Celebrating the wave of critical acclaim that has been guided her way recently, McCool has followed it up in the only way she knows how, by unveiling a new work – the empowering new single, ‘Fortress’. A tribal synth-led rallying call to join together and make a difference, as we ‘build our fortress.’ McCool is heading for the big leagues with her sonically brave and lyrically strong artful pop music, and with a new album looming, it is certainly a cool time to be Natalie McCool.
We were able to grab a few moments of her time, away from the glare of her busy schedule and ahead of her performance at Manchester’s Soup Kitchen last weekend. To chat about her recent successes, her forthcoming LP, and her passionate love for performing.
This will be your forth gig in Manchester this year.
Natalie: “This year? Woah! Surely that can’t be right? Really…”
Well you played The Castle…
And you played Band on the Wall
“I did yeah, wow! Loving Manchester. Love it anyway.”
Everyone’s loving you in Manchester as well!
“Yay! That’s awesome.”
That’s a lot of shows in such a short space of time. Have you seen your schedule getting busier after the positive reactions of your latest singles?
“Yeah definitely, I have been so busy. Inconceivably busy… [laughs] It’s good though, I really like doing gigs. Well I don’t just really like it. That’s a massive understatement. I absolutely live for it to be honest. I just love being in the studio and then playing the songs live and just performing live is one of my favourite things ever in the world, so it’s been awesome. And Manchester’s got so many cool venues, and I never really used to play here, so I’ve only just started in the past few years really. So it’s been really cool coming doing gigs here, and everyone’s proper cool as well. It’s a different vibe from Liverpool but it’s just as good, yeah.”
You’ve been working alongside the team at Brighter Sound, mentoring young aspiring musicians and giving masterclasses in guitar. Is it important to you to share what you’ve learned in music and give advice to the younger generation?
“Yeah I think when you’re young, you don’t really know…anything. [Laughs] and you only really learn through experience. I mean formal education is great but actual hard experience is what matters really. So it was nice to just go in and tell me that because there was one girl at the MU event last Tuesday and she was like ‘What’s your best advice for me because I’ve not really started gigging and I’ve written quite a few songs but I’m kinda not very confident’ and I was just like ‘GIG. Go and gig every week seriously’ because you’ll never learn anything if you don’t do that. And you can sit in your bedroom and play your songs but seriously gigging is awesome. Honestly I was like ‘gigging is amazing and you’ll love it.’ It’s nice to be excitable about music because young people respond to that really well. Like someone getting excited about what they do.”
How do you approach teaching a masterclass? It must be a whole different skill to learn?
“Yeah. It’s just got to be a mix of formal and informal I think, because especially when it’s young people. You know, their attention wanders and you can’t blame them because they can’t help it, you know, they’re just kids aren’t they? So you need to keep them interested really and I find the best way to do that is just…respond in a way that they’ll understand. Yeah and get excited about it, because that’s what they wanna see really, they’re just gonna sit there really bored if you do a full-on adult lecture. Yeah, you can’t do that!”
I know over the past year or so, you’ve been branching out a little more and writing songs for other artists. Has writing for commissioned projects changed the way you think about writing songs?
“I don’t know. Well it’s weird because when you’re writing with somebody else, they have a completely different taste system or they might have different tastes to you, it’s very, very weird. And you’ve gotta fall within the boundaries of that, you know what I mean? So they could just do something that you’re like ‘umm, I don’t know about that’ but you’ve just gotta go with it because you’re both in the session, you’ve both got to do it. I don’t really write to briefs, it’s just co-writing with another artist or a producer, which is quite free[ing] as well [comparing it to writing music for herself]. It’s just the same, but they’ve got different tastes so you gotta be careful of what you write.”
You’ve spoken before about the way you approached the new material, that is was a completely different process to what you had done previously. From writing the songs to a bass line and very little guitar, working with a new producer and recording in two different places, do you feel that your experience producing this new album will inform the way you approach making a record in the future?
“Yeah I think I’ll probably change it up for the next one actually, because I really enjoy writing to a bass line because it’s not like a set harmony. So if you play a chord, there’s a harmony there in the chord but with a bass note, it’s just a bit more open, which I quite like. And it’s cooler because you can come up with riffs, a very simple riff on a bass line which is grooving and might be better than if you did it on guitar. It’s easier for me to do that, even though I don’t play bass…my ears like bass [laughs]. So it’s simpler to write on bass than guitar, I think because on guitar I just get distracted by…the guitar! And that sometimes might take away from the song so that’s why I like bass. Probably will stick with that for the next few.”
I feel there’s been quite a dramatic shift in where you’re taking the music sonically with the new music. It feels like you’ve embraced freedom almost, the sonics are brighter and the vocals are playful, yet still hold the weight and complexity of your earlier work lyrically and texturally, but especially tracks like ‘Cardiac Arrest’ seem to be treading the fine line between the alternative world and a more commercially pop-orientated sound. Do you feel that this is the case?
“Yeah definitely. I love ‘Cardiac Arrest’ you know, I just love it so much and I think it’s fine because I’ve got all these more serious songs, and ‘Cardiac Arrest’ is the most playful one, I think. Every other song is actually quite meaningful I’d say but you know, ‘Cardiac Arrest’ it’s not just all out commercial. The lyrics are quite playful in a way that it’s talking about the body, I think that’s really cool, that’s why I really like it because it does tread that fine line and that’s what I really like. I like to have the best of both worlds a little bit.”
My favourite is ‘Pins’.
“Yeah I love ‘Pins’. That’s my favourite one to play live definitely.”
Were you inspired by different things this time around when working on the new tracks?
“Normally I’m inspired by relationships with different people or other people’s relationships with each other. I’m such a people watcher when it comes to that type of thing [laughs]. I really like delving into people, like what makes them tick and things. So songs like ‘Fortress’…I had to write a PR blurb about it the other day and I literally got into depths that I never had previously even realised, I was like ’actually I know what this song is about and it’s not even about a romantic relationship’ it’s about my own mind. Isn’t that mad that I can just write a song, but then realise later what it’s about? It’s crazy. So it’s mainly people, the self and relationships [that inspire me] and I think this album was especially inspired by a relationship that I had so a lot of the songs are about that, but some of the new songs are about different things. Not romantic related, so it’s a nice breadth of stuff.”
Songwriting is an outlet. It allows you to express your innermost thoughts, feelings and beliefs to the world. What is it that drives you to write a song?
“Not feeling happy. You know what, I wrote ‘Cardiac Arrest’ when I was feeling rotten, how mad is that?”
Some of the best things come out of sadness.
“Yeah because I just needed to write something nice and quite light, and playful because I felt so rotten. I don’t even know why, I just remember I was like ‘I need to write! I need to write!’ So most of my songs are written when I’m feeling something very deeply. Although ‘Fortress’…because I had to write another song for the album, and then ‘Fortress’ just came out, so it’s kinda like a mix of when I have to write and then when I really need to.”
‘Fortress’ is your new single.
A bold empowering song that talks of encouragement and strength in numbers, taking inspiration from the song‘s message. Where is the place that you feel the most powerful and assured, and secure?
“Where is the place? Ohhhhh. [pauses, and then starts to dance to the buzzing hum of the band that is soundchecking in the live room downstairs as it radiates upwards to us]
I don’t know, you know. Probably in bed, you know when you’ve just not woken up fully? I always go off into this mad little dream world, where I’m not quite awake and not quite asleep, where anything is possible. So probably there.”
I feel like 2016 will be a very exciting year for you, with every new release you seem to be building and building, and each song shows a different side to you as an artist. So what is the plan going ahead this year?
“Well I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but there’s gonna be loads more gigs, towards the end of the year. I’m doing a cool little house tour as well, before I do the rest of the gigs and then I think my album’s coming out, pretty sure. It’s all ready. So we’ve got ‘Fortress’ then probably the album. Then just festivals, which I’m really happy about.”
Natalie’s latest single ‘Fortress’ is out now. Buy it on iTunes here.