If you’ve followed music at all in 2015, you know Natalie Prass.
If you’ve followed music at all in 2015, you know Natalie Prass. The singer-songwriter, who cut her chops in Nashville, moved to Richmond to collaborate with Spacebomb Records and record her self-titled debut. Released in early 2015 to critical acclaim, the album showcases Prass’ angelic vocals amid the backdrop of Spacebomb’s soulful house band. When rendered live, Prass reinterprets her unabashed odes to love and heartbreak, which have a lush, angelic quality on the LP, into soulful songs with rock-driven guitar and backbeats.
This article was featured in RVAMag #23: Winter 2015. You can read all of issue #23 here or pick it up at local shops around RVA right now.
Having captured the adoration of fans and critics alike, the Virginia native is helping put Richmond on the map for something other than its punk and hardcore cred. From touring with Ryan Adams to headlining (and selling out) her own shows, the singer-songwriter has been on the road all year. In November, she released an EP of live recordings and covers, which sees her delving into unexpected territory, covering the likes of Grimes and Simon & Garfunkel. We caught up with her recently to discuss making art in Richmond, being the only girl in the scene, and how R&B influences her sound.
Since you’ve moved to Richmond I know you’ve pretty much been on the road. Have you been able to spend much time there? If so, are there any local bands or aspects of the regional scene that influence your music?
Honestly, I haven’t really been able to discover too many bands and I’m really looking forward to getting more into what’s happening to Richmond outside of Spacebomb. I know these guys are really connected to Spacebomb, but the Jellowstone crew–they’re doing similar things, with Butcher Brown. I love them. I’m really hoping I can work more with them when I’m home. Their new album that just came out is just loops, and them playing with these kind of loops, and I just think that’s so cool. Hoping I can work with them.
Do you think Richmond is a good place for a young creative, like a writer or musician?
I really do. It’s a safe space. It’s beautiful. There’s a lot bubbling there, a lot of creative minds and really inspiring people. I just feel like when I’m there, I get really inspired by my surroundings. I’m really sensitive to my surroundings. I love all the buildings and the trees, the river. I’m really enjoying the new vibe there. Nashville was good for me at the time–it was so competitive. But it’s changed so much the past five years.
Yeah, I had friends sort of get sick of Nashville’s scene.
I went to college there too, was really entwined with everything going on there. [I] was there when I was 20, but it’s changed so much in the past five years. It’s still a great place and I love it–I have so much love for it. But when you’re an artist… I felt trapped there. The only close city was Atlanta. In Richmond, you can can hop on a bus, a train, you have 95. Especially for creative, artistic people, that’s really important–to get out of your space, just for a day. And Richmond’s really cheap. You can’t deny that. It’s incredible.
Congrats on the Side By Side EP. I know you’ve reworked some of your own songs, and have covers by Grimes and Anita Baker; what inspired your selection for those covers?
My grandpa is a huge Anita Baker fan and the song “Rapture” has kind of been my theme song for the past couple years. It’s just one that I always will put on. I play music in the green room to pump me up. In the beginning of our tour I was putting on music and everyone was like, “Oh shit, this is really good–you should cover it!” So we’ve been doing it at shows and it works really well. I thought I would love [recording] it. It’s such a great song; she has such a unique voice and sound.
As for Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence,” all of us from Richmond and Spacebomb are obsessed with jazz music. That’s a huge part of us and how we’ve become who we are as musicians. We love Carmen McRae, we listen to her all the time. One day I had her on Spotify all day while I was in my apartment, and [discovered that] she does this really great version of “Sound Of Silence.” It’s super funky. We changed it a little bit, but it’s definitely inspired by her. We did that in one take; that music comes so naturally to us.
With Grimes – she’s just the coolest pop star ever.
Thank you, I hate it when people hate on Grimes. I think they’re just jealous.
Exactly! She’s just 100% doing her, she doesn’t give a shit about anybody else. She produces her music, writes it all by herself. Are you kidding me? That’s insane! I’m really excited for her new record. I read in an interview she does not like the song [I covered], “REALiTi,” says she wrote it in two minutes or something. But to me, when I write a song in two minutes, that’s when I know that’s a gift from something else. It came so naturally! Just–wow. I’m so grateful for that moment. Everybody has their opinion, but I think it’s a really great song. It sounds completely different than how she does it.
Yours Truly ran a pretty epic piece detailing your process and correspondences with Matthew E. White [yourstru.ly/stories/natalie-prass]. By “Bird of Prey” there’s this note that says “Waterfalls?” Now every time I hear “Bird Of Prey” I swear I hear something of TLC in that rollicking beat. You’re really into R&B–who are some of your favorites?
For one, I’m wearing my new Janet Jackson shirt I got five days ago. I got to see Janet Jackson [from] seven rows back in Chicago. I’m still flipping out about it, it was unbelievable. She’s still got it, she’s dancing nonstop. She’s 50! So she’s a huge influence on me. Of course, all the older R&B ladies: Diana [Ross], Gladys [Knight], Carole King… I’m always the one to steer the music to 90s and now R&B.
So that’s more your influence than the Spacebomb horns?
Yeah, I’ve always been drawn to the melodies and the emotion–I just love romantic love songs. I always have, it never gets tired to me. I love beat, I love rhythm. It’s just totally influenced me and my life. I know I can’t go too far with it, I realized what I look like and what I sound like–I know my voice and my limitations.
You’ve had a really exciting, breakout year. What’s been the most pivotal point of 2015 for you?
Well, this is really cheesy, but there was this really amazing stars-aligned show–the Body And Soul Festival, [at Ireland’s Ballinlough Castle in June]. Matt’s band and my band played on the same stage together. Our bands played back to back, and that really hit me. Being in Ireland, and all these people there to see us! They love Matt there–he’s on his second album cycle. It’s crazy to see, people just loved it, [and] were dancing like crazy. I got teary-eyed watching him. We’ve worked so hard together and he’s had this vision for so many years. Just to see it all actually happening, and we’re in Ireland and there’s a ton of people there. It’s just really beautiful, and being there with your friends… we’ve done this thing together and it’s really weird to see it all happening. It’s really great.
Godzilla joins you on stage pretty frequently, can you tell me more about his… cameos with you?
[I found him] when I was touring opening for Ryan Adams in Europe. Ryan and I like to run around the city as much as we can and go antique shopping, that’s a big thing we would do together. He’s a fraud-zilla though; he’s made in China, a knockoff. He had marionette puppet [controls] on each hand so I was like, “I gotta take this guy home.” He started out just being on the amp, moved onto my Wurlitzer–while I still played that onstage, before it broke. Then I would pick him up for a little bit, then put him down. He just started becoming a huge part of the show. Now I’ve retired him a bit–he’s starting to break. He rocked out a little too hard. But he’s traveled the world. Now he lives in my apartment, under a plant. He’s just very happy now.
Any last final advice you’d give to women in music? It may be the most overdone thinkpiece fodder, but I want to hear it from your perspective.
Oh, we can never talk too much on this. The goal is for it to be… it doesn’t have to be women in music, it’s just people in music. That’s the goal. I’m so happy with how far [we’ve come] and how confident girls are now–they’re coming in to play music, and all sorts of instruments. The confidence I see in women, with each generation it’s getting stronger and stronger. I grew up in Virginia Beach, and no disrespect for VA Beach, but there’s just really not much culture there. My theory is that, maybe since there’s nothing and you’re starved for it, you have to create it yourself. Because there’s a lot of great music and musicians that come out of the area.
I think I wasn’t myself completely. I’ve always been very comfortable with just being a weirdo and I don’t care if I fit in or not, but I think being surrounded by a lot of boys, I was ashamed of my femininity and afraid to really just be a girl. Now I’m not, but I think at the time I was scared to talk about the music that I like and wanted to make. I was ashamed of my lyrics. I was literally the only girl that was playing in rock bands in Virginia Beach. It was hardcore and punk and things I didn’t really want anything to do with. I think now, you’re a girl and that’s beautiful. Write the music you want to write, play the music you want to play. Practice. Get good at your instrument and just be amazing and fierce. Be the woman you are. Women are so powerful, we have so much to give to the world, just do it and don’t be scared. I was really scared for a long time and now I don’t give a fuck. I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life.