Q&A: Natalie Prass On Her Next Album, Playing Festivals, & Loving The War On Drugs
Natalie Prass’ self-titled debut is an equal parts giddy and dour testament to the often-devastating power of love. It’s a massive album, desperate and joyful and wholly unafraid of its towering sincerity, which led to us naming it one of the year’s best (so far) back in June. Prass’ personality onstage is as playful as her first album, and the audience at her Outside Lands set at Sutro Stage soaked up some of that positivity throughout a performance that included new songs, several covers, and lively banter. The road to Natalie Prass’ release has been a long one; Prass began writing some of the material as early as 2009, when she released her first EP, Small & Sweet, and then later started recording alongside her friend and collaborator Matthew E. White at Spacebomb in Nashville. Putting out that debut record took a while, but apparently we won’t be waiting long for its follow-up. I caught up with the Richmond-bred and Nashville-based singer-songwriter before she performed for Stereogum at Outside Lands’ Toyota Tent, and she spoke about when and what we can expect from her sophomore album, her love of Slayer’s Reign In Blood, Charli XCX, the War On Drugs, and touring on a festival schedule.
STEREOGUM: You worked on your self-titled album for such a long time, and you’ve been playing those songs for a while now. Have you been writing new material?
NATALIE PRASS: I’ve been on the road constantly ever since the record came out, so it’s been really a big challenge for me to write. I’m the kind of writer that, once I get into writing mode in my brain, I’m non-stop. So it’s been a challenge for me where it’s like, “Oh, I have two days off; I have four days off,” to kind of chill out after tour and feel like a normal human again. Because your brain goes into mush mode when you’re on the road. It’s been a challenge, but we’re playing some new stuff, and a lot of old stuff that we’re revisiting and editing and reworking. But we’re taking a big break, we end December 1, that’s when we we’re done touring for the year, and so I’ll have that whole month to write. Because once I’m in songwriting mode, it’s non-stop. It’s like wildfire. I’m just so eager to do that. I love everything about doing this, but my favorite thing is writing and recording.
STEREOGUM: Are you thinking a full-length or an EP?
PRASS: Definitely a full-length. The goal is to record it and have it done by, like, May, June. And then release it however long it’ll take, but hopefully not too long. But that stuff takes a while, to get a record ready to put out. But I at least want to have it recorded, ready to go. That’s the goal.
STEREOGUM: Are you thinking of doing some more orchestral arrangements as you did on the first record, or looking toward a new sound?
PRASS: I’m not gonna do anything drastic. It’s still me; it’s still the things that I like. I like all sorts of music, and I’ve recorded and been in all sorts of bands, but this is the music that I believe in and love and always go back to. When I’m home, the records I put on are kind of this similar sweet-spot area for me.
STEREOGUM: Who especially?
PRASS: The most recent time when I was home I was putting on Melba Moore and Carole King. On the plane ride over here I listened to the Carpenters. I mean I’ve always been into them, but [now I’m] really into them, even more so.
STEREOGUM: How did you decide on the covers that you performed today?
PRASS: Well, we did a Carole King song. And it’s so funny, a lot of people have been comparing my record to Dusty In Memphis, which is the Dusty Springfield record. And I’d never heard that record in its entirety. I obviously know a lot of the songs on there because they’re very famous. So I’ve been familiarizing myself with that record and being like, “Oh, everybody keeps saying that, and I’m so humbled.” But Dusty does a great cover of that Carole King song on that record, and actually, Matt White brought that song to my attention; he was like, “We should cover this!” And I covered it with Matt during Matt’s set, I went on in London, and then I went back to the guys in my band, and told them: “We should do that, that’s a really good song!” It’s really good to play other people’s songs live and get in their head. I’ve always been like that. I’ve always liked playing with somebody else and collaborating, just to get out of my own head all the time. Everybody does, but artists especially, we torture ourselves. So it’s good for me to immerse myself in somebody else’s work.
STEREOGUM: I love your Janet Jackson cover.
PRASS: I’m just a huge Janet fan, my whole life. And I’ve always been kind of ashamed a little bit — not always, but there was a period I was really ashamed of the music that I listened to, like, growing up in Virginia Beach and being in Nashville for a while. I feel like the whole ’90s thing, people are more open to it now, and I’m like, finally! I’m also just getting older and not giving a shit anymore. But growing up in Virginia Beach I was the only girl playing in bands and stuff, and I loved 112, and Janet Jackson, and Aaliyah, and all this stuff, and the boys were all into hardcore and punk. And I had to kinda be like “Oh, I listen to NOFX.” You know, when you’re in high school and insecure and you have to…
STEREOGUM: You have to be a poser for a little bit.
PRASS: You have to be a little poser! Yeah. And so for AV Club, we did that Undercover thing, and they sent the list, and I was like, we’re doing Slayer, “Raining Blood,” because that song is such a part of my past. All the boys, growing up, that was like the song, and me always just being like, “It’s a cool riff.” I’m gonna make it my own, as soon as I saw that as an option I was like, “We’re doing that one!”
PRASS: It’s funny because last year I was touring with Jenny Lewis. Obviously she’s way more famous, she’s been around a long time. So we were playing really good slots, later in the day. It’s just a lot of things were easier, because she’s just a badass, been doing it a long time, a pro. Now I’m doing a lot of these amazing festivals, but I’m opening them. We’re the first to play. So it’s like, you’re still waking up and brushing the cobwebs off your voice. It has its own challenges, but festivals like this, this is amazing. I could play a festival like Outside Lands every day. They’re not always this nice. It could be raining or cold, or it’s really hot, the sun’s in your face, and your guitar is going out of tune. There are a lot more variables with festivals than just playing in a venue. I get kind of nervous in crowds, so a musical festival would never be something I would go to, unless I was playing. But I got to hang out at Osheaga Festival this weekend, and I had a fucking blast. That was my first time ever going to music festival just to attend. I was with my best friend, and we just had the best time.
STEREOGUM: What was the best set you saw at Osheaga?
PRASS: The War On Drugs, by far. But I saw Sylvan Esso, and they have such a good energy. I’m not usually into laptop music, but like, that was fucking awesome. They just made me feel so good. They have such a good energy on stage. So I just don’t care there’s a laptop up there. And I had a blast watching Charli XCX, because it’s all girls up there, and I was just thinking like, I would have loved to have done that as a younger girl. Just up there with three of my girlfriends, singing.
STEREOGUM: I saw them at Governors Ball, and that was my highlight.
PRASS: So entertaining! They’re so freaking cute. It’s just like, too much babe-ness up there. But I had a blast watching. But War On Drugs, that’s just a fucking solid band. And that’s what I’m really into. I just hear the musicianship, I hear how they’re all blending together, they’re listening to each other. They’re jamming. It’s just all the things that I love about live music, I just geek out about that technical stuff.
STEREOGUM: We have an annual Song Of The Summer poll, and it’s always much-contested amongst the commenters, so I just want to know what your Song Of The Summer is.
PRASS: Ooh! Damn. There’s a couple. But it’s probably gonna have to be … this is so cheesy, but I’m a huge Ciara fan. And to pump myself up, I listen to her new song “Give Me Love.” From her new album. In the green rooms, I always pump that up right before I go onstage.
Natalie Prass is on tour in Europe and America through the end of November. Check out the dates here.
[Photos by Wilson Lee/Stereogum.]