Six long years after Natalie Imbruglia last delivered a studio album, she’s back, today releasing her new covers set ‘Male’ in Australia.
Comprising her take on tracks originally vocalled by male performers (hence the title), it’s a long-awaited, but welcome return to the spotlight for the Aussie pop starlet.
On the eve of its release down under, we chat with Natalie, who’s understandably miffed that, instead of concentrating on the new music, a lot of (other) media outlets continue to focus on her private life.
“You know, I try to be really open minded about these things and it gets to a point where, ‘I’m done now’, so it’s just boring. It’s just boring. I’m promoting an album. I want to talk about the music,” she says.
We remark that it’s incredibly sad that we as a society have shifted to a point where we place more importance on the celebrity than on the artistry.
“Well yeah. It’s a different world we’re living in now and I guess it’s not like it used to be. There’s always been that curiosity with people in the public eye, but there are just too many stories not focusing on my music, so you’ve got to put your foot down.”
And rightly so.
After all, it’s been a staggering six years since the release of her last originals set, ‘Come To Life’, so a new Natalie Imbruglia body of work is long overdue.
The LP comprises a dozen cover versions of songs originally performed by the likes of The Cure, Damien Rice, Neil Young, Daft Punk and even our own Josh Pyke.
Natalie tells us what inspired her to release a covers set instead of a new album of originals.
“Well I’d taken a bit of a break from music,” she admits. “I’d had writer’s block for about five years and I have always wanted to do a covers album of my favourite artists of all time. It was a combination of that and also not being quite ready to songwrite yet and hoping that it would inspire me to put pen to paper, which it did.
“So we started correlating lists and by the time I was in the studio and doing demos, I was getting inspired to write again, so it was good fun.”
“I was actually going to do men and women and as I began listening to some of my favourite female artists, I started getting more and more scared about covering them,” she admits. “Almost like they were too sacred to touch.
“And somehow with male artists that I loved, it felt immediately like a different interpretation once you’ve flipped the sex, which was more fun. More fun for me – and I also think for the listener, less likely to be saying ‘which version do I like better?’ and just listening to the song.
“So it just felt organically like the way I wanted to take it. I just thought it was interesting to hear a woman’s take on these songs.”
But she becomes incredibly coy when asked whether there were any songs that didn’t make the final cut.
“Oh I’d never tell,” Natalie laughs. “There weren’t that many though. Funnily enough, we did so much preparation beforehand that we had a really good success rate with those that worked.
“Billy Mann’s very focused as a producer. Christian Medice was great helping with arrangements as well. So there were only about three that we thought weren’t really working and everything else just turned out great. So it was all very quick.”
And, she admits, there were also a number of songs she hoped to cover that, for a variety of reasons, remained off limits.
“Originally with the female artists there were many, many songs. And also some of my favourite male artists… just the style of the song. You might love the song and that act, but you suddenly realise, ‘I would sound terrible singing that song, I can’t cover that’.
“So it’s not until you actually sit down and get your list together and start singing them or trying them that you realise that you’ve got to be smart about what you’d sound good on.
“I’m not going to sound good just singing any of my favourite artists. There are songs that I can do and some that I should steer away from, so I think it’s good to be realistic about that too. Some of the artists I was going to attempt, Billy just laughed at me, which was quite funny.”
Surprisingly, Natalie tells us than none of the artists she’s covered has reached out to her to say they’ve heard her version.
“But samely, I didn’t let them know I was doing it, so… probably should have done that,” she says, with a smile in her voice.
Not that she needed to get their permission to cover their tunes.
“Thankfully no. It might have been a very short album, I don’t know,” she laughs. “It’s always secretly your hope that all the artists are going to know how much you love them and love your version, but it’s also a bit unrealistic. A lot of people are funny about their songs being covered, so who knows.
“That said, Josh Pyke and I had a little chat over here. And he said we should write together. So that would be something I would love to do in the future.”
Speaking of Josh Pyke, Natalie tells us that some of the songs on the new album threw up some pretty serious vocal challenges.
“Josh is an incredible lyricist. He just doesn’t leave enough space for breathing,” she laughs. ‘The Summer’ was a really hard song to sing. It sounds really chilled, but I went to sing it and I said, ‘oh my gosh, where does he breathe?’
“There’s no space for breathing. I had to mark down spots where I was able to breathe. A lot of his songs are like that. He’s got good lung capacity.
“‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ was quite scary too, because I’ve only got a bass to sing along to and it’s quite a tricky bassline. It doesn’t always hit the one, so staying in time was quite difficult. But it was such a great idea and I love that song. Testament to a good song that it works with just a bassline.”
One puzzling aspect of the release of Natalie’s ‘Male’ project is that the album has been out in various territories across the world since late July. We asked her why we’ve had to wait six extra weeks for it down under.
“The madness of the record industry,” she says. “I don’t have a say in all of that. That’s the record company politics. I don’t get it, because obviously once it’s out and you can download it, why shouldn’t everybody be able to have it?
“But the issue is each record company has different timelines to get you on radio, to get you on TV slots. If you imagine how difficult it is for a record company to plan that in every different country around the world on the same date… It’s internal record companies within each company that are trying to pick the most appropriate time for them to put it out so that it works best for them.
“So I suppose it makes sense if you think about it like that. They’ve all got different rosters, they’ve all got different acts that they’re pushing and they want to put the album in the place where it makes sense and where they can give it the best push and give it the best promotion. That’s why they stagger it.”
Natalie’s previous album ‘Come To Life’ was phenomenal. Criminally underappreciated, the LP featured collaborations with Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Rik Simpson and Brian Eno.
We ask for her thoughts looking back on the project and whether she was disappointed by the commercial reaction to it.
“Well it’s partly my fault,” Natalie admits. “Because after the whole thing finished with Island Records, I did have private funding. I just chose not to do it.
“So I think I had gotten so beaten down by the politics of the music industry and being a part of a few different mergers with different labels and being inherited, then having a whole new set of opinions… this is part of why I took a break. Because it was all about politics. And nothing about…
“I just want to get on stage and perform these songs and connect with my audience. And I just got fed up with it all. And I thought… ‘maybe I shouldn’t do this for a while’. I could have pushed ahead with that album, but I just didn’t want to at that point in time…
“I love ‘Come To Me’. But sometimes things have a window and sometimes you have to be smart about… I think if you’re at a place where you’re really not finding the fun and joy in it, then don’t do it.
“So it was a hard decision, but it was the right one. Because now I’m really fresh and loving it and ready to perform, which is the thing I love the most.”
As mentioned previously, Natalie is now working on new original music, confirming to us that her next album project is already well advanced.
“Well I’m actually looking at the schedule. I want to try and fit more songwriting in before Christmas, because I do have a reputation of taking too long between albums,” she laughs. We say we’ve noticed.
“It’s not intentional, you know… I have to write a lot of shit songs to write a good one. Basically I’d like to have it out next year. Maybe not early next year, but later on next year. So we’ll see what happens.
“I’ve written eight demos thus far, which I’m happy with, but you never know. That could morph and change and it could become a whole different thing. I’d like to push ahead with it as quickly as possible, so we’ll see what happens.”
But she also admits that in the past, the perfectionist in her has cast aside a whole gamut of tracks penned for album projects.
“I’ve written so many songs,” Natalie admits. “I’ve talked to other musicians about that and some of the greatest artists I’ve worked with have said that you have to write sometimes a hundred average songs to get a good one.
“Without mentioning any names, there’s a lot of big songwriters who produce a lot of material to get to the good stuff. So that encouraged me and made me not feel like it was just me.
“And then there are other people who can write an album really quickly and it’s just easy for them.”
We also ask her which of her songs from her back catalogue holds the most meaning to her. She squirms.
“Ooh gosh… that’s a hard question. Erm… I don’t know. That’s too hard a question,” she ponders. “I think at different times, different songs I’ve written… (drifting off)
“It was funny actually, putting the setlist (for her upcoming live shows) together and listening back to all my albums, it was so weird. It was like some kind of diary flashback. Going through each album and reminding myself of all the material, because it’s not something that I would choose to listen to at home. Call me weird, but hey, I’m not Kanye.”
So the good news is that Natalie Imbruglia has returned.
She has a entirely new album under her belt and the even better news is that, in theory at least, she intent on not keeping her fans waiting another six years for the next one.
“Six years is a long time,” she admits. “And all I can say is that it’s been such a warm reception and so lovely to know that people had missed my voice. There’s nothing more you could wish for.
“So I’m grateful to have a job, I’m grateful that there’s still a place for me to make music and long may it continue.”
Natalie’s album ‘Male’ is out in Australia today.
Catch her live supporting Simply Red on their ‘Big Love’ Aussie tour dates;
February 09 : Perth (Kings Park & Botanic Gardens)
February 13 : Yarra Valley (Rochford Wines)
February 14 : McLaren Vale (Leconfield Wines)
February 16 : Melbourne (Palais Theatre)
February 20 : Hunter Valley (Bimbadgen Wines)
February 21 : Mount Cotton (Sirromet Wines)
February 23 : Sydney (Opera House Forecourt)