Natalie Walker, a musician out of Crested Butte, Colo., is releasing her new album after 3 years of prepping and polishing. Sometimes it takes a few years to find the right footing for your next project, and Walker is on solid ground with Strange Bird. The album spans genres and stories, the songs are comfortable but not commercial, electronic and dreamy. Moving to Crested Butte gave Natalie a balance she hadn’t found in city life and that equilibrium shows in each track of her new album, which releases March 10.
GW: I guess I’ll start off with one of my favorite questions…if you were given the opportunity to go to space but didn’t know if you would come back, would you go?
NW: Oh man…I don’t think I would. I think I would if it was just me on Earth, or if I was older. Probably if I was a lot older, that would be a cool way to go out. […] I don’t know if you read this article about a bunch of people who had been in space, about how it changed their entire perspective on everything.
GW: What are some things you’ve experience as a musician or human that have given you a new perspective on the world?
NW: I’ve experienced death and loss. I’ve also learned to simplify my life; I live in Crested Butte, CO right now and have always lived in a city before. I wanted to get to the basics of my happiness, which is music, family and the mountains – being outside in nature as much as possible. That gives me this balance I wasn’t able to achieve before. That was a pretty big reality check: moving from a city to a town of about a thousand.
GW: Since you moved into this place to help reconnect with your life and music, how has living there changed your music? You haven’t released an album in three years, did this move inspire that release?
NW: I started writing the music when I lived in Denver, but I was working with a guy named Ryan Malina. I was sitting down with my brother one day and I said, “I need a mad scientist to write music with – I feel uninspired and I need a fresh approach.” My brother pointed me in the direction of Ryan. We wrote most of the music in L.A. This music was so easy with me because, with this whole mental switch from the city to the mountains, overall my mentality changed and I learned to let go of any preconceived notion of a genre or specific sound I wanted. There are so many stories behind each song that was written, and so many details of where we were. It was kind of like a big musical experiment – I’ve never written music like this before. It was all new and very different but the vibe is extremely chill.
We even had a couple of tracks where I was like “I’m going to sing to this. Just press record.” Then I got up and did a take, and just improvised the lyrics and melody on the spot – and that’s what you get. We did that with We Get One – I didn’t write any lyrics down and just went into the booth. I wanted to challenge myself to really feel the moment and the music and let the words just come out naturally.
GW: What are some nonmusical influences that inspire you?
NW: Stories from people that I know inspire me. Stories from my own life. I have this weird obsession with mortality and aging – not in a vain way…just like every day you’re getting older and one day you’ll eventually die; I think about that theme a lot. I’m inspired by nature. I’m inspired by people more than anything. Definitely inspired more by nonmusical things more than I am by musical things and bands.
GW: What was the role of music in your life growing up?
NW: Music was a big part of my life growing up. My dad plays the banjo, my mom sang in church. I would stand next to her and listen to her harmonize. Between her and Mariah Carey is how I probably learned how to sing. I was obsessed with symphonic music and Gergorian chants – I would listen to anything I could get my hands on that moved me in a certain way.
I wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music. In high school I started listening to The Beastie Boys, Silverchair, Björk, Garbage, Portishead and music became this wonderful discovery for me; just totally changed my perspective. I knew I wanted to make music for a living but when I started listening to all of that I thought “Wow, the sky really is the limit.” And I feel like that’s really stuck with me. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into any certain genre – people ask me what kind of genre I play and I have no idea what to say. I try, but I think it’s because I am so obsessed with all genres of music.
GW: What’s one of the most important developments in music that you’ve seen over your lifetime?
NW: Oh man. One of the things I get really excited about is being able to go into a studio and have several instruments and synths at your fingertips, and you can write a part really quickly. Technology is so advanced right now, the tools you can use to build a song really quickly. A combination of being able to use the synths and the programs at your disposal – the speed you can work at. For me, if I have an idea for a song it comes very quickly. It’s important to be able to put the shit down fast so you don’t forget it. Ryan and I were able to bang out songs really quickly because we were so inspired. And just with my career in general, being socially connected to my fans is incredible. It’s such a different thing than it was when I started making music when you would have to physically make fans by meeting them, playing shows and winning them over.
GW: In festival lineups, I can count on my hand the number of women in bands and it’s just so strange to me. How does that feel?
NW: I feel like it’s totally different for each gender. I don’t think about it a lot but I will say, when I was a little girl getting into music I wished I was a dude. Because I wanted to rock, I wanted that persona. In my career I have always tried to keep my gender out of the equation – out of my head when I’m making music and just make something I would want to listen to, and lot of bands I listen to are male fronted; I love Deerhunter, Bradford Cox, Thom Yorke. But I also love female-fronted bands like Blond Redhead. I like female-fronted bands that are just bold and not afraid to perform and write ballsy music. At the end of the day it’s about the music that you’re making, and if you’re making shitty, boring music people aren’t going to buy your record. There are plenty of women who have commanded attention through their music – I’m on this big Fever Ray kick right now, she’s such a badass. She performs these really dark songs, she’s just so unafraid and I’ve always love female musicians like that. It’s not that I aspire to be like that, I’m just not really that weird and I’ve accepted that. But at the end of the day, who gives a shit. I’ve had a couple experiences in the studio with staff at the studio where I’ve gotten this weird, condescending attitude…and that pisses me off. But I’ve never experienced disrespect from a man I’ve been making music with, ever.
GW: Who are some musicians you feel you want to share with the world?
NW: I discovered this girl yesterday who is just breaking, her voice is crazy…she’s so good. Her name is Jessica Pratt. People are saying she’s freak-folk genre, but her voice is so cool. She’s 25 but her voice is way beyond her years. I’ve never heard anybody sing like her before. I’ve been listening to Blond Redhead, their new album is amazing. I’ve been listening to Nick Drake, he’s not new. Alt-J, Naiia.
GW: Are you going to be taking your album on tour anytime soon?
NW: We’re probably going to do a key market tour. Oddly enough, I have a really big fanbase in Mexico City; I have a lot of awesome fans in L.A., New York and Denver. I’d like to do a lot of local mountain gigs. The album does not come out until March 10, the first single “Trust” comes out January 27 – it’s a really happy, chill vibe. If you preorder the album, you get a second single. It’s my favorite song on the album called ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ – it’s got a gritty vibe to it.
GW: Is there anything you’d like to say to Grateful Web readers?
NW: I really, really appreciate the people who buy my music. It’s tough out there right now for people making music. It’s important to support artists that you love by buying their music, or sharing it with your friends or family. Thanks for reading. Drop me a line on my website or Facebook, I run it all by myself so you’re talking to me.
Get a copy of Strange Bird here.