Natalie Prass: Music Row to Spacebomb Starlet
Natalie Prass has been on everyone’s lips this year.
The 28-year-old singer songwriter released her eponymous debut to universal acclaim in January, followed by appearances on major television programs.
Prass is currently touring Europe with Ryan Adams. In addition to their own sets, they have also started collaborating, with Adams covering Prass’ standout track “Your Fool,” while she has been joining him for several of his songs on stage.
“I am just overwhelmed. Like, how did all this happen?” she laughs. “I actually bought [Adams' 2001 album] Gold back in high school and his piano player plays on my record, so we go some ways back.”
Just the other day, after missing her flight for a gig in Copenhagen, Adams donned a dress and played a full 30-minute set of Prass’ material. The two clearly get along.
Calling from London, just before going on stage at the Hammersmith Apollo, Prass says, “It has been an amazing ride, and I’m sad for the tour to come to an end. We have been treated with so much kindness and consideration all the way. We all are getting along really well; it has just been such a relaxed and fun tour.”
Though the name Natalie Prass may be new for most, she is by no means a newcomer.
Born in Cleveland in 1986, she grew up in Virginia, before moving to Nashville where she spent the last few years trying to make it as a songwriter and session musician, opening shows for Angel Olsen and touring as a keyboards for Jenny Lewis.
“I finished college there, and spent nine years working in Nashville. I cut a country publishing deal, did session work and played and recorded all the time – barely getting money for years,” she says. “So this is actually the first time I can bring a band on the road with me.”
Prass continues, “Nashville is very competitive, but I learned so much in that city. I moved back to Richmond, Virginia to be closer to my band. Richmond is such an inspiring city, but I love Nashville. I left, but I can always come back.”
Things started to pick up for Prass when she learned that an old friend in Richmond had started up making music back home together with a collective of local musicians.
They were calling themselves Spacebomb, a production crew that also includes a house band, horn section, string section and choir. The friend was no other than Matthew E. White, responsible for the first Spacebomb release.
White’s album, Big Inner, turned into an unexpected critical darling in 2012, and that success forced the newcomers in Spacebomb to put everything else on hold, including Prass’ debut.
“[My album] was recorded in 2012, but for various reasons it was never the right time, and the date kept getting pushed. It was a bit frustrating,” she admits. “Big Inner went so well and the company kept getting bigger. They had a lot to learn, with new experiences and responsibilities in the wake of that album, but I wanted the music to be out, you know?”
“Looking back, there are no hard feelings between us. We are all good friends, and everything worked out just fine. I’m not looking to make trendy music either way, and I trust myself that this was a record that could last and stand on its own. 10 years from now, I hope it’s still a good record.”
When asked if she’ll continue making music with the Spacebomb bunch, she’s uncertain.
“It was an amazing experience for everybody making this record, but to be honest I’m not sure,” she confesses. “Everyone’s so busy at the time, but you know, if not the next time maybe we’ll hook up on the one after. We all would love to work together again.”
Prass’ debut album is packed with classic all-American references, ranging from Muscle Shoals and New Orleans jazz to the sounds of Stax, country-soul and early ’80s R&B.
As a singular performer, she’s been compared to Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield and Dolly Parton, to name just a few.
She is quick to give credit to the Spacebomb crew, who not only secured her musical fundament, but also challenged it.
“We were always on the same page. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted the album to feel like, but they just flipped it way further, sharing their expertise on arranging horns and strings,” she says. “They are such an amazing community of people, and it just wouldn’t have been the same record without them. They passed their knowledge into the record to make it work.”
With lines like, “Our love is like a long goodbye / We keep waiting for the train to cry / Because my baby don’t understand me,” critics labeled the album as something of a heartbreak record. Without going into detail, she says, “there are always some personal experiences in there. Not word for word, but they definitely come from a personal place.”
And despite the crossover of her lyrics and her personal life, Prass doesn’t have any trouble revisiting the material night after night.
“For me it’s more therapeutic to get stuff out, like keeping a journal,” she says. “I’ve kept a journal since 4th grade and I have to write to feel better. It doesn’t have to be lyrics, but writing helps me. The subject matter is kind of sad, but you know, the songs are a few years old. I’m better now. I guess I have to find other things to focus on.” [laughs]
With so much well-deserved attention around her album, while being singled out an “artist to watch” by numerous publications, one wonders what pressures Prass might be feeling.
“It took so long to get the album out, I reached the point to where I didn’t know what to feel about it,” she says. “When we finally picked the release day, I was like ‘here we go’. I didn’t know what people would think of it, but I was just so pleased.”
And for Prass, the real pleasure comes from the reassurance that she gets to keep making music.
Just as she’s being called to the stage for soundcheck, she says, “All I wanted was the opportunity to continue what I always have done — and what I always will do.”
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