We had the good fortune of connecting with Natalie Nicoles and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Natalie, what do you attribute your success to?
I hesitate to use the word success, but I can tell you what my process has been thus far – a few things – Firstly, for my solo music specifically (and/or my work under my own name and not pseudonyms), it’s been how easy it feels to create when you find the right people on your team. For my bands and/or solo work, I don’t love to work with people I couldn’t envision myself at least grabbing a cup of coffee with. When you are fans of each other, it shows. Of course there are cases where hard things come up and you just need to push through them, but if the cons end up outweighing the pros and when and it’s not fun anymore, sometimes, it’s just time to let something go, especially if there’s some sort of friendship as a base there. I would rather stay committed to a friendship than let a project or music get in the way, so I take things and situations as they come. For my solo work specifically, working with James (McAlister) has been so natural and life-giving. I learn a ton from his production. So much freedom came from letting go and fully trusting the person I was working with. Everything felt more successful + fulfilling, personally + career wise once I was able to get myself to that point of trust.
The second thing, a bit more of a practical thing, would be less is more. Stylistically – good, minimal, designs have seemed to present a clearer more effective message lately as far as social media is concerned, but this is coming from someone who is probably “bad” at all of that, haha. Creating more mystery and less content for the sake of content feels really nice. So much of our information and lives are on the internet, and what’s feeling really good to me lately is not feeling the need to keep posting just to keep people following me. I noticed, the less I would post, I very slowly + gradually would loose follows, but, I found myself just not caring so much. I don’t really know what triggered the change, but it feels like the pandemic had a lot to do with it. Of course social media is a bit of a necessary evil – how else people will know you have whatever show or release coming? But you can still keep people updated without live-streaming your entire life and every opinion you’ve ever had. We’re in an age of information overload, with an attention span of a week if we’re lucky, so if that’s the case, you need to do you, because it doesn’t really feel like it matters anyways. I used to be worried about being the coolest kid on the block, and now, I find myself not caring really at all. The art I make is what makes me happy and fulfilled, and if people don’t like the style of this or the style of that, then the 50 people who are VERY into it matter more to me than the 500 that are mildly into it. I can’t say it was a super easy journey to get to that place, but now that I’m there, it feels great.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am so proud of all of the projects I am involved in, but if I had to choose one that is the most “me” – I would choose my solo work. It took years and years of writing and really just growing up to get where I am today. It also took slowly chipping away for 10+ years of pushing through times that felt like a creative drought, where I felt like I wouldn’t make anything satisfying again. I also just maintained friendships and really just kind of jumped into a lot of projects no matter how big or small they were because I believed in them. Even if some of those went nowhere, I still got the reward of making something special – and some of them planted seeds that led me to so + so’s friend of a friend that led to more work or collaborations. I deeply believe there is something to learn from every single project, whether it’s about myself or the creative process or whatever. Just because something doesn’t have 100k plays on spotify doesn’t mean there isn’t beauty or value in it – some of my most favorite moments are the small, intimate ones. Focusing on the journey and not the destination feels like an appropriate sentiment for this,
On a more practical level, I am not someone who writes a song a day or even every few weeks – I always felt like there was something wrong with me, I had this jealousy of other artists who were popping out a song a week. Writing is actually quite a slow process for me, but I’ve learned to just lean into that. I do agree that the more you write, the more it can spark creativity, and i’ve personally benefited from that, but, if you need to take your time, take your time. If you write a song a week then great! Embrace where you are. If you’re end product is good, it’s good -there’s no wrong or right way to make art. My creative road is most definitely not always easy, and i have deeeeeep deep moments of insecurity, but I am on a perpetual journey of discovering what success means to me and it’s beautiful, hard, frustrating, and rewarding.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Oh gosh, favorite spots in the city. Well, LA is massive! My LA list is truly broken down by neighborhood and each of those has about 30 places on it, so narrowing this down is a near impossible task, haha – but for the sake of sparing you 10 paragraphs, I’ll focus on the (mostly) east side areas. I’m more of a calm tempered person, so I’d probably just take them on my ideal day that gives me the most life. I’d grab morning coffee / breakfast at Go Get em’ Tiger in Highland Park likely, then I love vintage shopping, maybe at Pasadena City College Flea Market or Squaresville in Los Feliz. Then maybe Wax Paper for Sandwiches or a food truck i’ve been wanting to try – Carnitas El Momo in Boyle Heights, Then I’d grab some afternoon coffee or tea at Eightfold Coffee. One of my favorite bookshops is Vroman’s in Pasadena, so probably there next, For dinner, I’ve been loving Mazal in Lincoln Heights lately, so It’d be between there or Marouch in Hollywood, Hippo in HLP, or Triple Beam Pizza in HLP, then I’d head to Everson Royce in the Arts District. for drinks, and then maybe Death + Co. in the Arts District or Bar Covell in Los Feliz for more drinks haha. I’d be lucky to get half of these place in because of traffic though, so here’s to dreaming!
I’ve got to say though, so many of my favorite restaurants in LA are the strip mall or unassuming location that doesn’t scream trendy so while theres one’s or two of those on the list above I DO try to prioritize going to those restaurants because they are just so goooood. I love trying food from different countries and there is NO shortage of that in LA, it’s a huge reason why I love it. I’d love to give a shoutout to some of those types of places on my list that I hadn’t mentioned above – Jitlada Thai, Gamja Gol, Burritos Las Palmas, Spoon by H, Papa Cristo’s, Thai Patio, Mahan Indian Restaurant, there’s a TON of great Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese restaurants in Arcadia near where I live and so so many more. I’d encourage everyone to seek out these types of places because often times, they turn out to be the best.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Oh gosh, so many. The friends + acquaintances who sent an intentional text saying encouraging things about songs and releases – even a text nowadays seems to take people a lot of effort. Even an instagram share matters – I don’t take those efforts lightly, it’s very meaningful when someone recognizes you that way. The friends who keep showing up to shows time and time again – I am lucky to always have had parental support in whatever I wanted to do – I owe a ton to my husband, for keeping me sane. He takes on a lot of my stress for me and takes care of so many different ways for me in order to be my best self, emotionally AND musically. Whether it’s figuring out some program at the last minute in case I need him to run ableton as a backup for the show, or prepping stems for send-off for me, He knows I am capable of anything I want to do and gives me space to do them, but also comes alongside me when I need support – My bandmates in Branches and muur have been incredible friends first and foremost, but I have learned so much from them musically and am who i am today because of all of our years of growing together – All of the photographers, and designers that have helped me along the way were (and are) so vital. I have a “community” tab on my website because all of these people are so important to me, and I want them to get the recognition they deserve. Lastly, I’ve already mentioned James, but James McAlister feels like a sort of mentor in a way for me. James is my producer and co-writer for my solo music. To have someone you look up to musically so much believe in you and even WANT to collaborate feels unreal to me. All of the music that he’s a part of (like The National or Sufjan Stevens) are such formative artists for me, including his own music as well (which you need to listen to, now!) I feel so privileged to have him rooting for me.
John Chong Augusto Piccio Brian Terada David E. Leong