Widely acclaimed by industry tastemakers and scene-sters alike as one of UK music`s brightest new talents of 2008, comes 24-year-old dreadlocked singer/songwriter/producer Natty.
Combining the influences of reggae, indie rock, Afro-beat and soul with a healthy dose of London-style, add a little attitude on the diverse, acoustic guitar-driven grooves and you have a quality debut album 'Man Like I'. While Natty`s intelligent, poetic and savvy lyrics - which accurately reflect the lives and loves of a modern-day Britain - have already led to positive involvement with high-profile campaigning organisation Love Music Hate Racism, his debut LP`s musical moods meanwhile range from its jaunty, ska-tinged lead-off single 'Cold Town' and socially-conscious, West African guitar-tinged 'Coloured Souls'; to the wistful, summer-recalling 'July' and gentle, soulful pop of the joyful love-song 'Bedroom Eyes'. With his deep speaking voice reflecting his rough-edged, raspy on-record vocals, laid-back yet talkative North Londoner Natty (who confesses to being a long-time `B&S` reader!) gets on the line for a revealing introductory midday chat.
“The new single 'Cold Town' actually started off with just a bassline and a summery, happy kinda guitar skank”, he begins: “So, because with most things I do I like to combine one vibe with a totally different kinda feel, I thought lyrically - rather than talking about happy, summery things that you could dance to - I`d speak about more serious issues that were happening at the time. And back when the song was written - which was about a year-and-a-half ago - we were still in the aftermath of the July 7th London bombings. So there was a lot getting written in the papers about the whole immigrant side of things. You know, those questions like `Are they doing any good here?` and all the talk about the hoodie culture were kinda pissing me off a bit. Because it seemed my generation was becoming almost alienated and was really having to fight for its own place. So there were quite a few racial tensions that I wanted to talk about at the time. And they basically all came out in that song.”
Indeed, in many ways, Natty feels 'Cold Town' represents an accurate introduction to his album as a whole: “Well, I usually play the guitar in a style which is very much groove-orientated. And in some ways I suppose I`ve taken a leaf out of the books of artists like Fela Kuti. Where, as long as you make sure you`ve got a wicked groove going, you can pretty much talk about what you LIKE. And, barring one or two songs, 'Man Like I' was very much a live-captured recording. We went down the traditional route of making sure we could play it right, that they set up some good microphones - and then just went ahead and RECORDED it. While, in terms of lyrics, I do talk a lot about my generation and how we`re perceived. And to me it`s no longer a rich or a poor thing. Because I find even middle-class kids today are coming out of university and getting lost. They`re on the same `Oh, what am I gonna do NOW?`-type vibe as a lot of the POOR kids I know. Because no-one wants to be a plumber any more, you know? A lotta people just wanna crouch in front of their TV and smoke skunk. Which all represents part of this same culture where we almost don`t really FIGHT for that much, but at the same time are getting downplayed in the media. So basically everything I`m singing about I take from real-life situations - whether it be a love-song or something more serious - but with a very English, youth-culture perspective.”
Born in San Francisco, California, Natty moved to London with his family at the age of one. His musical eclecticism of today meanwhile reflects the differing tastes of his parents. His white father, being English of Italian descent, loved the classic folk music of Neil Young and Bob Dylan. While his black mother - being from Southern Africa - was very into Motown, Al Green, Sixties Jamaican music and Afro-Beat. Meanwhile, Natty`s early teen years spent creating hip hop beats for rapping mates in his bedroom would later gave him the confidence - upon leaving school - to blag his way into a job in premier-league recording-studio Sphere in Battersea.
“Well, I guess I just embellished my story a little bit in terms of what I could do!”, he chuckles mischievously: “And, while I started off just making tea, sitting in on sessions and just generally learning about the studio, in time I got promoted to where I ended up assisting some great, great people like Queen and (Chic founder/leader and Eighties mega-producer) Nile Rodgers. Because the person who set that studio up had all these old skool musical connections, there`d literally be like legends walking in the door pretty much every other week! So I got to work with a whole heap of them and ended up getting promoted to engineer. But, the whole time I was working there, I`d also be writing my own music on the side. So, because my heart was always into writing tunes, I quit the studio after four years and started performing at open-mic sessions. Which, with my band coming along in dribs and drabs, very quickly led to me doing full live sets. Then, with the whole live thing building up, I decided to start up my own label Vibes And Pressure. But what I didn`t realise was how soon I`d get signed to a major! Like I did my first-ever show in August 2006, and by the following May I was signed by Atlantic... And so here I am today!”
The single 'Cold Town' is out now. The single 'July' follows July 7 with the album 'Man Like I' due July 14, all through Vibes And Pressure/Atlantic
Words PETE LEWIS