We were lucky enough to catch up with Los Angeles-based artist Natalie Nicole Gilbert, following the release of ‘Vincent (Starry Starry Night)’. Read our in depth interview here.
How did you first get into music?
I was really fortunate to grow up in a very musical family. My mother was a professional pianist, and everyone assumed I would follow in her footsteps, but they were big shoes to fill. It made me quite shy at first about playing the piano as I knew I would be compared to her, and she had played with Liberace and had a master’s degree in music.
I would often sneak off during church services she was playing for and play the piano in the church basement, but eventually started playing publicly in my teens with new music I’d written.
What is the first song that captured your attention as a youngster?
Radio was still big when I was a kid, so I soaked up everything on the air and especially loved oldies music. It was so timeless, and I’ve always felt like a bit of an old soul that related more to the older songs.
I enjoy bringing the seeds of those classics into my newer music and melding it with newer instrumentation and sounds.
Who influenced your latest release?
A lot of soul artists. I grew up listening to a lot of Whitney and Mariah and vintage jazz. I also did the reverse of what many indie artists do, which is starting with covers and eventually branching off into their own original music; instead, I have 12 CDs of my original music under my belt, so this has been my first real foray into doing covers and reimagining them in a different era.
It’s been hard work but very fun to see the end result, and I’ve been so lucky to work with artists and instrumentalists with a lengthy background in film scoring and composition, and that soundtrack quality really comes through in these singles.
What motivates you to make music?
I think music is healing. It reaches places that can’t be soothed by anything else.
What are your other passions aside from music?
I love to dance; I grew up in ballet, modern and jazz classes and those also influenced a lot of the early music I grew up on ranging from classical to show tunes to rock.
If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
This idea that labels and genres are necessary. The best artists always cross genres. No artist out there who’s been around for more than ten years has buried their noses in one sound or style, one bpm or one flavour.
It would be like eating your favourite meal three times a day for the rest of your life. Variety is the spice of life, and if we don’t let that come through in our music, it grows stale.
What is the best music advice you have ever been given?
Generally to not wait until you feel like something is finished and perfect before you release it. Listeners like some imperfections; if it’s tweaked and polished too much, it loses all the emotion, and it feels manufactured.
What new music are you listening to at the moment?
It’s Grammy season, so I’m listening to a lot of albums my Recording Academy peers are sending my way, a lot of new age and instrumental works this year.
I love listening to soundtracks, even for movies I haven’t seen. I love the stuff that tells a story, even or especially without lyrics.
I worked in radio for a long stretch of time, so I get bored with songs that are three minutes long and try to hit all the right commercial notes. Film soundtracks and compilations are a great escape from all of that because it’s not about what sells, it’s about what fits the story and what creates the right mood or vibe.
What musical plans do you have for the next two years?
Since my mom passed a few years ago I’ve been working toward a tribute project of the songs she raised me on, retro jazz and stage standards – some that are very well known and others that only those who perform in a lot of theatre or broadway circles would know.
A lot of indie artists do covers to help them get discovered, but I like covering lesser-known songs for the opposite reason – to help the songs become better known. There’s a treasure trove of dusty vinyl songs out there that the hipsters and people reinitiating vinyl have begun to re-explore. I don’t think the lifespan of those songs should perish just because the writers or initial performers have passed on.
Speaking of art by artists who have long since passed, what made you cover ‘Vincent (Starry Starry Night)’ specifically?
I’ve spent many summers taking college courses at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and took a class on the Anatomy of a Pop Song there a couple of summers ago. We were asked to select a legacy song to research and present, and I chose this song by Don McLean.
I’ve always loved Vincent van Gogh’s paintings and took that opportunity to read more of his biography. It was interesting because unfortunately – like so many artists – he wasn’t fully appreciated while he was alive. Ultimately the world came to know his paintings due to the dedication of his sister-in-law who threw herself into preserving and distributing his work after Vincent and his brother (her husband) died in the span of the same year. Selling Vincent’s paintings helped this widow stay afloat.
It was interesting to compare and contrast the picture she painted of Vincent and the ideas the rest of the art world held about him both then and now.
You can read letters Vincent wrote to his brother Theo and various reports about the health of both brothers at the time. There’s this sadness underneath it all not only because of how both brothers perished but also because if it had been a different time medicine and society could have better met them in that moment, they could have lived much longer.
I did have the chance while I was in Paris last summer to see a special light exhibition of Van Gogh’s works set to music, projected in 360 degrees in a warehouse.
You can see some of the videos on my Instagram. It was so breathtaking. As things slowly reopen, I highly recommend catching one of those presentations at L’Atelier des Lumières. They were just about to open an exhibit on Monet’s works when lockdowns began, which I was sad to miss.
FV Music Blog September 2020
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