Natalie Prass may not be a household name yet, but in our opinion, she should be. Don’t just take our word for it, as her recently released self-titled debut album, Natalie Prass, has picked up a chorus of positive nods, including a “Best New Music” distinction from Pitchfork Media. Natalie is a native of Virginia, lived and worked in Nashville, Tennessee as a musician for nearly a decade, and then moved back here to Richmond, VA less than a month ago. Her album, produced in Richmond by Spacebomb Records’ Matthew E. White and co-producer Trey Pollard, is immediately compelling. With layers of complex orchestral arrangements topped off with Natalie’s soulful lyrics, her debut is a timeless album that is sure to be on turntables for a long time. Before heading out to her sold-out album debut show in London, Natalie took a moment to talk with us about her career, the process of recording her album in Richmond, and how to maintain one’s sanity while on tour.
You went to school for songwriting. Is this something you commonly did for other artists when you were in Nashville?
I did some writing where I wrote for an artist, and also writing that I turned in for publishers. It’s something that I didn’t really love doing because I didn’t feel connected to it, but songwriting for other people was a good exercise. Being open and trying new things has benefited my career and me personally. In the past, I played for other people or worked on side projects. I want to be as well-rounded of a musician as possible and I’m happy I did them. All those experiences have better prepared me to go with the flow a little bit more than if I had stuck to my own world.
Your album has been in the works for a few years. Despite the album’s original release date getting pushed back to better accommodate the record label’s full support, do you feel like now was the right time to release your debut?
It has been a long journey from the time when I wrote the songs until now. I think I’ve experienced every single emotion that I could have experienced with this record. A lot of ups and downs, but ultimately, I love everyone that’s been involved. I think Matt, Trey and everyone else at Spacebomb are brilliant. They have such a strong vision for the record label. Ultimately, I just had to let go and trust them. I know that they care about me as an artist and this record. I put my trust in them, so even though it took a while for this record to come out, they knew what they were doing. I took the time to keep writing and recording, and I had the opportunity to tour with Jenny Lewis [as a backup singer].
It’s funny how everything plays out. I think this was the perfect time for this record to be released, but if you would’ve asked me years ago, I wouldn’t have said so. Now, my feet are pretty solid on the ground, I know who I am, and I have this community around me. It worked out really well. I feel like we created a timeless record. We really strived to do that and I think we achieved our goal.
When it came time for you to record your first solo album, why did you decide to do it with Spacebomb in Virginia versus staying in Nashville and doing the record out there?
This record would not have been possible to record in Nashville at all, mostly because of time and money. There’s so much music being produced in that city every single day, which is great, but that could really work against you if you were trying to make a record like this at my level and with my budget. The thing with Nashville is that, say with Pinson the album’s percusionist, if he was in Nashville, I wouldn’t be able to work with him because he would be working with so many people.
In Richmond, things seem to be a little more relaxed. The [music] industry isn’t here so a studio like Spacebomb is able to set its own terms and rules.
Nashville is a wonderful place too, for a lot of reasons, but in Richmond there is a lot of passion and drive. People get their work done and if you do something, you do it well. There’s a lot of heart in this city and people take pride in what they do. There’s also passion in Nashville, but it’s also business, so it can be a little cold. The spirit is somewhat lost.
I also love Virginia and I will always be proud to be from Virginia Beach. It’s such a strange city, but I’ve never lost touch with where I grew up and the people and the community that has made me who I am today, so it was really special for me to work in Virginia and collaborate with these people who I have known for a long time. It’s really important for me to work with friends and surround myself with talented people. Although Nashville was my home when the album was recorded, it seemed appropriate for my first full-length album to be made [in Richmond], in a place where people don’t do this often.
Making the album in Richmond works in your favor because it’s more personal and makes the music sound better in a way. If you were just another Nashville singer who released an album, it wouldn’t have been as special. I think this is the kind of story that people want to hear and can get excited about.
All of that stuff is transparent in a record. You can hear that in the songs. You shouldn’t be able to hear those things, but it’s there.
You’ve been on tour a few times and you’re about to head out later this month. How do you keep yourself sane and battling that feeling of isolation?
Touring is almost like the movie Groundhog Day. You’re with the same people, wearing the same clothes, playing the same music and eating the same food every day. You kind of turn into a machine while you’re on the road. I often told myself, ‘Just keep going,’ throughout this entire album process, and touring is the same way. If you stop, even for a little bit, you’re going to crash. You just have to get into this mindset that this is your life and job, so it’s go time. Touring is hard in a lot of ways. But, you can’t complain because it’s the whole reason of what you’ve been working for. Some days are better than others, always.
You’re right, it’s hard to complain about something like being on tour. It’s a paradox, because it’s hard but it’s what you’ve been working towards for such a long time.
In Nashville, everyone is a musician and it’s cool. So you get to meet all of these people who are at different places in their career. I have a friend who is a 70-year-old musician who has toured his entire life, and I also have a friend who is a country music star. Everyone has his or her own path, and there’s no formula to getting to that point where we’re all trying to arrive.
When I would hear stories from people who had been on the road for a long time I would think, ‘I’m never going to complain like that,’ because there’s nothing I wanted more than to be in their shoes. But when I got there, I saw what they were talking about. But still, this is an incredible experience that I really can’t complain about when I take a step back.
It takes two different perspectives: looking at something closely, but also taking a step back to evaluate the big picture. Your career has taken many leaps, but has had its twist and turns along the way. What’s your general mantra for staying on course and making sure that you’re progressing forward?
There’s always the goal to take something as far as you can take it, support yourself, and remain happy through the process. I want to do that, and however that is possible, I’m going to do it. You take opportunities and you just keep going. You just have to stay positive and surround yourself with people who are better than you. All that cliché stuff that we all know, but they’re so true. If you want something bad enough, you make it work however you can and it will happen in some way.
What is your schedule like for the next few months? What are you most looking forward to?
We just sold out the album premiere show in London. I’m really excited about that. I was just going to perform solo in Europe, but we decided to bring the full band too. We had a rehearsal a few nights ago and it sounds amazing. We’ve been working on booking a ton of shows and filling up dates until August, which is crazy. I’m thrilled to be playing my own stuff, getting out there, having these great musicians with me and experiencing all of that with them.