It is a rare moment when you fall in love with a track only to discover that it was, in fact, recorded as a live take, but that was precisely our introduction to NATALIE BOULOUDIS. The smoky atmosphere that was conjured – as well as her intoxicating vocal – simply blew us away, so we tracked her down to find out more about her development as an musician and get an insight into her debut single ‘Burning Pier’, which is available to buy today.
When we heard that your track ‘Burning Pier’ was recorded as a live take, we were blown away! Was that an experiment, or is that your preferred way to record?
Oh thanks! From the beginning, it has always been important for me to establish myself as an artist who is able to deliver to a live room. I think you learn a lot about your songs that way too, it shapes them. It seemed a natural progression to then try and capture that intimacy by live recording. We recorded ‘Burning Pier’ at Wax Studios in London and it felt like we caught the drama of the song with this take. The only overdubs were Hannah’s (who played drums on the track) shimmering Rhodes piano. Then we added the Echoplex effect for the outro which really worked to give it this misty ‘Riders On The Storm’ feel.
‘Burning Pier’ was derived from a short story you had written. Can you tell us a little about the story and the track?
I had previously attempted to write a kind of Margaret Atwood/Camus-esque short story. It was set in this amalgamation of the coastal places near where I grew up with some other familiar nautical references. I had this idea to recreate the atmosphere of the story in a song. ‘Burning Pier’ depicts the event of smouldering wood sinking into the ocean as a metaphor for that light-bulb moment when shock and disaster strike so we see everything differently – both the past and the future.
You previously worked as an arts and culture guide copywriter, but would write poetry and prose whilst at work. Have you always been an avid writer? Do you always tend to draw inspiration from your written work for your songs?
I’ve always been one of those people who writes lines and sudden thoughts down constantly. My phone storage is full from notepads and little sound recordings although most of them never grow into anything. I think inspiration can come from anywhere – sometimes it’s just about expressing your feelings but most of the time I feel there is a real friction between reality and fiction in my song-writing.
Are you a fan of musicians that weave tales into their songs? Who has inspired your own songwriting?
Definitely. Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’ was a really big deal for me – as well as the first time I heard Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights’ – and Bjork has a similar inspiring dreaminess. The Doors are another brilliant example of atmospheric story tellers and anyone who knows me, knows I’m a big fan of Bob Dylan. I’ve also always been into strong female singers like Patti Smith, Joanna Newson and Etta James. I could make a whole list of folk, alt-folk, jazz, blues, alt-country and Rock n’ Roll influences which have all oozed into my song-writing too. Literature has been an influence too; there’s a track on the EP called ‘Raging Forcestress’ which is sort of my own take of a sea shanty. I had been reading ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ the week before I wrote it. And there is another song with a Bukowski reference.
As a child you played clarinet in a jazz band as well as taking guitar lessons. Are you from a musical family? Were they encouraging of your creating music?
My Dad has a collection of eclectic records so that was the first music I explored. In particular, I used to his jazz records and I found these tapes of The Supremes, Chuck Berry and more soulful stuff. My parents don’t play musical instruments but they were very encouraging of me and my sisters’ creativity. I used to take dancing and clarinet lessons – both are where you learn so much about rhythm and performance.
Before performing under your own name, you performed under the moniker of Aurora Harbinger. What made you decide to retire the moniker and release music under your own name again?
I liked the idea of having a stage name like Cat Power, partly as something to hide behind but also as a sort of alter ego. Aurora Harbinger never quite felt right and people struggled with pronouncing ‘harbinger’ so after asking just about everyone I knew for alternative suggestions, it just seemed my real name was bold enough to work. I think it marked me starting to take the music more seriously too.
You’ve previously stated that you were a “secret songwriter”. What was it that made you pluck up the courage to share your music with the world?
It got to the point that I had accumulated a long list of songs and I was just in a place in my life where I wanted to push myself. It was a real ‘now or never’ moment so I went to an open mic with a few mates for moral support and managed to nervously get through two songs. It all has just kept rolling since then. I soon found myself playing all around London and before I knew it I had an amazing band and it was time to get some proper recordings.
Natalie Bouloudis’ debut single ‘Burning Pier’ is out now.