BY CANDICE GRACE
When Natalie Nicole Gilbert last experienced a surge in her listenership, she had just released her 2009 album “Summary,” and the single ‘Breathing Hope’ had become an unexpected online success. Three years later, Natalie is back with her upcoming release “Slip of the Tongue,” an album that respects her past while looking firmly to the future.
A seasoned radio personality, voiceover artist and actress, Natalie has many strings to her bow, but it is music that allows Natalie to capture the changes around her most clearly. Since “Summary,” Natalie has stepped back from radio, but she’s also taken a major step forward in her personal life, coming out to family, friends and fans alike. It was a bold move, one which may potentially affect “Slip of the Tongue,” but Natalie feels her listenership will take this development in their stride. “Even if this weren’t true, I would continue to be myself in my lyrics and presentation,” she says. “The music would suffer otherwise.”
In the lead up to “Slip of the Tongue,” which features collaborations with musicians spanning from New York to New Zealand, Natalie has released her greatest hits album “The Best of Natalie Nicole Gilbert.” A fitting introduction to her music, it is available for free at Noisetrade.com, allowing fans new and old to reflect on Natalie’s past musical successes and sample a taster of what lies ahead on the new album and beyond.
I caught up with Natalie online for a quick interview about her path into music, her new album and what she thinks about the fan reaction to her coming out.
Natalie, you worked in radio for over a decade. How did you get into the field? Did it lead you to become involved in music or vice versa?
I had always wanted to get into radio as a child, often pretending to be a DJ on my Panasonic tape recorder, and recording weekly commercials on my voicemail as soon as mother let me have my own phone line. Through a stroke of luck in spotting a part time radio position in a local newspaper, I found a back door into radio when they were pinched for weekend workers. I picked up any and all hours I could – overnights, evenings, double shifts – and quickly proved myself. In a matter of months they moved me into morning news when our morning news gal left. I was still doing news during 9/11.
Music was something I fell into a bit more casually. Mother has a master’s in music and plays professionally for events ranging from a ball at the Kentucky Governor’s Mansion or Muhammad Ali’s birthday party to more pedestrian recitals and ballet classes. I hid my piano playing from her for a while; people were always asking if I had picked up her torch and were always wanting to know if I played. I would sneak down to a church basement and play when no one was in earshot. I tinkered around, sounding out my favorite tunes or reading what sheet music I could find until I was in my teens and made songwriting a more regular hobby with the purchase of a swanky $400 keyboard. I’d been songwriting since the age of 5 or younger, keeping a lengthy catalog of poems and songs I’d written tucked away in colorful folders. My brother, too, did a lot of songwriting and recording at home, though he was more into the hard rock and metal side of things. My eldest sister also sings and took professional voice lessons, so I gleaned a little something from all of them by proxy.
Do you think being behind the curtain (so to speak) in radio informed your music?
Greatly. I learned a lot about what was radio worthy or ready for mainstream mass media and what was a little too rough around the edges. I learned much about what songs most affected listeners, also, as I was taking their calls to request songs frequently. I got tired of the over used chord progressions, lyrics and meaningless fodder for so many popular songs. On the less positive side, though, I also got a first hand view of how record labels treat talent, and how exceedingly gifted artists were having to spend the larger part of their days pandering to media attention rather than doing what they loved. It’s had a heavy persuasion on my avoidance of the music machine.
“Slip of the Tongue” will be your first hardcopy CD release for a few years now. Why, in this age of iTunes and iPods, have you chosen to release this album in a physical format as well as digitally?
I’ve had radio stations request hard copy CDs for years, but the bulk of my releases have been purely digital. This was great for fans, making everything easily accessible in multiple countries and saving them the trouble of ripping mp3s into their players, but it was a hang up for some radio stations and friends. I didn’t have physical CDs I could just hand off; I would burn a few from time to time, but since I was doing them one by one as simple CDRs on my home computer I didn’t have the energy to rip copies left and right.
This next album, whose tracklist will include about 50% previously unreleased tunes and 50% favorite fan tunes is a bar raiser. In this fresh age of music licensing, being able to hand off your top songs to a stranger you bump into at a music conference or seminar has fruitful advantages. I confess I still prefer a real CD myself; I don’t mind mp3 downloads for one or two songs from an artist, but if I really love their style, I want the full album in the track order that they released it. There’s nothing like just being able to pop that into a car stereo for full surround sound.
What can listeners expect from the new album?
There are numerous collaborations like “Santa Monica” (with film composer Michael Gordon Shapiro), “Winter Nights” (with New Zealand artist Bryce Langston), “Slip & Say” (with New York pianist Craig Swanson), and my favorite ethereal cuts of “Breathing Hope” and “Sweet Australia,”, to start. There are also fresh jazz and acoustic pieces brought to life by a collaboration with Benson Russell at Ohm Recording Studios. He’s added a lot of texture to songs like “Here Now” and “Can’t Take This Anymore.” There’s just a huge amount of talent from songwriting partners I’ve gotten to know and love over the last few years, like Judith de los Santos, Dana Bisignano, and the late Taylor Weidman (Bluessunn).
What lesbian/bisexual musicians do you admire? Do you find yourself being favourably compared to other female singer/songwriters often?
I enjoy Melissa Etheridge like the next girl. I’m not sure if Tunstall is in the LGBT family, but I certainly wouldn’t mind comparisons to her open and honest lyrical style that’s not heavily laden with empty love songs. I get some comparisons to Missy Higgins, Sarah McLachlan, Michelle Featherstone, Tori Amos and Jewel. I think some of those comparisons just come from knowing that these are women who also play piano, guitar or both. I do enjoy Higgins and Featherstone’s music, though I have no information about their orientation offhand. On the male side of things I love the harmonies of Sting, Gavin DeGraw and Phil Collins. I’m also a huge R&B and Quiet Storm fan. Blige, Keys, Bailey Rae and Houston, among others, have definitely had lengthy repeat play days on my CD player.
Has coming out affected your music or how listeners may perceive it? Do you worry about coming out adversely affecting listenership of the new album?
To be honest, I expected to lose more fans and listeners than I did. It’s hard to say how many fans I lost as I’ve aligned myself with N0H8 efforts, but I’d say overall it’s been much more negligible than I had foreseen. My most popular fan demographic is teens in the UK, and the truth is that while some teens are written off as bullies, more and more of the fresh generation doesn’t subscribe to bigotry. They’ve grown up with multicultural classrooms, they’ve lived in blended families and learn about civil rights from text books almost as if it’s something archaic. There is still plenty of prejudice and bullying to be sure, and I wouldn’t for a moment minimize that; at the same time, I think we need to recognize that today’s generation is light years ahead of every generation that came before because they’ve learned somewhat from the mistakes of others. Even if this weren’t true, I would continue to be myself in my lyrics and presentation. The music would suffer otherwise.
Photo by Michael Roberts Photography LA.