ABOVE: NATALIE PRASS. PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAWN BRACKBILL
Only days after submitting an audition recorded on her iPhone, singer/songwriter Natalie Prass was selected to tour with Jenny Lewis for eight months. So while Prass may have first gained recognition as a backup singer for Lewis, now, with the release of her self-titled debut LP via Spacebomb and Columbia Records, it’s clear that the Virginia native’s music stands on its own. Her longtime friend (and founder of Spacebomb Records) Matthew E. White co-produced Natalie Prass, which is infused with hints of lost love, ’70s soul and folk, and chillingly harmonized vocals that induce goose bumps. Tracks like “Bird of Prey” and “Why Don’t You Believe In Me” are filled with lyrical sadness, but uplifting melodies tempt the listener to think otherwise.
Tonight Prass will play at Bowery Ballroom in New York, so we caught up with her beforehand.
ILANA KAPLAN: Something that I’ve seen in multiple articles about you is that you have the voice of a “Disney princess.” How did that originate?
NATALIE PRASS: It’s so funny because obviously I was never going for that. I think it’s the last song on the record that puts that in people’s heads; I think that song makes people have that connection. I have no problem with it. Who doesn’t love a Disney princess, and who wouldn’t want to be one? Belle is my favorite. She’s the smart, awkward, and adventurous. She doesn’t have too many friends—goes off and hangs out with talking silverware. I think it’s great. [laughs]
KAPLAN: You were on tour with Jenny Lewis. Did you just tour with her solo or did you also tour with Rilo Kiley?
PRASS: No, I just got hired for The Voyager live band for the tour. I didn’t know her at all personally. Through a mutual friend, she recommended me to be her keyboardist and background singer. I got a call from her management randomly in early April . I had to audition via iPhone video. Then a couple of days later, I got the job, and I was sent a huge Dropbox folder of 40 songs. I had to learn them in a week. Then I flew out to L.A. for rehearsals, and then it was pretty non-stop playing with her from April until right around Christmas. It was a whirlwind—it happened really fast, and I’m so glad I did it.
KAPLAN: Would you ever collaborate with Jenny Lewis in the future?
PRASS: Oh man, I’d love to. You never know. She’s so busy, and she has her thing, but are you kidding me? I’d love that. She comes from a different place with songwriting than I do. She’s really into Gram Parsons, but I kind of come from an R&B background. I think that could make for something really interesting. I loved singing with Jenny because we have very similar tonal qualities. It kind of felt like I was singing with my sister—blending with her was really fun. That could be awesome.
KAPLAN: How long was your debut album in the works for?
PRASS: So long. When I sent Matt [E. White] all the songs that I thought could work, I sent him tons of ideas, things that weren’t finished, just me mumbling—really anything. He really sifted out with me what he thought would be a cohesive or interesting project and things that would sound good for Spacebomb. One of the songs I wrote in 2009. He picked ones I just had. I had never recorded a full-length album; I just did some EPs. Then we finished tracking in 2012 and did the mastering in New Jersey with Gene Paul, Les Paul’s son.
There are a lot of reasons as to why it kept getting pushed back. There are a lot of things that happened behind the scenes. Matt had a really strong vision of what he wanted to do and I believed in it. I’ve known Matt for so long that it felt really special to go to Virginia from Nashville and work with him. There’s a lot of trust on both ends. Matt believed in me and my artistry; I believed in him as a producer and Spacebomb. We were both taking a risk on each other. Then Big Inner came out—his first release—and it worked. The album really caught on. It was a huge learning experience for everyone. Everyone had to learn how to put out a record—we’re all just big music nerds—and doing that is completely different.
KAPLAN: Your debut album is about love. It is about one specific relationship or a combination of many?
PRASS: A combination, but of course one person more than others. I do always write from a personal place. It’s always like, “I hope this person is okay,” but I don’t care.
KAPLAN: What was the hardest song for you to record?
PRASS: It’s a tie for “Why Don’t You Believe In Me” and “Christy.” Probably “Why Don’t You Believe In Me” during the tracking process, because I had written the melody and the chords. I had the whole song mapped out, [but] then when we did the pre-production for the record, I hadn’t finished the lyrics yet and I wasn’t entirely sure what they’d be about. Then, me and my boyfriend broke up, so it kind of turned into, “Well, this is what it’s about.” That breakup in the middle of the tracking was a good thing for the songs. It kind of put me in a different place—there was more putting myself out there because you’re not afraid. After a breakup, you’re in a million pieces, so you’re just gonna go for it.
NATALIE PRASS IS PLAYING AT THE BOWERY BALLROOM IN NEW YORK TONIGHT. FOR MORE, VISIT HER WEBSITE.