Three years after her debut album, Liverpudlian songwriter Natalie McCool is back on our radar following the unveiling of new track 'Fortress'.

The gargantuan-sounding pop number is taken from the upcoming album also titled Fortress that has left us very much firmly entrenched in 'anticipation mode' - so much so that the 405 took a day trip to Liverpool to check out a very special recording of 'Fortress'. This entailed fans and a choir in the recording studio (Parr Studios to be precise) singing their hearts out for a very unique experience.

Post the recording, we talked to Natalie about the track, how this fan-based idea came out, and what to expect from the album. We took some behind the scenes photos for your eyes to have a lovely time with - and also chatted to Jennifer John of Sense of Sound in regards to how the choir got on board with this project.


A conversation with Natalie McCool

Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool

So - how did this all come about today?

When I wrote 'Fortress' on the original recording that I did, kind of the first draft of the album, I was doing the harmonies and stacking up the 3rd and 5ths and it sounding cool... but it kind of gets dull listening to your own voice [laughs], and the recording just went from this small sounding demo to this massive sounding song - especially at the end. I thought it would be a great idea to get a choir in on this and open it up, because the song lends itself to that anyway; it felt like it would be an amazing thing to do as I love gospel singing and harmonies, and was in choirs as a kid and loved that group singing idea.

I worked with Sense of Sound last June at Liverpool International Music Festival (LIMF) where there were 13 of us on stage including the singers, and we did this song and it went from there. We thought 'we've got to record this, and make it as big as we can', so I got everyone involved; friends, family, fans, and musicians - and we're here today and we've just done it! And it feels really amazing.

As you mentioned there were some fans here earlier in the recording - what was the genesis of that idea and how did that part happen, how did you find them?

We had the choir singers on board and it did sound big enough with those guys in place - but thought it would be a really cool idea to put it on my Facebook and Twitter, and open it out to people. At the gig, there were people singing along, so it made sense for me to throw it out there and see what happens. Also, because Liverpool is such a great music scene with many musicians, and basically all my friends play music, be it singers, songwriters or guitarists.

Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool

Very much a community kind of vibe here.

Yes, so good. So it would have been an opportunity missed to not get them on board. Today we had Clean Cut Kid, and Simon from Silent Cities - and some of my fans are actually singers as well so that was really good. I was pleasantly surprised how good everyone was especially during the harmonies, as it's not an easy thing to do sometimes. But they nailed it.

Do you think that kind of relationship with your fans is quite important? As you have this Sofar Sounds thing coming up?

Yes I'm doing a tour with them - and also doing a house tour, which is kind of like the Sofar idea but going round people's actual houses, and they just invite everyone they know. I did one a few years ago and it was really amazing and very much wanted to do one again, and now seemed like the right time to do so because of the Sofar tour and this [song], and it fitted in well in my head.

I think people feel so much more connected with you in something like this where they can be a part of it, and it's not purely listening to it at home. So much of music now is just people listening to something far away from the artist; which is cool, but it's really important to go to places and to meet people, and people to meet you. It's a really powerful thing to be involved with on the house tour, and seeing people there and singing, even without a microphone. People love it and respond well.

Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool

Just wanted to talk a little about your upcoming album...

Yes all the songs are written and have got recordings I'm really happy with and nearly ready to go.

What can we expect from the album?

Well... it features a real breadth of pop music I'd say. I kind of describe myself as pop with a brain; so it's pop songs but if you listen to the lyrics they can be pretty deep.

Ones with some substance, some meat on the bone...

Yes exactly, and that's how I see myself as a writer and as an artist; and I think it's really important to have that depth in your work especially to the fans, as they get to delve a little deeper into it all and get a bit more involved.

So on the album we've got songs like 'Fortress', which is arguably the most accessible song so anyone could get into it. But it really ranges - I've got a song called 'Pins' that's really cool, it has really alternative and edgy production, and very stark and electronic. Quite a bitter song too.

Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool

My favourite kind of song.

Yes definitely check it out then! Then the album goes to something like this ['Fortress'] which is quite soft at the beginning then opens out into this expansive sound. So it's quite a nice mix of my idea of what pop is and how I want to interpret the genre of pop.

Another I guess broad question, but in terms of influences are there pop artists that you really admire? Ones that do their pop but with that substance that you admire.

There's a few that have recently come out... NAO who is really amazing.

Oh my God yes,

When I heard 'Zillionaire'... oh my God I freaked out. She is so cool and bringing funk back, I mean who'd have thought you'd be hearing funk on the Radio, you know Radio 1. She's amazing and so funky.

And it works...

Yes very much - I really want to see her live, that'd be the dream. Also Tove Lo, I really like her song 'Habit'?

Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool

Yes, great song.

And 'Stay High' that really gets me does that; when it goes into that chorus! I guess it's quite twee almost in the verse, but then she hits into this really emotional chorus where she's saying she has to stay high as she's cut up over someone. It's that contrast between the verse and this mad chorus, and it really gets me - I'm like "Oh my God I've felt like that before".

Yes, like really honest and dark, but in this layer of popular music

Yes honest and dark, you've nailed it there. And someone else... Jack Garratt's 'Weathered' is one of my favourite songs of the past year, it's just such a beautiful song with a beautiful sentiment. I think he's... he's taken a bit of flack, surprisingly, but I guess people like to tear someone down sometimes. But I think he's really cool and listened to his old EPs and he's so good. So talented, and seeing him live where he's doing everything - and he sings, and writes.

I read an interview on the way up here where you said there's lots of instruments, or new instruments; was this a purposeful decision?

It was, I wrote this album on just bass, as I play guitar but I didn't want it as that and preferred that bass sound. Which worked out well as I took it into the studio with Dave who produced it, and is so good at adding in sounds and producing and twiddling things; as I'm not a keyboard/synth person, I'm more about guitars and string. We got on so well in the studio and had such a good time creating the album, and I'm really happy and excited to get out there and play it.


A conversation with Jennifer John

Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool

Hello - if you could introduce yourself please...

My name's Jennifer John and I'm a choir director and vocal arranger. The group of singer's that I look after is a national collective of singers called Sense of Sound singers. I was called in to do some vocal arrangements for Natalie, and also to provide a choir.

So in terms of the choir that was here today, these are people that you regularly work with? Or is it more of an ad-hoc kind of basis?

I mix and match depending on what the project is - so I've got access to maybe 50 or 60 singers, but for something like this which is more of a pop sensibility and knowing Nat's work, I thought that the singers that we chose would be the best ones.

And when did you come on board this particular project?

At last year's LIMF I was performing and so was Natalie as part of a show called Her Story, it was all female performers. Nat said that she had this song that she thought would sound great with some vocals, so we listened to it - there were already some backing vocals to it - but I thought 'I can potentially hear a nice big high section, which is the section we sung [just now], and I know the perfect singer to sing that.' One of the singer's Dion takes the high bit and we split other bits between the singers.

But yes it was last year in Sefton Park at LIMF that it came together.

Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool

How do you go about arranging something like this? (I know you covered that somewhat just now).

I think the song's really epic anyway and the chorus is really strong; Natalie already had some strong harmonies that she's already thought of but it just felt it could do with expanding a bit more and being made even bigger, so that really high harmony (the last high harmony that everyone sung together in the recording) I added that on, and I thought 'actually that's really gonna lift the track', and it does!

And because a cappella singing is my specialism and I love working with voices, and I have a real understanding of how voices work and what to do to put them together to make it sound bigger, better, depending on what the project is.

So you're familiar with Natalie's work from before working on this?

Yes, I love her stuff.

Are there any plans to perhaps perform this live?

We keep talking about 'yes we should definitely do this', with coming up to festival season, why don't we go out and make it an intrinsic part of touring and festivals, as it lends itself to being outdoors with loads of people, and it's easy to join in. So yes I think the plan is to do more gigs with her this year.


The Photo Gallery

Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool
Photo Essay: Natalie Mccool