SHEFFIELDER NAT JOHNSON’S FIRST SOLO ENDEAVOUR – NEIGHBOUR OF THE YEAR – IS OUT TOMORROW.
A “songstress, maverick, and fighter,” Nat’s NEIGHBOUR OF THE YEAR is “an annotation of self-discovery”. It was recorded in her home city, and will be released on her own label Straw And Hay Records. With previous bands Monkey Swallows the Universe (2003-2008), and Nat Johnson & The Figureheads (2008-2012), Johnson has released four albums, played live radio sessions for BBC Radio 4 and 6Music, performed at festivals including Green Man and Latitude, and supported Richard Hawley and Low.
NEIGHBOUR OF THE YEAR is a record of exposure and solace, and an exceptional solo debut for Johnson, a songstress of integrity, talent and insight. Here, Nat provides an exclusive track-by-track ‘in her own words’ guide to the new album…
NEIGHBOUR OF THE YEAR is a circular album that deals with the cycle of anxiety as I experience it. As well as helping me through a bad year while I was writing it, in the months since it was completed it’s helped me keep a good perspective on my own mental state.
I often see people making something out of nothing or going looking for drama, making things more difficult for others. NOT NOW, HORSE is about keeping a healthier perspective than that. The song had to build and release in the same way as the type of stupid problems I’m addressing in the lyrics. Stannington Brass Band add a weight to it, building and eventually releasing this big tension, whilst violins and flute add light and colour to represent the powers of nature I’m trying to harness in the lyrics to readdress the balance and relieve that tension. Every instrument has a purpose here.
Not being able to say what you really want to someone for fear of making a situation worse, and having to compromise and bite your tongue, can make you feel awful and angry… MARCH, MARCH deals with this in a pretty straightforward way, so it had to have a directness to it. There’s a few layered harmonies, a tiny bit of glockenspiel here and there but I didn’t want to overstate anything.
When I’ve lost control over things I feel, well, like I’ve been shot down. The rowing sounds here represent how we often force ourselves to sail back into a storm we’ve just survived, how we often keep trying when sometimes the best thing might be to try a completely different path or at least go away until you’ve built a bigger boat. I’VE BEEN SHOT is a dark song, I wrote it in the dark and I wanted it to feel that way. I wanted you to be able to hear the moonlight on the black water.
The melody of I CAN’T SEE YOU is a cry, calling out to parts of me that are missing, stripped away in times of anxiety. But beneath that I layered up my guitar and vocals to try and create a warmer sound, like spotting someone in a crowd that you’ve been missing, the return of a friend, that comforting feeling. I also wanted this one to sound like it could be in a Tim Burton film.
NEIGHBOUR OF THE YEAR is a little country number about the writing of the album; about processing all these thoughts inside my house whilst undoubtedly being overheard by my neighbour. It’s one of the fuller tracks on the album, and I got in some of my old band on drums, bass and backing vocals, plus members of my current band to add lap steel and violin.
DOG is about walking, presence and knowing how you want to feel. Watching people walk their dogs in a park near me and seeing how relaxed they seemed told me how I wanted to feel. I started spending more time walking and it’s brought me a lot of peace as well as inspiration. I had a lot of fun in the studio with this one. I tried to take the listener on a walk with me, and added little surprises here and there.
And finally… SHELTER is a song of gratitude for the security I feel inside my home whilst I deal with stuff and write music, and for the support of my husband throughout the good and the bad. Shelter was recorded in a single take, which felt like the only way this song should be captured.
Nat Johnson’s new album NEIGHBOUR OF THE YEAR is released on Monday 17th November. Order CD or limited edition 10″ clear vinyl versions here – or iTunes download here – and Amazon download here. Nat Johnson will tour in January / February 2015 (dates).