Our new music feature Track by Track gives an artists the opportunity to delve into the stories of each and every track on their latest album.
The album was written, the tour scheduled, the pieces all in place. It had been almost two years since Natalie Prass’ self-titled debut garnered rave reviews for its luscious, baroque-pop sounds. At the end of 2016, the singer-songwriter’s sophomore follow-up was almost ready to be released. Then the election happened.
“I had a record ready to go,” Prass says. “And I scrapped it.”
What followed was a trying time for the Richmond, Virginia, native, full of soul-searching, dark thoughts, and a protracted fight with her (now former) record label. But Prass was insistent. “I can’t release a neutral record right now,” she says. “I need to contribute to the conversation.” Her determination and focused songwriting has finally led her to her new album, The Future and the Past.
It’s been three-and-a-half years since Prass’ debut, and her newest effort has her returning in fighting form. She once again worked with producer Matthew E. White and the Spacebomb House Band, who are quietly earning a reputation as one of the best house bands around. Prass’ gorgeous orchestral strings are back, but with a smaller role this time around. Instead, she’s rummaged through the thrift shops of music history, dusting off artifacts of funk and soul, Brazilian tropicalia, indie folk, and bedazzled LA rock. The result is eclectic, fun, and thoroughly groovy — a polished statement of raw feeling.
Stream the entirety of The Future and the Past below via Spotify and Apple Music.
For more insights into the album from the artist herself, read the Track by Track breakdown below.
At the time I was writing these songs in 2016 and 2017, right after the election, I was pretty raw and feeling so many emotions. The news was just pounding down on all of us. It was a lot to handle and feeling like my life was changing and the country was changing and the world was changing really quickly.
So, I would go to my little rehearsal space — I shared this shitty rehearsal space with metal dudes for a while. I would go there in the morning time when there were no metal people playing and lie on the floor and cry. Read, write, play piano for a little bit, and cry. I felt like it was my responsibility to try and put some positive energy into the world and talk about things that were very real. The only thing that was hard about it was convincing the label I was with at the time that it was a good idea, because they were not into it at all.
“Short Court Style”:
So, “Short Court” was already gonna be on the other record. For that one, I already wrote the music for a short film called Oh Jerome, No that was written by Teddy Blanks and Alex Karpovsky. They asked me to write the music for it, and I wrote maybe five or six tunes for that little short film. That was the opening track, the montage, without lyrics or anything. Then when the short film came out, people were hitting me up like, “Where do I get that song? I need that song.” So, I was thinking, “Oh, I should just write lyrics to this and make it an actual song I can put on my record.” Usually, the melody and chords come to me pretty effortlessly, and then I start building from there. Usually, when I co-write, I have people who help me fill in lyrics and help me put my thoughts together. Usually, the chords and the melody are what I feel most confident about.
“Interlude: Your Fire”:
It’s funny, I didn’t intend for that to be split up. Everybody was like, “”The Fire” should be a single, but we need to split up that intro and make it a separate track,” and I was like, “No!” But I get it. It was intended to be all one piece, but it’s kind of cool; a lot of my favorite records have interludes, so I was like, “Ok, ok, I’ll split it up.”
I wrote a version of that song in Nashville with my buddy Mikky Ekko. We wrote that a long time ago, and then I couldn’t remember how it went. That song was on an old laptop that died. I’m really bad with technology, so when a computer dies I’m like, “Well, that’s it.” But that one…I went from memory, and kind of re-wrote the whole thing. I thought it was a good story of feeling in-between, of knowing you need to get out of something but feeling stuck at the same time. The whole…the future and the past… stuck in-between, very much in the present – knowing what has happened and what led you here – But what’s going to happen in the future?
“Hot for the Mountain”:
That one is a protest song, a political song for staying focused. You might feel like you’re the only one, but you’re not. “Hot for the Mountain”, like, it’s not gonna be an easy way, but just stay positive. It’s kind of like, “You’re not alone.” I feel really numb to a lot of stuff now. I’m just trying to focus on the big picture, doing what I know I can do, making sure I always vote — that is so important to me now. It’s like, “Oh, I’ll do it on the big election.” But now it’s like, “No, I am always going to stay up on it” and be involved in my local elections, especially. I knew it was important before, but now it’s a very high priority.
That one goes with the Me Too movement. I really didn’t want that song to be on the record. I didn’t want to give the person it’s about any kind of ammo against me. The Me Too movement has been really hard on me, personally, because it’s really painful to remember things that have happened to you — but I’m so grateful for it at the same time. Now there’s all this language, there’s all this support, when you just felt like you were so alone … People were like, “You just have to deal with it and move on.” Which, yeah, you have to move on. You can’t live your life in pain like that. It’s nice to know there’s brave women out there and they’re telling their stories. I’m a pretty private person, but I think it’s important to have solidarity with people who have had experiences like myself.
Matt’s the producer. He’s been my buddy for a very long time and is like a big brother to me, and he lives a 10-minute walk from my apartment. I went to his house almost every day during those couple months and spent a lot of time sitting in his kitchen drinking coffee. He had this drum machine, and he had this beat he made on his drum machine, and I was like, “Oh, that’s what I’m feeling right now. Let’s write to this beat.” It was a heavy-hitting kind of beat, and I wanted it to be kind of like a fight song for how I was feeling. I was feeling extremely hopeless at the time, feeling that people don’t want to listen to women, people don’t want women leaders, women cut each other down, men cut women down, there are so many deep stereotypes, and women are pitted against one another. Basically that entire song is A Minor. I was listening to a lot of gospel music when the election happened. I wanted to put some of that feeling into the new music I was writing.
“Never Too Late”:
The label I was with before I parted ways with them — after this record (laughs) — they were like, “How would you feel about going to LA and writing with some people?” I was like, “Sure, I’ll try it.” And that was the worst month of my life. These people… All right, they’re just trying to get by, like me, and they have to hustle way more than I do because I live in a very cheap city, and they live in LA. Of course, they want to write music that could potentially make money. But that’s not where my interests are. I was miserable. It made me feel like the one thing I know how to do very well I don’t know how to do. People were treating me like I didn’t know how to write music. We couldn’t agree on anything.
My publisher, who I’ve been working with since I was 23 years old, was like, “Hey, Nat, there’s this guy out there, Steve Lindsey, this old LA scene kind of guy. I feel like you might like him.” He’s this old LA session dude. Used to play with Toto back in the day. He knew exactly where I was coming from. It was this bright light in the middle of all the terrible. I was having fun, relaxing, like, yeah, “Let’s write this glitzy, shiny, Steely Dan kind of song.” Of course, I don’t relate to the people my age or the people younger than me. I relate to the people 70 and up. That’s so me. We wrote that song super fast. I had the melody already. For the chorus, either, “It’s too late,” or “It’s never too late.” They helped me tighten up the loose ends. But I had a pretty solid idea of what I wanted to do already.
“Ship Go Down”:
I really love psychedelic tropicalia music. Tropicalia music was a huge political movement, and I was taking inspiration from how they expressed their political views. Brazilian music has the most beautiful melodies, harmonies, and it’s groovy: it takes from jazz, pop, R&B, and american blues. The lyrics are really meaningful and thought-provoking and poetic, talking about politics in Brazil at the time.
No place is perfect, and I always thought America had a ton of problems. But I at least felt like we were moving in the right direction. I thought, “There’s no way people are going to vote for this…” I was so naive. I knew it was going to be close. Then the shock. Going out in Richmond — and Richmond is very progressive — but going out, thinking, “Who did they vote for? Who did they vote for?” Feeling like I don’t know where I live anymore. That’s definitely the darkest song on the record.
“Nothing to Say”:
I’ve had that one for a long time, and I’ve always wanted to record that one, and I thought the time is right now. There’s so many talking heads. That one was funny when we were recording it in the studio, because Matt was all, “I don’t know what to do with this song,” and I was like, “I got it, I got it, I got it! We’re going to record this marble bouncing off the floor, and then we’re going to have this bell sound!” And then Matt just basically cleaned up the huge mess I made.
“Far from You”:
That one’s written about Karen Carpenter. I’ve always loved her; I’ve always thought she was this beautiful soul. She’s very misunderstood, and people often only think about her in terms of how she died [from complications due to anorexia]. But there’s so much more than that. She was from a time when women didn’t play drums; women were up front and singing. She didn’t have a choice. Her label and everybody pushed her out from the kit. Once she got pushed out front, the body shaming started. It got to her head. She started to feel like she didn’t have any control over her career and what she was doing musically. The one thing she could control was her diet. Always in a competition with her family, who favored her brother. You can hear how kind she is and how much she just loves singing and gets a joy out of music. I wanted to write a tribute to her.
That was straight up trying to bring joy into a harsh reality. You have to keep moving and stay energized. We weren’t intending it, originally, to be such an upbeat tune. We were thinking it would be a little more subdued, almost more of a piano, mid-tempo groove sort of thing. But once we got in the studio, I was like, “This isn’t what I need right now. We gotta pick this up.” It took a long time for us to figure out where that one was supposed to sit, but it got there. That’s what’s so fun about creating and putting a production together. If you have a pretty solid song you can mold it to be whatever you want it to be. I wanted to end on a high note.