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
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.”
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 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 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.
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.
‘It’s a very tough, competitive place, which is what I was craving
when I went there’