What’s Next for Natalie Schlabs

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Nashville singer-songwriter Natalie Schlabs made one of my favorite records in 2020, Don’t Look Too Close, a collection of intimate synth-pop and alt-country tunes infused with gorgeous, sublime vocals (I’ve listened to the soaring, melancholy “Eye of the Storm” on repeat this week). We caught up with the indie artist to find out what’s next for 2021, in motherhood and music and beyond. 

Natalie Schlabs (photo by Fairlight Hubbard)

Rockmommy: For those who might not be familiar with your music, how would you describe your sound?

Natalie Schlabs: I like to say that I’m a blend between singer-songwriter, Americana, and Indie. At the heart, I value the lyricism and story that is true to form for most singer-songwriters. I love the timelessness and deep roots and the wide umbrella of Americana music. And more recently, I have been inspired by the interesting sounds and quirks of indie music. 

[SEE RELATED: Getting Close with Natalie Schlabs: Nashville Singer-Songwriter Discusses Life, Music and Motherhood in Quarantine]

Rockmommy: What were the biggest challenges you encountered in the last 12 months? 

Natalie Schlabs: I am trying to stick to a schedule, but with the pandemic and limited childcare, it’s tough. Raising a child is such a ride. So much mystery and exploration every day. But finding time for self can be a huge challenge that I would like to find more time for.

Rockmommy: How did 2020 influence your music and creative process? 

Natalie Schlabs: I have learned a lot more about Pro Tools and producing my own music in 2020, which has been really interesting and fun. I didn’t think that was something I wanted to learn, but now I am fantasizing about producing someone else’s record one day. I think it has made me feel more capable and informed as an artist. Even if I don’t record my own record, I think I can take that knowledge with me into the studio. 

Rockmommy: Any recent or upcoming projects you’d like to share?

Natalie Schlabs: I’m hoping to get into the studio in the near year to record some singles or a small EP. I haven’t decided how I’ll release it, but I’m really looking forward to getting back into the studio. 2019 was the last time I was working on my own music in the studio! 

Rockmommy: What advice do you have on balancing parenthood with creative life? 

Natalie Schlabs: This is SO hard, but I think it’s been helpful to remember that I can make a decision now and then change it later. I can decide something for my music or family life and then change when it’s no longer working. This can keep me from freezing up or feeling stuck.  If something isn’t working, you can change it. Or, you can make a decision now, and then make a different decision later. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Anna Wilson and Monty Powell, on Connecting in Love and Music

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Anna Wilson and her husband Monty Powell — who’ve been writing music together practically since the day they met — make collaboration look easy. But the longtime lovebirds, married 20 years, admit there are moments of disharmony. 

Anna Wilson and Monty Powell

“The creative tension is real, and we do bicker about creative vision,” Anna admits to Rockmommy. “But when the work phase passes it’s all about the love and we just go have a nice dinner together.” 

Their chemistry is obvious onstage too. The couple, longtime Nashville dwellers who relocated to Utah a few years ago, are the driving force behind the musical duo Troubadour 77, which infuses gorgeous rock vocal harmonies with Monty’s layered, often intricate, guitar playing and Anna’s piano melodies. As American Songwriter noted, Troubadour 77 came together as a sort of “tribute to the legendary Troubadour club in LA,” where artists of the ’60s and ’70s like Carole King and The Eagles made a name for themselves. 

It’s a beautiful transition from their former life, as a songwriter-and-producer team behind some of the greatest songs performed by stars like Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, and Lady Antebellum.

And while the pandemic put touring on hold, Troubadour 77 still managed to pull together weekly 15-minute Facebook Live-streamed “T77 Squared” concerts. When I asked Monty about them in mid-April — at the tail end of a conversation about which home-recording gear I should buy — he told me the shorter duration of these sets was intentional. A couple could enjoy a glass of wine, listen to a few songs, relax, and then move on to the rest of their night. No strings attached.

We recently caught up with Anna and Monty to learn more about timing, parenthood (they’ve got two daughters), and what’s next in the post-quarantine world. 

Rockmommy: For those who might not be familiar with your music, how would you describe it?

Anna Wilson: I’d say our ‘sound’ captures the spirit of the SoCal Laurel Canyon era of the 70s. Folks like Carole King, Jackson Browne, CSNY and others who graced the stage of Doug Weston’s Troubadour club in West Hollywood. I am continually trying to keep the flame alive of what that community represented musically, lyrically and artistically.

Monty Powell: Organic, classic singer songwriter — pop/rock with an Americana palette. 

Rockmommy: Can you tell us a little but about how you met? 

Anna Wilson: We met backstage at a Diamond Rio concert in Nashville in September 1993. Monty was the band’s producer and I was the band’s publicist. I was trying to sound all cool and deep and told Monty I wanted to make a concept album about the “Seasons”. It’s amazing he continued to talk to me. I swear this was not drug induced!

Rockmommy: Let’s talk about the challenges of 2020 for musicians. What was that like for you two?

Monty Powell: Learning how to entertain over virtual platforms with no audience was hard. 

Anna Wilson: I’d also say learning how to keep our fan base engaged in a meaningful way via social media since we could not tour and interact with them like we normally always have. The reinvention of how to bring quality virtual concerts and content to our followers, and the technical aspects that go along with that pursuit, was a definite learning curve. 

Anna Wilson (Photo credit: Juan Pont Lezica)

Rockmommy: The Facebook Live series was brilliant. How did that come about? 

Anna Wilson: The virtual two-song session that we called “T77 Squared Concerts” was born out of the pandemic and not being able to be out on the road and performing live. With everyone online and screen weary we thought the short format would be welcome. After 6 months of that series, lots of folks mentioned they wanted longer sets so we moved to an hour long, once a month concert that we call The 777 Show that featured 7 songs on the 7th of the month at 7pm EST. Both series have been great but in some ways the virtual concert is starting to feel like it’s run its course. Everyone is fatigued by the online virtual experience from just all content in general. In light of this observation, we are doing our last episode on March 7, 2021, and that will complete a one-year cycle of virtual concerts for us. We will still do some special episodes of virtual concerts but just not a regular series and we hope to get back to live performing and touring by Fall 2021.

Rockmommy: How did the past year’s challenges influence your music and creative process? 

Anna Wilson: We definitely wrote and released songs that matched the moments we were in and the experiences we were all collectively going through. Troubadour 77 wound up adding two bonus tracks, The Love Forward Project, to our existing album Revolution & Redemption to create a Deluxe release. These songs were my artistic and creative reaction to the virus, social justice conversation, the political climate and other issues that were swirling throughout 2020.

Monty Powell: It definitely pushed our writing into a more socially active space with more commentary on current events.

Rockmommy: Any recent or upcoming projects you’d like to share? 

Anna Wilson: Monty and I are writing a play similar in format of what Bruce Springsteen did with his “Springsteen on Broadway.” It will weave in songs spanning our careers along with a unique and compelling narrative that ties it all together. We hope to have it written by the end of this winter, rehearse it in the spring, record it over the summer and find a way to begin touring it in 2022.  

Rockmommy: What advice do you have on balancing parenthood with creative life? 

Monty Powell: Involve your kids in your creative process. Make them understand that it’s not a mystery, that is mostly just hard work ethic. 

Anna Wilson: Just because you are spending time helping your kids do homework or driving them in carpool doesn’t mean you aren’t feeding your creative soul. In fact, it may be the very portal that you draw inspiration from and where your next song idea or melody comes from. Creativity can exist in the midst of the chaos. In fact, it is often sparked in the midst of it. When it hits, grab it, write it down until you do get some quiet time to refocus on it. It will still be there for you to access when you do. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Getting Close with Natalie Schlabs: Nashville Singer-Songwriter Discusses Life, Music and Motherhood in Quarantine

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I love to rock. But I’m also a lover of those gorgeous, stretched-out songs that slow me down, with mellow guitars, unexpected harmonies and a laid-back feel. Artists that come to mind are are Tom Petty, and lately, Nashville singer-songwriter Natalie Schlabs.

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Natalie Schlabs

I got serious Stevie Nicks vibes the first time listened to Schlab’s country-rock songs off her forthcoming album, Don’t Look Too Close. Her series of intimate videos, including one that features her tiny toddler son, are even more heartwarming.  

There’s something about the way her voice rises and falls, like the crest of the wave in an ocean of slide guitars and strings, that relaxes me. It’s the perfect soundtrack for a solo drive on the highway in the summer — though because I’m a mom of sons in the era of the coronavirus pandemic, I’m rarely solo or driving for long stretches. 

Lyrically, though, Natalie’s music isn’t just breezes and sunshine. The title song “Don’t Look Too Close,” for example, focuses on everyday aches and pains people tend to hide from loved ones, while “Ophelia” was written for a friend who lost her daughter. 

Perhaps that’s why I appreciate this record so much, in this precise moment of time, where loss and pain are as common as love and happiness. 

We recently sat down to catch up with Nashville-based Natalie, to talk about how she’s balancing work and motherhood — and coping with the international shutdown and postponed musical experiences.

Rockmommy: I love this album’s ebb and flow. Can you tell me more about how it was created? In what ways did becoming a mother inspire you?

Natalie Schlabs: Thank you so much. Writing and preparing for this album felt very different from previous projects. I wanted to write something that I would want to listen to, something sonically I would enjoy. That sounds strange, but sometimes what naturally comes out isn’t always a style I find myself gravitating to. I think that’s part of becoming an artist. I wanted to steer the sounds and structure towards a slightly more indie direction. I had some great co-writers that were instrumental in this as well (no pun intended). The preproduction for the album started soon after having my baby. My husband and I started making some demos of the songs in our basement and hashing out ideas. There were even times I was recording while my newborn was strapped to me sleeping.

I brought these demos to my friend Juan Solorzano who went on to produce my record with Zachary Dyke at Tracehorse Studio in Nashville. We wanted it to have lots of layered guitars, strong drums, and string arrangements.

Motherhood was the backdrop of the album from songwriting to recording. Many of the themes have aspects of parenthood. I will also add that it was incredibly hard for me to leave my 2-month-old and record for a whole day, but it also felt really good to remember myself as an artist as well as a new mother.

Rockmommy: Who are your greatest artistic influences?

Natalie Schlabs: Like most artists, my influences are spread pretty wide. Honestly, I’ve struggled in the last few months with being excited by the prospect of listening to the newest artist or staying on the bleeding edge of music culture. It can be an unexpected challenge, but at times I find myself struggling with comparison more than simply enjoying the act of listening to music.

The reason I wanted to play guitar in the first place was to cover Lori McKenna and Patty Griffin songs. I’ve been extremely inspired by women in Americana music. When I really started listening to Bob Dylan I was challenged and spurred on to deeper lyricism. I think at their core, these songs are still focused on the narrative and storytelling structures of folk and Americana. More recently and particularly for the album’s sonic influences, I’ve really resonated with artists like Big Thief, Kevin Morby, and War on Drugs.

Rockmommy: You seem to be telling a story in “Don’t Look Too Close” about another childhood — is it yours? Can you tell us more about the track, and how comparing your childhood to motherhood changes your parenting perspective?

Natalie Schlabs: There is certainly inspiration from my childhood in many ways, but broadly it is about being a kid and having no idea who your parents really are as humans and what they are going through. As a mom now myself I realize that parents are often doing the best they can, often in the midst of difficult circumstances. My co-writers and I wanted to communicate the idea that kids will never know how much you will love them, that they likely won’t know what you were dealing with until they are older, and that you hope they don’t really see you mainly for your flaws. There is also the point of view of innocence or losing your innocence as you mature. There is a parallel between parent and child there.

Rockmommy: A lot of moms say that motherhood brings out a different kind of sound, and different songs. Would you agree with that? Why or why not?

Natalie Schlabs: I completely agree. Becoming a mother is incredibly transformative. We learn so much about ourselves and see the world again through the eyes of our children. I’ve felt much bolder in my writing and am who I am as an artist. I was listening to an interview with Sharon Van Etten recently in which she was sharing a similar sentiment. Mothering re-alters your inner and outer life in such an amazing way, you can’t help but be transformed in all your life by it.

VqUQPZdwRockmommy: How are you managing in quarantine? Any highs and lows?

Natalie Schlabs: Part of me loves the limited options I have had. I don’t have the same ability to get hung up on if I should go somewhere or do something. Because of that, I seem to have more room in my brain for creativity. So, even though I’m desperate to be sitting closely with my friends and to be in the middle of a large group of people at a show, I hope to be able to carry some of this necessary limitation with me after the quarantine.

Rockmommy: I understand you have a young child. In what ways do you try to inspire creativity every day?

Natalie Schlabs: I can be a perfectionist, and that can lead to a lot of discouragement as I’m pursuing music as a mom without consistent childcare. One thing I’ve been practicing is lowering my expectations of what is possible. That can help me start the work without feeling too much pressure. I work when I can— while my son is napping or while my husband switches with me and takes him to the park. When I begin my work I try to start my time with 10 minutes of “Object” writing (coined by Pat Pattison). It doesn’t take long, but it can do wonders for waking up my writer’s brain. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.