Rhapsody Radar Interview: Natalia Kills
by Rachel Devitt | July 1, 2011
Welcome back to Rhapsody Radar, our month-long celebration of 24 up-and-coming artists we're excited about. Today, we've got an interview with playful controversial ice-queen pop star Natalia Kills.
Provocative up-and-coming British pop star Natalia Kills has been shocking and awing audiences all over Europe with her bold dance pop, dark and sometimes violently symbolic videos, and especially her fierce, unabashed opinions. Recently, we had the pleasure of hearing some of those opinions live, when Natalia called us from the set of her video for new single "Free" (off her debut, Perfectionist, set to drop in the U.S. in August). Fighting the noise of a set and, apparently, a wind storm that was hellbent on knocking pieces of scenery down, this articulate young artist gave us a piece of her mind about what it was like to tour with Robyn and work in the studio with will.i.am, her feelings about fame, and what in the world all those weird videos are about.
Thanks so much for talking with me!
Yeah, thanks for calling! I'm on set, in hair and makeup. We've got it set up outside, and we're just about to shoot this scene thing.
Yeah, I was really excited to hear we'd been talking to you on set, since your videos are so fascinating. What can you tell us about this one, the video for "Free?"
I don't want to ruin any surprises, but it's definitely abstract!
What's shooting a video like for you? You have a film background, right?
Yeah, I actually enjoy more so coming up with the ideas than making the video. Cuz once you get here, you hit a bunch of obstacles, and it's like, OK, you partially do this, partially do that, and the video turns out looking pretty much nothing like you wanted it to. But I enjoy--I write all the treatments for them and co-direct and stuff. So I enjoy it for the most part, but it's definitely fun just to write the ideas.
A lot of your videos have a very dark and maybe even political or critical aspect to them. What are you trying to say with them? Like what was "Wonderland" about, for instance?
Well, "Wonderland" is quite simple. The song is about not believing in fairy tales -- the kind of stereotypes that we're brainwashed into thinking about how our lives are supposed to be and how society's supposed to work. You know, from being a young child, we're told we grow up and you know, the prince meets the princess and they fall in love and go live in a castle and everything's great. You know, you can be everything you want to be - an astronaut! Or a lawyer, or an actress, or a movie star, or president. And actually, for the most part, it's absolutely categorically unrealistic, downright impossible -- especially with love, you know, love is quite a temporary thing. So I think that with the "Wonderland" video, I really wanted to show how damaging and detrimental love is when you believe in the fairy tale rather than the person. When you hit reality, it can feel like some of the images in the video. Love can feel violent. Love can feel like someone's cutting into your heart with a knife. It can feel like you're being executed for what you believe in.
It seems like a lot of your videos depict a really strong female presence. Is that something you're trying to put out there?
No, definitely not. Not at all. I'm not saying I want to do the opposite, but that's definitely not what I wanted to do. That's why I die in my video, that's why I'm beheaded, that's why I'm being tortured, that's why I'm the prisoner. I definitely work on showing how someone who is a perfectionist, who is almost deluded into believing in the ideal, can be in a more damaging situation. Like in "Mirrors," the kind of more aware version of me in the mirrors is observing. I start on this kind of journey where I'm kind of almost unaware that really, the wiser one is my reflection. And I get captured by her, the darker, harder, more aware version of me, and I get sucked into this mirror world of obscurity and surrealism. So if you look deeper into my videos, I'm not necessarily the strong one. I'm the protagonist, but there's no element of invincible about me.
How did you get into music? Is it always something you wanted to do?
Yeah, I suppose so. I always knew I wanted to live a creative life. And when I was a kid, running around, trying on clothes and singing and screaming, my mother put me in a classical-training theater school. And I thought I wanted to be an actress, but I was kind of naughty--I always wanted to change the lines and I wanted my character to dress cooler and say things a bit outlandish. And that's when I realized that it wasn't that I wanted to be the creation, I wanted to be the creator. And that's why I started writing songs, and I got into music when I was about 15. I made a conscious decision to pursue music, even though I had a really good acting job. I just wanted to give it up so I could just be not playing a character and be myself.
So tell us a little about what U.S. audiences should expect when your album's released here. What do you hope we take away?
The thing is, it's quite tricky, and I should probably not even discuss it, but in America, there are laws on how many songs you can put on an album and get paid for. So technically, my album should have five less songs in America than the rest of the world. Which is ridiculous! So I think I'm gonna find a way around that. I really want to give my album the best shot it deserves. I have got an extra song that I've been saving for the new release, and I definitely want to try to find a way so it sounds not like it's been out in the world for six months. I want it to sound more current. And I think this new song that nobody's ever heard before, that I've just finished, that's gonna help.
So you were just touring with Robyn not too long ago, right?
Yes, I was. Oh my god, she's amazing. She's absolutely incredible -- just brilliant. I'm not just talking about from a singing point of view, because she does have one of the best voices -- her voice is incredible. But her energy and everything about the show, she's so good.
Yeah. It was a totally different world for me. It's definitely not something I had ever really experienced before, so it was definitely good fun to step out of my universe and into theirs.
They seem like they're kind of crazy and funny. Did you have that experience with them?
[Big pause.] Yeah!
Anyone on your list who you really want to collaborate or tour with?
I'm really excited for this summer, because I'm going to open for the Black Eyed Peas at some of their biggest venues. And I'm also opening for Bruno Mars and Ke$ha. So I think that's gonna be really fun. I'm actually a big Bruno Mars fan, so I'm quite excited, after I get offstage, to watch his show, because I saw him live and he's really brilliant. And also I'm excited for the South of France with Black Eyed Peas, because it's a crowd of like 18,000 people.
What's it been like working with will.i.am? He signed you, right?
Yeah! Will signed me. It was really great for him to give me my first start on a major label. And I remember the first time I met him, I didn't know I was going to meet him at all! It was a surprise! But he's a very unusual person in the sense that he's so creative, he's almost inhuman with it, you know? So it's almost difficult having a normal conversation with him because he's firing out ideas all the time. And in just a few hours, we'll go from a restaurant to the studio, then to a club and back to the studio, and then onstage. His entire life revolves around creativity, and that's something I could really relate to.
What's your creative process like?
It can be quite different. Sometimes I'm in my pajamas and suddenly I'll have a memory -- or I could be watching a movie and relate to something one of the characters has been through. And all my songs are either about my life experience or my opinion, usually a combination of both. So I almost document everything I think or have experienced about what I'm saying, and then try to write from there. And then I like to go in the studio and make the beats with the producers. I have it set in stone that no matter what producer I work with, the sound stays the same. It's always a Voyager, it's always a mini-Moog, the snare has to be the same. So it's a challenge to work with producers, because they can do anything they want with my sound. They can go crazy with musicianship, but it has to be with the sounds that I've chosen to be recorded in. That's one of my favorite things -- to be in the studio with a producer, and I'm tapping things out with the drum pad, and he's playing things on the keys. It's a nice feeling to collaborate with such brilliant people that can make a musical story that marries the actual lyric.
Who are some of your musical influences?
I actually was inspired by Giorgio Moroder on this album. He uses synths in such a musical way, like he's composing. You could take any of the songs that he's made and play it on the classical piano or violin, and it would sound like an intricate musical composition. I'm not like a synth head -- I love electric guitar and piano. I hate the sounds of techno and house music -- it's definitely not something I enjoy listening to at all. But I enjoy playing with sounds and making feelings and emotions with sounds. Growing up, I really liked Depeche Mode and Prince and Kate Bush -- really moody pop music that has an opinion and a message. The first album I bought was Alanis Morissette, and it was just nice to hear someone's opinion, like what they really thought. I listen to a lot of Eminem, as well -- people not afraid to speak their identity, rather than just love and sex and the "Ooh baby, let's get drunk" kind of thing. I love that kind of music.
That musical family tree makes so much sense for your sound, actually! So this is part of our Rhapsody Radar series -- artists we think should be on everyone's radar. So what do you bring to the table in 2011 music?
My music is pop with an opinion. If you don't like opinions, then you might not like it. And I know it sounds almost ridiculous, but I don't make music for other people. I make music about myself for my own pleasure, for my own expression. So I'm not really sure if there's anything that the world will find significant about me trying to bring something to the table, because I'm not trying. I'm me being me. And if you can relate to it, then you can relate to it, and I hope it brings you pleasure the way it does for me to express it. But I'm definitely not here to impress people or become famous or successful. I'm making my own personal expression with my music. And that is all I'm concerned about and nothing else.