You may not have heard the name Natalie Alexander yet, but I have a sneaking suspicion this might be the last time we can say that. Hailing from the sunny shores of Santa Cruz, California, Natalie appears every bit your Californian girl. She’s gorgeous, she’s got a nice personality, she both danced and figure skated when she was younger, and she’s got a voice.
Natalie didn’t initially set out to sing, but the joy of performing has always been in her blood. Her version of hairbrush-in-the-mirror was singing to her stuffed toys — mine was playing guitar on a tennis racket — and now, when she looks back on the verge of the release of her first EP, she sees that performing was always in her to do. Denying it would just be doing herself a disservice.
I got to chat with her about her influences and what led her to not just start singing, but to follow the dream when she realized that she had it, about her upcoming EP, and that honestly, if it came down to it, she wouldn’t mind talking to a volleyball with a face on it.
If I were to sit you down and say, “Describe Natalie Alexander as an artist to me in five words,” which five words would you use?
New, growing, real, motivated, honest.
Has music always been central to your life? I know your mom — who’s a classically trained vocalist — and brothers are all into music, but how did it affect you personally? What was the catalyst that made you say, “I need to write music”?
I think that seeing my brothers, who recorded their first album when they were only 9, was really inspiring to me and gave me the confidence to step out into the spotlight myself. We’re a very close family and that’s been extremely influential.
Would you say your mom and brothers’ musicality influenced you in the path to becoming a music artist yourself?
Absolutely. My first taste of the music industry was through working with my brothers and managing their band. My brothers especially have been really supportive and encouraging of me pursuing my own music. It’s truly a family affair!
What’s your first musical memory? The first moment you remember being touched by it. Was there a specific song involved?
Growing up my dad traveled a lot for work so my mom and I would go every Friday night to this bar and grill near my house. We got to know the band that played on Fridays and every time I was there they’d invite me up to sing Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like A Woman.” It was my favorite song. It probably wasn’t age appropriate for a 5-year-old to be at a bar on a Friday night singing about short skirts but I belted every word.
What is it about country music that drew you to it as a genre? There seems to be a vast difference in the country music that comes from men and the country music that comes from women. Like men writing songs about tractors, naming-no-names Kenny Chesney. Has that had any pull on your decision to be a country artist, or was it just a natural progression for you?
I’ve always loved country music so deciding on a genre happened pretty naturally. My voice coach and I were going through some songs and I was kind of trying them on for size. I was always drawn to big songs on the higher end of my range. When she asked me what my favorite song was I said “So Small” by Carrie Underwood. She had me start singing it and it just kind of clicked.
Country music is not just men singing about their tractors, but artists telling stories like they would in any genre, but it’s so genuine and honest. I also love seeing women in country music – most of my favorite songs are by female country artists so why not contribute!
Who are some of the female artists out there that have inspired you to stay on the path you’re on? Maybe when you’re losing your way a little and don’t know how to keep going. Who do you listen to to bring you back? Why do you love them as much as you do?
I’d say Taylor Swift because she’s one of the artists that I’ve been following throughout her career. Even as she’s transitioned as an artist, one of her country songs will come on and I still know every word. I remember getting her physical CD for my birthday in the 6th grade and playing it in my room and singing along thinking it was so cool that a girl in high school could have these song-worthy experiences. She has grown so much creatively but I still remember that first album she had with the holographic cover so vividly! Whenever I hear it now it really brings me back to the joy I felt when I was singing in my room as a kid.
You learned piano before you learned guitar. What were the first songs you learned to play on them? Or did you start writing your own music quite early on?
One of the first songs I ever learned to play was “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini.” I was eight so my mom had to bribe me into practicing. She told me if I could play it three times perfectly in a row for her she would buy me a new bathing suit. I was always very goal-oriented and competitive with myself, even as a kid, so I practiced for hours that day and by dinner-time she was driving me to Target to go pick it out.
How did the song ‘Cruel’ come about?
I was drawn to Cruel because of how real it felt to me. It goes back to the golden rule of ‘treat others the way you want to be treated’, but in a much realer sense, it’s about not allowing what people do to you to influence how you treat others. It’s about stopping the cycle. At first it seems like it’s just another song about being angry at a boy but it’s so much more than that.
You have an EP in the works, as well. What can you tell us about it?
I’m really excited about my EP because each track is different. As I keep working on my own songs and recording more music I think I’m going to be experimenting with my sound and my identity as an artist, but these songs are so special to me and I think there’s something on there for different country fans to enjoy.
Are there any songs on the EP that are particularly meaningful for you on a personal level? Which track would you say is the definitive ‘Natalie Alexander’?
There’s a ballad on my EP that I’m excited about because it was so much fun to record. It’s also a piano ballad so I’m looking forward to being able to perform it.
How do you feel about performing live in front of an audience? Do you enjoy it?
I’ve always loved performing. I danced and figure skated growing up so being on stage has always been a passion of mine.
I know you have problems with your nerves — I think that’s a natural thing for anyone! — do you still feel anxious before performing? Do you experience stage fright at all?
I definitely still get nervous! Stage fright hits me right before I’m about to start, but once I get going it melts away and I really fall into the performance. After that it’s so much fun. There’s just that fear factor in the beginning of “oh my gosh let’s hope when I open my mouth something good comes out!”
I heard you went traveling in Europe at the beginning of this year. Did you go alone? Where was your favorite place? Did you find any unusual inspiration anywhere that you’ve used or plan to use in your writing? Can you tell us what it was?
I went with one of my best friends, we were studying abroad in Milan, Italy but traveled every weekend. My favorite place was Cinque Terre which is this loop of 5 little coastal towns that you can hike. It was my last trip before I came home and I wish I had been there for longer so I could’ve hiked the whole thing.
Because I was traveling so much, I spent a lot of time in airports. I would get little lines or song title ideas and write them down in a note file on my phone. Some things I’ve elaborated on since, others are still there to be used later.
Something about being away from my usual routine really helped with my creativity. I’ve been working on developing those ideas since I came home and I’m excited to share them as soon as they’re ready.
Lastly DESERT ISLAND DISCS: what three albums would you take with you to a desert island? (It’s fully stocked with food, drink, and has WiFi so you won’t end up talking to a volleyball).
Drake’s “Views,” Maren Morris’ “HERO” and Guns n Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction.” Chances are that by the end I would be talking to a volleyball, but I think those three would hold off the insanity for a decent amount of time.
Natalie’s first single, “Cruel,” is out now on iTunes and you can find her website