Queensland singer-songwriter Natalie Pearson is carving out her own niche in Australian country music, with her catchy, memorable country rock/pop songs and her dynamic stage presence. Towards the end of 2019 she released the single ‘Plan B’ and she has kicked off 2020 with the release of ‘Let ‘Em Talk’. If you ever needed motivation to stop worrying about what other people think, this song will give it you. Not that it means that you’ll find it easy … Pearson says she has struggled with it herself.
‘I think as an artist you always care about what other people think of you,’ she says. ‘You always want people to like you. I think that’s just a human nature thing as well but more so when you’re an artist. But sometimes that gets in the way of you doing things. Or sometimes if people are saying things to other people, that can get in the way of things as well. So this is about, “Just don’t worry about that and just do what you do because at some point in time what you’ve created will have its own shine for what it is. And the people who are going to love it are going to love it. And the people who don’t care about it or don’t like it, they’re not your people anyway.” So that’s a really universal thing that everybody can take on board: not everyone is going to be your people and that’s okay. You just focus on the people who are your people and don’t worry about the rest.’
This is something that Pearson says she has to put into practice on a regular basis: ‘I think it’s still a realisation that I have to remember myself. Sometimes I get caught up in what other people think, and I just have to say, “Don’t worry about it.” It’s a learning process,’ she says with a laugh.
Of course, that process can be made harder by the fact that social media makes other people’s lives so visible. As Pearson says, ‘The social media platform is just a big comparison pool. You’re always seeing what everybody else is doing and you compare yourself to that, all the time. And I think everybody does, not just artists.
‘Everybody sees the highlight reel. They see when people are doing really well on social media – they don’t see those down moments or those not-much-is-happening moments or whatever. You have to remember that it is a highlight reel. It is hard to stop comparing yourself to what you see on social media. And it’s hard as well when you have sometimes negative things that come up on social media because people feel invincible in saying negative things because there’s no repercussions, and that that can be quite damaging to someone’s self-esteem. Everybody’s got insecurities and sometimes they can really touch on a nerve and that can be quite damaging.
‘So I think social media has definitely made it a lot harder to switch off and you have to be on there – you feel like you miss out on information or you miss out on social occasions, or you get left behind in the career path or whatever it is. It’s really hard to stay off that platform. But avoiding the noise is also really difficult.’
Still, says Pearson, she loves social media because it gives artists a great opportunity to ‘be in front of an audience that can see what you’re doing and that want to know what you’re doing’.
The song was written with Luke Austen and Jake Sinclair, and came from the same songwriting session as ‘Plan B’.
‘We wrote about four songs in a matter of hours and put down the iPhone demos all in one go,’ says Pearson. ‘So it was actually a really productive night and my demos aren’t that different to how the melody and the lyrics ended up being recorded. We worked really well together. We bounce ideas really well off each other as well. So I definitely love writing with those guys. And I have already made plans to get some more things happening. But now with the travel bans I’m going to have to say see how we go!’
When writing in person isn’t possible, writing over Skype or FaceTime isn’t Pearson’s preferred alternative – ‘I do find it a bit harder, she says, ‘because you’ve got that delay. So if someone’s playing guitar chords and you’re trying to sing along with them they’re hearing it delayed, so it’s hard to get a flow on, but it is possible. People do it all the time. I just prefer it in person.’
The songs that Pearson wrote with Austen and Sinclair are strong, feisty and also revealing. She says of the duo that ‘they like writing from an authentic place and from the heart, as do I. I’m really good mates with them as well and I trust them. I think that’s what makes a really good writing session, when you have trust and you can put ideas out there and they’re not going to say, “Oh yeah, that’s good”, even if it’s not good. They’re actually really honest, so if you put forward an idea and they don’t think it’s quite the right thing, then they’ll spin it into something else or vice versa – if they say something that’s not really what I want to say and I feel comfortable enough to say it and we can take any direction with it. So I think that’s what makes a good writing session, being able to be open and honest. And it’s about the song and the message behind it rather than ego.
‘It’s no time to be sensitive over “Is this good enough?”‘ she explains. ‘Just put it out there. It might be, and it might not be, but if you don’t put that there, then you’ll never know. I feel comfortable putting everything out there with them and they feel the same with me. That’s why we came up with some really great songs that night.’
Pearson says she’s had some ‘mixed feedback’ about the song – not about it’s quality but about the genre it fits into.
‘Most of it has been really great feedback,’ she says. ‘I’ve had, “Wow, this is really cool. It’s really edgy, it’s really sassy.” And it’s different to everything else that’s out there at the moment, which is obviously really good, to have something different piques people’s interests. But then there’s been other people who have said, “This isn’t country at all.” Okay! And that’s fine. It’s not traditional country. Some people, their station is quite traditional country based and mine isn’t that, and that’s fine.
‘As I said, there’s going to be people who love what you do and there’s going to be people that don’t dig it and that’s fine because everyone’s entitled to like what they like and not like what they don’t like.’
Of course, country music can’t be strictly defined these days, As Pearson says, ‘Country as a genre is so diverse. There are so many subgenres of country that you kind of think sometimes what even is country anymore. There’s some sounds that are really hip hop, there’s some that are really indie alternative, and there’s obviously the traditional country. There’s the contemporary pop country, rock country.
‘I think we’ve strayed so far either side of the genre anyway, it’s really down to personal taste. I don’t think anybody can really say that’s not country because there’s probably some elements that still are, so it’s just down to opinion. It’s down to preference.’
Several different types of country music were on display at the inaugural Wolfefest, a festival organise by The Wolfe Brothers in their home state of Tasmania at the start of this year. Pearson was invited to open the festival, and she says, ‘It was amazing. It was my first time to Tasmania … The crowds that came to both shows were in excess of 500 to 600 people, which is incredible for a first-time festival. And they were just really supportive.
‘All the people were lovely. They came and said hello over at the merch stand so I got to meet heaps of new people. I got some really great feedback from my performance as well, which is always really nice. And then The Wolfe Brothers invited me to open for them in Brisbane a couple of weeks later. Nick and Tom [Wolfe] are just lovely, lovely down-to-earth people, and we were having a good chat backstage and there were saying, “We want to get you on more of these festivals. How can we get you on these festivals?” And Tom jokingly said, “Can I write you a reference letter?” We were laughing at that and I said, “Gosh, it couldn’t hurt, right?” And the next thing you know I get an email from Tom with a referral letter to festivals,’ Pearson says, laughing.
‘They’re just lovely people and they are so supportive and want you to do well. So I was really happy that they thought of me to open the shows and be on Wolfefest. It was a great opportunity.’
The Wolfe Brothers have built a large, loyal following over the years, and they obviously felt that Pearson would be a good fit for their fans.
‘They’re definitely more contemporary rock country,’ she says, ‘and I think that’s the vein my music is as well. And then me being a female was just a different take on it. Obviously I’m not as heavy as their music can be.
‘There was a nice diversity with the acts. Jake Sinclair also played that gig and he’s definitely more of the traditional country rock sound. So it was a really nice, versatile musical line-up.’
Not long after Wolfefest Pearson made the most of her brief time at the Tamworth Country Music Festival.
‘That was a whirlwind!’ she says. ‘We drove down, and it’s seven or eight hours from Gold Coast. So we drove in, we did couple of radio interviews when we got there. We opened a show for Liam Brew that night at Moonshiners and then the next morning we had a singer-songwriter in the round thing at a cafe and then literally drove straight from there back to Brisbane to a gig. We were in town for 22 hours nonstop and just had a full schedule and then just drove. We were absolutely shattered by the time we finished the gig in Brisbane.’
The busy start to the year continued with Riverfest, a mini festival on the water in Brisbane that Pearson co-organised. Of performing in a boat she says, ‘You have to definitely have that power stance! Have your feet wide apart to keep the balance then sway in the opposite direction. But actually it wasn’t that choppy on the water that day – nobody fell over, which is good!
‘It was Jade Holland, Andrew Swift, Brook Chivell and myself on the line-up. And on the day of the event we had heaps of people come at the gate and we sold out. We were at capacity. Everybody had a great time. I’ve seen some feedback online from people to each other saying “We had the best day” and “I love these river cruises. We want to do more.”
‘So we actually ended up booking another one, which is happening on the 12th of September. We have tickets available at the moment. Given that it’s in September, we’re hoping that everything has settled down by then. So if anyone wants to get tickets they can. We do have a really good line-up – Drew McAlister, Hayley Marsten, Brook Chivell and myself. And like last time we’ll have a full band for all four acts. There’s going to be a bar on board, food on board and then there’ll be an after party as well.’
And by ‘everything has settled down’ Pearson means, of course, that live shows are taking place again. The impact of COVID-19 on the music industry has been sudden and profound, with artists losing their livelihoods literally overnight. Pearson says that like a lot of artists, she’s ‘going into damage control and trying to figure out how we can replace the income that has now been lost. I have thought about doing a live-stream concert or doing a weekly live, something like that. But I see a lot of artists doing that – and that’s great that they’re doing it, but I also feel [that] because so many people are doing it, I don’t want to add to the noise. And I know that there’s so many other people that are doing it tough as well. I don’t want them personally to feel like they have to support me before they look after themselves. So I would prefer to wait a little bit. I’m applying for jobs at the moment. I’m just going to try and keep myself afloat for now and just gauge the situation. Because I want people to look after themselves and their family before me.’
No doubt once the world has recalibrated and gigs are again taking place, fans will flock to Riverfest and other shows. Until then, we are fortunate to be able to listen to so much great Australian country music, including Pearson’s new song. While it’s not the same as seeing her play live, it will give you an idea of why you should seek her out once you’re able to see a show.
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