INTERVIEW: Nathalie Stern | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Kris Deacon-Stewart

If fans of Nathalie Stern’s remarkable music – a hauntingly beautiful blend of vocal loops, electronic textures and drones – have been surprised that a decade has passed since her last album, it’s a frustration that Stern shares. “That does include a couple of years where I downed tools as I knew I wanted to change direction but didn’t know where I wanted to go with it.” Stern explains. “I had started to lose interest in my own music at that point, so having those two years off just letting things percolate in the back of my mind was vital.”

While Stern’s live performances involve her looping and sequencing her vocals on the fly, most of the recordings on the new album involved breaking the songs down into their constituent parts, something she did with MP Woods at The Soundroom. Although there are wonderful contributions from Hannabiell Sanders on trombone (“…it still blows my mind how well it fits with my music”) and Nicky Rushton on piano, Nerves & Skin is all about Stern’s voice.

“I’ve found out the hard way that I’m not a great instrumentalist.” Stern says. “I played guitar for 20 years and swapped it for the MicroKorg as I just couldn’t write songs on the guitar anymore. My voice is definitely my main ‘instrument’ and I can happily improvise vocally, whereas I need to really know what I’m playing on a guitar or piano.”

While many of Stern’s lyrics defy any easy autobiographical reading, it’s fairly obvious that deeply affecting album opener Here To Stay & Here To Belong concerns itself with Brexit, something that directly impacts on Stern’s situation as a Swedish national long resident in Newcastle. “I actually wrote it before the referendum and it became way too literal after the vote as I, like so many others, did NOT expect the result we got. The song was written as a love song to this country – and I still love this country, but it’s damn hard to keep those amorous feelings flowing the way it’s going right now. Saying that, it’s the love of the community and my friends that matters and that’s still strong. We’re all gonna have to look after each other when it all goes to shit in a handbag on this island.”

We’re all gonna have to look after each other when it all goes to shit in a handbag on this island

Stern’s heritage comes to the fore on Stig In Lucia, a traditional folk song she sang in school. “The first half of the track is pretty much as we performed it back then – minus the drone in the background. My previous album includes another traditional track, so it has become ‘a thing’. It’s not so much the language that’s important to me as the reference back to the hauntingly beautiful choral pieces that I remember from when I was young.”

As befits an album that is rich in often unsettling atmosphere, Stern cites folk horror as a key influence rather than any musical contemporaries. “I’ve always been deep into fairytales (the weirder, the better!) and horror films about the occult or other dark strange stuff.” Because Science is perhaps the most explicit example of this influence, featuring the opening sentence of HP Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness chanted repeatedly (with Lindsay and Maz from Noisechoir) over some positively eldritch electronic textures and Sanders’ plaintive trombone, resulting in the most chilling three minutes you’re likely to hear all year.

Nathalie Stern releases Nerves & Skin via Inverted Grim Mill (CD/vinyl) and Cruel Nature (cassette) this month, with a launch performance at Brave Exhibitions Festival at The Cluny, Newcastle on Sunday 17th November




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