Natalie Prass’ self-titled debut album sounds timeless, which is a good thing, considering she’s been waiting since 2012 to release it.
“You write this music and you’re like, is there a place for this?” the singer-songwriter says. “I really love it and it’s something I totally dig but, now, in 2015, is there a place for this kind of stuff?”
Thus far, the answer is yes. A nine-song breakup record, “Natalie Prass” is lush and confident, with a sound that recalls Dusty Springfield’s seminal “Dusty in Memphis,” jazz standards, baroque pop and ’90s R&B. Finally released this week, the record has already garnered considerable acclaim and buzz (including a glowing review in Pitchfork).
Prass’ long journey to this point started with her first band, a fusion rock group she fronted in Virginia Beach, Va., when she was 14.
Now that she’s 28, the band’s name — Noh Poppy — makes her groan.
“Oh geez, it’s so bad,” she says. “Really dorky.”
Eventually, she quit the group and a classmate, Matthew E. White, took her place. Though it seemed insignificant at the time, the swap turned out to be serendipitous.
More than a decade later, in 2012, Prass was in Richmond working on her debut record with White at the helm. A mutual friend in Nashville, Tenn., (where Prass lived at the time) had reacquainted the two and suggested they work together.
White had started Spacebomb, a combination studio and label — with a big, soulful house band in the mold of the Stax Records studio bands — and the two hit it off, musically speaking.
“I hadn’t heard something like that, that was being made now,” Prass says.
Employing the Spacebomb band, Richmond-area jazz musicians and a string section, White and Prass got to work.
The resulting album was supposed to drop in 2013, but when White’s own career took off thanks to his 2012 debut, “Big Inner,” Prass’ record was put on hold. “I’ve been very patient,” Prass says.
“It’s a small label … and they needed to grow and learn and make sure they were completely present for this release.” While she waited, Prass landed a gig playing keys in Jenny Lewis’ band, and wrote and recorded two more records that may never see release.
“Those records were more for me,” she says. “Sometimes songs just don’t need to be out.”
Now that her debut has been released, Prass is looking forward to re-creating the songs live with a four-piece band (she’s in D.C. on Wednesday). Then she’ll head to Europe to open for Ryan Adams before getting back on the road with Lewis.
First, though, she has some unpacking to do: Prass recently moved from Nashville to Richmond to be closer to her adopted musical family.
“It’s pretty funny choosing this as my time to move, when everything is crazy,” Prass says. “Just living in an apartment with a mattress on the floor. It’s like, ‘Who knows where I’m going to go?’ ”
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