by: Thomas D. Mooney
Last Friday, Nashville singer-songwriter Natalie Schlabs released her first full-length album, Midnight With No Stars.
Midnight finds the West Texas native traversing the ups and downs of your late 20s–immense moves in location, relationships, and family roles. It’s a maturation and growth that we typically gloss over as being for the better and an easy transition. Schlabs doesn’t necessarily turn that notion upside down, but she does show how it’s not that black and white or simple.
The candid intimacy she reveals on tracks such as “Every Word” and “Where Am I Gonna Go” shows a rugged truthfulness we often save for conversations with ourselves. Schlabs soothing vocals echo the refreshing and honest notion. Songs like “Throw a Spark,” “The House is Burning,” and “Midnight With No Stars” has Schlabs pulling back the layers of being in relationships. She spends time showing both sides of a relationship and how that not only affects you, but how it affects the other involved.
For the first single, “Drowning In The Wave,” Schlabs and company drove down to Atlanta and worked with music video director Ben Rollins.
“We were playing in front of these huge projectors. While we were playing, they were showing pieces and pictures of my family,” says Schlabs. “It was kind of a weird emotional thing for me–being surrounded by these memories in this dreamy state of the music video.”
We caught up with Schlabs last week to discuss the making of Midnight With No Stars. Find it on iTunes here. Watch the music video premiere for “Drowning In The Wave” below.
New Slang: Midnight With No Stars was released this past week. Take me back to when you first started writing for the album. How long ago were the first songs started?
Natalie Schlabs: I started writing this record last summer. I had written a few songs that ended up on the album the year before or something, but most of the album was written last summer. It was basically started by me reaching out to some songwriters in Nashville. I was really scared to [laughs]. But asking them to co-write. I ended up asking Neilson Hubbard if he’d produce the album. We started writing every week. Basically, Neilson suggested we start tracking the songs. That’s really how it came about.
NS: There’s a real crispness to the album–a very cool, calm, and refreshing vibe. Was that something you intentionally wanted these songs to be?
Schlabs: I think it was the desire to have the album centered around my voice. Neilson thought it’d be important to center everything around my singing. When we started out recording, it was myself, Neilson, and the guitar player. It wasn’t until later that we added everyone else in–even the drums didn’t come in until towards the end. We didn’t want to set the record in a certain direction too quickly. I think as we started adding other instruments on, we saw what really enhanced my voice and didn’t muddy it up too much. We wanted to keep it open.
NS: This collection of songs, it feels like they’re very personal. What on the album do you feel was the most personal and intimate when written?
Schlabs: I think “Every Word” was probably the most personal. It was probably the one I needed to write the most. I wrote that almost as soon as I got to Nashville. The chorus goes “Every word I say, every note I sing sends an echoing from my head to my brain.” The thought behind that was how when you hear yourself speaking in a recording, it doesn’t sound like how you think you’d sound. There’s some weird science stuff that happens there, but that’s basically how moving to Nashville was for me. I thought I was this person, I thought I sounded like this, but then moving here, I was looking at myself questioning it. I was asking myself if that’s who I really was. It’s pretty jarring.
“Sit With Me” was very personal as well. It hits me in a different way. I’m getting close to 30. My parents are still in great health and doing well, but I’m realizing as I’m getting older, seeing some older friends who’ve had family pass away, you realize how that’s inevitable. There’s this switch that happens when the kids become the strong ones for their parents. It’s kind of looking into the future.
NS: You’re from out here in West Texas. When did you move up to Nashville?
Schlabs: It’s been exactly three years since I moved up to Nashville.
NS: There are some hints about the move on this album. You mentioned it just now with “Every Word.” How much of the album was influenced by the move?
Schlabs: I would say a good chunk of it was. I don’t think it’s all about it, but I think it’s the thread throughout a lot of the songs. Really, it’s about this massive change. Some of that change isn’t just about location. In that time, I got married, moved, and changed career paths. There was a lot of jarring changes. Some of them are good, some have been not that great. I think a lot of the album has that perspective.
NS: What song did you have most trouble getting down on paper? Was there anything you felt was a great idea, but then had trouble actually writing into song form?
Schlabs: That was definitely “Sandra’s Song.” That song was written from the perspective of my grandfather towards my grandmother. He passed away five or six years ago. I had that idea and kept writing it down and ultimately erasing it. Then, writing it down and erasing it. It’s difficult to encompass someone’s life and their relationship. I felt everything I was writing was coming off trite or wasn’t really encompassing who my grandpa was. There was so much there–just the way my grandpa looked at my grandma, I always knew there was something really special there. It’s kind of offset by the demons that my grandpa fought–whether it was drinking or the difficulties he had in his family. There were issues there that he brought into other parts of his life. I didn’t know how to write how great of a man he was with the darkness that he struggled with.
I kind of trashed and threw away the parts I had been writing and started with a whole new melody and chorus. I think I had the thought for it, but just had to start all over. I had written half of it or so when I showed it to Neilson. He sort of stepped into what I was trying to say. I think he wrote all of the second verse. I felt it was just perfect. He didn’t know my grandfather, but it felt like he did with the way he was writing about him.