‘We can take you all’
Natalie Prass explores the relationship between ribbon dancing and resistance
Natalie Prass waltzed in quietly with her 2015 self-titled debut. The ruffled and lovelorn collection of baroque-leaning indie pop charmed critics. Prass then put together a collection of new songs that were to be laid down in sessions come December 2016. Then Trump won the election, and she wrote 11 different ones with harder grooves, about fear and grief and women’s lives. The label passed.
The album Prass built post-election insists on looking outward even as she gets personal. The Future and the Past (ATO Records) testifies to the black light cast on our relationships and ourselves—on Prass herself, too, who commits acts of resistance with songs like “Hot for the Mountain.”
“We’ll take you on / we can take you all,” she sings.
I talked with Prass as she hung a sparkly curtain at her merch table at the Turf Club in St. Paul. A songwriter since childhood, she’s always admired artists who put their careers on the line in speaking out: Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye.
“Stevie Wonder shaped my morality in a lot of ways,” Prass said. “As a white suburban Virginia Beach kid, I just learned a lot through his lyrics.”
Prass performs at the Vanguard with Stella Donnelly on Sunday, Oct. 7.
Lyndsay Knecht: What can folks expect from the stage show this time, with such a swerve?
Natalie Prass: I’ve just been having a lot of fun with going the extra mile and investing in things I think are exciting for an audience member. We do dance moves and it’s all color-coordinated.
My merch has ribbon dancing on it, like our [“Short Court Style”] music video.
Knecht: So, The Future and the Past is out there being clearly read. The politics of it are very direct—it’s an interesting tension with the visual aesthetics, because there’s a lot of exuberance in your presentation. Can you talk about your decisions to present your songs in this joyful way when they are sort of full of struggle?
Prass: It was really important to me to present the material in a positive way and to have everything in a package of hope and in a package of perseverance. As I get older, I want things around me that are going to push me forward, and I really want to do that for others. I didn’t want to bring anybody down, and most importantly, I didn’t want to bring myself down. My last record was very emotional and sad—it didn’t have a lot of hope to it. Well, “It Is You” did—even back then, I wanted to end on a light note.
Knecht: Pitchfork gave the new one a 7.7. How much do you care about these things?
Prass: I used to care [laughs].
Of course, you’re human, and so you’re going to pay attention, especially to the big publications.
I’ve been doing this for the majority of my life but I’m still new to it professionally, you know. So I want to check out how people are perceiving it.
I always say I need to make something I am proud of, first and foremost. When you’re a solo artist there’s always so many people telling you what to do, and there’s so many people that have their opinions. And it always comes in a package of, ‘We want you to do you, but we have these things to say about it.’
When I decided to make a more political-leaning record last minute a month before we were supposed to start tracking another record, you know, my label at the time was not OK with it. It was an amicable split, but they ultimately were like, ‘You need to find another home for this record. We don’t want it.’
Knecht: Did they tell you what they wanted you to change?
Prass: There were a lot of little things along the way. Like, they didn’t want me to record in Richmond [Virginia]; they wanted me to record in LA or New York. Ultimately it was just like a whole, ‘Yeah, we don’t want this.’
Knecht: When I first read about your pivot, I wondered about your family, and whether they had set a precedent for you to follow.
Prass: My dad’s like, never voted, and my mom’s just—we never had political conversations in our family. With a lot of American families—white families, it was: ‘You don’t talk about politics. It’s uncomfortable.’ My sister’s my confidant, and I’m so thankful I have her in my life … she lives in Germany and she organized a women’s march there, like got on the bullhorn and led all the women and men. She’s amazing.
Knecht: The line on “Sisters”—“keep your sisters close”: What does that line mean for you while you’re on tour?
Prass: When I was in my early 20s, I was so competitive. Now more than ever, since the election, I decided I would try my best not to be jealous, because I’m here to support all the women around me that are more successful. Once you have that perspective—‘This person is making it easier for me’—it’s like, OK, I’m not at this huge venue and the show’s not sold out, but they’re making it easier for me.
Instead of feeling like, ‘Why aren’t I doing that?’ I’m thinking, ‘Hell yeah, that’s so rad.’
Natalie Prass w/ Stella Donnelly
Sun., Oct. 7 at 7 p.m.
The Vanguard, 222 N. Main St. | $12
[Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Spacebomb Records as the label that passed on Natalie Prass' sophomore LP, The Future and the Past.]