Ahead of her show at Sebright Arms in London next Tuesday (July 21st), Ken Grand-Pierre sat down for a chat with the talented Natalie McCool.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Hiya Natalie, thanks for taking part in this. Do you feel pursing music as a life was a very conscious choice when you look back on it now?

I don't think it was a conscious decision. I picked up a guitar when I was about 6 and haven't stopped playing since, so the performance element of music was always going to be a huge part of my life. I started writing songs during my last year of college, but I never thought it would be a career choice because it felt... too fun. Today I feel like I'm always on an upwards trajectory and my life is full of music, so the experiences I've had so far have definitely helped me grow and find my path in this way. My new material is something I'm most proud of.

Know what's surprising to me? Most of the things I read about you mentioned 'pop' but when I listened to your music it was a lot more varied than that. There are pop elements but you can hear that desire to not be set in one genre. Do you find it difficult at times to describe your music to someone who's never heard it?

The Sunday Times described one of my tracks ('Dig It Out') as a 'lilt pop' gem so I started using that as a way to describe my songwriting which I think is quite accurate. I like the idea of a wonky-pop song, something that is commercial but also interesting and quite unusual, an aspect which I always try to include either using lyrics or melody. I read an interview with Everything Everything and their songwriting touches on various issues, some really dark material - but musically it has that pop sheen and I definitely work in the same way. I also think the same when I hear other pop artists like Lana Del Rey or Lorde.

I use the label 'pop' to describe my music sonically because it encompasses all different types of genres, but under the umbrella of 'commercial', i.e. it can be played on commercial radio and fit right in. That's what I see when I think of what 'pop' is. Musically I do think my music touches on different genres and I think that is important for the listener, to hear variation. But it always comes back to pop.

'Oh Danger' is a track I ended up latching onto and what I love about it is that it's one of those rare tracks where the lyrics are as immediate as the sonic output. For me I usually hear the sounds before the words, but with that track the words hit me right away. When you finish writing a song do you ever find yourself wondering how people will experience it?

That's really special for me to read that - I'm glad you experienced listening in a different way through my song. I really love pop songwriting and some of my favourite songs span genres, from 'Teenage Dream' by Katy Perry through to 'Heaven or Las Vegas' by Cocteau Twins. A great song is a great song, I'm all about the big chorus. As an original artist the ultimate point is to be yourself and find something worth writing for. My track 'Pins' is essentially quite prickly and bitter, yet again it has that pop 'sheen' - but when I released it and Radio 1 played it I got a review from an LA blog who described the lyrics as poetry, which is amazing. So many people related to it because we've all been in a faltering relationship at some point. I think we all share similar experiences and writing a song that people can listen to and relate to is a wonderful thing.

What has played a part in inspiring how you write now? Do you find yourself inspired by experiences that happened years ago or experiences that happened merely days or weeks ago for example?

I am inspired by past, present and future events. 'Oh Danger' is about the fear of the unknown - which could also be interpreted as the future. Songs don't even have to be about an experience - just something you imagine happening or an imagined situation. I enjoy writing about people and my relationships with different people, I think it's a totally bottomless source of inspiration because people are always changing and therefore relationships can be made, then changed, or sour and falter. I enjoy writing about all those different aspects of people and their bonds with other people.


How do you feel about your current band and how has it been seeing them interpret the songs you've written when they play them live?

We actually play live to backing tracks. My music on record is really nuanced and has a lot of weird and wonderful sounds and textures underlaying the main instruments - so it's hard to recreate these sounds on a normal instrument live. I play all the guitar parts live and sing, and I have a drummer who plays a mixture of acoustic kit and electronic kit, which creates such an interesting sound and looks unusual too. The live set up is very electronic, but the live guitar and my voice offsets that and settles everything, it's a focal point.

Would you say the guitar has become a massive part of how you now write music or do you usually bring lyrics to your guitar after they're written?

It used to be a huge part of how I write, I used to write a full guitar part for the whole of the song before I would even think of writing lyrics. You can really hear that in 'Dig It Out' I think. The guitar part becomes the melody and lyrical rhythm, and vice versa, they are interlocked. More recently I have really become interested in having splashes of a lead guitar part and different hooks throughout my songs. I wrote my new recordings just on bass synth on my laptop, which really opens it up harmonically, and when I went into the studio, I placed all the guitar parts around the lyrics to give it a sense of space and again to create more of a lead part. Prince has been an influence on my latest recordings and also there's a tiny element of grunge in there as I layer the sounds up with chorus and overdrive. There is a song I play totally on harmonics which was interesting to play around with. There are lots of really jagged rhythmical parts that I recorded totally dry. I really love experimenting with guitar. You'll see!


Is there a song that you perform live that immediately reminds you of the experience of when you wrote it?

'Pins' is the most visceral of all my songs, so I'll say that one. Anything that hurt when you wrote it - you never forget that feeling.

You're originally from Whiston and I wonder if it feels different visiting there now that you've lived in London?

I was born in Whiston in Merseyside but I grew up in Widnes which is in Cheshire. Widnes has a lot of unused industrial sites - almost everyone in my town, at least one member of their family has worked at the chemical plant ICI. It also has a power station, and a golf course which is out of bounds - you can't go in because of the chemical soil. Despite this I think it's a beautiful place, all this decay surrounded by countryside. I've filmed all of my music videos in the abandoned sites because they have a lot of character and also - especially with 'Pins' which is about the decay of something, it really fits with the song. I think where I grew up has had so much influence on my music and writing, subconscious or not. Nurture over nature definitely.


You can visit Natalie McCool by heading here.