Natalie Gelman, takin’ it to the streets
1.0 – Are you happy with how the new EP, Streetlamp Musician, has turned out?
I am! The songs are great to start with and the production and players performing on it are top notch. It has a diverse range of songs and I think I’ll be performing all of them for a long, long time.
2.0 – What are your plans if any for the release?
I’m taking it slow to make sure I’m doing everything right. It will be a soft release and I’m going to start touring it towards the end of this year and more next year. I am hoping my friends and fans love it enough to share with their circles of friends so it finds a home in a lot of peoples music collection.
3.0 – Which song on it do you have the strongest emotional relationship with, or are they all dear?
It changes over time. They all have been close to me at one point or another. The most emotional song for me is “One More Thing” but the one I have strong love and respect for is “Most The While”.
4.0 – Do you have a formula when it comes to writing or is it more free-form?
A melody and some lyrics will come to me at first and then its my job to uncover what the song is about and focus it moving forward. I also try not to give up on the song or judge it prematurely. I don’t have a formula exactly but I do try to capture everything I think is interesting and inspiring in notebooks and in files on my iPhone. I’ll refer back to those often when I’m looking to write and when I’m looking for a spin on a song I’m already writing. I work really hard on my lyrics to try to be as clear as I can in saying exactly what I mean to and honoring the message of the song. That process is tedious and involves a lot of revision most of the time.
5.0 – What were the songs that you recall impacting you as a kid?
I don’t have too many songs that impacted me as a kid because I grew up studying classical violin and piano and my mom played classical music at home. I did eventually get a Lisa Minnelli CD and Madonnas Like a Virgin album and listen to those repeatedly. I also started listening to the hit radio station in NYC and liked musical theater like Gilbert and Sullivan and Disney songs that I was studying musically when I started singing.
6.0 – What was the first song you learned to sing and play on guitar at the same time, by who?
I was already writing songs when I decided to learn Jewel’s “You Were Meant For Me”. I had only been playing for a few months at that time and I learned the plucking, the harmonics and everything. I still cover that song at shows.
7.0 – Is there an influencing artist that you consider your ultimate muse?
For a long time early Jewel was my primary muse. I’m now really inspired by Patty Griffin. I think she writes stunningly beautiful songs and stories and sings them amazingly. She’s an underappreciated gift.
8.0 – Why led to your leaving NYC for California?
I left for a variety of reasons, a lot of them too personal to mention in this interview but definitely available in the songs on my record. NYC, and the people surrounding me there kind-of broke my heart. I also had an opportunity to record out here with a great team and it just made sense to get out to Los Angeles and dive into it. I came out thinking I might be back by the Fall but the record took longer then expected and then one thing lead to another and now I live here and love it. I still get back to NYC a lot and miss it so much sometimes. It will always be my home and I love the energy of the city. I’m so proud to have grown up there.
9.0 – You recently performed in the subway in New York; has that experience changed at all from when you started out busking in the West Village or is that what Streetlamp Musician is all about anyway?
I didn’t start busking in the West Village. I actually started in Times Square and tried to avoid ever playing too close to home. I didn’t really want to run into people I knew though I always do when I play – usually quite a few folks actually.
Anyways, it has changed because it’s become more crowded. And, as I get older and as the economy has changed people are less likely to tip artists down there now. I still think it’s the best way to hone your chops and start to build your fan base as a young artist. I’m lucky to have made it into the MUNY program that’s run by a part of the MTA who manages the subways. They give you permits for bet spots and times as well as the right to amplify your music. It’s a great community to be a part of and it feels more like a legitimate thing that we’re doing together to make the subways more interesting and special. The buskers and street artists are so vital to the city and it’s spirit.
Streetlamp Musician is about the West Village changing in the past few years as much as it’s about me wishing more people would listen to me when I’m laying my heart out on the line. The city has to change but I wish the West Village was more of the neighborhood I grew up in with artists and bohemians. It’s way too expensive for interesting characters to live there anymore and all the mom and pop shops that had been there for generations were pushed out because rent got too high. My godmother blames the Village getting too popular on Sex and the City and I think she’s right.
10.0 – What’s the worst gig situation you have ever found yourself in?
The worse ever was at a place called The Guitar Bar in Savannah, GA. I set up a show there for their opening night while on my first tour. Everything sounded good from the owner in follow up and checking in a week before the show right up until I got to the venue the night of the show and the owner told me that they weren’t going to be opening that night. My drummer was from Savannah and we were expecting a lot of people so we rescheduled for the next night and now were co-billing the show. We called 30 people to tell them about the switch and ended up playing a house concert that night instead.
The next day we went to the venue and they were complaining that they still didn’t have their liquor license and hustling to finish painting, put things away etc. I saw painters tape all over the floor moldings that needed to be removed so I started helping with that and got to the moldings in the bathroom when I realized they had no toilet paper. I asked the owner if they did and he was overwhelmed and said no so I offered to get some thinking he would pay me back. I went across the street (aka highway) in the dark to get some at a deli and loaded it into the bathroom.
The place opened that night and a ton of our friends came out. The show was amazing right up until I went to go take care of being paid before leaving. We had worked out a 50/50 split of the door deal and I had brought out 30 people at $10 a person. So the band should have made $150.
He handed me maybe $20 or $40 and said he was sorry, they didn’t have their liquor license blah, blah, blah. I quickly found out that he needed all the money from the people I brought in to pay the other act who was a friend of his who has flown in from CA when he paid the other guy $250 right in front of me. The other act hadn’t brought out anyone. I told him that wasn’t okay, we had still driven for hours to be there, had helped them out so much and brought in a lot of people and had a fair contract, yes, the payment details were in writing and it was signed. After a ton of arguing I ended up just leaving and just was so mad that he was making this my issue and just left.
I just looked them up and that place is finally closed. I can’t believe they actually stayed open for 4 years or so. What a nightmare.