No, Natalie Carolan is not a ‘jazz’ singer. And even if she is – she did study jazz and has been known to sing the occasional jazz standard with impressive results – her songs are definitely not on the spectrum. They may be hypnotic, mesmerising, irresistible and slowly crawling their way beneath your skin to reach for your insides, but they’re not jazz. Her powerful voice and assertive singing can captivate your mind and soul, but it has nothing to do with jazz. Her debut album, ‘I Sleep’, may be a collection of intimate stories, weaved into a haunting soundscape of breathtaking beauty, largely thanks to the musicianship of Luke Howard and Leonard Grigoryan, who form with her a trio that gradually expands the moody melodic themes, until they reach the point of flooding you with emotions, but they have no place in a jazz outlet. Which leaves us with no other option than to start this interview with a question of the ‘justify-your-existence’ variety.
AustralianJazz.net: Why should your album be featured in a jazz website?
Natalie Carolan: I feel my work reflects jazz elements in a more subtle way. I’m in the same boat as many others. There are many musicians who study jazz intensely and go on to create projects and albums, very much inspired by jazz, although the audience may not listen to it and hear the influence overtly. I must say I really do love singing standards and listen to so many artists featured on AustralianJazz.net.
AJN: How has studying jazz affected your songwriting?
NC: I was lucky to study jazz and take the time to get to explore the intricacies of this music, most of which I still am trying to get a hold of! Through formal study of jazz, I was able to expand all areas of my musicianship. Studying jazz fostered a strong sense of mindful listening and interaction within a group, nurtured my creativity through improvisation and composition and allowed me to explore various parameters within music which have crossed over into my own writing and singing.
AJN: What does jazz mean to you?
NC: Jazz is such a loose term, just like many other genres of music, that it can encompass a massive array of artists and features. The ones I think about the most in my creative world are improvisation, harmonic and rhythmic choices, phrasing options and interaction within instruments. These are the aspects that excite me the most in trying to stray from conventional songwriting structures.
AJN: How did ‘I sleep’ come to be?
NC: I was working on one of the first singles I released in 2015 and found the process amazing; it also wasn’t moving as quickly as I had hoped. I really just wanted to head to a studio and get some tracks down. I had an album’s worth of songs ready and waiting to be recorded and thought these particular set of songs lent themselves to a more delicate treatment with limited production elements. It was important for me to record these songs with sensitive and beautiful musicians.
AJN: How is working with Luke Howard and Leonard Grigoryan? What does each bring to the equation?
NC: I’m very lucky to have worked with these beautiful musicians. They both bring an amazing sensitivity, musicianship and attitude. I could listen to them both play all day. They’re truly amazing. I think they’re the sort of people you need to work with if you want to create something that you like. I’ll also be very fortunate to be playing with the gorgeous guitarist, Christian Meyer at the album launch on November 4th.
AJN: What should anyone expect from this concert?
NC: A unique set of music presented in a beautiful venue. Songs from the album, potentially stripped back versions of past releases and maybe even a new one to indulge myself. I’ll be lucky to be playing with Luke Howard, Leonard Grigoryan and Christian Meyer.
AJN: Who are your heroes?
NC: Those who work hard, maintain a positive outlook on life and are passionate about what they do. I also admire a quiet confidence that coincides with the desire to keep learning.
AJN: How confronting is the songwriting process?
NC: Most of my songs are pretty universal in their themes, so I haven’t felt too exposed or uncomfortable. Having said this, I do take comfort in using a metaphor or two, so my lyrics are ambiguous in meaning. I have had a few moments, after the album was recorded, where I have questioned artistic decisions, but there’s been nothing I can do about it. In these cases, I have had to accept choices made at that time, which is challenging. I think this is has actually been the most confronting aspect of the process.
AJN: Which song best describes your current state of mind?
NC: Probably Vices. I’m always struggling with mine…