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Interview: Natural Self

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Natural Self

Nathaniel Pearn aka Natural Self recently dropped his brilliant and genre-defying latest album Neon Hurts My Eyes earlier this year.

The National Student sat down with the producer, vocalist and DJ to discuss where his eclectic sound comes from...

Here's a scenario, people don’t know who you are, how would you describe what your music sounds like? 

Well, really I would try not to. I know that’s not the answer you’re looking for. 

So you would just let the music speak for itself?

Well, ideally, yeah. I don’t think it fits neatly into a genre, if it did at least that gets you off on some kind of start to describing what its like. If you tell someone ‘it’s not club music, its more downbeat, its vocal, its got synthesizers’ that could mean a hundred different things so I don’t even know how useful that is. I struggle when people ask me because, obviously when you meet people socially, they ask what you do and go ‘oh really, what kind of music do you make?’ and I’m like ‘ahh, actually, I don’t know, it’s difficult to describe’ so yeah, that’s a kind of non-answer. 

Your sound is very experimental; did you have a particular sound in mind when you first started making music? Did you know what you wanted to sound like?

When I first started, I guess I did. I knew the way I wanted to make it, so I was really interested in sample based stuff and I was also interested in polyrhythmic music, so I wanted to do something beat and drum heavy and sample based. I didn’t want to do stuff with synths or live musicians when I first started. This is for the very first productions I did.

I knew I would want to do those things later but I kinda wanted to encourage these restrictions on myself to form a discipline. Otherwise when you’re starting out the choices of all the different things that you could do, particualrly if you don’t want to work within an already established genre, it can be baffling. I kinda wanted to narrow what I might do in order to come up with something a bit stronger; then as I started it was my intention to gradually let go of those things and let other influences in and then just carry on from there, which is what I’ve been doing ever since. I try now to not be too self prescriptive of what I want to do. I do what I feel like doing and hopefully go with my instincts, and do what feels right, and what I think is good and hopefully that will come out. 

Do you prefer to do collaborations to solo work? Or are they just completely different?

Well they’re different things so I guess the stats speak for themselves, 80% of what I’ve ever done has been on a solo basis so I guess I prefer working on my own, but that said, I’ve collaborated in various ways over time, sometimes with instrumentalists who come in and play on something I’ve been doing or it’s with a vocalist or it’s been whole producer, equal collaboration, or it’s been with me singing on someone elses stuff and I love all of that.

I love working with people, I love that process and I love the new things that brings. It isn’t always easy. You have to have the right sort of chemistry with that person and that chemistry doesn’t always last forever. But yeah, I do like collaborating and I kind of intend to always intend to do a bit of that.  

You’ve been in the music industry for a long time since you started in 2000, do you have a favourite moment of your career?

Erm, well, I dunno, there’s little things here and there. The first time I got back a finished copy of my first record, with it’s label and everything, that was a really good moment. Seeing it in reality and feeling that hopefully this is the start of something, that was good!

Who did you listen to whilst growing up, who were your early influences?

Well, when I first started getting into music seriously, I’ve got an older brother and he’s not particularly into music but he had a couple of friends that were more into music and the things that I can really remember that stood out are Soul II Soul’s first album and De La Soul’s first album and things like Ice T and Public Enemy, yeah, those kinds of things. Hip-hop was the first sort of thing that I got seriously in to. Before that, I’m not from a musical family, but there were a few records at home. I got it from my mum more than my dad, he’s not musical at all. 

Who/what influences your sound in the present day?

I don’t know really, I don’t know if there are any direct influences, I mean I like a lot of what is going on at the moment, I think it’s a great time for electronic music, so there is quite a lot of inspiration to be found. I don’t know, I like a lot of the UK based stuff, a lot of stuff that is going on in the club scene is good, even though that’s not the Natural Self vibe I still like it and some of the influence on that seeps in. I don’t know, lots of different names and I don’t wanna name specific names, it puts more of an emphasis on that than it should.

Can you describe the recording process for the new album? How has it been different to your previous recording experiences?

The biggest difference is that it’s totally vocal. I didn’t sing at all when I first started making music. Apart from in the shower! And then gradually over time I did little bits, I was still quite hesitant to really put the vocal thing front and centre.

So it was the first thing where all but two of the tracks are vocal and the first thing were I wrote and performed all the songs. That’s the biggest difference. It has fewer guests than others, there’s a guest vocalist on one track only. It’s got a much more electronic sound than things used to have. It’s much more about synthesizers than drum machine sounds. 

Was it daunting trying to translate your music to a live setting? Is that something that you’ve found quite difficult?

Yeah, it definitely had it’s challenges because of the logistics of it. I did the album myself, made it all myself, I had half a mind to be doing it live, I kept that in mind as I was doing it. But I didn’t want that the entirely dictate how I made the album.

So when the album was finished I had to find a way of doing this live and I wanted to do it without backing tracks and so on, and that was a big logistical challenge to make that work, how do you make something that one person has done, and divide it up, in the case with the live group, amongst three people. But we got there in the end, the two guys I play with are very experienced, they’ve got technological know-how and they were a huge help, I couldn’t have formed it without them. I mean, obviously, cause I need them to play the music but what I’m I’m really saying it, without specifically their advice, it would have been a hundred times more difficult. 

How do you decide who you are going to remix? Do people come to you and request it or do you choose stuff you are intrigued by?

It can vary, I haven’t been doing many remixes for a while, I mean with this album it’s been four years since the last one, so I had a hiatus and I’m stepping back into it somewhat. So the only one I’ve done recently is a group called Sonnymoon, who are really good. That came about via a friend of mine who is their representative and she’s friends with Sonnymoon. They’ve done a remix of one of mine as well. 

What are your plans for the future? Touring, another album? 

I would definitely like to get out and about playing this album, live. I’d like to get busy doing that later in the year, we’re a bit too late to get the live thing ready to make the festivals this season is a shame but hopefully later in the year we can get into a rhythm with that stuff. I’m gonna do a little more Natural Self stuff, I don’t know about the future., I may well do other things as well, other musical exploits  but we’ll see. 

New single 'An Invisible Light' is out on 24th June

Buy Neon Hurts My Eyes from iTunes:

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