Natalie Gelman is widely recognized for her tireless cross-country travel and performances. She’s just released a new album, “Streetlamp Musician” with producers Charlie Midnight (James Brown) and Mark Needham (The Killers). The album is reflective, titled after a song she wrote about street performing and watching New York City change over time.
She was raised in the West Village, NYC, an area of the city considered as “off the grid” and noted for having been home to artists and writers dating back to the 1800s. Living amongst songwriting greats, Natalie came to know artists and true bohemians. She borrowed a friend’s guitar at 16 and started writing songs on it immediately and began busking on subway platforms.
Natalie has been compared to Sheryl Crow, Jewel and Joni Mitchell. She writes honest, heartfelt songs addressing current affairs and revealing parts of her inner self.
NG: Thank you. I think you touched on it all. I loved growing up in NYC and both my parents were artists, so I was raised with a lot of music and art around me both creating and appreciating it. I also think busking and the process of going down to the subway for years over and over again really shaped me as a musician and how I communicate on stage.
I love the tradition of street performers and troubadours, but I actually really fell into it because I was dying to perform but wasn’t old enough to play most of the venues in NYC because they were bars.
Tell us a little more about life in the West Village. Do you have a special memory of those early days you can recall for us?
NG: It was just a wonderful and enchanted part of the city. Maybe some of my opinion is because I was a child at the time, but I think it’s changed alot recently and that’s a big part of what inspired Streetlamp Musician. It was one of Manhattan’s little neighborhoods but it felt very free and had so much character.
I was pretty free to do my own thing and entertain myself growing up. I would climb trees, hide in them and then whisper from the tree to people walking by who would laugh, I took a lot of walks with my mom and sister and we would see prostitutes hanging out of windows from a building on 14th street trying to seduce potential customers – that’s now a posh restaurant. It was just a wild place where no one was trying to be something they weren’t but they still were passionate at creating a beautiful life and beautiful art.
In addition to your current work, you’ve shown quite a range of ability in the past – opera to rock. How did you come to music, and in particular, acoustic folk? Tell us a bit about your journey.
NG: Well I always loved singing and music. I started out singing what I was watching in the movies, lots of songs from Disney and then some musical theater songs. I ended up getting into the High School of Performing Arts in NYC (the FAME school) and there I was able to study more classical music as a way to build good technique. I think that’s a great way to start and I ended up in college studying opera having just picked up the guitar before I left for school.
Having been raised around classical music it took me a while to realize that I had actually been a songwriter of sorts. Growing up, I used to compose on the piano and make up songs a capella. When I got to college I started writing as a way of coping with the changes in my life. I was listening to a lot of Jewel’s “Pieces of You” album and that definitely shaped my sound when I was starting to write.
Now I surround myself with a lot of music from friends and artists slightly off the beaten path and I’m definitely continually inspired by their work.
Let’s talk about your first album, “Natalie Gelman”. Standout songs include “Rest of the Way”, Sweet July” and “Always Was”. Can you tell us what was behind that work?NG: Most of the record is about my first big relationship and breakup. My favorite song on there is actually “Never Had You”. It surprised us in the studio because it wasn’t one we were expecting to be great, but I think sometimes the simplest ones are.
As far as the recording, I was lucky that a friend asked if she could record an album for me. I had already been in the studio with different people to make demo’s and an EP, but we made the decision to dive into the unknown of recording a record together. She had a few friends she brought on and then it was up to me when she was done recording to really see it through mixing/mastering and then all the logistics of creating a physical CD and having it printed and released. It was a big learning experience for me at the time.
You’ve recently released “Streetlamp Musician” http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/streetlamp-musician-ep/id559892889?ign-mpt=uo%3D4. From the get-go, this work has a lot to say about love along with disappointment, hope, perhaps frustration…It opens with “One More Thing” – a sharp opening drumbeat and lost or broken love. There seems to be hope in “Long Stemmed Roses”…tell us your thoughts about this latest work.
NG: I grew up a lot since I made my first album. “Streetlamp Musician” definitely deals with the deep heartbreak of love lost. It wasn’t just inspired by different important relationships in my life though. I did a lot more observing to write the record both as an artist on “Most the While” needing to make music, as someone watching people who are in a long term relationship maybe not love each other as much as you think they would on “Long Stemmed Roses” and in what is probably my favorite song to play live “Laugh So Hard You Cry” which is that balance of hope and going through the trials of life.
Does any one track strike you as particularly significant?
NG: I haven’t lived with it long enough for just one song to be significant. They all have felt significant, sometimes two or three times over at one point or another. I am really proud of the writing on them all and the feedback that it’s been getting. “Most the While” was a very hard song for me to write emotionally. I didn’t think that it would get shared with anyone but realized after playing it for a few close people how much it helped them process things themselves and that it had to be on there.
We’ve taken a liking to “Long Stemmed Roses”. Let’s have a look and listen to your studio vid released in August.
Fantastic! You travel a lot…You played out in Utah at the Sundance Film Festival…how did that come about? Good time?
NG: I try to keep playing as much as I can where people are interested in listening… and sometimes even for people who aren’t so interested too! I went to Sundance for the first time a few years ago to play at the New York Film Lounge, but I was only scheduled to play for about 15 minutes each day.
I’m always looking for new places and chances to play and after seeing some folks busking I jumped into doing that in the freezing cold and also found some other chances to play at parties. I just put myself out there and it came together little by little growing every year as I keep going back.
What I love is that your surrounded by interesting and creative people. There are so many artists there not only filmmakers and musicians but also the crowd that is drawn out to come watch the films. I always enjoy conversations with people there, I love the Q&A after a film is shows there hearing from the folks involved what they went through making it and I just leave inspired to start off my year creatively.
What’s next for Natalie? Any particular goals in mind?
NG: I want to get back on the road a lot more next year. I’ve even started looking into a European tour and getting out there finally! If that comes together it would be later in the year 2013. Right now we are gearing up to put out the record (it’s just out digitally right now) and I know I’m going to be working hard on that but I already have plenty of songs I want to put out besides what made it on to the EP so hopefully the wait for the next album will be really short too.
Okay. I usually finish interviews by asking you if you have any particular personal superheroes [and I am going to ask, but first, I have to ask…what’s the story behind the red fox SpiritHood in your “Sundance in Your Eyes” video?
Thank you for asking. That’s one of my favorite songs lately. It’s a little love song I wrote when the opportunity to play on the Sundance Channelcame up. It happened so fast because I was asked if I had a song I could change the words to be somewhat about the festival and if so maybe I could get to play it on the Sundance Channel. I thought I would have a better chance of the opportunity if I had a song about Sundance so I told them I did already and they got back to me saying could they film it the next day at 10am… It was already dinnertime on the first night of Sundance last year and I didn’t even give up my first night of seeing people and a bit of partying to write it. I had the chords, melody and some lyrics right away and was just pushed to finish it.
It was pretty magical the way it was written and then became a bit of a theme song at the festival everywhere I went. As I said earlier Sundance is somewhat the start of the year for me and has been a catalyst for change in a lot of ways in my life. I just had so much love for the event, the films and the artists that come out and put all of that into the song. I also am blessed to have an amazing man in my life that I met when at Sundance. Brent and I ended up connecting and being together and the song was very much about him and our relationship. He’s an artist as well and has a hilarious comedy out that’s about two filmmakers struggling to follow their dreams called Eagles in the Chicken Coop. You will probably see some collaboration from us in the future too.
Connecting with Spirithoods and the making of the video for Sundance in Your Eyes happened because one of the creators, Ashley Haber, is a good friend of Brent’s and had heard the little rough cut I made of the song the night I wrote it. Spirithoods happened to be at the festival in a gifting suite raising money for charity. Part of the fun of Sundance is running around meeting friends of friends and connecting with lots of creative and wonderful people. We all met up towards the end of the festival and Ashley got the idea to film the song in the snow outside the suite we were in. We did a little one take of the song with some soft snow falling down and within minutes he had posted it to Youtube. It all just came together like a lot of things do at Sundance and was amazing to watch it become a favorite song of people who have never even been to the festival. I plan on recording and releasing it soon.
Wow! Glad we asked the question…great story! And now…personal superhero?
NG: I don’t know about a superhero but I’m a fan of people who follow their heart and dreams even when it’s tough. I’m often moved by other artists work and Brent, nature and playing with life in everyway I can inspires me a lot too.
Natalie thanks so much. Getting to know you has been very interesting, and honestly, good fun. You have an interesting story to tell and it’s a pleasure for us to work with you. It’s been a real pleasure and we wish you the very best of fortune going forward. We hope to see you in Europe – hopefully a HorizonVU Music live event!
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