A little appreciation should be heading in the direction of twenty four year old, north London based, Natty. His laid back and beautifully constructed new single ‘July’ is definitly turning out to be one of the essentials for this summers listening musts. Reviews for his debut album, ‘Man like I’, make it transparent to one and all that here we are dealing with a young man who’s currently got it all going on with some great sounds. For me, you can hear influences as far afield as Pink Floyd to Finley Quaye. In its entirety, Natty’s music is a melting pot of styles delivered with a social consciousness that gets you thinking…which, in this day and age, can be no bad thing. Before his show here in October, Outline caught up with the man of the moment to find out a little more of where he’s coming from…and of course where he’s planning to go…
Your introduction to the music world started out with a job at ‘Sphere’ recording studio in Battersea. Can you tell us a little bit about life back then?
I joined there when I left school; I joined there not really knowing that much and yeah, it was a really cool time I had there, man. I went there, I guess you could say, as a tea-boy and before that I was doing bits and pieces in some studios, but nothing to the level that I did at Sphere. Yeah, I mean the first session that I sat in on, just on my second day, was a Nile Rodgers session; it was Nile Rodgers producing Duran Duran I think. From there on it was just slow and steady… I mean, working in a studio is never as much as it’s cracked up to be; the money’s shit and the time – I’d fill in time sheets and sometimes they’d be up to 350 hours in a month, that’s not a joke. So yeah, I did that for four or five years; as I said, I started off as tea-boy and then worked up to assistant engineer. All of that, when you’ve worked up to assistant engineer, that’s where the real hard work is; tea-boy is about learning, assistant engineer is when you’re doing all the crazy hours for like, minimum wage.
Do you think that your time there gave you a better insight into the production end of things?
Yeah totally, ‘cause what I would do if I was coming to the end of a session, no matter how late it was – because you usually can’t go home or go to sleep ‘cause you have to wait for all the tapes to back up – I’d be doing my own stuff, like sometimes there’d be periods where the studio was empty, so again, I’d go in there in my downtime. That was really the main incentive, I guess, of why I was there for so long – I could just use a free studio whenever I wanted. I used to do all types of things, like, if their session had finished, I’d put their music away and maybe put my music on through similar settings that the guy had just used who I was assisting, or whatever. Shit like that, like, for example, how a kick drum could sound if I used his settings as opposed to what I’d used from another day – just stuff like that y’know?
As you got more advanced there and your skills development, was there a degree of frustration as you weren’t yet producing or performing your own material?
Erm, I didn’t really have no ambitions to perform, to be honest, that only came once I’d left. The main thing that I got frustrated about was not being able to say nothing because you’re in a role where you’re just an assistant and you can just hear stuff going on and you’re like “man, if only you did this…”
So were you looking at these big established acts and secretly thinking ‘you’re doing that all wrong mate’?
Yeah I did and it was real cool, ‘cause there were some situations where I could say it, but that’s only when you’d developed a good relationship with the artist, but that didn’t really happen very often, so most of the time I’d be like ‘’damn”. There were times where I did some really shit sessions, but I also did some amazing sessions as well…
Who would you count as the ‘amazing sessions’?
Erm, Mos’ Def. That was cool…
Which release was that for?
It was for Floetry – Mos’ Def and Floetry. Floetry were doing this live album and they were doing two studio songs on there and one of them was this song featuring Mos’ Def, and it just so happened that because Floetry are from here, they came to the studio and Mos’ Def was over here doing some play – he was in play, so they hooked up. That was amazing ‘cause I didn’t even know that he’s an amazing jazz piano player as well.
Did you manage to jam with him yourself at all?
Yeah I did and it was really cool.
I love him, I mean, I think ‘Black on Both Sides’ is one of the best albums ever…
Yeah, cool, we’re coming from the same kinds of taste then.
Who else did you work with while you were there?
I mean, Razorlight was a really big session, like, but that was coming to the end of my time there. That was one of the ones where I could kinda say what I thought; that was, I guess, what I’d call my break in terms of the engineering side of things, ‘cause I engineered a few songs on that album rather than just assisting on them. Yeah, it was real cool ‘cause they would all listen to what I was saying and stuff, like, I always have ideas, like whenever someone plays me some music I always have ideas, ‘cause that’s just how I am, especially if I like it and I like their music. I mean the second album was what it was and they kind of went a bit more down the U2 route, but the first album for me, like going down the whole punk side of things was real cool and yeah, that was a cool experience. I worked with loads of big names I guess, but it’s hard to remember them all.
Moving on, looking through your press stuff there’s been some great quotes about the album, which I’m sure you’ve heard before –
I don’t read the press!
Well, rest assured, there’s been some really positive stuff written, so I just wondered if you thought stuff like that actually helps or hinders an artist in this day and age, especially with a debut album…
Erm, I suppose they can help but they can also hinder. They can help because… actually, I don’t think they help, that’s why I don’t really read them. I check with loads of artists and some artists read all their reviews and like, I remember Johnny from Razorlight used to read everything and sometimes I’d chat to him about that and I went away learning that maybe I shouldn’t do that because I could feel that sometimes he’d be a little bit on edge and I could see that. So yeah, going back to the studio question again, I learnt loads of things from that in terms of not just the recording side of things, but also how I could deal with stuff on the outside. I think these days it’s all different, like, if I’d have released an album in 1978 or something, it would have been a completely different ballgame. In terms of all the hype, I don’t really check for none of it; even after gigs I don’t do the after-party thing, I just go straight to the hotel. I mean, some artists wait around and see what groupies they can pick up – that’s not me, you know what I’m saying?! In terms of the press an’ that, I don’t really read it, I mean, sometimes my manager will send me like a 5 star review, for example, just to sort of show me a 5 star, I mean, he’s not gonna send me all the stuff and I don’t really want to see it.
Looking back, you did shitloads of festivals this summer – I believe your Glastonbury show was unreal, but I wondered who you saw over the summer that really blew your mind?
Good question… ‘cause there wasn’t that many! I wished I could have seen Kings of Leon at Glastonbury, but I turned up the day after they played because we were at another festival just the day before that so we couldn’t get down, but I saw them on TV later that night and that looked pretty special. Er, what stuff have I seen at festivals… Ocean Colour Scene were pretty cool; I did this festival in Ireland and I did the last day there. It was really weird ‘cause there were only four or five artists a day, one of them being an Irish act, so they’d have the Irish acts on first, then the other four artists. It went Ocean Colour Scene, then me, then Starsailor, then Travis… and Starsailor, well, Travis are shit and Starsailor are average, but Ocean Colour Scene went on before me and there was just two of them and there was just them on two guitars and that was real impressive man. Like never, ever, ever do I ever get like “woah, shit, how do I go on after that”, because I know how good I am live – I know that whatever happens, live, I’ve got it unlocked and every time I come off stage, people who are on after me are like “hey, good show, but do I have to go on now?!” I was like that a bit with Ocean Colour Scene I’ve got to say, ‘cause they did tear it down which was pretty cool.
You’ve recently been involved with the Love Music / Hate Racism campaign – how effective do think this has been?
Erm, not that effective, I mean, it’s like with a lot of organisations, there’s a lot of bureaucracy. I mean, the concert was a real good thing, you know, however – and I don’t want to talk shit about them, ‘cause it’s hard to – but the idea of Love Music Hate Racism is a brilliant idea, because we need that as a country, you know, especially with something like the BNP that are starting to get seats and ra ra ra…In terms of the heart of the charity, it’s in a real good place, but in terms of how it gets dealt with…no one’s ever cut my set before. (At the concert) I was the only black artist on that stage and I was the only one whose set got cut; I wasn’t allowed to play my last song… I’m sure it’s not racism, but some of the other indie acts went on for 20 minutes more than they should have.
Ok, so should we leave that there then?
I don’t mind man, I speak my mind. I told them that. And if someone asks me that, I’ll ask that again. Say what you’re gonna say. I’m not trying to make friends; I’m trying to tell the truth. But I don’t want to talk shit about that organisation, ‘cause essentially the heart of it is good. They cut me off early, ‘cause the person who was coming on after me, who was one of the people running for Mayor at the time, one of the socialist party, had to go home to her family, so they decided to cut my set short. I was like, ‘what the fuck?’ Basically it was like two sixty year old white middle class people coming and kicking off the only black person they had on stage all day. It just looked so wrong, everyone was booing; it was like ‘how can they do this?’ I was just about to go into ‘Coloured Souls’ which would have been perfect for the event… so it was just like “ah man!”
This month is officially Black History Month; will you be getting involved?
Yeah, we’re planning an event for Vibes and Pressure and I’m playing at another gig which is to raise awareness for Black History Month. At the moment it’s just two gigs but I’d like to get involved in terms of… a friend of mine is involved in a programme called Community Builders, so he’s trying to get me into a couple of schools to do some talks.
The members of your backing band are actually your friends, rather than a bunch of session musicians… surely it must be great fun out on the road?
Yeah it’s a ball man. We spend our whole time jamming, to be honest. We’re all obsessed with grooves and trying to find that pocket. So literally, any time we get bored we just jam, we swap instruments (laughs). I’m a pretty good bass player now. It’s cool, being on the road with them is like a blessing, ‘cause they are all super talented. I’ve worked with a whole heap of musicians, some of them being the best session musicians in England, but there’s something about the touch and feel of playing simple music, when you get it right…
It can be a beautiful thing?
Exactly, so after gigs we normally just go back to the hotel, get a little bottle of rum, chill, and then just jam for the rest of the night. There’s a lot of driving in the tour, so there’s DVDs on the bus; we play cards… it’s like going out with your brothers or something…
Who was the first artist you heard that made you decide you wanted to be a musician?
What do you think you’d be if this hadn’t worked out?
There was the possibility I could have been a second division footballer. I was pretty good at football back in the day. I was never good enough to make it into the top league. I was at the Lilleshall England School of Excellence. I got as far as the last 32…
Nearly a squad player…
(Laughs). Yeah man…
OK, on top of your singer / songwriter thing, you run a successful Kentish town club night ‘Vibes and Pressure’, can you tell us a little bit more about this?
It is something which is more about a feeling than a night. I’ve always said “let’s make a collective out of it”, or “let’s make a label or a social enterprise movement out of it”, or “let’s make a night out of it”. The night side of it came about a couple of years ago. I got some artists down to come and play and we did it in a pub near where I live in Kentish Town. It was real cool; we had about four or five artists down. We had that platform so we just moved it on, so there was DJs and food there, it was a place you could go and chill and different organisations I might be involved with, like Love Music. All these different people come down and have stalls set up and everyone would be jamming on a Sunday afternoon. There was great West Indian food which we brought in. It was just one big vibe and everyone got into it. Every artist who wanted to play had to be coming on a conscious tip; that was the only criteria if you were going to play. I mean, you had to be good as well, but you could only go on if you had somethin’ worth saying. So if you want some conscious music, good food and nice people then that was us. We’ve had Mr. Hudson, Get Cape. Wear Cape… I can’t remember all the other artists. It used to be once every couple of months, but I haven’t done it in a while, ‘cause the last time it started to get a bit hectic, there was too many people.
Few people are lucky enough meet their heroes, but you got to support Lee Perry, who i understand is someone you’ve cited as a massive influence on your work…
I didn’t get to meet him; well I did get to, but I ran away. Every time he went somewhere I’d kinda go the other way. I didn’t want to be disappointed, ‘cause he actually is my hero. I didn’t want all the things people say about him to be true. Like, he’s fuckin’ nuts or he’s this or that, so I didn’t want to meet him. However, I shared one of the best moments ever with him. Although I supported him, he had no idea of that because he was running late. When he came on I was towards the front watching him, as he was about three or four songs through his set he kinda looked at me, walked across the stage and put out his fist to me, just to me, no-one else at all throughout the show. I was thinking ‘wow’ and then half an hour later I got offered my record contract… so it was a pretty good night.
Finally, you’ve played in Norwich before have you any lasting memories of your time here?
Yeah I do. Some people had written Natty all over the walls at the venue and they thought it was us. We were supporting Kate Nash and we had an amazing response there and that’s what I remember… the response and the writing on the wall…