AAA Music Approved: Natalie Gelman
aaamusic | On 05, Oct 2017
Who are you and where are you from?
Natalie Gelman. I grew up in NYC but I’m based in Ojai, CA now where I’ve been based for 6 years. It was a big change moving from such a big city to a small town but Ojai reminds me of the West Village where I grew up because there are so many artists that live here. Back in New York I studied music growing up and went to LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts, the “FAME” school. I mostly played and sang classical music before picking up a guitar at 16 and starting to write songs. Pretty soon I was playing music in the subway and I did that for a while before starting to tour. Being from NYC, I had to learn how to drive to really get on the road.
I’m tour so much now that I feel sometimes like the road is really my home. That’s good because I don’t get homesick for any place in particular and I have a few places that I’ve toured so frequently that I have little “home bases” in different places which makes being on the road easier.
What inspired you to get into music?
I always wanted to sing and make music. When I was really little I was inspired by the songs in Disney movies and also musical theatre. I think all of that made me pretty focused on melody by the time I started writing songs.
I also grew up playing violin and piano but didn’t write music until I learned guitar. Something about it was more approachable and songwriting happened pretty organically after my first lesson learning just a few chords. It definitely helped that I had a background in music for me to pick it up easily. I started listening to Sheryl Crow and Jewel’s Pieces of You album around that time and they were really big influences on my sound. Now my biggest influences are Patty Griffin and Paolo Nutini. Both of them have such great songs and rich, soulful voices.
What have you done?
I’m really proud of my last EP, Streetlamp Musician. The songs are all snapshots of different parts of my life from busking in NYC to songs about music, love, my family and the trials of life. A theme running through a lot of my work is to keep trying and not give up. That idea closes out the EP with a song called ‘Laugh So Hard You Cry’. I tour and play live so often that I’ve had some incredibly special moments at my shows and with meeting people on the road. I try to inspire people to go after their own creative pursuits and I feel like that’s where I have had the biggest impact.
I also really love to support great causes. The past few years I’ve performed a few benefit house concerts for the Fistula Foundation which is an amazing charity that helps women across the world with a life changing surgery. I’ve always been passionate about helping others and have worked with many charities over the years sometimes donating sales from tickets or my albums, going to sing in hospitals or doing fundraising concerts. With my first record release back in 2006 I rollerbladed from Miami to NYC raising money and awareness for a children’s charity along the way.
Right now I’m finishing up a new full length album that I’m excited to release and really proud of the songs and record. I’m still finishing up the mixes so I haven’t started thinking about releasing it too much but I’ll probably setup something to support a charity with a portion of the sales.
What are you like live?
I usually play solo when I play live. These days I also play ukulele and piano in addition to guitar at my shows. I try to involve the audience in the show and get them singing along and opening up. Music offers such a great chance to let go and access our feelings. I think we can be so distracted by our phones and all the screens around us at all times these days that we don’t actually connect and tune in with ourselves but a live show offers people a chance to experience their emotions and check in.
I really try to sing from the heart and captivate people with my voice and presence with the music and take the audience on a journey with my songs and storytelling. I’ve toured all over the US and through a lot of Europe and the UK and playing solo and spending time in the town or with folks from where I’m playing beforehand allows me to tailor each show to connect with people and get to know where they are coming from. I don’t think if I played with a band I would be able to adjust on the fly so much like that.
I’ve supported some amazing artists too. I’ve opened for JD Souther, Ellis Paul, Dave Mason and Billy Bob Thornton and his band The Boxmasters. I recently had the opportunity to open for Bon Jovi in front of about 17,000 people. That was so much fun and I hope I get to experience something like that again one day!
What makes you different?
I think my voice and lyrics are what a lot of my fans connect with. It may be cliché but my own life experiences are what makes my music unique too. I always try to sing from my heart and connect to what I’m singing and then to who I’m singing to. That’s usually not too hard because they are my own songs or covers that resonated with me personally and inspired me to learn them. The best shows are when you are 100% open and vulnerable with the audience. That’s when you have the biggest opportunity to make a difference with your music and that separates what I do as well.
Sometimes the traveling, grind and rejection of the music business will start to get to you on a show day and it’s against human nature to stay vulnerable at those times but that’s when you have to. I’ve even had experiences where I had a terrible day going into a show but the connection with the audience has turned around my day and makes it all other stuff worth it. Sometimes you can feel that everyone is left lighter and happier after the show or one person specifically comes over to let me know how much a song means to them. That is the absolute best.
Physical vs Downloading vs Streaming…How do you listen to music?
I have listened to music on Spotify playlists and used to like making a station around a new artist I loved on Pandora but I have a bunch of Cd’s in my car and usually I’ll listen to albums from start to finish while driving and pick something for the mood I’m in. Often I meet other artists at festival and we’ll trade Cd’s so I always have new music to listen to. I like to listen to the radio too to hear whats popular but sometimes I’m driving through such remote parts of the country that don’t even have decent radio signals or cell phone signal so CD’s are more consistent.
I think there’s a place for all of it. I am grateful that some people come across my music for the first time through streaming it. Of course I’m more grateful when they decide to support me and buy a physical copy of the album, come out to a show or support me in other ways. Making records isn’t cheap and the metrics of what you make through streaming is definitely not going to pay for albums to keep being made.
I’m lucky that at live shows people often do want to take home a physical copy of the album and I try to keep all my prices approachable. For my next full length release I’ll also be printing vinyl which I’m really excited for. I’ll just be doing a limited run and I think it’s the same idea with signed artists. You can create small runs of special experiences for fans and I think it can even be an extension of your work and creativity and some fans would absolutely love to have a limited edition package.
What have you been listening to?
Lately I’m really impressed with Birdy’s voice and her songs. I’m also into most of what Adele and Ed Sheeran put out and The Staves always have incredible harmonies. I’m seeing a UK theme here! I recently played a festival in La Crosse WI and heard Chicago Farmer for the first time. He’s like a young Arlo Gutherie and has wonderful songs and stories. His live show was great. I haven’t been listening to much recently because I’ve been listening to the mixes for my own album.
What are your aspirations for the future?
I’m pretty focused on getting the full length record done and planning for its release. I’ll be touring with it a lot and I’m planning to go back to the UK and Europe next summer too. I’m excited to see what opportunities this new music brings me to because I think these songs are going to connect with a lot of people. Hopefully I’ll get more chances to play big shows like the one with Bon Jovi earlier this year! I’m also always writing and have a batch of songs in line for another album after this one so it won’t be too long before I’m back in the studio recording again. I just love that I get to do this and want to keep sharing my own story and connecting with people through the music.
Questions answered by: Natalie Gelman…