Natalie Gelman talks new album “Moth To The Flame,” go-to guitar for songwriting, and returning to live music

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Photo by Mariana Schulze

The Ojai, California-based singer-songwriter Natalie Gelman released her new album Moth To The Flame today (June 18) via Blue Élan Records. Gelman expanded her sound “into a pop-leaning sound that is both timeless and distinctly modern. Infused at moments with elements from Americana and folk, the collection of songs showcases Gelman’s incredible talents as a lyricist and classically-trained musician.”

Gelman’s previous work includes a self-titled album, EP, and four singles. With Moth To The Flame, Gelman wanted to take her career to the next level and pulled together a team of very talented writers, producers, engineers, and musicians, resulting in a top-notch, expertly produced album. She co-wrote with producer Charlie Midnight (Joni Mitchell, Katy Perry) and was mixed by Grammy award-winning sound engineer Jason Mariani (Lissie, Mumford & Sons) and mastered by Grammy award-winning engineer icon Bernie Grundman (Michael Jackson, OutKast). Musicians on the project have worked with such artists as Patty Griffin, Fiona Apple, Brandi Carlile, and more.

There were a lot of highs and lows during the process for Gelman, who spent extensive time in the studio. The highs were getting married and having the opportunity to open for Bon Jovi, among others. On the low side, Gelman lost her mother to Alzheimer’s, but that didn’t stop her from persevering through the challenge and creating her album that had been in the works for years.

“I feel an everlasting draw to music, sometimes at the expense of the rest of my life,” Gelman says. “Like a moth to a flame, I continue to drive towards it, even when the price is frustration or pain. Sometimes we need to experience adversity to truly appreciate our purpose, and music is that purpose for me.”

It has been announced in a press release that Gelman will return to the stage for a series of live performances in support of Moth To The Flame, including a show tonight at Ojai, California’s Underground Exchange. The full-band performance will also be live-streamed internationally – more information can be found here. An additional record release show will be held at Los Angeles’ iconic Hotel Cafe on July 24.

I use songwriting as a kind of therapy and a way to make sense of things that I go through or see going on around me.

You just released your sophomore album, Moth To The Flame, todayShare with us the inspiration behind the new music and what fans can expect?

It’s a really exciting week. This record has been a long time coming so the inspiration was drawn from across many years. Some early versions of songs even go back 15 years. I use songwriting as a kind of therapy and a way to make sense of things that I go through or see going on around me. Often writing a melody can help slow down my thoughts so I can tap into a new truth and then writing lyrics forces me to not get distracted or avoid the hard stuff by picking up a phone to check in with the world. When you’re looking for the right words to say, you really just have to sit with it and try different things till you hit it on the nose.

Writing music can be a bit like a mini-retreat with yourself as this divine therapist while you try and uncover something. Or it can allow you to be this navel-gazing, all-important main character, and center of your own world, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think sometimes my songs are heightened versions of experiences but those feelings are all still there and valid. Plus, once they are acknowledged, they usually dissipate so that I can move on to the next thing a little lighter having learned from the experience and let go of its hold on me.

Usually, that next step is sharing the music, and at that point, I realize that the feelings and experiences I thought were uniquely mine aren’t mine alone. We all can feel profound pain, sadness, joy, etc. The big through-line in all of my music is that we can feel those things and keep going, keep looking with hope towards the future and good to come.

Fans have seen that realist positivity in a lot of my work and music up until now and many have heard me perform these songs at shows but I think they are most excited for a full studio record. I’m almost doubling my catalog of music with this album since it’s 13 songs, so I think folks are happy to have a lot more music to listen to from me.

Is there a particular single or lyric that speaks to you?

There’s a song on the album that I wrote as the release cycle for my last EP, Streetlamp Musician, was coming to a close. I was asked to write an end-credit song for a short film about a man who was down on his luck and living out of his car but still found the beauty in the everyday world around him. When I submitted the finished song, they asked me why it wasn’t a gospel song and if I could turn it into one or write a gospel song. The director was someone new and had replaced the person who originally asked me to work on it so I don’t think she actually heard my music.

I say yes to a lot of things I don’t know how to do or haven’t done before; I think it’s a big key in learning and growth, but I knew not to try and adjust this song or to try and write some kind of gospel song. It’s just not what I do and there are people who are great at that. Plus I really loved this song as it was.

I started playing the song live and really connected with it then. People were loving it and I realized that it was actually something I had written about my own experience with let-down from a production deal that I was hoping would move the needle a little more and the disappointment of that and life in general as I was going through some family drama at the time too. It was really interesting for me to see that I had used the viewpoint of the character in the film as a way to give myself permission to be honest and express my sadness but also spin it towards hope at the end.

“Won’t Matter Anymore” is also a deeply personal lyric and that was really cathartic to write. That’s the song that I’ve been living with for over 15 years and it’s gone through a few incarnations. I was thinking it couldn’t fit on the vinyl because of timing constraints but when Bernie Grundman was mastering the vinyl, he insisted on fitting that song in, and that means something. I think it’s one of my best vocal performances on the record.

I’m really proud of the team I put together for this.

You recruited quite the team to help on this project. Tell us a little about the team and what talent you were looking for from each of the collaborators.

Thanks! Yea, I’m really proud of the team I put together for this. It was important to me to create something incredible so I spent time making sure I brought in great people every step of the way. Charlie Midnight and I co-produced the record and he and I have been long-term collaborators; we’ve written dozens of songs together and I’m honored to have his wisdom on this.

Charlie and I had a great time working on the Streetlamp Musician EP together and already have a musical vocabulary and understanding between us. Jason Mariani, who engineered the album, and I also have a similar relationship. We’ve worked on a number of projects together for both me and for other artists’ projects so I knew I would be comfortable to create in the studio with him and Charlie as the core backbone of the main recording sessions.

All the musicians who played on the album are incredible session and live players. I vetted the main band through both a friend and looking at their past work and then brought in more artists to lend their talents to specific songs. I am lucky to know some incredibly talented people so as I started listening to the rough mixes and comping my vocals I heard parts I wanted to add and knew who I wanted to call on to play them.

Another major player in the team was Jesse Siebenberg who combed through the record with me song-by-song and we added background vocals, percussion, additional guitars, and whatever we heard and wanted to try out.

The record went back to Jason Mariani to mix, who is so great at what he does that when I brought it to Bernie Grundman to master, Bernie kept singing Jason’s praises. Bernie is a genius to work with too and being a part of the mastering process for both the CD and vinyl with him was inspiring to watch. He’s worked on some of the biggest records of our time and with some of my idols, so that was a dream to work with him.

The final part of the team was my release team, as I realized while making this album that I really didn’t want to be a solo, DIY artist anymore and needed a team if I was going to start gaining some momentum. I reverse-engineered the people I wanted to work with and started reaching out to agents and managers and growing my team.

Where was the album recorded, and what did the recording process look like since most likely some of it was recorded during the pandemic?

The album was mostly recorded in Ojai, California at Carbonite Sound. I actually started the recording seven years ago and took my time bringing in people to play on it and waiting for friends to get off the road who I wanted to work with on the project. It was really a lesson in patience. I almost released it independently during the pandemic but ultimately decided it would be better to wait and have a team if possible.

I put together a music video during the pandemic and that was interesting. I made one with fans from all over the world for my song “Better Days.” I asked people to send in videos of what was bringing them joy and hope during such a hard time and ended up with videos from all 50 states, all 7 continents, and about 30 countries around the world. That was special to make while we were in such a strange time.

The bulk of the songs were recorded over three and a half days with wonderful session musicians coming in to play each song live together. I think that helped the album have energy that wouldn’t be there if we had built them up one take and track at a time. We had to work fast those days as we actually recorded 14 songs total, so I made sure I was bringing in incredible musicians who had already played together and had a relationship and musical language between themselves.

Dave Palmer is a wonderful pianist and friend in Ojai that has played for Brandi Carlile and Fiona Apple. He played on this album and was key in helping me find a great group of musicians I should reach out to. It was an honor to work with him and Blair Sinta on drums, Curt Schneider on bass, and Tim Young on guitar as the core backbone of the album.

They all had the acoustic demos of the songs in advance, so they were familiar with the music but we had a pretty easy process of playing through a song in the main studio room together. I would play it acoustically as they wrote rough charts and ideas and started to play ideas and feed off each other, and after one to two times of doing that, we would all go in and track it live usually just doing three to four takes at most

I’m not sure how it would have looked to try and produce this during a pandemic. I did release two singles before this album that were both recorded in the height of the pandemic and most everything was done remotely but it worked. I even ended up in a studio that was inside a converted pool house last year. I had my own entrance from outside into the vocal booth and the co-producers listened through speakers outside with masks on while the engineer ran the show inside. That was for my cover of “Never Be Lonely” by label mate Gerry Beckley.

I used to regularly fall asleep writing with my guitar . . .

When did you first become involved in music, and when did you first begin playing guitar?

I grew up singing and loving music. My parents both played music, my dad professionally, so music was always a big part of my life. I started taking classical piano and guitar lessons with friends of my dad when I was just five years old or so. Singing was always my real passion and I begged for voice lessons for what felt like forever but I think it was just a few years. I would sing Disney songs for my family at dinnertime and just loved the emotion and drama of music and singing.

It wasn’t until I was in high school at LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts in NYC that I started to have the notion that I could write music and picked up the guitar. I had given up piano a few years before entering high school and violin much before that but I still mostly studied classical music and all of those songs were written by composers who were not relatable to me at all. Most of them were dead white men with weird, big hair that I later learned were wigs. It’s strange the way you interpret the world as a child but it just didn’t occur to me to write music even though I was writing little instrumental songs all the time on piano and even full songs with lyrics that didn’t have accompaniment.

Once I saw people like me writing, I started to see what was possible. It took some time but I signed myself up for guitar lessons at 15 without even owning a guitar and ran with it from there. I learned C and Am at my first lesson and came home that night and wrote three songs with just those two chords. It just was such an immediate extension of my body and a vessel for sharing my thoughts. I used to regularly fall asleep writing with my guitar and then wake up the next morning grateful that I didn’t turn and smash my knee into the face of the guitar.

I am also a firm believer that every instrument has energy and songs waiting inside of it and there’s just a connection with some instruments.

What’s your go-to guitar for songwriting?

I have two Guilds that I switch off between. One of them, my D-55, I started writing a song on literally as I picked it up. I was at the Sundance Film Festival and part of my deal with performing for the Fender and Guild showcase at the festival was that I got a guitar. I was able to choose between three they brought and as soon as I picked up the D-55 and started strumming, “Sundance In Your Eyes” started pouring out of it. I finished the song later that night.

The D-55 has been really nice as I started playing in dadgad a lot during quarantine. It has such a beautiful low end that it makes that tuning sound even fuller. For a while, it was my main live guitar as it’s nice to have that full sound for solo acoustic gigs and really have something wide to sing on top of.

My main live guitar now is a Guild F47M; it has a clearer and more balanced sound, and I love that one for other alternate tunings, especially when I cover Joni Mitchell songs that venture further up the neck. I don’t really think about it too much when I’m songwriting; having both guitars helped me a lot though when I first started learning alternate tunings because I would be hearing a chord in my head and not able to find it on the guitar in alt tuning, so I would go back to the standard tuning guitar to find the chord and then work out the voicing on the alt tuned guitar.

It’s a big intangible but certain chord voicings just feel at home on certain guitars. I am also a firm believer that every instrument has energy and songs waiting inside of it and there’s just a connection with some instruments. My first high-end guitar I ever bought was a semi jumbo Gibson at Rudy’s; I saved up busking money for a month to get that guitar and had a plan of going to every guitar shop to find something great. That Gibson was the first guitar I tried out but I still went to half a dozen other guitar shops all over the city. I almost bought a 1920’s Gibson they had at Kelly Guitars on Carmine but it wasn’t practical for what I needed. I ended up going back to Rudy’s to buy that Gibson, and that guitar has been great to me too. I still wish I had that vintage Gibson but maybe one day.

With the reopening of music venues, do you plan on hitting the road to support the new album?

Yes! I can’t wait to get back out on the road. For now, we’re starting with a few local and regional release shows but I plan on doing a full album release tour later this year. I miss so many venues and fans that I am really excited. I am also planning on getting back over to the UK and Europe for a more extensive tour than I’ve ever done over there before as soon as I can. It’s going to be so good to share all this new music with everyone.

Moth To The Flame track listing:

Track Listing:

  1. Photograph
  2. Stronger
  3. Heavy Heavy Heart
  4. The Answer
  5. The Way Things Go
  6. Better Days
  7. Some People
  8. Summer Song
  9. Love Let Me Go
  10. The Devil
  11. I’d Do It Without You
  12. Unloving You
  13. Won’t Matter Anymore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NATALIE GELMAN TOUR DATES:
June 18 – Ojai, Calif. @ Ojai’s Underground Exchange – tickets available here
July 24 – Los Angeles, Calif @ Hotel Cafe – tickets available here

 

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