This is the singer-songwriter's first solo album in almost a decade.
Many summers have passed since ‘Leaving Me Dry’, the last studio album from Australian/American singer-songwriter and award-winning poet Natalie D-Napoleon.
About eight, in fact, and while a lot has changed in that time, D-Napoleon’s aptness for story-telling has not, leading to the release of her second solo album, You Wanted To Be The Sea But Instead You Were The Shore.
Hailing from Fremantle, Western Australian (where she has just returned home to), D-Napoleon has spent the last decade living in Santa Barbara, California, honing in on her connection to the American folk and country tradition heavily steeped in her music.
Following on from 2012’s album Leaving Me Dry, the collection of thoughtfully poetic songs on You Wanted To Be The Sea But Instead You Were The Shore were spawned from three years spent writing on the front porch of a one-hundred-year-old Californian cottage in the Santa Barbara barrio.
Providing D-Napoleon with the time and space to write while watching the world pass by, the Santa Barbara porch fortuitously served as a never-ending supply of subject matter for the song-writer. And with the world as her muse, D-Napoleon was able to write from a new perspective – a change for the songwriter who, since beginning her musical journey as frontwoman for the Perth band ‘Bloom’ and in the alternative-country ensemble ‘Flavour of the Month, has always written from personal experiences.
“Once the songs started flowing, I let them tell me where they wanted to go. The first songs I wrote were ‘Wildflowers’, ‘No Longer Mine’, and ‘Thunder Rumor’, she explains.
“It was pretty clear to me these songs were wanting me to tell stories about women’s lives that hadn’t been told before. For the first time, I started writing songs from the point of view of different characters too – I’d been a confessional singer-songwriter for so long, mining my own life, and I realised I needed to do something different and step outside myself.
“Other than exploring untold stories of women’s’ lives, there was no grand plan. I just wanted to write the best songs I could that were saying something different, moving away from the usual cliches that you hear about women in songs.”
From ‘Second Time Round’ which confers wisdom that comes with starting over, and ‘No Longer Mine’ which celebrates the resulting liberty of terminating a relationship, to the emotional rollercoaster of miscarriage on ‘Reasons’ and ‘Thunder Rumor’, which explores the moment a woman decides to break free of an abusive relationship, You Wanted To Be The Sea But Instead You Were The Shore is an incredibly raw and layered record that explores the complexities of women when often their stories have been presented one-dimensionally.
Despite D-Napoleon’s masterful storytelling ability, You Wanted To Be The Sea But Instead You Were The Shore was a project that almost didn’t happen, with the flame of passion for music almost burning out.
“Before I started writing songs for this album, I had pretty much given up my music career ambitions,” she explains.
“For the past 25 years I’d played every sticky carpeted pub from Stockholm, Sweden to Prescott, Arizona, and I was burnt out. So, I took some time out to do a Masters in Writing to write poetry and pursue another lifelong dream.
“Towards the end of my degree songs started flowing out of me every time I picked up my guitar so I decided to honour the song gods, or whatever magic forces were at work, and apply myself to writing songs the way I did to writing poetry. For three years, I wrote every day on the front porch of my cottage in the barrio of Santa Barbara.”
Reconnected with her creativity, armed with a songbook full of unwaveringly honest lyricism and with her sights set on returning to Australia, D-Napoleon, alongside her pianist Dan Phillips and producer and bassist James Connolly, approached the recording process in an incredibly fitting and unique way.
With vulnerable storytelling at the heart of the project, they recorded the songs using a single microphone in a one-hundred-year-old wooden chapel nestled in the hills behind Santa Barbara, intending to capture the beauty and spontaneity of a song’s performance when it’s fresh and new.
“Someone asked me the other day if this was a recording shtick and I had to laugh! I mean this was born of the necessity. We went into the chapel in March to record the live tracks and beds and I left America in July,” she tells us.
“As it turned out our little experiment – inspired by The Cowboy Junkies Trinity Sessions and Neil Finn’s live album Out of Silence – reaped rewards. Six of the tracks on the album are the entire live take and the other six I recorded vocals over instrumental takes we did.”
She wasn’t kidding about the album reaping rewards either. Alongside being hailed as the best batch of songs D-Napoleon has ever written, and some of her most vulnerable work yet, the album recently reached the top spot in the AIR 100% Independent Album chart, just above a certain Lime Cordiale.
We’re lucky D-Napoleon was able to re-ignite her passion after burning out. Emotively rich, screaming vulnerability, this incredibly unique album leaves you in awe of how one woman’s voice can be so fluidly beautiful and captivating. Crafting a body of work that centre around women breaking free of the tyranny of toxic men, these 12 tracks truly prove her notable worth as a mature lyricist.
Breathing new life into the folk and Americana scene, In You Wanted to Be the Shore but Instead You Were the Sea sees D-Napoleon continue to push the boundaries of women’s voices in traditional song while remaining fiercely independent.
You Wanted To Be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea is out now. Check it out on Spotify or simply stream it below.