With three buzzed-about EPs to her name and jaunts supporting acts such as Jake Bugg and The Courteeners, Natalie Findlay is slowly yet undoubtedly establishing herself as a brand of brash yet intelligent rock n’ roll. Her sleazy but smart tunes exude a confidence and hummability that is becoming all the more difficult to find in a world of meandering meekness and blog-approved playlists.
The Edge were lucky enough to have a chat with her a few hours before her headline set at a sold-out 100 Club; we talked influences, conspiracy theories and cannibalistic foxes.
The last time I saw you was at Reading; it was about midday and you managed to fill the Festival Republic tent and stir people up in to a moshing frenzy when you would have thought most people were still asleep. How satisfying was it to be on that early in the morning yet still get such a great, enthusiastic crowd?
To be honest I didn’t really know what to expect from the show; I thought we’d be playing to 20 people. I popped my head around the curtain ten minutes before we went on and it was half full so I thought ‘this’ll be fine’ and then when we actually came on stage it was rammed and whilst we were playing more and more people kept walking in to the tent, so yeah, I kind of overindulged my expectation I guess.
Probably the biggest show you played last summer was when you supported The Courteeners at Castlefield Bowl; how did it feel walking out and seeing that many people waiting to hear your music?
Well they weren’t there for us, they were there for The Courteeners; but it was still a nice feeling. We’ve played a bunch of shows with those guys so I think a lot of their fans got turned on to my music by seeing me play with them, so there were a few of our fans there as well which was nice; but yeah, that was a mad, mad day that.
Your latest single ‘Greasy Love’ was produced by Flood; what was it like to work with such a revered producer?
When I first met him I had just flown back from Ibiza on my birthday and I was supporting Miles Kane at Dingwalls that night so I was just wired from adrenaline; he must’ve thought I was absolutely mental. He’s such a cool guy, he’s such a laugh as well; I was expecting this kind of really serious Phil Spectre character but he’s not like that at all, he’s really chilled out. And to work with someone who has worked with so many of my musical heroes like PJ Harvey, it was really humbling that he wanted to work with me. That was definitely one of my favourite studio moments.
For the music video, you filmed on a cold morning at 5am on the roof of a warehouse in Hackney Wick; was it worth freezing your bum off for the end result?
I was in hair and makeup at five in the afternoon and I got in to bed at half five in the morning, so it was like a twelve-hour shoot; but it was mint, I loved that shoot, it was so fun. I saw a fox eating another fox and we didn’t see any other people, it was really weird. My eyes were watering from the cold at one point and every time we’d cut a scene the runner would come and put, like, ten coats on me and I’d just stand there freezing and then when we’d start filming again I’d have to strip off; it was just horrible but definitely worth it. When I got the first cut back my eyes are so wide in it because it was so cold; I think it probably added to it and made me give a more energetic performance just to try and keep warm.
You’ve said before that one of your big influences is John Cooper Clarke; how would you say his poetry influences your lyricism?
Whenever I kind of have a dip or a lack of inspiration I can just go back and read through all of his stuff and it always fires me up to start writing something again. The same way with Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground; you’ve always got certain poems or bands or artists that you go back to when you need that kick up the arse and you think ‘if I can write something fucking half as good as this I’m on to something. My dad was always really in to John Cooper Clarke; my dad’s called John as well, so he got me in to him when I was about 14. I remember the first time I saw him live I was 16 at Leeds Festival and I think I was probably the youngest person in the tent, and I went by myself as none of my mates knew who he was. But yeah, I fucking love him, I’ve seen him quite a few times, I just think he’s a genius.
What was your inspiration behind writing Greasy Love?
A bit of a weird one actually; I got really quite heavily into conspiracy theories and there’s this theory that Barbara Bush’s mother, Pauline Pierce had an affair with Aleister Crowley and that Barbara Bush is the lovechild of their affair. And Aleister Crowley always said that the fruit of his loins would be responsible for the biggest war that the war has ever seen, and obviously George W. Bush chose to go ahead with the Iraq war. But it wasn’t really meant to be about the lovechild, more about the forbidden love. I think ‘greasy’ is such a good way to describe the kind of forbidden, fucked up love which comes out of an affair.
Yeah, sort of it being a bit icky.
Yeah, a little bit gross, a little bit sleazy. And then ‘I was whispered in heaven and sung in hell’ is meant to be about him and being drawn to the body he wanted to be with. It just kind of came from there; I guess when I write I’ve got a train of thought and then if something rhymes then I’m like ‘fuck it, I’ll add that in there, that sounds good’.
Your music and videos are incredibly sexually charged; what motivates you to write so candidly about sex and sexuality?
I’m not sure really, I just think that I’m very confident within myself and I don’t think women being provocative or sexual should really be seen as a bad thing. I don’t like seeing female artists who have been groomed by their record label and management to be trashy-sexy with nothing to back it up, but I don’t see anything wrong with provocative imagery. If you’ve got it and you can own it, go for it.
It’s part of rock n’ roll really, to be provocative.
I never would ever strip off or anything like that; I’m head to toe covered in all of my videos, I don’t have anything hanging out, but I don’t see anything wrong with being sexual.
Recently you featured in the Evening Standard’s list of the most influential under-25 year-olds in London; does it feel strange to see yourself regarded as having that level of influence?
To be honest I don’t really feel like I have any influence over anybody, so for them to put me in that list… I found it really bizarre. I just make stupid songs and dance around, there are kids doing fucking programming for NASA who are probably much more influential than me. But it was nice to be recognised for doing something creative; the photoshoot we did was really fun for that and the girl that interviewed me was great. It’s just one of those things that’s nice to do and when it comes along you can’t really say no. So it was nice to be appreciated, the nod from them.
When you get put forward for things like that, does that amount of hype ever feel daunting, especially before you’ve released an album?
To be honest I think there are so many more bands that get so much more hype; there is so much more pressure on other bands. I think that I’ve been lucky in that I’ve not been that overhyped; some bands get really overhyped and I think it’s kind of damaging, especially if you start to believe your own hype; that’s an easy way to fuck your head up. And then you release a record and it gets panned by the same people who built you up. I could name bands but I don’t want to get myself in trouble, but there are a lot of bands who I think are fucking shit and they get so much hype, but I reckon once their albums are out they’ll be finished. I’m not too worried, I don’t think I’ve been hyped, I’m happy with the amount of press and I have a really solid fanbase who I can reply to without having to go through loads of weirdos and people trying to sell me stuff. So yeah, I’m happy with where I’m at right now. Obviously down the line and once the record’s out I’d like to widen the fanbase and everything like that, but I’m happy with the kind of slow build that I’m getting right now. I’ve sold out the 100 Club without having to sell my soul.
On that note, you’ve put out three brilliant singles over the past 18 months; when can we expect an album?
Well I’m going in to the studio this week to record some tracks with a producer called Chris Zane [The Walkmen, Passion Pit, Friendly Fires]. He’s flying over from New York to do that, so if that goes well then I’ll probably be doing some of the record with him. I still feel like I’ve got a lot of songs left in me to write for this album; it’ll definitely be out next year, I’m hoping by the summer, but I’m releasing another EP in February. I still don’t really know what sound I want to commit to for the record; from when I released ‘Your Sister’ to ‘Greasy Love’, the difference in production and the way that I manoeuvre myself in the studio has changed so much, if I’ve still got another six months… who knows where I’m going to be at then. I just want to experiment with different sounds and different ways of making records before I can commit to what I want the album to sound like. Which is great because by then I would’ve done three EPs and another record so I’m hoping that will give me enough time to figure myself out and figure out how I want to make the album.
What is the one thing you worry about most before you go on stage?
Whether the crowd is going to get into it or not. We played in Birmingham on a Monday night in a pub and it was just like when the crowd stand there with their arms folded staring at you; you can’t really tell if someone’s having a good time. But then, I wouldn’t go and mosh out at a gig on a Monday night in Birmingham. People came up to me afterwards and said ‘that was really great’ so I was like ‘well you could have fucking danced or nodded your head a little bit!’ That worries me, are the crowd going to be into this? Am I going to be able to feed off their vibe? Because when crowds are going for it you get so much out of it – when you’re on stage – and because you’re getting so much out of them it’s like a nice little game of ping-pong; the audience bounces off the artist and the artist bounces off the audience and you feed off each other’s energy. That’s when a show is really great and every time I play in Manchester it’s like that so I’m really excited for that one, that’s going to be a great one.
If there was one act you could recommend to someone right now (aside from yourself) who would it be?
I’ve been listening to some good music recently. There’s a band called Wampire, they’re great. There’s a band called Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci who I’ve got in to; my mate played me some of them and I love them, a Welsh 90s band. There’s a girl called Marika Hackman who’s really cool, she’s kind of folky. Death Grips are fucking great, the new record is fucking amazing. There’s a band called Cults who are really great. There’s a band called Reputante as well, they’re on Julian Casablancas’ record label, really cool. And I quite like that band The Orwells; I’m really looking forward to Beck’s new record as well.
Findlay’s latest EP ‘Greasy Love’ was released last week.