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  • Writer's pictureThe Sound Cafe

You Wanted To Be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea

By Stuart Coupe.

Natalie D-Napoleon is an Australian/American singer-songwriter and award-winning poet who shares her time between Fremantle, Western Australian and Santa Barbara, California. In the same vein as Patti Smith, Willy Vlautin, and Leonard Cohen, Natalie has successfully explored both writing and songwriting across a 25 year career. 

The New Album

The front porch of a one-hundred-year-old Californian cottage was the perfect setting for Natalie D-Napoleon to sit down and write some songs. As a singer-songwriter entrenched in the traditions of folk and Americana music, writing songs whilst watching the world pass by in Santa Barbara offered a parade of subject matter. Prior to returning to her hometown of Fremantle, Western Australia late last year, Natalie spent the past decade living in California and her front porch in the Santa Barbara barrio provided the heart and soul to singer-songwriter’s latest album – You Wanted To Be The Shore But Instead You Where The Sea. “I wrote and wrote and wrote,” explained Natalie of the role her front porch played in the new album. “Sometimes people stopped and listened to me playing on the porch, mostly parents with kids. Guys walked up and asked what guitar I was playing. But mostly folks ignored me and kept walking. I really liked that - watching the world go by - offering up song ideas - while I plugged away on my instrument and sang.” Not only did the experience give the singer-songwriter the time and space to write, the passing world served as a muse. “All my life I've written ‘personal’ songs.” Natalie continues. “I’ve poured my emotional life into music, yet I discovered after a while it burnt me out emotionally. It wasn't always a well that was nourishing, but one that began to drain me. “As the songs began to flow, I noticed a theme emerge - I was telling stories of women that hadn’t been told before. Women have long been the muse, the obsession, the bitch, and the whore in so many songs written by men. They have ignored the complexities of how women think and feel. My aim was to tell these untold stories from a woman’s point of view.” “Second Time Around” (a song about the wisdom that comes with starting over) was one of the first while “No Longer Mine” (a celebration of the resulting liberty from ending a relationship) and “Wildflowers” (a timeless take on an old timey porch song) both poured out onto the page. “Let me be clear though, the rest of the songs did not come without work,” Natalie is quick to add. “This time I decided to feed the songbird within me. I gave her water and seeds as you do to any living creature you want to keep coming back to visit.” That wasn’t always easy though. A song-writing session in Taos, New Mexico with American folk icons Eliza Gilkyson and Mary Gauthier ended in tears when the latter pushed Natalie to her creative and emotional breaking point.  “Mary suggested a song I played to the group wasn’t personal enough and that I was skirting around telling the story,” Natalie recalled. “I broke down in front of 20 strangers as 25 years of grief and disappointment came to the surface. That night I howled as loud as the coyotes outside our cabin in the New Mexico high desert until the early morning. I was done with songwriting, “But the next morning I picked myself and I went back to the workshop. I’d dedicated too much of my life to the craft of songwriting for me to give up now. That day I wrote "Mother of Exiles" - a song inspired by the poem by Emma Lazarus at the foot of the Statue of Liberty celebrating America’s embrace of immigrants, just like me.”

Through that experience Natalie found a poignant poetry in adversity which she channelled into her writing. “Thunder Rumor” is a haunting exploration of the most dangerous time in a woman’s life - leaving an abusive relationship, “Reasons” explores emotional rollercoaster of losing an unborn child, while the album’s title track, You Wanted to Be the Shore but Instead You Were the Sea, is an exploration of childhood trauma, and the scars many people carry from their childhood. With an album’s worth of material filling her songbook, Natalie turned her thoughts to recording. A lot had changed since recording her 2012 release, Leaving Me Dry in a lavish Santa Barbara studio with an all-star cast. Her long-time guitarist, Kenny Edwards (who for decades was Linda Ronstadt’s leading man) had passed away while producer and bassist David Piltch was back on the road with kd lang. Natalie and her pianist Dan Phillips soon found a musical ally in producer and bassist James Connolly who hatched a plan to record the songs using a single microphone in a one-hundred-year-old wooden chapel nestled in the hills behind Santa Barbara. Natalie and Jim’s aim was simple - to capture the beauty and spontaneity of a song’s performance when it’s fresh and new. “Jim and I worked on arrangements,” Natalie explained. “He suggested changing a lyric from a statement to a question and transformed an entire song. We co-opted Lucinda Williams’ long-time sidekick, Doug Pettibone, to play guitar, pedal steel and mandolin and all the pieces of this puzzle we call an album began to mysteriously fall into place. We went into the room with faith and trust in each other and damn the music gods delivered.” You Wanted to be the Shore But Instead You Were the Sea is Natalie D-Napoleon’s surrender to music – a place where it’s okay to be vulnerable and courageous as well as fierce and kind.


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