ICYMI INTERVIEW // Natalie McCool
Words by Hannah Ryan
Natalie McCool is a singer, songwriter, multi instrumentalist and visceral front woman. She has picked up a fast growing support base of fans and critics alike with her truly innovative and beautiful take on pop music. We had a good chat with Natalie about all things including one-on-one songwriting with Liverpool’s very own Paul McCartney, what new music is on the way and her upcoming headline shows in Manchester / London, and much, much more!
Huw Stephens of BBC Radio 1 described your sound as “It’s perfect pop with a subtle twist” - would you agree with that? How would you describe your sound?
Yeah I would agree, I also describe it as wonky pop. I had a single review from the last album in The Sunday Times and they described it as 'lilt pop' which I LOVED. I think the subtle twist comes a lot from unusual bits and bobs in the production and also the songwriting. I like turning emotions / characters / themes on their head, I think that can create a lot of interest in the lyrics. I could go in depth into this stuff, but for now I'll keep it light!
Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey into music?
Well I started playing guitar when I was really young, then started playing electric guitar & singing when I was 14. I used to go to this music club every Saturday in my hometown Widnes, it was free to attend and you'd just turn up and jam with other young people. It was really great and got me into performing, songwriting & arranging. It's really sad because that isn't going anymore. I think it's important to keep funding for creative programmes like that for young people. I don't think there's enough importance placed on it to be honest, with all the recent cuts to creative departments at schools. It's shameful really, UK music export reached 2.5 billion last year. It's not just about economics though, it's a massive part of our culture and how we grow as people, our life reference points, memories, etc. They're all intertwined with music.
You received a one on one songwriting with Liverpool’s very own Paul McCartney, tell us more about this?
I went uni at LIPA which is a performing arts school in Liverpool. The building is Paul McCartney's old school, and the dance building next door is where John Lennon went to college. It's a really interesting place. I had an amazing time and still work with people I met there, and also made friends for life who I also still work with creatively. In the 3rd year of your course, if you take songwriting as a module, there is opportunity to have a 1 to 1 session with the man himself. He was very friendly and chilled! I took an unfinished song in, 'America' from my first album. He helped me finish the bridge section. I'll never forget that!! An amazing experience and a story for the grandkids.
Growing up in Liverpool - was there a subculture, venue or experience that shaped your sound?
I grew up in Widnes but I was always in Liverpool to go to gigs and Quiggins! (the big alternative fashion / subculture building with loads of cool little stalls).
I put my first ever gig on in Liverpool though, it was for my 17th birthday party – me and my friend Jimmy had a joint party & gig at Heaven and Hell bar. I booked all the bands (basically my mates' bands) and I felt so pro!! That was a great night. And a great experience for me.
You have jetted off to LA - how was that? What was the main difference between the UK and America in regards to their outlook on music?
I did a songwriting camp in LA and met some really amazing songwriters and producers. I'd really LOVE to go back there to work with some of them again...I like the outlook in LA, it's a massive massive city with lots going on, but the weather / beach / attitude makes you feel so calm. Completely unlike London for example. I want to live somewhere with lots going on, lots of mutually creative minds I can meet, lots of opportunity – but with sunshine, scenery and beaches! Sounds like paradise to me...so yeah, it's one place I would love to live & work.
During the I met Anil Sebastien out there who runs the London Contemporary Voices Choir – we are working together on an exclusive piece I'll perform backed by the choir at the Union Chapel in October! So I am hugely excited about that. It goes to show you never know what will come of opportunities like that and you just have to be completely open minded.
Your album - released in 2016 - ‘The Great Unknown’ described your journey of self discovery, how has your sound evolved from the album?
I'd say the sound on my upcoming album is more organic, ie, more guitars, less electronic drums and more real live drumkit. It still sounds very like me though. I think the songwriting is far more precise but the production is a bit looser, which I am enjoying. I love the recording process, for me a song could be anything when you write it but it starts to really shape and take on an identity when you begin the recording process. It's SO exciting!
Your latest single ‘Someone Nue’ has received some serious (and well deserved) air time - how did this track come about?
I wrote this track about a year and a half ago when I was just playing about on the keyboard. I was fixated on the idea of a key change and really wanted one in one of my songs. More as a laugh / writing exercise than anything else, but I actually really loved the song. When I recorded / produced it I found a drum loop and had this reverse reverb on the main synth, which I think makes the production on the record. But I also released a live piano version which took it right back to when I remember writing it, which I love. Whilst I LOVE getting stuck into production & arranging, I like hearing a song in it's purest form.
How has the reception been?
Yeah really great, it's had BBC Introducing & BBC 6 Music play, so I am so so happy! The reviews have been pretty amazing too, lots of comments on the precision of the lyrics which of course I'm really happy about, and proud of.
You have two headline gigs creeping up, Manchester and London, what can we expect from the shows?
Bigger and better than what you've already heard! I love playing around with the structure of the songs for when we play live. I think you have to give fans something so extra when they come and see you live - it's not about just playing through the songs as they are on record, it's important to create a really full experience I guess and for me that is tweaking the arrangements / structure, playing with segues etc. I really love it.
Do you have a message that you hope to project when you're on stage? What does performing mean to you?
I just want people to be themselves. When I'm on stage I'm about 1000% more myself, it's a kind of hyper-self you're putting out there, which encourages everyone else too. I don't necessarily believe in personas, I think a persona is what I've described above...it's just who you are, but a WAY more concentrated dose.
Any tour dates or festival appearances ICYMI should know about?
On 26th October I'll be performing my special piece (as I spoke about above) with London Contemporary Voices Choir at the Union Chapel in London. I heard their first sing through the other day and it was just...INCREDIBLE. Goosebumps.
What’s next in the pipeline for Natalie McCool?
Next single, Next album, keep creating, keep writing, keep growing!
British icon that has inspired you? PJ Harvey
Best track to get ready to go out? All Night - Chance The Rapper
Who would play you in a biopic of your life? That is a HARD ONE. I mean...I crush so hard on Natalie Dormer...and she has the same name as me. So probably her.
Dream Glastonbury headliners? Wolf Alice!
One record you would keep forever? 'Grace' by Jeff Buckley
Grab tickets for Natalie's upcoming headline shows on 25th Sept Jimmy's, Manchester / 26th Sept The Waiting Room, London HERE.