Talking to Natalie Prass

Natalie Prass is a solo artist from Virginia, who has spent the majority of her career in Nashville, however, she returned to Spacebomb Records in Richmond, VA to record her self-titled debut album with her old friend Matthew E. White. Natalie Prass, released on January 27th, is largely receiving critical success and WXJM Music Director, Alec Moss, had the chance to speak with her before her show at DC9 in Washington, D.C., on February 4th.

Alec Moss [WXJM]: How has the beginning of your tour been so far?

Natalie Prass: Amazing! We did the Broadberry in Richmond last night. This will be our fifth show as a band tonight. Our first show together was in Dublin!

Well that’s a nice place to start!

I know! So Dublin, and then we had a show in London at the Lexington, and then Amsterdam, and then Richmond, and now DC!

The first time I saw you play was last year at the Jefferson in Charlottesville...

Yeah, opening for Dr. Dog?

Yeah, with Benny Yurco.

Yes, the Jefferson is amazing.

And you’re originally from Virginia Beach?

Yes, and that was actually my first time playing in Charlottesville!

After that show in Charlottesville, I started keeping up with you guys and saw that you were making dog hoodies and I ordered one for my dog, Brutus.

What?! Oh my god! That’s amazing! Brutus was my biggest client. That was so much fun. That was a really nice little break. I really enjoyed doing that.

How did you end up playing with Benny?

I was playing guitar with an artist from Nashville named Rayland Baxter, and Rayland had opening gigs for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and Benny is in that band, and we did a tour together and Grace asked me to open, like my solo stuff. So then I did that for a while. Then Benny recorded and released an album, and he’s really good friends with the Dr. Dog guys and he asked me to play in the band with him.

You also spent all summer in Jenny Lewis’ band?

Yeah, almost a year. I got hired in April and then my last show with her was right before Christmas.

How did that happen?

Mutual friends. It’s so crazy how it just comes down to your friends, like who you know. You always hear that but it’s kinda true. And my friend from Nashville who moved to LA got into Jenny Lewis’ circle of friends and Jenny Lewis was looking for an all-girl band and couldn’t find a committed girl keyboardist/vocalist. She asked Odessa if she knew anybody in Nashville and then I got the gig! I auditioned literally by filming myself on my iPhone, me and Megan McCormick, at the same time, like playing her songs and singing like karaoke style. It was pretty funny.

So, you also just announced tour dates with Ryan Adams, Hiss Golden Messenger, Son Lux and San Fermin... So like you said, lots of the things that have happened to you have been because of people you know, so I was wondering, are you involved in who you tour with?

Well, I’m opening for those bands, so I was personally asked to be a part of their show, which is such an honor, and I don’t know San Fermin personally, but I’m a fan of their music. And Hiss Golden Messenger… Cameron, who played on my record, subbed in for their bass player recently, it’s just a small world! It’s like who you know and who you want to be traveling with and be hanging out with everyday, ya know? You wanna like them and of course be into the music. Sometimes it gets to a point like, we’re gonna be on the road together for a month, so I wanna be with people I like! (laughs) Especially when you get at a bigger level, you can kinda choose who you want to be out with. And what’s cool about the Ryan Adams thing, like Daniel Clark, the piano player in Ryan’s band, played on my record, he’s from Richmond. And when I was playing for Jenny’s band, we opened for Ryan. So it was immediately this family thing… I had this connection with Daniel… Ryan is so welcoming and his band is incredible. It was just like this big family, we were old friends. He’s so supportive and he loves the record and just asked me to go out.

You’re also doing some really cool festivals this year, too! I saw the End of the Road lineup, and then today Sasquatch was announced!

Yeah and Jenny’s on there too! But she’s at the very top and I’m like…*points down* (laughs)

A friend of mine told me she saw you back in Harrisonburg one time…

At a house show?!

Yeah, and you were playing with one of the original members of Diarrhea Planet?

Yes! Evan Donohue! We did like a duo-tour where we did drumset, guitar, and then we would switch, so I would play drums on his songs and he would do mine. It was such a fun show.

Your album just came out and you just toured with multiple bands, so when were you able to write the album?

Well, what’s interesting is I recorded this record in 2012. So it’s been done.

It was done at Spacebomb in 2012?

Yeah, so Spacebomb was just an idea when I wanted to work with them, like a very well thought out idea, but no one had any idea if it was actually gonna work, like, “Oh, are we crazy? We’re making this huge project, and this big sound, and not many people are doing that.” Especially for like pop/modern music, ya know? So for various reasons, it just kept getting pushed, and pushed, and it just wasn’t the right time. So then, I just really took that opportunity, those years that I knew it wasn’t going to come out, I joined other bands, played as much as I could, wrote as much as I could, recorded two more records: one with Seth Kauffman, from Floating Action, and Benny, the three of us recorded a record, then did one in Nashville, with me and my friend Mike Odmark, and his brother is in Jars of Clay, so we got to use the Jars of Clay’s studio for that. So I recorded two more records, just kinda kept busy, and then I hit kind of like a dark period, like I’m working so hard and nothing’s really happening and I haven’t released anything yet and I don’t have money to release anything, ya know?

There’s so much that goes into releasing an album. I wish it was just like, you could put it online and everybody just naturally catches it, but you can’t do that. I have done that, and it kind of just disappears. And everybody knew that this record was worth putting a lot of time and resources into, and Spacebomb didn’t really have those resources yet… I sure didn’t have those resources, but it took a few years to build that, so then I joined Jenny’s band, I was reaching a point of almost giving up, and I was like, “I need to do something else! I need to get my mind off music for a little bit, I’m kind of going crazy.” So I started making the dog clothes, it was just fun for me, and it was still creative, and I love animals, so it was just really fun. And then it was like, “Alright I’m in my late-twenties now... Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? The record is still not out. Is it ever going to come out?” So many emotions, ya know?

Then I got the call to audition for Jenny’s band, and was like, “Ok yeah, I need to keep playing. This is a really amazing opportunity for me, it’ll be great to be playing for such an amazing artist that I look up to.” And when I got the gig and I knew it was going to be a commitment for a long period of time, a lot of people were like, “Are you giving up on your own career?” And it was like, “I don’t think so, but I don’t know, maybe! We’ll see what happens!” ya know?

I’ve learned that with being a musician, you can’t expect anything. If you wanna be an artist, you can have a plan, but it’s never going to work out the way you see it. You’re gonna get there some weird way that you never even knew existed. You just have to be really open and willing to just go with anything. And I had no idea how people would perceive the record, ya know? ‘Cause it’s kinda out there in a lot of ways.

It is unique! But now it’s out and you’re getting nothing but good response from what I’ve seen.

(laughs) It’s been like insane! It feels good, but I’m also like, well… the negative stuff will come in eventually, ya know? It’s so nice, and I’m trying to enjoy it, but it’s also like, keep working and stay focused and not everyone is gonna love it, but you know that anyway when you release a piece of work.

Well, you got out of the dark spot! So when I ordered a hoodie for Brutus, you also sent an EP and I listened to it, and then noticed two songs carried over to the album, so how much earlier was the EP recorded? Or is that what came from the album since it couldn’t be released right away?

It’s so funny, that EP was just kind of thrown together for a tour that I did while we were tracking the record, I just needed something to sell. The recordings are kind of random, some of them are more unfinished than others. I recorded, I think, between the whole EP, at four different studios and then was like, “This is kinda cool, I like these songs.” And I knew the record wouldn’t be out for a while, so I kinda just kept giving it out and I knew it wasn’t reaching a ton of people.

Like I said, two songs did carry over, and it had been a year since I had listened to it last, and then the album came out, I listened to that, and then came back to the EP to see the difference.

It’s so different!

Yeah, it’s crazy! The album is so orchestral and you had all of the resources from Spacebomb and their house band. How it was to make all that with so many people and so many instruments?

Unnnnnnreal. It was so much fun! And at the time I was like, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to do this again. It’s almost like when you go on a trip to a different country, and you’re like, “I need to soak this in and take a ton of pictures and make sure I never forget this ‘cause this is really special.” It kinda had that same feeling, like all these people, all these amazing musicians, together, making this one record. That never happens anymore, especially on my level. Especially back then, it was just a bunch of people that believed in this label and what Matt White was trying to do for the community. It was really unbelievable to be a part of. Everyday was so exciting, like, “Oh! There’s going to be a vibraphone player today! Oh, there’s going to be a harpist in today! French horn player…”

It was one thing to listen to the record all the way through and then to watch the Bird of Prey video, when now where you actually see it all, it was like, “Damn! A lot went into this!”

(laughs) Yeah, like a month and a half of tracking! It was great ‘cause I got into Richmond to start tracking, it’s a 10-hour drive from Nashville to Richmond, and Matt had a cookbook, ‘cause I love cooking… I was called the ‘Spacebomb Nutritionist’ and was always feeding everybody… So there was the cookbook, a really nice welcoming letter, and an outline, like a stapled outline, of everyday, the times everybody is going to be coming in and out. It was amazing, like, “Yes! This is how you make a record!”

Yeah, it’s huge! So, who’s in your touring band right now? Is it people that helped record?

Yeah, it is! Well, Trey Pollard, the co-producer of the album did all of the string arrangements and he’s playing guitar, keys, and background vocals. I’m so excited he’s playing with me! He’s so good! So it’s just a four-piece including myself, so it’s really different, but I think that’s really exciting as a listener. I feel like a lot of people when they hear an album and they go to a live show, they want it to sound just like the record, but with me…

It’s impossible!

Yeah! My record, it is impossible, unless I had like a Steely Dan budget or something… (laughs) Yeah, so I think it’s exciting. So, obviously, the arrangements have become such a part of the music and the songs themselves, so we are integrating some of the riffs and we’re playing horn melodies, but on guitar and keys, but it works. It’s different, but we just make it appropriate for what we can do with four people and the guys are insane musicians, so it’s pretty cool.

-Alec Moss