I’m Natalie Duncan, a neo-soul pianist, vocalist and songwriter from Nottingham, and to deconstruct the writing process of my new album titled Free is a tough task. I look at the songs very individually but at the same time, they all underscore the trajectory of a period of time in my life.
I consciously connected the songs, musically, using the first track “Kansas“. I called it “Kansas” simply because of the old Hollywood vibe of the opening vocals and strings. It felt reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz. I pitched up the highest vocal in the group because I wanted it to be really Disney.
I’d had this piece of music recorded in my phone for absolutely ages. It was the opening string theme and I had no idea where it would go but unlike many of the other ideas I’d recorded and permanently shelved, these chords felt different. They oscillated as if they needed to be heard.
So eventually I decided to give up on the idea of trying to write them into a fully formed song with a classic structure, and used them to bookend the album. I wrote “Kansas” as the introduction, “Glass” is a reprise in the middle of the album, which is reharmonized and then it returns at the end of “Diamond“, the final track on the album.
“Atrium” and “Lucid” are the youngest tracks on the album. Both were written in Thailand at Goldie’s house. His house is beautiful and serene. Decorated with his signature artwork and overlooking cavernous, verdant vegetation.
Being there made me feel different. I understood his life there and how these surroundings juxtaposed his sometimes fiery temperament and complimented his fun loving eccentricity.
I wrote “Atrium” in the atrium beside the control room of the studio. I wrote it in the morning, which is weird in itself for me. I’ve never written anything in the morning before, maybe it was partly the Thailand air and partly the fact that I hadn’t adjusted to the time zone!
“Lucid” was written by accident. Goldie’s partner in crime, James Davidson, co-produced the album. He was looping a section of another track that we were working on and as the loop repeated again and again, it started to feel like an entirely different song. I jotted down a few lyrics and then recorded them quickly with no regard for perfection, just a vibe.
I then told James to let loose on the production and to mess up the vocals as much as possible. Richard Spaven later tracked his drums in sporadic, esoteric patterns across the rigid metronome of the programmed loop. I played bits of rambling melodica in the same fashion. This was to create more drama and shades of light and dark in the album.
“Nova” and “Strange” are the oldest tracks. As a life long song writer, I have always found that you write batches of songs, most of which get played and performed a little bit and then you move on but there’s always one or two that stick around a bit longer. “Nova” and “Strange” became two of my staples.
They appeared in most of my live shows and they both grew with me. Now that they’re finally on my album, I’m already excited about putting them to bed and replacing them with brand new songs. They’re now the property of their audience and don’t really belong to me anymore. That’s seems to be my cycle.
“Karma“, “Brave” and “Diamond” are the most emotionally charged tracks. These were all written during the tumultuous times of a relationship break up. “Brave” is a personal lament for the demise of my 5 year relationship with someone.
I didn’t ‘write’ the lyrics to “Brave”, I never put pen to paper. I pressed record one day whilst I was sat at the piano and I sang the whole song word for word as you hear it on the album. It felt like I was purging all of the pent up emotion I’d been carrying. It was pain, guilt, anger, fear and liberation.
I hardly considered the musicality of these songs before I arranged them. Knowing roughly the characteristics, i.e. the spoken word/rap verse of “Diamond”, the warm pad of “Karma” and the nod to gospel in “Brave”, I drove less into the complexity and movement of the chords as I did with songs like Glass and Pools. I consider songs like this to be fairly lyric driven.
The ability to channel my emotions through music and lyrics has saved my life many times.
“Pools“, “Sirens” and “Autumn” are all songs about love and infatuation. I wrote these whilst recovering from vocal cord surgery and entering a new relationship. Feelings of joy and excitement never usually open me up musically, this album was the first time.
All three of these songs were mindfully constructed. I like to think that they encapsulate the musicians that I feed off but still detach themselves from the uniformity of a single genre. I used to be afraid to write happy music about love but things just… changed. Once I’d accepted myself in this new skin, I felt free.
Listen to my album Free below!
Words by Natalie Duncan // Follow her on Facebook + Instagram