If you like _ and _ then you will like Natalie Pryce. Fill in the blanks.
Mark Swan (vocals): If you like a band that dresses smartly and plays like their lives depend on it then you will like Natalie Pryce.
Who is Natalie Pryce?
Natalie Pryce is singer Mark Swan, guitarist Greg Taylor, bassist Steven Litts and drummer Stephen Coleman.
How would you describe your sound in three words?
I think if my sound is so facile and meaningless to the point where the entire thing can be accurately surmised in three words then I should really work on it. Three word descriptions may help internet search engines but they don’t tell you anything about whether anything is actually worth listening to. I love jazz and I love classical music but most of what is called jazz and classical is completely dreadful. But, of course, the beautiful thing about music is it isn’t a meritocracy and we’re all able to take very personal and subjective views on the music we like. I’m sure there are those that have only one word descriptions of the music that you love and cherish. The music I make is incredibly important and personal to me and therefore I believe that the task of a three word description is probably best left in the hands of someone a little more removed from the songs than myself. Saying that, for the sake of good sportsmanship, here are some attempts:
Bedlam and squalor
Solid concrete jazz
Progressive art punk
Dark dreamscape rock
Sad sexy gospel
Black tar soul
Dense dark biblical
Strange love songs
Holy velvet noise
Unquiet mind music
Why should someone head down and check out one of your shows?
Primarily just to get out of the house. Far too much music is consumed now on the Internet or on iPods and I’m finding fewer and fewer people are actually listening to albums. I think this is a really bad thing. Quite often when people listen to music on the Internet they get what might be called ‘Internet anxiety’, whereby no matter how good the song that you might be listening to is you still need to open another tab; or find the next song. You can’t just enjoy what you’re listening to. Anxiety kicks in and you find you don’t have enough time to listen to the whole song and as good as this song is, the next one will be even better; you are forever looking for that next, better song. People have told me that this is a common experience and I believe it comes out of the vast amount of music available. There is too much available. Limitlessness is the opposite of freedom.
The solution to this problem is to be locked into something where the responsibility of choice over the next track has been taken from you. This is why records or CD albums are a really good way to listen to music. The best way to experience music is however to see live performances, where you have actually left the house and you are there standing in front of the music and allowing it to become an experience not a consumption.
I have always been a big fan of very visual performers. I remember being very young and seeing a picture of David Bowie long before I heard his music and just being completely fascinated by this strange androgynous creature. Since then I’ve always been interested in the idea of music being more than just music.
With the Natalie Pryce shows I have tried to keep both these things in mind: the idea of creating an experience rather than something anyone can download; and the idea that through visual and other sensorial stimulus the music can take on an added strength. A large inspiration for the performance is dawn from the various motifs throughout religious ceremonies. The use of smoke, and for our bigger shows incense and additional specifically designed lighting, is to try and create an atmosphere analogous to religious ceremony. Whether these affects work on a subconscious level, where a part of the memory associates these things with religion, or whether it is the actual effect of these things on the individual; the idea is to put people in a more hypnotic state of mind where they are more open to ideas. The Catholic Church uses these affects as well as their own music to encourage the state of mind where miracles, heavens and a hell could appear to exist. It is the abandonment of the cerebral and the emersion into the visceral. This level of emotional stirring is what I strive for with each show.
Is it fair to say that you’re a band keen on the theatrical side of music?
That is fair enough to say. I love theatre, especially the work of one of my great heroes – Samuel Beckett. His writing makes me think he has a much better view of my soul than even I do. It is brilliant – it is writing that is completely visionary and couldn’t belong to anyone else, it belongs to an imagination higher than most of humanity’s creative output, and yet it is not introverted; it tells us so much about ourselves. I wish I could write like that.
Before Natalie Pryce I enjoyed a relatively unsuccessful career as a playwright and I definitely think that the playwrights’ approach to writing and performance has carried over to the work I do with Natalie Pryce. I’m also a big fan of musical theatre; specifically the work of Kurt Weill and Robert Wilson.
I love stories and tales and all the Natalie Pryce songs are either narrative pieces or a kind of dramatic monologue told from an invented character’s perspective. Quite a lot of very bad music is music that is incredibly autobiographical and journals personal events in individuals’ lives; like for instance breaking up with someone. I find music like this rather excruciating, mainly because of the arrogance of the songwriter that assumes anyone cares. Through using theatre methods to put across a message, such as characters or plot, it allows the music to be more inclusive because it doesn’t require experience. The songs are not about getting dumped; the songs are about dreams and we all dream. Characters allow an audience to feel different things like disgust, fear, anger, empathy, sympathy instead of the very stale feeling of mild appreciation one might have for an autobiographical songwriter.
It is important to point out though that if you were to call Natalie Pryce a ‘theatrical’ band there should be no ambiguity about the sincerity of the work. Like I mentioned earlier the songs are very important to me and there is certainly nothing pretend about them or their performance. Like any good actor or director will tell you, theatre is not about lies but about trying to tell a truth. Whenever I perform any of the songs I have to completely mean what I’m saying even if it isn’t my ‘voice’ or my own feelings. There is a quote from a film by Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell – ‘Performance’ – which is something I like to think about at every show. “The only performance that makes it…that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness”.
Who else in the Scottish music scene is floating your boat at the moment?
Dick Gaughan. An incredible guitarist and someone who really means everything he sings. It comes through in his voice. A powerful figure in Scottish music.
And finally, what’s the best time of the day to listen to Natalie Pryce?
When we play live, for all the reasons I’ve stated above. Failing that however; the best time to listen to Natalie Pryce is late at night when you are on your own. The night does beautiful things to the world that seems so familiar during the day. At night everything takes on a surreal mysticism that wasn’t there before. In the dark and in the quiet of the night it allows your own imagination to run. It is the absence of things that frighten us. Not what is hidden in the darkness but the void itself. We don’t like to deal with the nothingness so we create ghosts and ghouls to fill it. Relax and let the sounds of Natalie Pryce fill in the darkness; or at any rate enhance it.