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Harmonic Changes 

No longer living in Richmond, singer Natalie Prass talks about her next steps before returning for a show at the renovated Ashland Theatre.

click to enlarge natalie-prass-press-photo-3-credit-tonje-thilesen.jpg

Tonje Thilesen

Singer and songwriter Natalie Prass combines the angelic voice of a Disney princess with steely artistic resolve.

The Virginia native followed her self-titled, hyper-romantic, heartache and hope debut with the politically-tinged "The Future and the Past," risking her ATO label deal to show she was not going to be anyone's product but her own. So far it's worked out.

Style Weekly reached her in Nashville, where she's moved with her fiance, drummer Eric Slick of Dr. Dog, and where she is puzzling out the next stage in her career.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Style Weekly: So, you're back in Nashville. How is that working out?

Natalie Prass: I really didn't want to leave Richmond. It's temporary and we are going to make the most of it while we are here. There is so much going on here musically. I need to record, I can just go to my friend's house down the street, and it's not a big deal. I can collaborate with all sorts of people. There is endless opportunity both for me and Eric. I lived here for almost nine years before. It's changed so much it's almost like a completely different city. There is good and bad. There is more public art: I so loved that about Richmond. But the traffic is horrible, it feels more like LA now, where you don't drive at certain times. I forgot how much you live in your car when you live in Nashville. I walked everywhere in Richmond and I loved it. I barely got in my car.

How has life changed since "The Future and the Past"? I know your label gave you some push back.

The main thing is that they didn't want me to release a political record. They asked me if this was a phase. I'm proud that I stood my ground and put out the record I wanted to put out. I think it has been well-received. But when you are living it and walking the path of releasing a record and going through the cycle, and touring, and press, and all that, it is hard to see how it is going.

Songs like "Short Court Style" really resonated with so many new people, which I wanted. I am proud of releasing a record with such a heavy subject matter, the endless pit of confusion and politics, and choosing to make it in such a joyful, upbeat way. I wanted people to hear, 'You are a strong person, let's march through this.' I think it shows when we perform live. People are smiling. … We usually have a whole crew dancing in the audience.

In your Tiny Desk Concert you said that people didn't want you to play one of the political songs, "Hot for the Mountain."

The people on the business side. I thought it should be a single, but none of them thought it would be a smart idea. [But] it's the song that all my musician friends love. It encapsulates everything I want to be known for, going outside the box in terms of song form and harmonic changes. Creating a whole universe within one song. It takes you to a different place, sounds different from what you heard before. It challenges your ear a little bit. It is also not like a Zappa tune, where you know you are listening to something challenging. I just wanted to sound natural and easy to sit through.

What's next?

I just want to make [my next record] completely for myself. I am so proud of "The Future and the Past" … but it was a reactionary record, I wanted to rewrite it as soon as the election happened.

I needed it to get me out of my funk, and get others out of their funk. It was my contribution to the conversation, something I had to be part of, and I am so glad I did that. But this next record I want to be exactly me, my world, my universe that I am sharing with everyone else. I am currently writing it and looking to record it in the fall.

Will you work with Spacebomb again?

I have no idea. I will wait until the music tells me where to go.

I love working with people from Richmond. I am so proud of being a Virginian, there is so much amazing talent. I am very passionate about putting Richmond and Virginia on the map. I am always trying to hire people from home. But it is hard to find someone who can play the parts and is cool to hang out with 24/7 in a lot of situations and enjoys doing all the hard work involved in touring.

What about the next tour?

I always have to shuffle band members, everyone is so busy. I wish I could have one band. [Guitarist] Alan [Parker] and Jacob [Ungerleider] will be on the upcoming tour. Eric will be on some shows, Pinson on others. We have this amazing artist, Becca Mancari opening for us. She's been working so long and so hard in Nashville, and just recorded her new record with a couple of guys from Paramour. I'm looking forward to hanging out with her. I used to serve her coffee, back in the day.

Natalie Prass plays the renovated Ashland Theatre on Saturday, April 20. General admission costs $20. Box seats cost $35.

 

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