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Have You Heard: Natalie D-Napoleon

13 May 2016 | 4:25 pm | Bob Gordon

Natalie D-Napoleon returns for a rare hometown show this Saturday, May 14, at Clancy's Fremantle with help from Richard Lane and Cathi Oliveri, plus sets from Jill & Alsy (The Triffids) and Justin Walshe. Bob Gordon finds out about life in Santa Barbara.

It's been a few years since you last returned from Santa Barbara to play a show back home, what's happened in that time?

Oh my goodness, so much. I moved countries, had a child, got married, bought a house, started some study in grad school. You know, all the little distractions in life. In the meantime I continued playing music, doing shows in the US with the likes of Mia Dyson, John Doe, and Mark Olson - and sung a duet with Ken Stringfellow!

What's your writing process like these days?

My writing process has evolved so much from working with the likes of Kenny Edwards (Linda Ronstadt) and David Piltch (k.d. lang). I've really learnt how to value keeping a notebook to jot down ideas, pushing myself, musically, to try different keys and chords, and playing with structure in interesting ways. David and Kenny really encouraged me to value my voice as a female artist, too. I mean when you have people of their calibre willing to support you musically it gives you a boost to be more confident and trust yourself more.

You joined some esteemed company as a result of being invited to perform at Santa Barbara's Sings Like Hell concert, what was that moment like for you?

The Sings Like Hell show was freaking amazing. A few things happened, I broke my sacrum two weeks before in the snow in Mammoth, so I really had to struggle through on painkillers. But the best thing about music is once the adrenaline and the joy of playing kicks in, you can't feel anything. Being part of a music series that has introduced the musical public to the likes of Damien Rice and Gillian Welch - before most people knew who they were is really encouraging. It's nice to know that there's folks like Peggie, who runs Sings Like Hell, who notice all that hard work I put into my songs as a songwriter. These are the things that keep me playing and writing new songs.

You've mentioned that doing Sings Like Hell enabled you to put a pervious era of songwriting to bed. Was there a prior intention with that or did it dawn on you afterwards that it had occurred?

No, there was no intention there. But breaking my sacrum forced me to slow down and stay put for the first time in a few years - I mean I have a five year-old! I had nothing else to do for two months but let myself heal, so I picked up my guitar and started writing new songs. Playing Sings Like Hell felt like the end of an era - on a high of course. I could put those old tunes to bed and start anew. Once I started writing I wrote eight new songs in eight weeks. Along with co-writes I almost have enough songs for a new album now!

How would you describe the songs you've written in the wake of that?

I've been writing songs for over 20 years. Now it feels like I've upped it a notch with my songwriting and that everything I've learnt in the last 20 years has combined to produce some of the best stuff I think I've ever written. The songs are laced with some hard-earned life experience as well as a finesse I've been searching for, for quite some time in my songwriting. What else can I say? The new songs just feel right, you know?

How's it feel to be doing a show in Freo this weekend with the other artists you've assembled?

I know I keep saying "awesome" - but I have been living in the US for eight years now. I mean, Jill and Alsy from the Triffids - who were a huge influence on me. They showed us West Australians we could make it on the world stage. I'm stoked to be playing with Mr Justin Walshe again; I love his brand of Australiana. Joining me will be Cathi Oliveri on viola, and I know she's done some shows with Bucket in the last few months. Everything she plays is divine and Richard Lane's (The Stems) going to add that garage rock credibility to my set!

What are the plans upon your return to Santa Barbara?

I want to shore up the last three or four songs for the album, so I'll be working on some co-writes with the people I play with in Santa Barbara. And I've cooked up another idea for an acoustic EP, with Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) producing it. I plan to record three Australian covers and three American covers again - like the Here In California EP. Mark and his wife Igunn will play on the EP with me, as will Dan Phillips and Jim Connolly - who I play with in Santa Barbara. I'm feeling pretty psyched and excited about this new phase in my songwriting and playing life.

Oh, and I'm putting the feelers out for a producer for the album and I've had some interesting bites so far. I'll keep you posted!

Originally published in X-Press Magazine