This interview was originally posted at rootnode.org on Wednesday, July 4th, at 18:20:21 EDT. You can see what it originally looked like, here.
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Natalie Imbruglia Interview
|A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to arrange an informal-interview with popstar Natalie Imbruglia. She's been busy working on the follow-up to her 1998 multi-platinum debut Left of the Middle and graciously offered to take a break and answer a few questions for rootnode.
rootnode: Hello. What up.
Nat: Hi rootnode. Thanks very much for asking me to do this. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to my fans (or my enemies) outside of the mega corporate machine. Please don't dwell too much on my spelling. :) As Gran always used to say, "Spelling doesn't stick; Spells do."
rootnode: I'd like to begin by hearing some of your feelings about the record industry. At fourteen you auditioned for a girlie-pop
group and were offered a solo record contract. It was a classic "run a
cute girl through the corporate machine and sell a few million albums" deal.
Your instinct warned you of the short
sightedness of the contract and you declined. Years later you sign with
BMG and release Left of the Middle.
How did the original deal differ from the BMG offer? Do you feel BMG gave you a fair say as to who would do
sessionwork on your album, who would produce it, what the final product would be?
Nat: Record companies can be a vicious place, full of slinky snakes and evil dingoes. The few noble kangaroos that circulate are vastly outnumbered by nasty crocs and dumb orangu-tangs, not to mention the sleazy wallabees and wicked wombats. Metaphorically speaking, you're always dipping your hand into a gucky pouch, or trying to find some more bunyips to hurl at the Opera House. When I was younger, I had that whole experience with a bad contract. It's very easy to become snared into such things - the appeal of a record deal is very large. Luckily for me, some very good advisors, and friends, gave me the wise advice to turn it down. Then I had that really groovy experience playing beth on neighbours... Later, I signed with BMG in a far more normal contract - it's not brilliant, but it's really quite generous. For the first album, of course, things were a lot more stringent on me and the deal wasn't that good, but BMG has been very supportive. Especially with the album I'm working on now. (Tentatively called "Arrr").
rootnode: The role of the producer in contemporary music is interpreted in a variety
of ways. Mark Plati, who worked with you on a few tracks from your first
album, briefly describes the job of a producer as follows,
"The producer is the one responsible for overseeing the recording process
and ensuring that the vision of what the song could be is realized."
From your experiences with different producers, what do they do?
How important do you think they are in helping you create your music?
How much of an impact does a producers personal style have on the final
Nat: Producers are terrific. The ones I've had the good fortune of working with - from Ric Ocasek to Ziggy Marley to Mark Plati, have all been cuddly bears and fantastic to collaborate with. They have this wealth of experience that they bring to the table and inject into your songs. They often add weird things you wouldn't think to use, like bubbly sounds, harmonica, or drums. Now that I'm writing all my own stuff, I'll have something written out for piano or whatever, and they'll be able to help me transpose it to something bigger. With drums.
rootnode:You've said that the creation of the first album had a lot of
experimentation on it, a journey to help you discover your own sound. How
would you describe the true texture of your music, or is
it dumb to try?
If BMG built a studio in your home and said "Send us an album in a year, we'll release it." What would that record be like? Who would play with you on it?
Nat: My music is part Frank Sinatra, part Bob Dylan, part Fiona Apple, and part Lord Ernest Rutherford. I like to sing, I like good lyrics, I'm a girl, and I'm a New Zealander. (Well, I live in Oz, and lived most of my life here, but most Aussies are really New Zealanders. 90% or something like that.) It's all about being sad and happy at the same time, angry and gentle, fast and slow, melodic and harmonic. It's all about contrasts, y'know? Like the way night is different than day - that's what makes the day special.
My dream record would be very, very different from what I've been doing. If I didn't have to worry about what other people would think or say (which I do), I think I'd really try to get down to my roots. I would travel around and record the voices of all sorts of people, especially beautiful ones. Then I'd have this album of "songs by beautiful people" that would be really amazing. People would see how beautiful the people were, and how well they could sing, and they'd wish they were like that and aspire to be beautiful too. The whole world would be overcome with this big craze to become beautiful and everyone's self-esteem would skyrocket. Goodwill would float down from the heavens. :) People need more beauty in their lives. I could help do that.
rootnode: Since the release of your last album you've had a few years to write and
have created a lot of material. How do you journey from the song in your
mind to the final cut on the album? How do you know when a track is
Nat: It's not easy to put your finger on what completes a song. It's somewhere between the practical and the sublime, almost a matter of faith. I read somewhere that Janis Joplin used to wait for a message from Jesus before being satisfied with a track. For me, a song's done when I pray to Buddha and ask, "Is it well?", and the Godhead answers, "It is well", in his own way. Or when the song's good. Whichever comes first. Sometimes it's the Buddha, and sometimes it's the song. "Torn" was a case of "It is well". A new song, "Lover Stone", was a case of "it's good". Sometimes I know, sometimes the Buddha needs to tell me. Thank goodness he does. Religion is very important to me.
rootnode: What are some things that you admire in the way of live performances? Would
you like your shows to be polished and the songs to run the length of the
album tracks? or do you prefer a loose jam style concert? When do you
decide the concert should end?
Nat: I really enjoy concerts. Gran used to say, "Livelier events bring down the hogs." It's true. When your shows are good people really start to understand what you're saying in your songs. A show is good if the audience likes it - performing for others really isn't about yourself. When I first started doing shows, I was terrified. I was so comfortable in the studio, just fiddling about with myself, but as soon as I was out in front of people it was capital frightening.
In terms of encores, I usually flee towards the green room. The rock encore is sort of obligatory though - at least one - so I'm normally expecting greg (my manager) or one of the crew to call me back. It's second encores that actually mean something (cause they're rare), they only happen when the crowd sticks around and remains excited. Someone usually has to come and get me from my room, because I don't stick around - it's too scary and disappointing if they don't call you and you're just hanging about.
I don't really like "jamming" per se. With my band, I try to encourage something we've come to call "jelly". Jelly is something we eat in Australia - it's sort of like jam, only rufus, and scrudgier. A "jelly" session is one that spontaneously goes into a jam, if the moment feels right. I'll scat and prance about like Bjork or John Tesh while the band brings down the groove. I hate those bands that seem obligated to jam and who have written on their setlist "Song 4: Two Step (JAM!)". (not to name names) Jellies are far more spontaneous and don't come across as forced.
rootnode: You mentioned your interest in synthesizers and other technologies in modern music, what sort of new sounds would you like to experiment with on your upcoming album?
Nat:Yip, I don't know about "synthesizers", but I really dig electronica. Radiohead's new albums have been fantastic, and I really liked what the Backstreet Boys started to do on "The Answer to Our Life". Injecting techno-bleeps into conventional pop is really exciting, and I really want to explore it when I have the chance. I'm really into that.
One of the other things I've gotten really into the last year has been indigenous sounds. Tribal drums, throat singing, etc. The Maori and other aboriginal peoples have a "rich musical tradition", as gran used to say, and i've incorporated lots of that stuff into my music. I'm also really into animals these days, so i've been inviting a lot of creatures into the studio. Recording the proud calls of koalas and kookaburras, bringing it into my songs. Nature is very cool!
rootnode: Of all the things you've written in the past years- what is your favorite and why?
Nat: I think my favourite thing that I've written is a new song called "Bassoon". Even though it's called "Bassoon" there aren't any bassoons in it. It started with me thinking about how amazing an instrument the bassoon is, and how I should write a song about it. Bassoons are so silly, but they can be so mournful too. Then I thought, "Wouldn't it be funny if we didn't actually use the sound of a bassoon anywhere in the piece?" And we didn't. It's HILARIOUS! and touching at the same time. It's a song about love. Love's like a bassoon. Sometimes it's low and takes a lot out of you, but sometimes it can fly around and be beautiful and melodic (like at the beginning of Rite of Spring). The vocal part is really gorgeous, especially in the chorus ("Bassoon, fly so high, sink to the depths then rise..."). It's a very heartfelt, romantic song, but not really sexy. Contrabassoons are more sexy. "Arrr" has got a lot of slinky songs though. It's much more adult than LotM. Greg thinks I've matured, but I think that's all bosh, I'm just less nervous.
rootnode: I've read that you have sort of an embarassing CD collection. Name 5 CD's
that you are most ashamed of and say why you bought them.
Nat: Ok. Five. here goes.
1001 Pianos: "How Many Pianists Does It Take To Screw In A Light-bulb? 1001!". I bought this album because I was reading an article on 1001 Pianos before they played at the Sydney Olympics and I noticed that one of the guys in the band has the same last name as me. Imbruglia's pretty uncommon... Anyway, being a paranoid music nut with too many gift certificates I thought, "Maybe he's related!", bought the CD, and well, it's really really terrible!
Jimmy Ray: "Jimmy Ray". He was on Leno the same night as me.
Ink and Dagger: "Ink and Dagger". I only bought this because someone from Buddyhead.com emailed me and said I should. It sucks.
C+C Music Factory... I really love "Everybody dance now", dancing to it, it's a great song, and it's so VIBRANT that it seems to touch on the very nature of the human spirit. But, I seem to be the only one who thinks so. :) Also, "Things that make you go hmm" reminds me of one of my past relationships. I like to listen to it when I'm in a relationship because it grounds me and keeps me on my toes.
Autechre: "EP7". I know, I know. Minimalist British techno is so 1994, but this record just gets into my bones and ensures that my day will be happy. It's a great Christmas morning album. December-ee.
rootnode: In the spirit of rootnode, talk about an album that you really like.
Nat: The Lucksmiths have this fantastic album, Why Doesn't That Surprise Me. I think it was released last year. The Lucksmiths are positively huuge in Australia, they have the same sort of rabid fans that Dave Matthews has in North-America. Their albums get radio play, etc etc, even though nobody I've ever spoken to outside of Australia knew who they were. In any case, the Lucksmiths are a tremendous pop group that perform the smart, melodic, Beatles sort of pop music, rather than the inane, manufactured pop of N*Sync or Bardot. One day I'd really like to work with them, or at least make an album as good as them. Writing it entirely on my own, doing all the instruments...
But anyway, the album. The disc is this collection of fourteen positively delicious songs that live somewhere between Belle and Sebastian and Optiganally Yours. The singer is also the drummer (his name is Tali White) and he eagerly (and sweetly) sings over songs chock full of puns and witty, touching moments. Jangly guitars and infectious, catchy melodies blend with groovy instrumentation (horns etc) that doesn't stray too far from its roots. Or become too weird/indulgent. I think the whole band writes and they certainly all have their role. All together the album is one of those pop albums that feels at home no matter what the time of year it is, or how many times you've listened to it before. "Self-preservation" is unflinchingly happy, with trumpets and a giddy drumbeat - ach! It's just incredible, scrumptious pop music. It's what pop should be, - la-dee-da but still carrying meaning, and heart. Buy it!
On another website, I said that I was really liking the new Nelly Furtado album. A warning to everyone: it gets stale pretty quickly!
This has been a pleasure. :) Hope it gives you guys (and girls? Hopefully?) some well overdue attention.
We at rootnode thank Natalie for taking time out of her schedule to do an interview. For more on Natalie's upcoming projects check out her official website. The Mark Plati quote was an excerpt from an interview he did with www.imbruglia.com.