Newcastle-based folk-infused artist Nathalie Stern plays Empty Shop, Durham this month so Reece Hanrahan caught up with her to speak about her musical influences, fairytales, and writing music.
Your music has been described as ‘dark folk-drone-electronica.’ Do you feel this is an appropriate way to describe your music?
I think that’s pretty accurate – I coined it! I’ve been writing folk-infused music for most of my years and it took a darker turn a few years ago when I introduced a MicroKorg to my set up. That’s what brought the drone element as you get some gut-wrenchingly amazing sounds out of the Korg by just pressing one key.
What are some of your musical influences when it comes to creating your sound?
I’m inspired by so many artists that don’t particularly sound like me – such as Neko Case, Tom Petty, Bjork, Krzysztof Komeda – but the theme is that they all seem to speak straight to my heart, and that’s how I write my music. There’s no theory involved at all, only pure feeling. If it feels right, then it’s a keeper.
Do you draw on anything else other than music when writing?
I’m really intrigued by fairytales and spooky things – particularly anything nature/pagan/animal mysticism-derived and a bit psychedelic. HP Lovecraft is a given, of course – also Angela Carter, Sarah Waters, and comics such as Beasts of Burden and Saga.
How old were you when you began to write music?
I joined my first band when I was 16 but it took me a couple of years before I started writing songs myself. I think the first song I wrote was ‘Leach’ for my band Candysuck back in Sweden. I’d meant for it to be called ‘Leash’ but my school English failed me at the time!
Do you feel that the process of writing your music has changed as you’ve matured as an artist?
Definitely. When I first started writing music I always used guitar as the basis for the song, adding a vocal melody to it. I did that for years until I swapped it out for the MicroKorg only a few years ago. I found that I struggled to write guitar-based music anymore and moved into more vocal-based writing, experimenting with harmonies and different vocal effects.
Your sound has progressed from being more traditional folk to transcending those restrictive barriers into something more experimental. How did this progression come about?
In truth, I became bored with my own music! I realised that the songs didn’t really represent anything that I was feeling at the time and I wanted to have fun with music again. By moving away from the idea of adhering to certain song structures (verse/chorus etc), I allowed myself to play around with sounds instead of worrying about writing “proper songs”.
You’ve stated that you’re planning on releasing an album next year. How is progress coming along with that? And could you tell us more about it?
It’s going very slowly, I’m afraid. I’m recording it at home and I keep getting distracted by the cat and awesome new TV shows. Joking aside, I’m still new to the home recording set up I’ve got and it’s taking a lot of time every time I go in to record, which, after a full day’s work, means that I only get a few hours in. I know it’ll get quicker, I just have to get over this hump before it will become easier and more enjoyable. Let’s just say that it will take the time it takes and at some point in the near to mid-future, there will be an album out with a bunch of songs on it.
Nathalie Stern plays Empty Shop, Durham on Sunday 17th December. Tickets are priced at £5.00 on the door.