Talks with Natalie Walker

 

Natalie Walker

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Spark

 

Strange Bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CEV:  When did music become an important aspect of your life? What was it about music that made it important to you? 

NW:  Music became important to me at a very, very young age.  My whole family is musical and I think it was something that I was born with.  An ear for music and the ability to feel emotion from different kinds of music.  Music is and has always been a way for me to express and feel emotion alike.  It's also a way of sharing one's story with the world and I always loved listening to lyrics of my favorite songs.  

CEV:  Listening to music growing up what artists or musicians would you consider being major influences on your personal style of performing?

NW:  I wouldn't say that I have ever aspired to be one specific artist but have always admired many for different reasons.  Ani Difranco for her musicianship and fearlessness on stage, Thom York for his almost effortless way of reaching into the soul and moving me tremendously, Alison Krauss for her grace and beautiful presence, Portishead for being pioneers of triphop, Massive Attack for their dark, haunting, consistent beauty, Brian Eno for not being afraid to do exactly what he wants with a song and only that (even if it's extremely minimal), Philip Glass for his brilliant songwriting and production ability.  The list literally goes on and on.  

CEV:  Did you ever have any formal musical training? If so how helpful was it in laying the foundation of your songwriting?

NW:  I played the clarinet for 7 years and also took some formal voice long after I started singing just to strengthen my ability.  I think learning how to play the clarinet and site read was quite important to understand the basics of music and structure of songs.  I wasn't very good at site reading because I'm pretty sure I am dyslexic.  I would look at sheet music but learn the songs by listening to and mocking the other clarinet players next to me.  I failed every single site reading test in high school but was 3rd chair out of 8 or something like that so I wasn't all that bad.  I eventually taught myself you play the guitar and piano to some degree and I would say my many years of playing music helped that venture.  Voice lessons were really helpful for me to understand the mechanics of my voice and how to use it.  I would say I didn't know how to sing 'properly' until I was around 17.  

CEV:  Is formal training a necessity for a musician or can artists be self-taught and still have just as solid a foundation? Why?

NW:  Any artist can be self taught and great obviously, but it would be foolish to think that you don't have anything else to learn about your craft.  I'm still learning all that I can to make myself a better singer and performer.

CEV:  When did you start writing songs? What inspired you when it came to creating your music?

NW:  I started by writing poetry when I was young.  I loved poetry and that form of expression.  I decided to put poetry into song when I was 15 or 16.  I formed a band with some boys I knew in high school and we started to play little shows here and there after we had written a handful of songs.  Most of the songs were whiney, teenager drama type songs.  Very dark and depressing.

CEV:  When did you decide that you wanted to make music your career? Was this just the natural next step for you? Explain.

NW:  I really always knew it was what I wanted to do with my life.  I put my words into action when I was in college and bored from the confinement of convention.  I came home for holiday break and did a massive online search for bands seeking a female singer.  I then found Travis & Steve Fogelman of Daughter Darling (the group was unnamed at the time obviously) and reached out to them asking to send me a demo.  They were reluctant and had been through auditions from hell in Philly.  I told them to trust me and I would put something together.  They sent me a sample for 'Sad & Lonely' and structured it and laid down some vocals at a local studio in Indiana. The results led me to make a decision that changed my life forever.  I moved to Philly a year later to pursue my dream.

CEV:  Deciding and doing are two separate things. What were some of the things you did once you made the decision to pursue music as a career to get it moving forward?

NW:  Initially I just spoke with Travis & Steve many, many times about the possibility of us forming a group together.  I took such a huge decision very seriously and did not want to be impulsive.  I needed to have a plan to really make it work and it took awhile to get one together.  I'm one of those people though...when I make a decision about something, I WILL follow through with it.  When I decided to go solo from Daughter Darling, I spent hours and hours figuring out what my next step should be and who I would make that next step with.

CEV:  Tell me about Daughter Darling and how that group came about and your role in it?

NW:  We were all rookies working together to make a record that was a genuine reflection of exactly what we envisioned as a group.  I was the songwriter and helped with production on some level.  Travis put endless time into perfecting each track and always had the program manual on hand.

A true self taught engineer and producer in one.  It was a spectacular accomplishment for us to make Sweet Shadows.

CEV:  You've had several albums out as a solo artist including Urban Angel, Quicksand, Walking Dream, Pink Neon, and With You. What are the differences for you between working as part of a group and doing solo work where you alone control the direction the music will take? What is the upside and what is the downside?

NW:  With every single album I've made, its always a collaborative effort to some degree.  With Daughter Darling though, it was music created from three points of view that needed to be equally distributed in each song.  With my solo music, the lyrics are just my point of view but the music is always the creation of at least 2 people or more. If you are working with the right people at all times, there is no downside.  If you are working with the wrong people, its a nightmare.  Sometimes those relationships can fade and you can lose chemistry and move onto someone else.  I've always been very in touch with what is working and what isn't.

CEV:  Your latest album is called Spark. You worked with Ted Bruner, Dan Chen and Nate Greenberg on this album. Tell me about how it is that you ended up working with these gentlemen and the process you went through in creating the songs of Spark.

NW:  I discovered Dan & Nate when I was in Daughter Darling but looking for other people to work with as a side project.  It turned into the realization that I had found something quite rare and it needed to be pursued 100%.  That is when I made the decision to work as a solo artist.  Dan & Nate produced my first two albums, Urban Angel & With You with beautiful results.  When I was ready to record #3, I wanted to go to LA to find another muse to work with on top of continuing my work with Dan & Nate.  I found Ted Bruner after working with a few other producers who were also great, but the magic wasn't there.  Ted & I had instant chemistry and we made honest, heartfelt music together.

CEV:  How personal are the lyrics that listeners will find on Spark? Is it difficult to pour personal details into a song that you will be recording and performing live in front of strangers?

NW:  Many of the songs are stories from my life.  Actual details of my life so far.  Writing with Ted felt a lot like being in a therapy session because he wanted for me to write my truth in song rather than making stuff up.  In order for a song to come to life in Ted's studio, you have to sit down and talk to him for hours about what you've been through so far.  We dig deep and our long talks about my story gave life to them through song.  It was a life changing process.  I write differently now because of him.

CEV:  How would you describe the music that ended up on Spark?

NW:  Delicate, beautiful, sensual, painfully honest at times.  I'm extremely proud of this body of work.

CEV:  What was the most fun that you had while you were working on Spark? What was the most difficult thing you did while working on Spark? Explain

NW:  When I write music, I travel to either LA or NYC.  How could I possibly find anything to complain about at all when writing music in two of the most exciting cities in the world?  There was never a dull moment of working on this album.  My favorite part of it all is sharing the experience with the 3 guys that I trusted the most with the creation of each song.  Spending hours locked up in a studio writing is always so fun and when it was time to break for a meal, I would walk down the street in soho to shop or go across the street in LA to grab a drink with a childhood friend that I hadn't seen in years. Sometimes I feel like I have to pinch myself to really believe that it's what I do.  

CEV:  Do the songs on Spark have a common thread running through them? If so what? If not how is it that you decide what ends up on an album like Spark and what does not without a theme of sorts to direct your choices?

NW:  I would say the only thing they have in common is that they are all honest, heartfelt songs.  Some are stories, some are born from my personal convictions.  If a song I'm writing isn't flowing easily, I will usually nix it before I waste a bunch of time on it.  The songs have to move me from the start to make them great in order for them to be great.

CEV:  Are you a hands on kind of person when it came to mixing and engineering the final edits of Spark? If not then how do you communicate with those who are doing those chores as to what you are looking for in the final mixes of your songs?

NW:  I am there for every single mix down session.  Long hours of turning knobs, listening, tweaking, listening again and again until we achieve that perfect balance.  No one will ever care about my music as much as I do so I must be there to make sure its exactly how I want it.

CEV:  Why a cover of Galapogos by Smashing Pumpkins? What drew you to that song and what do you bring to it in terms of your interpretation?

NW:  I've always been a huge SP's fan.  I listened to their music a lot growing up and they were one of the first rock bands I was exposed to and I found Billy Corgan to be really inspiring.  When I decided to cover a song for 'Spark' I knew very quickly that I wanted it to be a SP's cover.  I wanted to pay tribute to a band who I was influenced by very early on in my life.

I listened through a ton of their tracks and simply went on feeling and wanted to make sure I picked a song that I could redo without completely botching it up or messing with it's integrity.  Galapagos is pure emotion and pretty true to the original.  

CEV:  How has Jason Bentley of KCRW helped advance your career as a solo artists?

NW:  Jason has shown support for my music since day one.  As soon as he got a hold of Urban Angel (my first solo work).  Having someone like that on my side...such a tremendous tastemaker in the music industry is one of the biggest honors of my career so far.  I listen to his program every day.  His taste in music is phenomenal regardless of wether he keeps playing my tunes or not.

CEV:  I really love the song Mars from the new album. Tell me a little about the background behind this song and the meaning that it has for you?

NW:  Mars is one of my favorite tracks on the album too.  I talk a little bit about this song on the 'road to Spark' podcast on itunes. Basically I'm obsessed with mortality and also human behavior.  How so often, we tend to get stuck in this rat race of working a 9-5, coming home, eating dinner, going to sleep only to get up and do it all over again the next day.  It makes me sad when people lose sight of what they are born to do.  Everyone has a purpose and everyone should have something that they are truly passionate about.  I know so many women who were artists when they were young only to grow up, pop out a few babies and lose themselves in a mess of housework and diaper changing.  Yes, motherhood is a noble undertaking but just because one takes on motherhood doesn't mean she needs to push her own passion and purpose on the back burner indefinitely.  Life is too short.

Balance in life equals happiness.

CEV:  Now that Spark is finished what are your feelings about the finished product? How different is it as a finished project than what you envisioned when you first started work on it?

NW:  I'm always relieved to put an album out.  It feels like holding my breath for a long, long time and the release is one giant exhale. The only reason I do this is to share my music so it kills me to keep it to myself for so many months.  When I first envisioned this album, I wanted to call it 'Strange Bird'.  I wrote a song called 'Strange Bird' and its so lovely but when the other songs came to fruition, Strange Bird didn't fit the vibe of the entire album.  It will be on my next record hopefully.  I'm unable to 'plan' the songs before they are written.  I tend to just go with it and let the songs form naturally in the studio without any restriction, rules or regulations.  I've learned that if I try to force and idea or arrangement the song never happens.  

CEV:  Other than the gentlemen I mentioned in a previous question who else worked on this project with you and helped to make it a reality?

NW:  Without a doubt, Oliver Buckwell from Dorado Records is my main man.  That guy is a saint and I would do anything for him for the rest of my life to show my gratitude.  He has a beautiful, patient family who believes in his work in the music industry.  If all music execs were like Ollie it would be a much more pleasant career to pursue.  I'm given respect and creative control of all aspects of my career.  A very rare honor these days.  

Also, my management over at Endit.  Eric Pirritt has been rooting for me for years and I finally have the great luck of him being my manager.  

Family & friends make it a reality too.  I surround myself with people who have faith in what I do and they are my biggest fans.  They truly carry me.

CEV:  Do you think it has gotten any easier to make it in the music business as a woman artist in the 21st century? Why or why not?

NW:  It's just completely different than it was when I first decided to pursue music.  I think now you have to really hustle online to get an audience to notice you and to keep their attention.  Marketing oneself has completely changed.  Record sales aren't the main priority any longer.  They are still important but many things have to come together to really feel the success of a record.  I think the way the industry is now, it's really empowering.

I realize that I can control many aspects of my exposure to the masses.  I can either sit around and complain about how 'different' things are than they used to be or I can be smart, work my ass off to figure out how I'm going to achieve what needs to be done and then someday look back with pride at how I overcame the many obstacles in such a rough patch for artists.  

CEV:  Any final thoughts about your music, Spark or any other topic near and dear to your heart?

NW:  I'll give you a quote that can be found on the back of the booklet of 'Spark'.  It's by David Brubeck (a favorite of mine) and it's my own truth in this short life I get to live.

"If by doing music you have a great feeling of joy and you'll accept the hardship and your family accepts it, if it's the drive in your life and the beauty of expression in your life, then do it and know that it's going to be very difficult, but the love will make up for all the hardship."

CEV:  Wonderful way to end this interview. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me about your music and I do hope to see many more releases from you in the years to come.