’ve got your an­swer. One of the finest al­bums you’ll ever come across.

Gal Costa

Gal Costa If Gal Costa’s de­but Domingo was a pleas­ant al­bum of bossa nova and pop, the fol­low-up was some­thing else en­tirely. Be­tween al­bums, Costa and her song­writer Cae­tano Veloso had their heads turned by the Trop­icália move­ment, which en­sured the sec­ond al­bum was in­flu­enced by psychedelia, su­perb orches­tral ar­range­ments and the po­lit­i­cally charged at­mos­phere of late 1960s Brazil.

Dionne War­wick

Just Be­ing My­self Or rather Dionne War­wick plus Mo­town vet­er­ans Ed­die Hol­land, Brian Hol­land and La­mont Dozier. As with Spring­field, there were cer­tain per­cep­tions about War­wick prior to this al­bum. The new pro­duc­ers matched her voice to a se­ries of soul ful, gospel-fringed tunes, such as Don’t Let My Tear drops Bother You and the ti­tle track, and showed an­other side of War­wick.

Nashville Natalie

‘It’s a very tough, com­pet­i­tive place, which is what I was crav­ing

when I went there’

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