Interview: Natalie Cressman

Listeners rejoice! For those city dwellers who have survived the winter woes this past week, there is some music to help keep the comfy working from home vibes alive. Musician Natalie Cressman, who is set to release her latest collection of work in ‘The Traces EP’ on March 3rd, is a prime example of an artist who can aid in staying warm indoors. The woman took some time to elaborate a bit on her musical journey to date.

Music has been a major creative outlet for Miss Cressman. More importantly, it has been a way for her to unleash her original voice. “I’ve been lucky to have come up around some really amazing role models in music who are unapologetically themselves, every second of every day. Every note of music they play or write is a reflection of who they are, regardless of what might be trending or hot at the moment. So I’ve just been trying since I started my ‘career,’ to the best of my ability to follow my own voice, and not to lose sight of what inspires me to create. [That] makes me excited to wake up every morning and play music. In my opinion, those kind of earnest creative endeavors makes music resonate beyond the here and now. I think creating between the cracks of different genres and making music that is hard to label definitely has its challenges…. To me, staying true to who I am is more important than any particular measure of fame. That mindset helps me just go for it and take risks musically without being too caught up on whether it aligns with a certain trend or fits wholly in one particular scene.”

Not only is Natalie a fantastic singer, she is also a talented trombonist and has paved a one of a kind path for herself in the music world. Luckily, that path has led her on some fascinating adventures. “One of my favorite moments in the last year was paying tribute to a historical hero of mine, the female trombonist Melba Liston. I hadn’t presented a real jazz concert in awhile and she’s been a real inspiration to me as one of the only female trombonists and writers in the jazz tradition. Playing two sold out sets at SFJAZZ in my hometown was a really great moment… Having the program go well when I had so much pressure in my head about doing Melba’s music and story justice was such a joyous moment. I also would call Radio Silence one of my favorite pieces of work because it subtly comments on the issue of sexism in music… I’ve found most female instrumentalists experience [it] often and yet people aren’t very aware of it. Being able to write a song with a message tucked in, while still trying to explore sonically and write a good song was one of my favorite moments on this relatively new journey into songwriting.” This message may be immensely important now more than ever.

Her performing dreams do not stop there. “I know it’s cliché, but I would love to play at the Grammy’s one day. That was the only awards show I watched growing up and I’ve always dreamed about making it to that point some day down the road where I get to perform on that stage. I’m not sure if it’ll happen but it’s definitely an ‘ideal performance’ in my book. I’d also love to play my music internationally and be able to travel the world with my band in the future. I have a passion for travel and love learning new languages and about new cultures… That would be an amazing way to get to travel the world and share my music with new listeners.” Well, she still has a few days to make those Grammy dreams come true!

Even though life on the road is never truly easy, some difficult performances tend to stick out in the mind of all musicians. “This performance actually happened last week, playing at the Knicks Game with my band and singing the national anthem. I had just gotten back from a trip to Israel and was exhausted and jet-lagged beyond belief when I flew to NYC on a redeye the day before the game. Basically, the second I hit the ground I was in rehearsals all day and then, the morning of the big gig, I woke up sick with basically no voice. I tried not to panic and did a bunch of cold remedy-ing and vocal warm ups and was able to push through and sing later on in the day, but battling the nerves of such an appearance while I was sick was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The relief was huge afterwards and it felt like I slept for days once the relief and jet lag hit me.” Listeners have to admire that professionalism.

As the music scene grows, Natalie offered some of her skepticism. “I think the music world is an increasingly difficult place to be though I try not to be deterred by that realization. It seems more and more to be a matter of luck and appealing to big demographics than about actual skill or talent, in my opinion. Me and many musicians I know put in hours of effort honing our craft and tens of thousands of dollars of our own money to fund our own records… It really is only for the love of music now that almost nobody actually buys music anymore. It seems like society in general doesn’t value music as much as it once did, unless you belong to the upper echelon of music stars. I’ve always been drawn to music that’s a little more underground, unique, and exploratory than that… It’s hard to see such a marked change in how music is consumed. The music business as it exists now is primarily more focused on commodifying talent than providing an emotional experience for the listener, which is why I’ve found my way going a more alternative route than seeking a major label record deal…” Again, paving her own road as an artist is an ambitious effort that will surely work in her favor.

Music is not her end all be all desire in the arts. “As a former dancer, I would love to write for dance or even do a multimedia performance piece that involves me dancing and playing or singing. It’s definitely a concept that’s always in the back of my mind and who knows, maybe one day I’ll be able to make it happen? I would love to be able to use more orchestral textures in my music. I always have ideas of how different woodwinds and bigger orchestration could be cool to add to my sound, but the logistics of hiring an orchestra of 40+ musicians, unfortunately, have ruled it out for the time being.” Hopefully this will become a reality someday.

Artists in the space keep her motivated going forward. “I’m constantly inspired by Joni Mitchell and the many contributions she’s made to music, but since she’s not really making music any more, I’d say that Kimbra is an artist that I really respect… I love that she’s not just a singer but a real artist with so many skill sets: she’s a producer in her own right and is wildly creative both in her recorded work and her live shows… I find that super impressive.”

Natalie never seems to slow down. “… I’ve actually got to write a horn arrangement for my mom, who is a great singer specializing in Brazilian music. She’s hired me to help her with some material we’ll be performing together in Brazil in a few weeks. Then I’ll be cooking some dinner and hopefully have some time left to watch The Wire and hang with the adorable little cat I’m cat-sitting. I’m taking some time this year to absorb some new ideas before I plan the next form of creative output. Of course, I’ll still be gigging and playing live in the meantime, but I’m going to Brazil to study some different styles of music which will hopefully lead to new inspiration and provide some fresh ingredients for when I’m writing music for my next project. I try to take time to continue my study of music since there’s just so much to learn and things are ever evolving.”

Natalie Cressman is an active participant in the art world and show no signs of stopping. Listeners will happily flock to her tunes and the desire to keep pushing the limits of the craft will only aid her along the way. Give Natalie a listen and better yet, go see her live as soon as possible. Maybe a trip to Brazil is ideal?

Jam on.



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