Liverpool-based singer-songwriter Natalie McCool released her latest single Closure last week taken from her forthcoming third album that's close to completion and slated for a 2021 release. We talk to her about the single, her embrace of a number of different styles in the recording of her album, disappointment at missing out on the SXSW experience this year and what other exciting projects she's currently working on.
You released a new single Closure last week. Could you tell us about what the track is about?
Closure is about the many frustrations and feelings of a break up. We’ve all been in that head space where you just cannot forget a person, - and whether it’s the shitty things they’ve done to you or how good they made you feel - everything and in-between - what matters is you just can’t rid yourself of them. And you really, REALLY want to, so much so that you try bury them in your head. It’s also about knowing you don’t have a strong enough willpower yet to properly kick them out of your thoughts and therefore your thoughts keep coming to them back again and again.
I also really like to play with humour in my songwriting and Closure has an ‘if you don’t laugh you’ll cry’ kind of message. It also leads into a lot of the other songs on my forthcoming album, which in general has a strong theme of the fragility of being human. We are definitely too hard on ourselves a lot of the time, and we should forgive ourselves a bit more.
The rainbow image features quite prominently, could you explain what the meaning is behind that?
As above it’s to do with the range of feeling you get when you break a bond with someone. Usually this break is dealt with as either extremely positive (they were no good for you) or extremely negative (they were the ‘one that got away’). It’s those in-between bits that are the killer though, the confusion, the second guessing, loving and hating them at the same time, or just being indifferent to the point where you wonder what the point of it was. That’s why there’s a rainbow image used in every chorus - all of these in-between feelings are valid and you have to go through them all to really achieve closure. But that’s a positive to me, because you come out the other side wiser and stronger.
Do you see your music as an outlet for what's going on in your life, a means of expressing yourself in a way that you might not otherwise be able to do?
Haha. That is a really interesting question. The answer is most definitely yes, but interestingly, sometimes I don’t consider life there and then when I’m writing - but it comes back and kicks me in the butt later on. My life always aligns with these songs when I’m releasing them. It’s like my subconscious knows exactly what is going to happen at what point, and allows me to write a song about it ready and waiting. Spooky.
You've released a few singles over the past few months and at shows have mentioned an album in the making. How is the album progressing?
It’s pretty much ready which I am mega happy about! I’m still working on one of the tracks, a very new one I wrote in December. I really am excited to get it out into the world.
I can feel how I’ve progressed with my writing and my sound since my last album, and it’s in a big way. The depth of the themes are huge. There’s a lot about loss, self-awareness, a lot about belonging and feeling part of something. I can’t wait to get started on the more visual aspect of the album, in particular the music videos. I have a lot of ideas on that. But apart from that…It’s ready but I’m not!
Release will probably be 2021 now, because of everything that’s happening - a lot of people are pushing things back. I’ve had a few people tell me maybe it’s a good idea to release it now seeing as everything else has been pushed back, which is on the surface a great idea. However you do have to think of other things going on and how that’s affecting everyone, and yourself.
And what can we expect from it - the singles have demonstrated that there's quite a range in the songs you've been writing recently?
Yeah for sure. Someone Nue and Closure really are the different ends of the spectrum on the album. Probably quite brave of me to address that in the singles first off! I think the difference in them is like a splash of cold water, it makes people take notice.
The next single will be sat right in-between those two in terms of feel, I think it’s the vital link. As mentioned the album has some big themes. There’s one song Take Me To Your Leader which addresses the idea of belonging; are we alone through life or not? Another called Tongue Tied is about the pressure of being responsible and adult, and fighting against your mean inner voice to believe in your abilities. Another called Listen To The Radio addresses memories from childhood and responsibilities as an adult and how sometimes when things are too much you can see the world as a child again - and exploring how this is can be a good coping mechanism but also one that can regress you emotionally. It’s a balance isn’t it? Basically, life can be confusing and challenging, and it’s hard to know where to fit in - so give yourself a break sometimes. In a nutshell.
It'll be your third album after your 2013 self-titled debut and 2016's The Great Unknown. Did you ever envisage you'd make three albums when you first started out singing, playing and writing?
No way! I don’t think anyone does really. The general consensus is ‘let’s see how I go’. I’m just happy that I have enough material and ideas to make three album’s worth of songs. Because it’s not easy making an album, you want it to be able to make sense. I will say that I have put a lot of thought into this album, and how each of the songs relate. It was written over a number of years, not deliberately, I just wanted to find the right collection of songs that fit and I think I really have. Even at the end when it was close, I felt there was something missing, which is why I have one more track to finish. But there’s always one more track!!
Your track Wondrous Place appears in the HBO / Sky Atlantic series The Third Day which features the likes of Naomi Harris and Jude Law. How did that come about?
Wondrous Place is a cover of a Billy Fury track. Billy Fury was a pop star from Liverpool at his height during the 50’s and 60’s. When I was at Uni I won a grant from the charity set up in his name to help musicians, and I was able to buy the musical equipment I really needed at that point to further me as a writer and performer.
Fast forward to Threshold Festival a few years ago, I was asked by Q magazine editor and writer Paul Du Noyer to cover a song live during his panel and Q&A for the festival. He had a book out called Liverpool : Wondrous Place which features as an index of a hundred songs written by Liverpudlians. He asked me to choose one to perform live during his panel. Seeing as I had a strong connection to Billy Fury already, and the foundation had really helped me set up as a musician, I decided I would honour that and chose to cover Wondrous Place.
I gave it more or less the opposite feel from the original. My version is very unsettling, a growing guitar drone throughout all on one chord; the lyrics when you look at them properly I think are quite sinister and pleading, made more effective by the vocals - I made a point of kind of whispering them so it feels like they are right next to your ear. Playing it live, it got a great reception so I decided to record it properly.
I was working with Grammy award winning producer Steve Levine at this point, and Steve produced the track. Fast forward a few years later, and it gets used on The Third Day trailer, a new thriller about a mysterious island; with travellers making their way towards this island in a parallel reality from ours. I can see why they used the track, as the show’s plot line and trailer so far paints a post-apocalyptic, sinister place. Wondrous Place is a pretty perfect choice to soundtrack that.
You were intending to go to SXSW this year. How huge a disappointment was it that the trip had to be cancelled and are you planning on going back next year?
Yes it was a real disappointment, seeing how much planning myself and my team had put into the trip and what we wanted to achieve from it. I think my invitation to play at the festival came at the perfect time for this year - however I believe that next year we will be stronger and more prepared, and with the album 100% complete and ready to drop! We can also think about other opportunities the US has to offer. I see that as a silver lining. I am hoping that SXSW, if it does go ahead for 2021, will honour the line up from this year and invite back that line up for next year.
How are you keeping yourself occupied during the strange times we're living in - are you still managing to write music or does that feel secondary to everything else right now?
It’s strange because life right now is not too much different from my usual daily schedule - obviously there is the exception of playing live and other opportunities like that. But day to day I do work from home, and write songs from home, so that aspect is not too different for me.
I still am managing to write music, it’s actually keeping me very sane! It’s important to have something to focus the mind isn’t it? It makes you feel lighter, it’s escapism. The album is finished but I don’t feel in the state of mind to begin the next solo album right now, from an ideas / themes perspective. This will probably change further on in the year I think, when I can gather experiences and begin to write about them from my point of view.
I actually have another project which I am writing for at the moment, I guess I am more in the headspace of that right now, so probably why I’m not thinking about writing for my solo project just yet. With this project, it’s a duo and we mostly co-write but that currently that isn’t possible in real time! So we are gathering ideas, sending back and forth and working on them remotely. The music is completely different to my solo project. You might get a taste of it soon!
Natalie McCool's official site can be found here and she is also on Facebook and Twitter.
She plays (fingers crossed) Kendal Calling (July 30), Liverpool Kazimier Stockroom (September 24) and Wrexham Focus Wales (October 7-10).