Gold Coast-based singer-songwriter Natalie Pearson is a fantastic country pop artist who has over 500 000 streams on Spotify – and late last year she added to that with the release of ‘Plan B’, her catchy new single. Pearson is appearing at the including Tamworth Country Music Festival shows on Thursday 23 January at 7.00 p.m. at Moonshiners Bar with Brook Chivell and Liam Brew, and Friday 24 January at 9.30 a.m. at the Hopscotch Café Songwriters in the Round. Brisbanites can also see Pearson with Andrew Swift, Jade Holland and Brook Chivell on Saturday 15th February from 11.30 a.m. on the Riverfest Country Cruise.
Audience members will likely get to hear ‘Plan B’, which was written in Melbourne – apparently over a few glasses of wine – with Luke Austen and Jake Sinclair.
‘I travelled down to Melbourne a couple of years ago,’ says Pearson, ‘while I was on tour with Jay Seeney, and I knew that Luke and Jake had their weekly writing sessions and I’m good mates with them too. So I went around and we just caught up for a bit and then discovered that Jake and I were going through something similar at the time. We decided to write a few songs that night, but “Plan B”, I think, was the first one. We’ve got another couple of songs as well that I will be releasing later on down the track that were written with them too. So we we’re a good team.’
The track was produced by Matt Fell, one of the busiest producers working in Australian country music. Pearson says she’d heard great things about Fell, ‘and I always like to try new things.
‘With “Plan B” I didn’t really have [an idea of] what I wanted it to sound like. I’d done it acoustically so much that that was all I could really hear. I knew that I wanted it to be pop country, but I didn’t really know like what, and I knew that Matt Fell is quite creative with his sounds and he likes to be very on trend. So I let him fly with it on this one.
‘I went in and we played the demo and I played him some other things that I’d released previously and also things that I was really digging at that moment by other artists. He really took everything on board. He works very differently to other producers, I think. He’s a bit heads down, bums up at the screen and you’re not really sure what’s happening,’ Pearson says with a laugh, ‘and there’s all these weird sounds coming out that he’s playing with him. But then it all comes together and it sounds amazing. So I really liked working with Matt and I’m really proud of how the song came out.’
While the song is about being someone’s romantic Plan B, when asked if she’s ever had a Plan B of any kind, Pearson says, ‘I think everybody’s got to have a Plan B but I don’t really want to put that plan into action because I love music too much. I used to work in real estate back in Perth – that helped fund making the music. But I was still gigging four nights a week at the same time that I was working full time. I don’t know how I did it. Now, looking back, I think, Oh my gosh, I would have been so exhausted. But I’ve always loved music so I’ve never really put myself 100 per cent into following a career and moving up the ranks in any other jobs. Not that I’m not a good worker!’
Pearson’s life in music started in childhood, and was a focus in her school years – although she was accepted into a performing arts high school, in her home state of Western Australia, as a dancer, not in the music programme. Outside of school hours she participated in choirs, including a youth choir run by the Variety Club of Australia, which had young people of all ages as well as some who were differently abled.
‘I think I really learnt how to hear harmony and sing harmony from those choir days,’ says Pearson. ‘Although I used to sing along to the radio and sing the harmony parts and everything. But that choir was really good [for] being able to pick new musical things in the mix to hear where I should go. And obviously you get to perform and meet lots of other people as well. I loved my choir days.’
These days Pearson has vocal lessons and uses the technique learnt for her performances, in part to help protect her voice.
‘I know my limitations,’ she says, ‘and I make sure that I’m not going to damage anything because this is what I want to do. And so you can’t do anything that’s going to jeopardise that.’
After leaving school, Pearson continued to be involved in dance and singing, ‘until I was probably about 21. Even from a young age – like 5 or 6 – I was doing dancing and singing shows. I did professional musicals on stage, performing arts troupes and competitions and all that kind of stuff. Then I worked away as a dancer and I didn’t do the singing thing while I was away, so I kind of missed that. And when I came back I thought, I really want to join a band. So I joined a band and then I hadn’t danced in a while and I went back to just a dance class for fun and fitness and I thought, Oh yeah, my body’s getting old. It can’t do what it used to! It’s like anything: once you don’t do it consistently, you take a few steps back. You do have to keep up the practice, keep yourself in shape for anything that you do. I didn’t do that,’ she says, laughing.
While she’s not dancing regularly now, everything she’s learnt can be applied in her work as a performing artist, because learning dance means ‘you learn how to move your body. You’re comfortable,’ Pearson says. ‘If people aren’t used to being on stage or making about or whatever, they’re used to performing with a guitar in front of them and all of a sudden they don’t have a guitar in front of them, it takes a lot of practice to get comfortable with how your body feels on stage and how it looks as well. As a dancer, a lot of the classes you dance in front of a mirror to learn what it feels like as opposed to what it looks like as well. So you get a feel for how things are going to look and feel onstage.’
Pearson’s earliest musical influences were not from country music – Michael Jackson was ‘my ultimate’, she says – but after she started singing professionally, ‘I think country music actually chose me,’ she says.
‘Growing up I listened to pop music as a dancer and R&B music, then I joined bands and I was doing all the classic rock stuff, which I also really love singing as well. But when I said, “I’m going to put out my own music”, and I started writing and I was saying it’s pop rock, I would release it and people would say, “No, that’s country.”
‘In my teens I was listening to a lot of mainstream crossover country pop. Shania Twain, Leann Rimes. The Coyote Ugly movie was out, so that country music crossed over into the pop world. And that’s kind of how I came across it. Then when I was in the band Taylor Swift was just starting out.
‘So even though I was like determined that what I was doing was pop rock, it really wasn’t, so obviously [country] shaped me more than I thought I did. Then I started listening to country music because I hadn’t listened to it since my teens, and I found this whole new world of music that I really enjoyed and now that’s my favorite thing to listen to. I love Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris. I’m really into the contemporary country now and I’ve embraced that that’s my natural sound.’
Pearson thinks that growing up in Perth meant she wasn’t as exposed to what was happening in country music in Australia and elsewhere. ‘We didn’t really get any touring artists apart from the really, really big acts,’ she explains, ‘but even then they would go out to the regional areas, they wouldn’t really come to Perth. So once I started listening to country music – because people were saying, “You sound country” – this whole other world opened up and I started hearing about all of these artists that were based on the east coast and festivals that were happening. I started educating myself about what was out there, and nowI have moved to the east coast to really just be in amongst it. And I’ve been fortunate enough to play at a few festivals and start getting myself out there for shows.’
Within country music there are, of course, several sub genres – which means ‘there is something for everyone,’ says Pearson, ‘and it just takes someone who is not really interested in country music to come across something that does crossover into a genre that they do find appealing, and they say, “Oh, I don’t mind this.” Then they delve into the world of what else is out there in the genre.
‘I think having the crossover artists and the contemporary pop-sounding stuff or the alt – country is even starting to send a little bit R&B sometimes – I think it’s all great for the genre. It’s all pointing people back to the genre and they can discover more of it.’
A big part of Australian country music is the collaboration that comes from artists not only living close by but encountering each other at festivals. Pearson has already recorded with fellow Gold Coast artist Brook Chivell, and says, ‘I love singing with Brook. Our voices are so different from each other, but they blend really well. I loved collaborating with him on the “I Wonder What You Kiss Like” track and we do actually have another one coming out. It’s on Brook’s album, Fearless Rider. Both of the duets are on there. The, I wonder what it’s like. And then the next one that is yet to be released digitally called “Our Song”.’
Being an independent artist, Pearson has the freedom to collaborate with whomever she clicks with – as well as to choose her own producer, as she did with Matt Fell. But she also has to manage the recordings and collaborations in and amongst her performances and other things. Recording can happen on a song-by-song, although, as Pearson points out, that often depends on where an artist is going to record.
‘With me now living in Queensland,’ she say, ‘I’m recording some stuff with a guy in Melbourne, so it makes sense to do a couple of songs at a time because obviously you’ve got to factor in travel and hire car and all that kind of stuff. It comes down to finances when you’re an independent artist. It does actually take a lot of investment in what you’re doing to put out an album or out an EP or put out songs quite close together. With everything moving towards that digital, Spotify streaming era, I guess it makes it really hard for musicians to actually recoup on the cost that we spend on making music. By doing a track at a time, you can kind of see what’s working.’
Pearson also makes the point that musical trends change – ‘so if you work on things too far in the past, the production sounds and stuff can sometimes be a bit dated. So it’s good to space it out, one for finances because you can recover financially from the last release before you put out the next one, but then also you can move with the trends and work on those songs for your live show, see where the audience is really connecting with it as well before you invest in actually putting it down permanently. So independent musicians, we do have to do things a little bit differently to those that have label backing or investor.’
This year started with Pearson appearing at the Wolfe Brothers’ Wolfe Fest in Tasmania, and her Tamworth trip will be shorter than in past years – but that’s all so she can put as much time and energy as possible into creating new music, and taking it around the country. With such a compelling voice and stage presence, no doubt they’ll be very happy to see her.