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Interview with Natalie Moses

Bianca Bova
Production / Direction

Bianca Bova: This is Bianca Bova for 10011 Magazine. I'm here with singer, songwriter, and musician Natalie Moses. Welcome Natalie.

Natalie Moses: Thank you.

BB: We are thrilled to have you. I understand your new single No More debuted recently, along with a hauntingly beautiful music video. It's available now on Spotify and other major streaming platforms. Natalie, can you tell me a little bit about yourself, how you came to being a musician, how you got started on that path?

NM: I started singing at a young age, when I was about 8 or 9. It was at private Jewish school in New York. I actually have a vivid first memory of singing at a Passover play rehearsal in class, discovering that I could hold a note and that it made me feel passionate. I remember receiving significant attention from the other kids after, which was a big deal for me. I was a really shy kid... From that moment, I decided on music. I asked my parents for singing lessons, I became a lead singer in school productions and later got accepted to a performing arts high school in Queens, called Frank Sinatra, founded by Tony Bennet. That’s when I began performing around the city, through the school, and started writing songs in my journal every chance I could get, obsessively practicing to get it right. I did try deviating from music after high school but it kept calling me back. Eventually, I transferred from the college I was at, and went on to pursue degrees in Vocal Jazz Performance and English Literature & Writing. I have been making music in my room all this time.

BB: So having that long standing relationship with the craft, that connection to cultural heritage and your childhood, all these factors that have contributed to your becoming the musician you are now, what made you decide that this was the moment to begin producing and releasing your own music?

NM: This was the moment that I felt ready. I've been working on my craft and sound for many years and finally arrived at a place where I’m willing to share myself. I felt that I’m beginning to find the sound that integrates a lot of what I love and a lot of what makes me who I am. I've had many different phases of exploration, teetering between extremes, in my life and at a certain point the music started to embody and infuse all the distinct elements and experiences into one. I started to feel more whole with it only recently. I'm very shy and hard on myself.  It took me years of searching and working behind closed doors to finally feel good enough to come out, take space and share.

BB: I think that's something that a lot of artists go through, that developmental phase, getting to the point of being ready to share, or having something that they know they want to share. For you, was part of that process realizing that there was something missing from the current music scene? Or something you hoped to contribute to it?

NM: Sure. I'm inspired a lot by the current scene. But I also find that femininity and vulnerability is becoming less and less exposed on the forefront of art and music. The trend is for artists to be expressing themselves as infallible, which on one hand is really necessary, because there’s a lot of suffering and we all need that to feel empowered. But on the other hand there’s a multitude not being portrayed in other kinds of ways. Such as deep yearning, loneliness, complexity or anything quirky and raw... Those elements of being a person are not as exposed in music anymore. They’re found to be embarrassing. Those are the very things that really drive me and that I want to talk about in the music.

BB: You mentioned you hold a degree in Jazz Vocal Performance. Do you think studying in a tradition has informed the way you draw on these elements that haven't been as prominent in contemporary music?

NM: Definitely. I think the lament of letting yourself speak freely in the moment through the music--which is the driving force in Jazz-- is definitely something I've taken with me from my studies. That, Music Theory, and an appreciation for Ballads. Singers like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, they were singing ballads, which you don't find much anymore. Everything nowadays is fast paced. Ballads are my favorite and are all I make right now.

BB: You're originally from Queens, correct? And you're back there now?

NM: Yes.

BB: What drew you back to the area, has the neighborhood or the culture had an influence on your work in the final moments of production and release?

NM: Moving back to Queens is a homecoming I was in need of. I tried moving to Israel last year, and it was very difficult for me. At the same time that I moved there, my family left the house I grew up in and a lot changed in my life, all at once. It left me pining for “home.” That brought me back to New York. Growing up in Queens, and my cultural background, are behind everything I do. I'm a first generation New Yorker. All of my expression lies in my experience of being a first-generation child here and growing up with New York as a sonic influence. Hip-Hop was my first love as an individual. My parents raised me on Middle Eastern music and pop artists like Julio Iglesias, Whitney Houston, and Celine Dion. Being raised Jewish with several languages being spoken around me--my father being Romanian and my mother, Israeli with Afghani roots-- was normalcy at home and it all plays a big part in my existence and art.

BB: Looking at your background, obviously your family has been very supportive in your decision to be a musician, to pursue something in the cultural realm, which I know there's of course a rich tradition of in the Jewish Culture. Has that, and starting out singing in school, singing in a religious context, informed the way in which you approach your practice.

NM: My family has been truly supportive. But it hasn’t always been easy. I stick out like a sore thumb against the backdrop I come from. Being Jewish and from New York, and especially the daughter of immigrants, there's an expectation that I create a stable, lucrative career and life for myself. Being a musician doesn't necessarily always grant or guarantee that. Also, in the Jewish religion, if you're orthodox and keeping the “Halacha” (traditional Jewish law), there’s a rule that forbiddens Jewish women to sing in public, so as not to seduce men and to better create a sacredness for marriage and family-- those being the only structures for a woman to be able to sing.

BB: Is that something you consider in your work?

NM: Oh yeah. I ponder over these subjects constantly and I think that's totally motivated me to create even more so. Being a singer, identifying as a Jewish woman, keeping with tradition while trying to find my place in the world, and staying true to me, and my rights in 2020... These are all dichotomies that I’m questioning and that influence my work and my life.

BB: Thinking about that, and, as you put it, your recent homecoming, the video for No More was shot in Cunningham Park in Queens, and in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. What made you decide on these locations for the shoot?

NM: Cunningham Park is a quiet, magical place no one really knows of, unless you grew up in the area I come from. It's tucked away in Suburbia, Queens, where I grew up. It holds a lot of sentimental value for me. I have many beautiful memories there. It was important for me to have my first video shot somewhere that is meaningful and familiar for me. Prospect Park has also come to be one of my favorite spots in the city after living in Brooklyn for the last decade. I wanted to pay them homage.

BB: Can you tell me a little bit more about how you styled the video?

NM: No More is meant to depict a happy ending, like the ones we see in Disney Princess movies, only convoluted. Because that’s the feeling of the song. I wanted to look like a Disney Princess in a desolate forest, in her castle, having a lush picnic to herself, after she chucked away her phone into the river, and left society in order to protect herself from abuse. Only now she has a drinking problem and is secluded.

BB: I understand you worked with Xavier Portillo and Hailey Heaton on the making of the video. What was it like to collaborate with them, and bring them into your vision and process?

NM: It was just me and Xavier and his friend on the set. It was very straightforward and natural. No equipment, no budget. We got together and in pretty much one day, shot everything. He shoots beautifully. Hailey really tied it all together in editing. It was really important to me to have a comic element and I feel she was really able to capture that through the edit.

BB: Was this the first time you've worked with other professionals to produce your work?

NM: It's not the first collaborative work for me. But it is the first time I'm putting something out.

BB: There is this really beautiful moment in the video, when you're lying in the grass, and you have this princess, or almost wedding dress on, and we see this pedestrian--this man--enter the frame behind you, walking on a footpath. I loved that moment. He almost seems anachronistic, it almost seems like it breaks into this world you've created. It happens far enough into the video that we've subsumed ourselves in your vision, and it has this humour, but also this intrusiveness. Can you talk about the decision to keep that in? How it fits into these existing aspects of the work?

NM: It’s a moment to make the viewer laugh.

BB: What was that experience like, going out and shooting in public parks? I assume this was kind of a lo-fi, no permits situation?

NM: Definitely was. We got into some trouble in Prospect Park. We did it all in less than half an hour there.” My favorite moments in the video are the ones from there.

BB: Was this your first time trying to pull something like this off?

NM: Yes, the other videos I've done so far are indoors. No dealing with bureaucracy on those.

BB: You mentioned you have other songs coming out. Are we looking at a full album release in 2020?

NM: EP is coming out in 2020, God Willing.

BB: Being that we are all in pretty unique circumstances right now, being in quarantine, or under a shelter-in-place order, is it something you're using for work right now? Or is it just a disruption?

NM: Needless to say, the performance aspect has been impacted. Meetings with people who are part of the project have come to halt. But it’s also teaching me a lot and it's given the music a new and different meaning. I did my first “live” show the other day and it was different.

BB: I think a lot of artists right are dealing with this, with the fact that things that were nearing completion, or have been in process, for, as you said with yourself, for a couple of years, that these things were created in a very different moment. And even if they're not released now, even if they're released after this has passed, they'll be released in a time that is indelibly different than the one they were conceived of and produced in. I think there's some concern, on the critical level, but also by artists themselves that some of these things won't quite land, or that they'll come off tone deaf, that they won't relate in the same way they might have.

NM: For sure. There’s an element of guilt in putting out music and in taking space at a time so crucial, when everyone’s lives are at stake. I definitely carry feelings of dissonance and I’m sure it may seem weird to some people seeing me post about No More. Everything not having to do with the virus stands as trivial right now. But then I've also received messages from people, thanking me for putting something out, particularly now.

BB: We all need it right now.

NM: Right. It lies between those two paradoxical entities, for sure. It's interesting coming out while being in Quarantine. I think it's helped me connect and reach out to people more in a way, with the song, but from being in isolation and being limited with contact, at the same time. It's a beautiful juxtaposition.

BB: Do you have plans when things settle back down, to do a physical record release, or a tour?

NM: I would love to do both. The plans are up in the air as of now. First let’s get through.

BB: You have so much agency in this--you're the singer and the songwriter, you're the one who directed and produced your own video, you have all of these channels for distribution at your fingertips. And especially now that we're all in isolation, it seems like those become increasingly important tools. Is the way you've released your work the way you would prefer to?

NM: I'm not sure if it's a preference, but the situation has left me with no other choice, which is quite interesting to work within. In a way, it focuses me more, in that, this is the only way to share music now. It humbles the whole process. It's crystallized, even more, the desire to just give someone a good feeling.

BB: Is there anything you would recommend, things that are helping you through this period, things that you think are deserving of time and attention now that we all have it to give?

NM: I recommend using this as a time of introspection. I hope it pushes myself and everyone to take better care of themselves, to better appreciate themselves, their lives, and in that, to better care for and appreciate others. This situation is bringing empathy to the forefront. By not leaving our homes, we are also saving the lives of others. We're taking responsibility for the whole. We are re-evaluating what’s important. I would love for this moment in history to serve as a transforming agent and lesson in doing more of that... Things that are helping me through this time are music, movies, astrology, cooking, and speaking with loved ones.

BB: What do you see for yourself, as a musician, as an artist, on the other side of all this? Do you see a change in your role?

NM: I don’t know. I think, in general, music and the arts, will change and be less ego-driven. If you ask me, clout has made artists more crazy, confused and sad than before. More isolated than ever. I think this moment is altering that shit. Ironically, it’s lessening the isolation brought by individualistic mentality. Bigger than that, I think it’s going to transform hierarchies and social systems. The world is being reminded of it’s mortality right now and priorities are shifting. For me, on a personal level, this moment is redefining how I view time and how I love-- others, myself...  I will carry this with me as I continue.

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