Interview With 'Natalie Christine'
When 2018 started, I had never heard of Natalie Christine as she had not yet released any music. In the first half of the year, she released my favorite EP of the year ‘Broken From The Start,’ which connected with me immediately. She incorporated Rock, Blues, Soul, Rhythm and Blues into the 4 songs with some incredible vocals. She quickly followed that release with a moving single called ‘Dear Heaven,’ and we discussed what she thought would happen musically with her debut full length album. That album ‘Slow Climb’ has now arrived, and it is an amazing debut album at that which hits hard with the Blues Rock while also embracing everything that was on the EP. This includes showing even more sides to her incredible, soul touching vocals. This album has considerable depth and tells a pretty heavy story from Christine in the lyrics that end with messages of hope and perseverance. Easy to say, Christine has been my favorite new artist of 2018, and I cannot recommend highly enough all three of her releases. I was lucky enough to get some time with her to talk about the music, the stories behind some of it, and her history.
For most of our readers, this will be the first time they have seen your name and will hopefully go on to hear your music. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your band.
I’m a regular everyday girl and I live in Arkansas. I’ve been here my entire life. Music is my passion, and I love to write and play guitar. I played piano when I was little but I’ve always been drawn to the guitar. My band is a great group of musicians! Greg Spradlin is on lead guitar, Al Gamble on B3 organ, Shawn Stroope on bass, Rafael Gayol on drums, Geoffrey Robson on Violin, Jim Spake on baritone sax, Marc Franklin on trumpet, Art Edmaiston on tenor sax, and Jason Weinheimer is my engineer. I’m so lucky to be able to work with these guys. We got together for the EP and we just had a great chemistry so I wanted them all to come back and work on the full album with me. I’m in the presence of some wonderful people, and I’m very thankful for that.
When did you know music was your passion?
When I was really young. I was in 2nd or 3rd grade when I would sit outside and listen to my dad’s old Air Supply and Foreigner tapes. I would sing my little heart out to those songs. I loved it! Music is something I need on a daily basis whether I’m writing it or just listening.
Before we get to the new full length debut album, I want to start with the 4 song EP ‘Broken From The Start’ you released earlier this year that quite simply blew me away from the first listen. It created that moment where I was left wanting to go stand on the rooftops and scream that people needed to be listening to you. How did those songs come together?
For the EP I just went through songs I had already written along with ones I was writing up until the week we started to record. I wasn't sure about what I wanted on there; I just knew that I wanted to show some diversity in my writing. When final decision time came I took what I had and just went with what felt right and I had a peace about. Actually, my single ‘Dear Heaven’ was a contender for the EP as well but I just felt it needed to be on its own.
The title track to the EP hits on a theme that comes out across several songs about being flawed and ‘broken from the start’ to borrow the title. What can you tell us about that one?
'Broken From The Start' is an honest song about how I’ve felt and actually still feel at times. I’ve endured a lot in my life even at a young age and I've always carried this “broken” feeling. I had no initial plan to write a song about that it just happened. I’m glad that it came to me because that has been a song that has connected with a lot of people and that makes me feel good. The brokenness is finding its purpose.
You and I have spoken several times prior to the release of your new record, and you let me know that there would be a harder edge to ‘Slow Climb’ than there was to the EP. I want to get down into some of the individual songs shortly but please tell us a little bit about what your plans were in writing the album as I clearly see it as a concept album where the songs stand equally strong apart from the overall story.
In writing for this record, I had an idea of what the content would be. All of the songs I wrote specifically for this project except for ‘Dirty Hands.’ I actually wrote that song about a year before I ever thought I would be able to record an EP. I knew it was a good fit. I wanted to share some of my story and struggles because I know how many are out there going through the same things. As a songwriter and musician, I get to share my art with the world, and my art comes from my personal life- past and present.
After the initial run through ‘Amazing Grace,’ you deliver the first Hard Rock song of your recorded career in ‘Holy Tide.’ How important was it to you to open with a harder edged song musically?
I wanted to be sure that I grab the listeners attention. The way that I did the intro lets you know, “I made it out of the dark and dirt but first let me tell you the story of the climb,” hence the name ‘Slow Climb.’ ‘Holy Tide’ just felt like the right song to follow it. Like my producer Greg Spradlin told me, “Go in like a lion and out like a lamb,” so that what I tried to do. It just seemed to be a good fit to start the story.
There is no let up with ‘When The Dam Breaks’ which kicks some serious butt. Your guitar work and Greg Spradlin’s guitar work is excellent. How long have the two of you been playing together?
We have only been playing together since May of this year. It feels like it has been longer because we were instant friends. My dad and Greg work together on the Levon Helm Memorial project in Marvell, Arkansas. Dad sent him the demo of my single ‘Dear Heaven,’ and he wanted to meet. We did and the rest is history.
How do you decide who is playing which part?
Greg is a much more accomplished player and has some serious skills so I always have him do lead and I do rhythm. Greg just knows what to do, and he always seems to play what I'm hearing in my head. I don’t have to say a word. He's great! He's also a Rock and Blues songwriter.
‘Blue Devil’ is the first slower number. Your vocal is really breathtaking here, and I love the way the B3 organ provides the main musical back drop. How did you approach recording your vocals in the studio to capture the emotional depth that your voice carries?
Thank you! Al Gamble is amazing! It’s the same way with him. He just plays, and it’s exactly what I want. Every time I record vocals, I close my eyes and try to go the place and/or emotion that the song was born from. I want to make sure that what I feel carries over into the music so the listener will connect and feel that it’s real.
I want to dig into the lyrics on ‘Slow Climb.’ There is some incredible imagery that you include that really connected with me. The way you describe the pieces of ourselves that we can lose as we struggle forward made me think back to some difficult times in my past. I know there is a story being told over the course of the album and thought this might be a good place to go deeper into that story. Can you tell us about the story?
‘Slow Climb’ is exactly what it has been for me. I went into recovery almost 11 years ago but that’s certainly not without relapse and missteps along the way. I started doing drugs when I was really young. When I lost my best friend, Valerie, I went down and just kept going that direction. Through those years I had a lot of bad experiences, trauma, etc. that kept me in that dark place. I had many times where I would start to do better and then fall off again. It has been a long road and it’s certainly shaped me into who I am today… but I also know what I could've been and that’s where the line “I’ve lost parts of my soul on the way back to finding myself,” came from.
Was there a specific moment or event when you decided to pursue your recovery or as you describe it come out of the dark 11 years ago?
Yes, I got very close to my bottom when I got arrested. That’s what started to make me realize I couldn’t keep going like I was. I say “close” because even though that happened it was still several months later before I went into treatment. It was the best and worst thing to happen because without that happening I don’t know how much longer I would’ve stayed in that life. Everyone has a rock bottom and it’s different for each person.
Many people struggle daily with addiction and maintaining their recovery. What has the process been like for you?
It's been a long but a good process for me. The cliché is “one day a time,” but that’s very true. You have to make the choice daily to stay sober. It has an up and down battle, but it’s a fight that can be won. It’s been one of the hardest things in my life, but you really have to want it. You can’t force someone to get clean; the decision has to be ours.
What would your message be to others who are battling similar struggles?
To keep fighting! Don’t give up because your life is valuable, and you can overcome this! I know that it’s scary and it’s ok to be scared but don’t let that fear stop you from trying. Even if you tried multiple times- keep trying. We are very broken individuals, and it takes time to heal those wounds. If you have a loved one struggling, don’t give up on them. You have to go on with your life but, when they are ready, be there for them.
The first half of the album overall contains more of the harder edged material with the back half of the album being a little more reflective and emotionally heavy. I am going to jump around a bit here in terms of the songs but wanted to take a few moments to discuss ‘Valerie.’ You have described her to me as a friend who was more like a sister. In the song, the emotional distress is clear with the grief process illustrated in the lyrics. Since this seems to be such a pivotal point of the record, can you tell us a little bit about her and what happened?
Valerie was my best friend and yes, she was more like a sister. Her family is my family, and I love them dearly. She was the most beautiful creature! Inside and out. She was riding home with her boyfriend and another couple, and they were struck by another car coming around a very sharp corner. She was killed on impact, and the driver passed at the scene of the crash. It was 21 days away from her 16th birthday. I’ve never gotten over losing her; I've just learned how to live without her physically here. Fun fact about that song is that I've written it six times. The 6th version is what’s on the record. I just kept feeling the need to rewrite it so I did until I felt good about it. I finished it right before we started to record. I know she was with me every time. Her birthday is July 9th so being the 9th track was an obvious home for her.
Did the other versions have a similar musical approach?
No, the other versions I planned to have the whole band play, but, when I wrote the version on the album, I knew it needed to be minimal. Just me and the guitar all alone in the room. When the strings were added, it became something really special.
My current favourite at this moment from the album is ‘The Return.’ I love your vocal style in the song. Who would you say influenced your style?
Thank you so much! I love singers who have a very distinct voice. Some of my favorite female singers are Stevie Nicks, Janis Joplin, Valerie June, Maria Brink, Lzzy Hale, and Meg Meyers. That’s just a few. For male singers, I love Johnny Cash, Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, and Jonny Hawkins from Nothing More. I love a collection of music from old to new. If I feel something when you sing, I’m hooked!
The way the guitar solo explodes in the mix adds a significant punch to the song. Was that yourself or Spradlin playing that one?
Greg is lead and the solo on that. Fun fact about that song is that I changed the name of it several times, and I didn't settle on the title until after we recorded the album. Jason Weinheimer, my engineer, was patiently awaiting my decision. I was struggling with a good name and ‘The Return’ just came out of nowhere and felt right.
One of the last songs on the album is ‘Leave On A Light,’ which to me contains a tangle of emotions, but I am left with a feeling of hope and renewal even with all that has happened. What does that song mean to you?
It’s another special one for me. I wrote this song not only from the perspective of my parents, but also from mine to other addicts. Leaving on a light symbolizes that help is here when you're ready, and you have somewhere to come back to. They waited for me to come out of the dark for a very long time, and, when I was ready, they were there with open arms.
Many people might have ended the album there, but you added one more song called ‘In The Haze’ that really seems to serve as a recap of the album with the song changing from dark to light. I pick up a tremendous amount of emotion in the closing vocal and that brief piano at the end. I also really like the line that ‘Sickness is a blessing and a curse.’ When did that song come to you in the writing process?
I worked on that song for months. I started it way before I recorded the EP. I have changed and rearranged that song so much but I had to get it right. It’s an honest account of how I felt when I was high and what that did for me. Granted getting high is not the way to deal with anything, I don’t want anyone to think that I am glorifying addiction because I'm not. I just write exactly what I feel and/or felt. This song turned out to be more than I imagined, and it was cool to see what it became. A fun fact about this song is that the chord progression and melody for this was originally for another song. It was meant to be a heavy Rock song at first. I sat down one day and started to play and sing it and decided that I would take the melody and redo the lyrics. I slowed down the tempo and started to write it again. The lyrics before were about a bad relationship. Crazy how it changed.
Who are some of the artists that inspired you musically?
It’s a little bit of everything I've listened to in my life. I love a lot of older Rock and Blues like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Fleetwood Mac, The Allman Brothers, Muddy Waters, Etta James, etc. I love a lot of new Rock too. It’s really just a mashup of everything I've listened to in my life. I like something out of all genres of music. It’s whoever makes me feel something with their music. I appreciate the artistry of music and poetry so if I connect at all with what you're singing and writing then I'm a fan.
What current artists are you listening to?
Right now I've been listening to a lot of Valerie June, Meg Meyers, In This Moment, Soundgarden, and Nora Jones. It really depends on the day and what I'm feeling.
What are your thoughts about playing shows in support of the album and EP?
Even though I've used the same band on all my projects, they have other commitments so we are in the process of getting another band together. I have plans to start performing and promote my music. I’m really excited about it, and I look forward to meeting people and hearing their stories.
What comes next, as I know you are already working on new songs?
Yes, I have already started writing for another album. I plan to go back into the studio next year, but I don’t know exactly when. I would love to start doing some shows first and promote the music I have already released.
What final words do you have for our readers?
I just want to say that I greatly appreciate all the support and love that I’ve been given. I love hearing that one of my songs really connected with someone so I welcome messages on my music page telling me of your story. I’m grateful that I get to live my dream now and do what I love! I’ve dreamt of being a singer/songwriter my entire life, and now that it’s happening it is surreal. My music page on Facebook is Natalie Christine, and you can follow me on Instagram @nataliechristinemusic. You can follow my YouTube channel as well. Please check out my music if you haven't heard it yet. Its available on iTunes, Amazon, and streaming on Spotify, Apple, iHeartradio, and most streaming platforms.
‘Slow Climb’ is available now https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/nataliechristine3
Interview - Gerald Stansbury