Saying that Richmond, Virginia’s Natalie Prass has had a busy couple of years is a bit like saying Portland loves craft beer and beards: it would be a woeful understatement. After spending most of 2014 playing keys and singing in Jenny Lewis’ touring band, Prass almost immediately saw her stunningly gorgeous debut, Natalie Prass, released in January on Matthew E. White’s Spacebomb label, and took off on a world tour of her own behind it.
The record has received glowing reviews from… well from everyone, basically. Matthew E. White and Trey Pollard’s production and arrangement skills proved the perfect foil for Prass’ mix of dynamic storytelling and her uniquely angelic voice. The end result is not unlike what a disney princess cutting a record with Phil Spector might sound like, and is without a doubt one of the year’s best albums.
Prass brings her tour to the Doug Fir tonight (get tickets here), and ahead of the show I spoke with her about the frustratingly long wait for the album to actually come out, her insanely busy schedule, what Jenny Lewis has meant to her and what it was like to see one of her saddest songs come true in her personal life years after she wrote it (“Christy”).
ELEVEN: So touring with Jenny Lewis had to be a big thrill since I read that she was a big inspiration to you when you were younger. It makes sense to me on a lot of levels that you two would work together, not the least of which being that you’re tonally so similar. My first thought upon hearing your album was that you sounded kind of like you could be Jenny’s little sister.
NATALIE PRASS: Jenny was a big inspiration to me because she was really the first girl I saw with an electric guitar. The kind of music I listened to growing up – and still kind of listen to – the women aren’t playing anything, the girls were just singers. People like Michelle Branch and Vanessa Carlton were big and only sang or played piano. Then I started getting more into the indie and punk scenes, I think I was around 14 years old, and I realized, “Hey, women can play guitar too!” It sounds crazy but I just didn’t ever think of it because I never saw it! And I wasn’t a crazy fan or anything, but she was a huge inspiration as the only girl playing in bands where I’m from. Plus I read an interview where she said something about how much she liked hip hop and RnB, which I thought was super cool. All the dudes I was in bands with and friends with were into metal and stuff, so I couldn’t really profess my love for things like Blackstreet openly, ha!
ELEVEN: I think a lot of us go through that when we’re younger and still figuring out who we are – we go through a bit of a posing stage.
NP: Yeah totally. I’ve always been me, but you know… I definitely felt a little out of place at times. Maybe a lot out of place (laughter).
ELEVEN: I grew up in Georgia so I definitely feel you, sometimes it’s not the most open minded of environments, musically or otherwise.
NP: Yeah, you know how that goes.
ELEVEN: So you wrote some of the songs on Natalie Prass years ago and had to sit on both them and the record itself for quite a while. I’m impressed you were able to show such patience – was that because you already knew Matt (Matthew E. White) and you trusted him? Showing such patience in the Internet age especially is pretty rare.
NP: Ummm… that was not easy. I just had to be patient… but no actually; I really wasn’t patient the whole time, it was hard. There was a period where we were all really mad at each other (laughs). I haven’t told anybody that yet but it’s true! Trey (Pollard, who helped arrange the record) and I laugh about it sometimes: I would ask where a new idea or part had come from and he would say, “Oh that was an idea we had when you hated us” (laughs). But the thing of it is, we were trying to figure out how to do things – how to put a record out.
ELEVEN: You were learning on the fly.
NP: Exactly; we were learning on the fly. I mean, trying to put a record out all on your own – who the fuck does that, and in Richmond Virginia. And we didn’t want to just put something on the internet…
ELEVEN: You wanted to put an actual record out.
NP: Yeah totally. But then I just had to learn to patient… and then I actually thought for a while it would never come out. I was preparing myself for it just to be this cool thing I showed my grandkids later in life or passed around to family. And then going to Nashville, which is obviously this big music business town with lots of pressure… I was pretty against that whole scene – I just spent all my time in my attic making weird music. But I just knew this was the album that needed to come out, it was the one we had all put our hearts and souls into. If I was going to start out with a record it needed to be that one.
ELEVEN: Well it’s great that you did considering all the success the record is having. After such a long wait I wanted to ask you about something you said in an interview about how you were going to go straight into the studio in December when you get off the road. That seems intense considering you’ve been on the road internationally behind your album, and last year you toured with Jenny for nine months of the year. Are you still planning that?
NP: Ha! No, that’s changed. Although I’m pretty easy going, it’s hard for me to relax – I always have to be doing something. When we had three weeks off before this tour I didn’t know what to do with myself: I rearranged my apartment like three times, I drove ten hours to Nashville and we recorded and played a show. I don’t really know how to sit still too long.
ELEVEN: I suffer from a similar affliction.
NP: We’re done with this tour mid-November, which I’m looking forward too. We actually had to cancel three European dates recently, which was very sad, but I really need to stop getting on planes this year. I mean, we just got off the world tour with Jenny and then went off on my own world tour.
ELEVEN: There was basically no break at all. Relax and put your feet up sister!
NP: (laughs) Yeah, it was just enough for the year. And I’ve been writing a ton this year, which is so exciting to me because I’m the type of writer that once I get going I can’t stop. I have plans to write with some other people coming up as well. The goal is to get in the studio early next year… that’s the goal. But it all depends on whether I feel I have a record or not, you know?
ELEVEN: Sure, sure. And I’d say you’ve certainly earned some RnR. I just have one more for you. So I wanted to ask you about “Christy”. You wrote it years ago, before you’d had anything like that happen to you, but then something along those lines did occur, which is pretty haunting – to have something from your writing actually come to fruition in your personal life like that. I was wondering what it’s like playing that song every night: is it like opening an old wound at each show? Is it hard having people like me ask you about it?
NP: Well… each night is different. Every night something hits me harder – or less – depending on what’s going on. But that song “Christy”… I wrote it and recorded it and then much later something like that actually happened and I couldn’t listen to it. I wouldn’t listen to the record much anyway when it was done since I was so overly familiar with all the songs, but that one I never listened to. Ever. It was just too freaky.
ELEVEN: God I bet!
NP: Yeah… but although it’s still a deeply personal thing that happened, it’s old news for me and something I’ve completely moved on from. It doesn’t affect me in the same way anymore.
ELEVEN: It’s evolving as you do…
NP: Exactly, it’s evolving. It’s so interesting these songs I’m singing from a different time are still relevant to my life, even if it’s in different ways. Sometimes it’s like, “Ah, I’m singing about the same shit!” (laughs).
Natalie Prass and Promise Land Sound play the Doug Fir Lounge tonight, tickets are $15, doors at 8, show at 9.