Ensconced in Berlin on a summer European tour, Natalie Prass sounds bright and cheerful – and with good reason.
Her self-titled debut album may have spent three years on the shelf while its producer established his own career but since its release in January 29-year-old Prass, from Richmond, Virginia, has finally been given her due.
She admits the wait was “most definitely” frustrating.
“It’s hard to even put into words what that experience was like, after putting so much love and time and thought into and then [there were] just so many reasons why we weren’t ready to release it, that was a very difficult time.
“I’m somebody who has to continue to keep busy and keep my creative process going or I feel like I’m going crazy, but every artist battles with ‘what am I doing? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?’ I have had those thoughts in my head before but if felt really intense that last year.”
Casting around for alternative ways of making a living, she started her own pet clothing company, Analogue Dog – inspired by a Boston terrier she rescued. “He got really cold and I didn’t like all the clothes that were for sale at the stores and I thought, ‘I’ll just make him something’. I ended up making him a bunch of little sweatshirts then I started making them for my friends’ dogs as presents.” The idea took off and she started selling them via a Facebook page.
But music came calling again when she was hired to join former Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis’ touring band. “That was the most I’d ever been in the professional music scene up to that point,” Prass says. She might have toured “and done all that” before – including a stint in Nashville as a jobbing songsmith – but playing with an established performer, she realised: “Oh no, I am not done, I’ve got to keep going. Music’s all I really know.”
The song cycle that makes up her debut album charts the break-up of a relationship. Many, though not all, address her time with fellow musician Kyle Ryan Hurlbut. “Some of the songs weren’t about that person, they were about other relationships,” Prass says, “but when it came time to record the music that break-up was definitely in the forefront and kind of made the record a little bit deeper.”
To produce the record, Prass turned to an old school acquaintance, Matthew E White. “We’re both from Virginia Beach. I went to public school, he went to private school so we didn’t really know each other [well] but I knew who he was,” she says.
White and his Spacebomb house band imbued the album with a luxuriant sound, reminiscent of the classic Muscle Shoals and Hi Records studios. “I appreciate modern music and I love it, but no matter what, no matter how much I like a new record or a new artist for me [my favourite music] tends to always be in that 50s, 60s, 70s era,” Prass says of her musical touchstones.
“Matt says it really well, ‘It’s the perfect blend of tradition, of craft, of being ambitious’. I agree with that so much.
“So much work was put into those songs and the arrangements and the performers are just top notch, the sound’s so beautiful, it doesn’t hurt your ears, it’s warm.”
The take-off of White’s own career – via two well received solo albums – may have delayed the release of Prass’s album but now she’s making up for lost time. She reveals she made two albums in the interim – “One in Nashville, one in Burlington, Vermont” – some whose songs may yet resurface.
She’s also been writing with the British pop/R&B singer Jessie Ware. “Oh my gosh, I love her! She’s so cool!” Prass enthuses. “She tweeted at me saying how much she loved the record and I almost passed out because I listened to her Devotion album all the time during Analogue Dog. I was just sitting there making dog clothes for hours every day and Devotion was one of the records that I would put on a lot.”
The pair met up in the UK and wrote three songs together. “She’s just a dream to work with and I’m just really excited,” Prass says. “I get really goofy, I don’t care about blurting out ideas and having fun and she’s like that too, which is really nice.
“I don’t care about making something cool, I just want to make something good and she’s like that too. We were just a really good team. It was a very natural, super positive experience and she loved what we did together and hopefully we can get together again and I think she wants Matt to help out in some way with production.”
Natalie Prass plays at Brudenell Social Club on Tuesday September 1. For details visit http://www.brudenellsocialclub.co.uk/whats-on/natalie-prass/
Hear more of this interview at http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/what-s-on/arts-entertainment/music-and-gigs/postmusic-leeds-festival-preview-and-natalie-prass-1-7428376