He placed sixth in the 2012 edition of ‘The X Factor’, went on to sign a deal with Sony and last year, released his debut label single ‘You’, which smashed the ARIA top five and notched up more than 140,000 sales.
But things hit a snag for Nathaniel earlier this year when his second single ‘You’re Beautiful’ was widely criticised for sounding too similar to its predecessor.
Shaking off the doubters, however, Nathaniel’s back, he’s upping the tempo, delivering the soul and imploring Aussies to ‘Live Louder’.
Ahead of his performance on ‘The X Factor’ tonight, we sat down with the affable star to chat about the new single, his upcoming appearance at Soulfest and a debut album.
But we kick things off by putting the demons of ‘You’re Beautiful’ to bed.
“I’m not going to lie… it was a little bit disappointing to see the song not do as well as the first single,” Nathaniel admits. “I think we were just led to believe that there needed to be a certain formula… that people like to listen to something similar. Well, not similar. They like to listen to the same sound, but a different song.
“So it’s a fine line to be able to make sure that it doesn’t sound the same. But we loved the song at the time. Yes, it was a little bit similar looking back at it now, but you win some, you lose some.”
Where Nathaniel is kicking some goals at the moment is overseas. When we last chatted to him back in March (HERE), he was ready to hop on a plane to the US in an effort to shore up some support for ‘You’ Stateside. Though he says, “no-one really knows what I did over there”, we know from the last chat that a performance for industry heavyweight LA Reid was locked in.
“It was pretty daunting and scary, because it was in front of his whole label,” Nathaniel says of the showcase. “It wasn’t even in front of him and two other people… it was the whole label and it was pretty crazy, because it’s one of those things where they suss you out, they look you up and down.
“That was pretty much the reason I was there. To write for the album and to try and get ‘You’ off the ground. The UK have taken the track under their wing, so they’re full throttle at the moment doing their job and getting it out over there.”
For his recently-released single ‘Live Louder’, Nathaniel and his team wanted to shake things up, by delivering a fresh new up-tempo sound to his audience.
“It’s a complete different sound, a complete different song. The meaning behind ‘Live Louder’ is just to let go of your inhibitions, do something with no regrets, ‘turn the volume up on your life’ quote Nathaniel,” he laughs.
“I’ve always been known as the guy who’s laid back, reserved, a shy guy in high school. But I’m forever just jumping into the deep end and trying to swim my way to the top with anything I do in my life. I wanted to write a song that expressed that it’s okay to be yourself.
“Gone are the days when people are going to criticize you for the way you look or the way you act. I wanted to write a song about just doing what you do when you’re on your own. And that’s the song I came up with.”
We suggest that ‘Live Louder’ is perhaps the antithesis of its predecessor; a middle finger, if you will, towards critics of ‘You’re Beautiful’.
“Exactly. That’s every artist’s wish… to make sure they don’t just have one song to hit. I’ve always loved this type of sound.
“Soul music is home. I’ve sung so much soul over the years. I can do the R&B/pop stuff, I love to do the soul/pop stuff as well and I really wanted to write a song that had that organic feel. I think it’s important as an artist to keep recreating yourself and your music.”
‘Live Louder’ was one of the products of Nathaniel’s album writing trip to the US earlier in the year.
“I wrote with a guy called David Ryan Harris, who co-wrote ‘Battle Scars’ with Guy Sebastian, as well as a bunch of his other stuff,” Nathaniel reveals. “He’s an incredible songwriter, producer and artist in his own right. So when I was over there writing for the album, we were fortunate enough to get a session with him in the studio. We also wrote another song with him that was a similar type of vibe and we loved it.
“He came to Australia probably four months ago and again, we were pretty keen to get him in the studio and do some more writing. We ended up having him for a whole week and that whole week, we pretty much focused on one song – and that song was ‘Live Louder’. Everyone was vibing at the time saying, ‘this is the one, this is the one’. Or it was the other one we wrote in America. It was between those two songs. And it ended up being this one.”
The song was also co-penned by Sydney’s DNA team of Anthony Egizii and David Musumeci; a pop powerhouse, who’ve been co-writing and producing tracks for many of the stars in Sony’s local stable, including Jessica Mauboy, Dami Im, Samantha Jade, Timomatic and The Collective, as well as The Saturdays and, erm, a certain Geri Halliwell single.
“They’re pretty much my rock. I’m signed to their label through Sony, so they’re pretty much my writing team. The majority of my writing sessions, I want to have them involved, because they’re just friggin’ awesome. They just know what can work, what is beyond your means in terms of making it on commercial radio. Stuff like that. They get it.”
For the first time, Nathaniel also spills the beans on his forthcoming debut album, how close it is to being finished and when we might expect to see it drop at retail.
“We’ve pretty much got all the songs,” he tells us. “We’ve got nine of the songs chosen that we definitely want on the album and there are probably one or two more that we want on there. But we’re choosing between close to 20 songs making sure we choose the right ones.
“And it’s not just that, it’s choosing the songs in the right order… Taking the audience on a journey from start to finish. For me personally, I like to go on a journey. I don’t think we’ve really knuckled down in terms of the order, but I don’t think that’s a huge job.
“We’ve got stuff that’s really urban, there’s the R&B stuff, the pop stuff like the first two singles, we’ve got the soul stuff like ‘Live Louder’ and a couple of other ones, we’ve got a ballad on there and we’ve got some stuff that’s real left-of-centre neo-soul stuff. So it’s definitely a diverse album and hopefully I can have it out before the end of the year.”
The prospect of releasing an album of songs into an increasingly digital world where the audience gets to pick and choose their favourites means added pressure on an artist to ensure that each song is strong in its own right. “All killer, no filler”, as the saying goes.
“It’s tough to sell albums in this country,” Nathaniel says. And, he admits, the pressure to do so scares him.
“A little bit. I’m not going to lie. A little bit. It’s a bit daunting to wonder whether or not people are going to want to invest in an album. I’m hoping they do. But I’m excited just to get a body of work out and go, ‘this is me, this is what I’ve been all about the last couple of years and I hope you like it’.”
With the album on the horizon, we couldn’t help but wonder if some of the tracks from it might end up making their way into the setlist for his appearance at Soulfest next month.
“Oooh you’re very good. Yeah. I’ll be there with my band,” he reveals. “They’ve only given me a short set, so I’m trying to cram in as much song as I can, but there’ll be songs from my album there, definitely, including the first three singles.”
Nathaniel’s also excited about the prospect of sharing the stage with some of his favourite artists.
“Man, some of the guys on that bill… Maxwell, D’Angelo, Musiq Soulchild, Anthony Hamilton… all these incredible international artists on the same bill as me, so I’m going to act like a little fanboy and try and meet them all. Get my photo. And even if I have a chat with them or something like that…
“Obviously there are a whole heap of artists from Australia on the bill who are awesome too, so it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be crazy.”
Before those performances, however, there’s another one on ‘The X Factor’ stage tonight. And again, Nathaniel tells us he feels the pressure to be on his game.
“Any TV performance is daunting. You just want to make sure you’re on point. I’ve had a head cold the last week, so I’m trying to get over it.”
With a new single, media commitments across the country, upcoming TV performances, appearances at Soulfest in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and work continuing feverishly on the debut album, we comment that Nathaniel must be completely exhausted.
“It is exhausting, but it’s a different thing when you love what you’re doing,” he explains. “I would do this every day of my life 15 hours a day if I had to. I don’t want to be scared or to think that it’s too hard. I just want to do it.
“Thank goodness the first single put me on a good path. And now ‘Live Louder’… the affiliates around the world have started to hear it and they’re biting, so I’m in a pretty good place.”
Nathaniel’s new single ‘Live Louder’ is available now.
Catch him live as part of the ‘Soulfest’ line-up in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane next month.
October 18 : Sydney (Victoria Park)
October 19 : Melbourne (Sidney Myer Music Bowl) * NEW VENUE
October 25 : Brisbane (Riverstage)