Musical Discoveries: You were born in Paris and moved to England when you were very young, so I imagine you'd find it hard to recall any of the 'French lifestyle'? Have you been back since?
Natascha Sohl: No! I was about nine months old when we moved so I really don't remember any of it whilst I was there, which is unfortunate. I haven't actually been back which is ridiculous. I've been through Paris but haven't really stopped there, though my sister has, so I'll have to visit through her! I'd love to go back. I mean everyone wants to go to Paris don't they?
Sticking with your childhood. What was the whole 'growing up' process like for you? I see you enjoyed horse riding, was music a passion you had back then as well?
I always remember loving music. I'd sit myself in my room and I used to have a little cassette player when I was about seven or eight, so I'd record myself singing songs that I'd made up, which were rubbish! I used to listen to all sorts of music with my sister and we'd make up these silly little songs. I always remember things like school assemblies where you had to sing, that part was always my favourite bit. My parents were both quite musical. My dad was playing bass in a band and my mum was more classical. We always grew up with Queen and The Dire Straits being blasted in the household. They always loved music and I've been lucky, as now they're excited that I've decided it's what I want to do.
So what particular artists, albums, even music as a whole helped inspire you at that age, connected with you, making you want to get involved in music yourself?
The first music I can remember being played were things like Queen, Michael Jackson. You had his Thriller album that everybody loved. Stevie Wonder too...it was quite eclectic. I listened to a lot of different things, my mum being more interested in classical, my dad used to be in a a rock band so there was that kind of 'edge' to it as well. Just good music I guess! Though I did used to listen to things like a-ha when I was little. I still think they're wicked.
Was there anything in particular that stood out and made you think 'yes, this is what I want to do'?
When I was much younger I loved it [music] but I was shy and if I thought anybody was watching me or listening to me then I'd shut up and shut myself in my room. I remember screaming at my mum once because she snuck up on me and I didn't know she was there! So when I was really little I thought it was something I enjoyed but I always thought there was no way I could do it because I'm not brave enough to do it. I think when I got to about sixteen as Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow were on the scene and I was listening to a lot of No Doubt, I thought maybe I could do this. I think at sixteen I thought I could learn to be a little bit braver. I think Jagged Little Pill [Alanis Morissette] for my generation was influential.
You studied a year at Brunel University, before deciding to enroll at the Academy Of Contemporary Music. Tell me about that process, the decision to enroll and how influential it's been.
I did the usual school, college process, but I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do something more creative as I'd been doing things like that from a very young age. I decided to try and do something a bit more 'musical', so I ended up doing a Film and T.V course which on paper sounded like it was going to be a really hands-on course. But after the first year of being there it was quite clear that wasn't the case. There was one module we had that was hands-on and was then informed that this was supposedly the 'most' hands-on module of the course. At that point I'd already been in my band too, so I decided I wanted to go and do music instead and really try to work hard to find my way with music. It was a huge decision.
What were your parents and family's reactions to such a decision?
I was petrified. I thought my mum and dad would be so disappointed. Because obviously most parents want their kids to go to university and mine certainly did. I thought God they're going to hate me! But they were so good about it. They didn't mind at all, they saw and knew that I had this passion for music. They were really happy for me to do that. It was hard for me, a big choice. I think I'd been thinking about it within the first few months of university when I realised this wasn't for me. I thought I'd work towards the end of the year and then it got to the point where I felt I knew what I wanted to do, and it wasn't that!
To your first band, 'Little Entity'. Tell me about your involvement and experiences with the band.
Well, we weren't called Little Entity at first. I was eighteen and was going out with a guy at the time who was very musical and was in a band. I got to the point where I was hanging out at gigs and looking at all of these things. My ex-boyfriend was a really talented musician but not everyone we hung out with and worked with was. I was looking around at people thinking I know I'm better than them, or that if they can do it why can't I? So I think that was a turning point for me. I badgered him pleading to be in a band and he introduced me to this guitarist and subsequently started a band. We didn't have a name or anything. We focused on cover songs at first and played our first gig about a month later. Which was terrifying!
How was the first stepping-stone of a 'live' performance with the band, and as a singer?
I thought I was going to throw up! I was scared for the entire day ahead. It was really nerve-wracking. I got on stage, obviously wanting to down a few whiskeys beforehand and I'd never sung in front of anybody in my life. Obviously except the band. Not to my parents, or even my boyfriend. I wouldn't look at anybody. I realised about half way through the first song that the whole room had gone quiet and that everybody was actually paying attention. After the first song was finished I felt this wasn't as bad as I thought. Though I still literally ran off stage after we'd finished!
It was obviously a defining moment, and something that you can recall clearly?
Yeah. It was a scary thing for me to do at the time. I still get nervous for gigs now, I think that's only natural because you want to be good. But that was petrifying!
What sort of sound did this first band have, did you set out with certain aims when you formed?
Half of the band were into quite heavy rock whereas the other half were into drum and bass. I really like the sound that we had. We listened to bands like Incubus, and had quite a heavy rocky sound but with a drum and bassy feel. We called it 'Trip Rock'. We were pretty good and in the area where we were based had quite a big following with most gigs being packed out.
Do you feel you learnt a lot during that time?
I did learn a lot. Obviously through performing on the stage, and it being the first band I tried to start writing for. Learning to work with other people. If you've never written before it's quite a scary place to be in itself. To write your thoughts onto a piece of paper, show them to someone and ask 'what do you think?'
How did your time with the band end?
We were together for a good couple of years. I think we just fell apart. People wanted to go in different directions. There were a couple of egos in the band that didn't like how the rest of it went. I think it's inevitable. Kind of like a relationship. You have to go through a couple before you find on that really gels.
When the band had finished, did you then throw yourself into song writing? What happened post-Little Entity?
I decided that I was really proud of the stuff I'd done with Little Entity. Just because a couple of the members of Little Entity didn't want to do it anymore, I still did. So I carried on with the songs we'd written and I was also doing other songs with other players involved. I met up with a producer and started to do the first album. Deciding not to give up, despite the other guys not wanting to be in a band, and just see where I ended up.
Was it challenging to move away from the band and start to work on your own?
It was. It's quite different. When you're in a band you have four, five people who, hopefully, all want the same thing. All wanting to push in the same direction. Everyone has to make the decisions. Then you go to being a solo artist where suddenly it's you who has to make all of these decisions. In a way it's nicer because you don't have to give way on what it is that you want to do. But then you don't have the support that you once had. I'd have to be in charge of the band, so I'd have to tell them exactly what to do and how I wanted them to do it.
Did you ever struggle with finding musicians who would understand the exact sound you were after?
They were pretty good. I was lucky. I've played with a few good players over the years who I've got on with really well and respected.
Strange Fascination, your first album, was you first real chance to show everybody what you can do. What was it like writing such an album, I imagine you must have been filled with ideas at the time, what do you feel when looking back on it?
That was really different for me. Previously the stuff I'd written in my band I'd been writing with my guitarist and the other people that were involved. This album, I was writing it with my producer and the musicians that he had brought in. So I didn't know these musicians. I set out with this sort of sound that I would want and then the other musicians would bring in their own ideas to the sound. It was a different way of working. But again it was a great learning curve for me and I'm really proud of that first album. I still think it holds up well and that it's pretty good.
Any particular highlights from that first album, for you personally?
There's a song on there called "Remember Me" which I really love. It's got a really driving bass line and I still play that sometimes. There's also "Walking Thru Space" which was originally a Little Entity song that went through a transformation, and I really like it. "Give It All Away" is probably the most 'rocky' song of the album. The only thing with Strange Fascination was that I was working with a producer who had a bit more of a dance and RnB head and obviously I wanted the rock edge. So it was a 'meet in the middle' situation and I had to step back a bit as to how rocky I wanted it to be. I had to fight a little bit. I think it's worked really well. It's about learning to stick to you guns. This is how I want it to be. I'm sure if I went through the whole process again it would sound massively different. I'm a better writer now than I was then, but I'm still really proud of it.
You also traveled to America for a series of performances, acoustically, in New York after releasing Strange Fascination. What sort of an experience was that and how did it come about?
After I'd done Strange Fascination I'd been gigging and I was getting a really good reaction from it. A lot of people were saying it has quite an American sound to it. The tone of my voice, the way I sing, apparently I sound 'American', which isn't deliberate! So it was suggested to try and see how I would go down in America and that it could be a good thing for me. I was going to New York anyway for a holiday as my best friend lives there and the guitarist who was playing for me at the time was my sister's boyfriend.
We all went up there together and thought as we're here we should try and set up some acoustic gigs. We did five and it went really well. I was hoping for some American industry types to give me some feedback whilst I was over there. One of the people that we invited along to some of the gigs is now managing me over here. She missed the gigs [laughs] but had liked what she'd heard and so we stayed in touch. Six months later, after quite a long process of keeping in touch I flew over and met this guy, Russ DeSalvo [producer of second album Dirty Little Word] and took it from there.
Do you think there is this difference between the market for the music you make in America than that of the U.K's?
I definitely think music over here and in the states is different. Over here I feel like there's still a huge pop scene with girl bands and with the x-factor thing. There's also quite a big RnB scene. With band stuff I find over here it's very niche, there's a lot of 'trendy' bands and it's a very male dominated area. A lot of big rock bands are American. Like the Foo Fighters and My Chemical Romance. That's not the sort of music we tend to do over here. Whereas in America there is a much larger industry so there's more of 'everything' I'm sure. They seem to be more open to girls being more than just a pretty face and a dance routine. Accepting girls wanting to write feisty, kick-ass songs with a band, I mean they have Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson and Alanis Morissette. Whereas over here I can't think of any English artist that is in that genre, other than me!
Is that hard for you? Facing this challenge of getting your music known, exposed and 'out there' over here?
It is a good thing and it is a bad thing. I mean it's a great thing for me because obviously there's that window there. I do believe people like Alanis Morissette, Pink, Kelly Clarkson and people similar to them, so there's definitely an area to explore. But it's a bad thing in a sense because there are these trendy, niche bands it makes it hard as people are almost 'afraid' of something new. New things. You do have to work hard. In a way it's quite annoying sometimes but it does push you to want to work hard. I'm not claiming that anything I'm doing is breaking new ground, or opening new genre's, but I'm really proud of this new album. It deserves to be heard!
Would you say you have progressed as a song-writer? What is different about Dirty Little Word than your debut, Strange Fascination?
I think I've progressed because I've grown up as a person. I've probably got more confidence. I've more to say or am less worried about what I say and am less worried about offending somebody or not. Obviously more has happened to me in my life so I've got a lot more stuff that's happened to pick from. I've improved as a musician. I've worked with other people and taken things on board. I definitely feel like I've improved.
When I was writing this record, I was in a foreign country with people I'd only met once, for an hour. Big name people. I kind of went out there and threw myself massively in the deep end, knowing that I'd have to raise my game to work with these people. I didn't want to go out there and have them think: 'she's just some silly English girl. We'll write, she can be the singer'. There was absolutely no way that was going to happen. I had to go in pretending to have all this confidence and raise my game. Luckily the guys were absolutely lovely and we got on really well. It was easier than imagined, not that I'm saying it was easy! I was nervous, working with these people I didn't really know 24 hours a day. What if I didn't like them? Where would I go to escape? Luckily, it didn't work out like that atall.
Just before the trip I had to postpone it. One of my very good friends was unfortunately killed in an accident literally just as I was supposed to be going out there. I had to deal with that first. Which in a way brought the guys I was working with closer to me. They were very sympathetic and understood the situation. The first song that we wrote together was about my friend. I felt like I didn't know these people but I've got to completely rip my chest open for you, show you all my emotions and I think if there is any positive to come from that, then my friend would really like this song.
Was that song ["Fade"] difficult for you to write, and is it a focal moment of this album?
It was basically how I found out. The day it happened. It was hard to write but the guys made it really easy for me. I explained to them what happened and we sat down and wrote it together.
The stand-out moments of the album for you?
To be honest, I'm proud of all of it. I really struggle when people say 'what's your favourite song on the album'. I'd rather ask them 'what's your favourite song on the album!'
Does the album sound as you'd want it to, representing this time in your life?
Yeah. It's about life. My life. Things I want to do. Feelings and relationships. It's feisty and 'I'm in a mood, don't mess with me' in places as well as sounding edgy too I think.
What sort of process do you go through when writing your lyrics?
It depends what's on my mind on the time. I have a little book I try to write in, even if it's just a couple of sentences. I don't really have a set 'way' of writing. A lot of it was very 'pissed off at life' as I've quite recently broken up with somebody. I was a little bit 'anti-love' I think!
There also seems to be more experimentation within this album, musically. For example the middle-eastern vibe present in album closer "Afterglow".
This is the nice thing about working with people like Russ. Getting other people's ideas that I wouldn't necessarily have thought of, but when suggestions are made we can always see where they go. I think we were listening to Led Zeppelin when they go off on one at the time and were thinking it would be really cool if we could do something like that for "Afterglow". Let's see what we can do. It's just a pretty little rambling song.
What are you most proud of regarding Dirty Little Word?
I think I've improved as a singer on this album. I had to push myself to do things which were maybe out of my comfort zone. I feel I've learnt things that I didn't know I could necessarily do. Even if other people may not hear or notice them. I can't wait to get it out there! Obviously I'm not going to have everybody on the planet liking it, you can't please everyone. But when you're writing music at the end of the day you have to write for yourself, though it sounds selfish. You've got to write what moves you, what means something to you because then somebody else will get that. I don't think I'm a particularly 'faddy' sort of person really. I'm not going to write about whatever is fashionable at the time, use a sound everyone is having on their record at the moment. I want to write music that I'm proud of.
To live performances. How do you approach a live show?
I basically love singing. That's what it's all about. There are bands that make music that sounds good but when you go to a gig you leave disappointed. For me being a musician and being involved in music is being able to do a live show. I don't want to go to a gig and leave disappointed. So that's really important to me as an artist. That I can do what's on the album and I sound, pretty much, the same as on the album. It means a lot to me and I love gigging. That's why people go to see a gig. They connect with you in that moment and if they do something a bit different or a bit special you can say you were there. I want it to be tight, though obviously nothing goes perfectly. Things come up that you can't really control. On stage we've had power cuts and who knows what. You give one hundred percent every time and hopefully then you're going to have a good show no matter what.
Your sound has this edgy, energetic vibe to it. Do you try to get this across in your live show?
I usually lose half a stone in sweat after a gig! I think I'm a pretty energetic performer, drawing the audience in. You want to see a bit of personality and that's what I try to get across when I perform. I have session players that play for me so sometimes I have a different band for different shows. If you've got people on stage for you who you know or trust, you know that they're going to just let you sing and that makes it easier for you.
Do you have the same session players when touring?
Over here I have the same session guys. The drummer is fairly new but he's awesome. My guitarist has been with me for four years now. I've played with some really cool guys in America so I feel like I've got a 'pool' to choose from when I go over there as well.
Are there any current plans to tour or play any gigs in promotion of your latest album when it is released?
I'd love to gig. It's been doing my head in, I really want to get out there! That's one of the downsides of being a solo artist as opposed to being in a band. You have to get special guys to play for you, you have to pay them. Whereas if you're in a band you just have to get in a van and go on the road for two months! It's not the way it really works. We've played some of the new stuff and it's gone down really well. To be honest I've gigged in the states more than over here just because I've been spending a lot of time out there. I did a summer camp tour there for example.
What I'm hoping to do is to get a support slot or something like that so I'm playing regularly. Places that are going to have more than just a man and his dog sitting there! There's a company called The Brit Bus Tour which is a really cool concept. It's a lady who travels across America in a London bus and stops along the way to do some shows, I'm hoping to get involved in that. I really want to get out over here too though.
A number of your songs have been featured in American TV series and dramas. That must be exciting for you, what with the exposure it entails?
It's quite recently actually. There were a couple of MTV shows that featured my music. Four songs were on The Hills which is yet to air over here, which I'm pretty excited about. Over there there is a lot of traffic and downloads so I'm waiting to find out when it comes out over here to see what the difference is. Then there's a song featured on Newport Harbor. Hopefully this is the start of things to come!
Is it strange for you to see your songs doing so well in America, yet having to fight for exposure and publicity over in the U.K?
I think a lot of people in America seem to have a lot of blogs, or different websites where you can discover and share new music. Over here there I think there is almost a 'I'm too cool for that' kind of feeling with new music.
Throughout this whole journey, in terms of your career and for you as an individual. What would you say you've learnt about yourself?
I'm naturally a very shy person which is something I've learnt to deal with. At the end of the day you have to be able to say what you want to say otherwise nobody is going to listen. I've also learnt that there is a big difference between being confident in what you do and knowing your worth and being arrogant. I really hope I fall into the first category. If you're constantly having to tell people how good you are, I just don't think there's any need for it. If you believe in what you do then you don't need to do that. I'd rather feel like I'm doing the catching up and learn more that way. Raise my game rather than lower it.
Where do you think you can take your music?
This is what I want to do. I just want to keep going. I'd like to have people listen to my music and feel what I'm going through. I really believe if you work hard and you're good at what you do then you'll get that back.
Looking back, could you ever see yourself where you are now when you were younger?
Looking back, probably. If I really think about. I was very shy when I was little but I was always interested in performance. Drama for example. While I was shy about it I feel it was something I was quite good at and if I got brave enough I could do it. I do know that music is what I love.
What are the future plans for Natascha Sohl?
Pushing, promoting the album I've got now. I'm always writing things with my guitarist. Basically to promote Dirty Little Word and pay attention to the changing music world and try to make use of whatever avenues there are. Internet promotions, T.V, I'd love to get some of these songs on a film and stuff like that. Anything that helps to make people aware of it. Getting out, touring and just seeing how people react.
Any final, closing thoughts? Anything at all.
[Long pause] Buy the album! [Laughs]