Interview: Nataly Dawn
Every time Nataly Dawn sings, she takes a breath away from the hundreds flocking to her YouTube videos and live streaming concerts, leaving them gasping and speechless in the face of fun loving, accessible indie jazz styled folk. As half of the internet sensation Pomplamoose with her long time partner and collaborator Jack Conte she’s helped rack up innumerable hits for their patented “VideoSongs” and unique covers of well known recordings. It’s an unsurprising miracle then that her first solo release How I Knew Her, recorded at Prairie Sun Studios, was funded by the good generosity of fans in the sum of more than $100,000.
Not only will she be promoting the album with a tour supporting Ben Folds Five in February, but she also recently signed with None Such Records, who’ve wonderfully boosted her overseas presence with a nominated track on BBC 6 Music’s Rebel playlist, a performance on BBC London and interviews aplenty. Grabbing a slot in the latter, DrunkenWerewolf sent Graham Ashton to meet with Nataly at her London hotel, hoping to find out how letting go of the familiar fruit moose’s antlers has worked out for her and her music.
How I Knew Her has been advertised as being 68% autobiographical, but give me an idea which brand of autobiographical that is: depressing or childhood stories?
I would err more on the side of depressing stories just because the songs were written over the course of these two years that were fairly difficult, and I was processing a lot of what was going on. But honestly, I don’t like the term autobiographical, because it makes it sound like I’m talking about what happened in my life, which is just not what it is. It really is about processing things that were going on. There are a few songs that are stories about family members; the title track is a story about my grandmother’s life, but that was because I feel like her story was one that never got told because she was such a quiet, introverted, selfless person and in order to imagine her life you just have to… It’s not even autobiographical because I’m just imagining and trying to recall the things that were told to me about her.
How well were you able to adapt to the idea of session musicians and working in a full studio environment, given the more humble recording environment that Pomplamoose was born in, or rather grown out of?
You’re right; it was something completely different from what Pomplamoose has done in the past. I mean Pomplamoose does basically no live tracking. We overdub everything. We record one instrument after the next. We start with drums, and then piano, and keys and we go from there. What I envisioned was a room of people playing music together, and I wanted it to feel more live. So I put together my dream team of players basically, and ended up with Matt Chamberlain on drums, as well as a close friend Louis Cole, David Piltch on upright bass, Ryan Lerman who’s just a really phenomenal guitarist, he plays everything, and then Jack producing everything. We had ten days to do all of the live tracking, and we went into it with eighteen songs and ended up with twelve songs on the album. So it was a completely different process and definitely the first few days were pretty rocky, but we ended up figuring it all out as we went and it turned out great.
It was great to see that even though you recorded these tracks at the Prairie Sun Studios, which is a pretty professional place with lots of delicate and breakable things, there would still be video songs. Was that something you wanted right off the bat?
Going into this, I wasn’t planning on being signed onto a label and having anybody pushing the album. I was planning on doing what Pomplamoose has done in the past, which is putting out videos for each song. So we ended up filming the entire thing. I actually had a professional camera crew come out and I spent some money on props as well, setting up the whole studio, because whilst Prairie Sun is a very nice professional studio, it’s also a converted hen house. In fact in the studio sometimes the hens and roosters will just trot into the studio whilst you’re recording, and it’s like “get out!”…Which is fun.
That’s a really good question. I mean honestly, if I could have my druthers I would just record in my pyjamas at night, with no makeup and I would just look like a slob and not think about it because that’s really what I would prefer to do. But because we’re all performing live in a room and I wanted each video to seem different in some way, even though it’s all happening in the same space, I had a wardrobe and I would put on a different dress and do my make up for each song. And it really was a performance, more than even the videos in the past. Like I said, we had a major lighting situation, great cameras and obviously two people manning the cameras and directing everything.
I didn’t want it to be about the video. The recording is the most important part, but I think in some odd way the fact that it was a performance added to the recording.
Obviously the reason you were able to record at such a place was because of your amazingly successful Kickstarter campaign. When the donations really started to mass and rack up, did you have one of those ‘just spat out my coffee’ type moments?
I was very addicted to the whole refreshing the page and watching the numbers go up!
It only took me a couple of days to reach my goal of $20,000, and then after that I kept on putting out videos because it was like “I know it’s gonna cost me more than $20,000…” Not that it takes more than $20,000 to make a good record, it doesn’t, but I knew the kind of players I wanted to have, and I knew where I wanted to record it and I just knew that it was going to cost a lot of money. And I was wrong: it cost really a lot of…like more money than I ever anticipated. Anyhow, point being I’m really glad that I kept pushing it and putting out videos and telling people to go to Kickstarter, and I’m really glad that we had the fan base that we have, and that they were eager to see what I could do as a solo project even though they knew it wasn’t Pomplamoose.
The whole campaign comes on top of your music largely being discovered through YouTube. People love to describe stuff like that as ‘innovative’. Would you agree?
I think when we started out Pomplamoose was in the right place at the right time, and when we started out everything was new. If a guy was sitting in his room, playing the guitar it could have a million hits, just because people were fascinated with the fact that “oh my goodness someone’s putting this on the internet”. Now no one cares. No ones like “oh my gosh he’s in his room! Playing guitar! This is fantastic!”
Now it’s more like “He’s from South Korea!”
[Laughs] Yeah exactly! So it’s amazing how much has changed and how much is just standard now. But at the time, yeah it was something different. We weren’t the first people obviously to be doing it, but Jack was, I think, the person who figured out that by making videosongs you were making something fast, easy and satisfying for the viewer and it was just a quick and efficient way of getting your music out there. And he was right, so we’re still doing it.
Prior to Pomplamoose, you did an Art Major up at Stanford University. To avoid the question, “When did you decide you wanted to be a professional, or a serious musician”, instead, what is it that first made you think, “Hey, maybe this could work out”?
I didn’t come from a family that was well off so there was never that feeling of like “Oh well my parents will just support me no matter what” you know? I always had this sense of “I’m an only child, I need to have a job, I need to have a career, I need to be making money” because I just felt like I didn’t want to be a spoilt brat basically, and just rely on my parents. So I was pretty much set against becoming a musician.
It wasn’t until I met Jack in college, and Jack was like, “You really are gifted at this and you need to invest in your music”, that’s when I started just spending all of my spare time basically doing this. And I think it was because he had discovered YouTube and was just like “this is a way for you to get your music out there” and I was like oh, maybe I’m not being irresponsible by pursuing this. Even by the end of college, before Pomplamoose had put out “Single Ladies”, my parents felt like the band was doing well; we’d been featured on the front page of YouTube, we had 8000 subscribers and they were like “this is really good, you guys have been doing well. You should postpone that job in marketing and maybe do some work on the band. We won’t be able to provide for you for long but just try it for now.” And they gave me six months to be making a living on music and by five months… I was. So it was just an incredible moment.
To focus on Pomplamoose for these last few questions, you and Jack announced a little while ago your new album would be ‘elecktronicky’, or ‘electro nicky’.
Did the change find you guys, or was there this pent up need to give the band a new spin?
I think we were feeling a lot of pressure. 2009 and 2010 were really big years for Pomplamoose, and we grew so much and people started paying attention to us. Lots of people were telling us what we needed to do, and we got overwhelmed by the business side of the band and just decided that rather than let it suck all of the life out of it we were just going to take time away from it and just give Pomplamoose some room and work on our solo projects for a bit. And when we finally started coming back to Pomplamoose and working together on it, which was actually quite difficult because it’d started to sort of make us anxious, it wasn’t really fun anymore. So we came back to it and we were like we’ve got to make this fun again. This has got to be an outlet for us, it can’t be something that we feel like “oh we need to take our craft seriously” cause we do that with our solo stuff, and with Pomplamoose we really just want to have a good time.
But honestly, I don’t know exactly what our next album is going to be because it hasn’t happened yet. What I know is that whatever it is it will involve the things that we’ve been interested in recently, and for Jack that has been electronic music, so it probably will have electronic elements to it. But it probably won’t be dub step.
Whilst it might be a little sad and frustrating that doing anything outside of Pomplamoose can cause chaos, it must also be quite refreshing to know that people don’t just recognize the Pomplamoose name, they recognise you guys?
Yeah they do. They do recognise the two people, but they’re also attached to Jack and I as an entity, a lot of them are. I mean obviously the fact that my project was funded as a solo project means that there are people out there who are interested in my solo work, apart from Jack, that they want to see what I can do as an artist. I think a lot of them at the same time though feel like “well I’m more interested in Pomplamoose than I am in your solo stuff, so I really hope you start doing that soon…” which I understand, but people often times want what they’re familiar with, and hopefully when they’re more familiar with my solo stuff they won’t be asking about the ‘bearded guy’ anymore because the bearded guy also has his own solo stuff too.
Were there any parallels between the way you’d work with Jack in Pomplamoose and the way you worked with him as your producer for “How I Knew Her”?
Yeah it was quite different, actually. Originally I hadn’t planned on having Jack produce the album because I didn’t want people to be saying “oh this is like some semi-Pomplamoose album”, because it really isn’t. I wrote all the songs, and Pomplamoose’s songs are collaborations.
So there was the fact I came to Jack with finished songs, they were just on guitar and voice and they needed to be filled out with production, but they were finished. And then we got together and we started deciding how they needed to be arranged, basically what verses, what choruses…how to organize everything. He’s very good at orchestrating strings and horns and thinking about how the album would build, how the songs would build.
And then in the studio he was extremely hands on. He was so good at communicating with all the musicians, but he himself, while he does play on the album, the stuff that he ended up playing was all overdubs. So after we recorded for ten days in the studio, got all the live tracking done, we went back to our home studio and he started filling out the songs basically, fine tuning everything. Getting that extra 2%, well actually at the beginning it was more like that extra 20%, of stuff recorded and he really filled out the songs.
Last question, what would you say is yours and Jack’s biggest goal for 2013?
Assuming the album release goes well in February, I mean this upcoming year is going to involve a lot of touring for my solo project. And by the end of that, probably after summer has passed, which seems a long, long way away, then I think there’s a chance Jack and I will get together and do something Pomplamoose related. But it’s really hard to tell, right now, what’s going to happen this year.