PREMIERE: Nat Vazer talks breaking the mould with debut album 'Is This Offensive and Loud?'
Written by David Paicu.
The temptation to stick to the conventional path in life can be rather enticing. When you live in a bubble of comfort, it can be difficult to break that mould and feel ready to jump into your passions wholeheartedly. But when you do - boy does it pay off.
Introducing Is This Offensive and Loud?, debut album by Melbourne's Nat Vazer, former lawyer and full-time indie rockstar.
Radio Monash sat down with Nat Vazer ahead of today's huge release to uncover her motivations to move into music, the experiences that shaped her career, and overcoming the restraints of conventional expectation.
"There’s just so much you get out of life when you try to engage with art."
Q: With all this time you've had in isolation, have you found any new bands or artists you've become hyped on or more interested in?
A: Yeah, I’m always listening to music. I’m always hyped on music. There’s just so many artists I’ve been listening to. I’ve been going back to some Simon and Garfunkel lately. I just heard a song of theirs the other day and just thought I missed hearing that album and so, I went back to listen to Bookends and a bit of old Led Zeppelin.
Also new, pretty different bands. Like new Andy Shauf, he’s got a new album he dropped - The Neon Skyline. It’s just an amazing concept album. A bit of Big Thief, Beach House, Always and... yeah, so many, really.
I think people have been a lot hungrier for music. When you’re stuck in lockdown, it’s been great with so much more music still coming out.
Q: Concerning your own style, who would you say have been your greatest influences?
A: I’ve got a lot of broad influences and I’ve got a very eclectic taste in music. I grew up with a lot of classical music, actually, but also a lot of sixties and seventies tunes that my parents would put on in the household. I guess that sort of influenced me a bit - especially on the pop side of things. My dad used to put on The Animals and The Eagles and my mum was really into Boney M, Elvis, Simon and Garfunkel, all these awesome artists.
That’s definitely impacted on my writing in some way, but also a lot of punk-y, hard rock bands that I listened to during high school. More recently, I’ve been getting a bit more into singer-songwriter artists like Andy Shauf. It’s hard to attribute those influences to the album, but for me definitely Death Cab for Cutie has been a long-term influence. His song writing style and the way he tells stories - that was my gateway into song writing.
Q: Would you say that there have been many life events you’ve experienced that shaped the way you wrote the album?
A: For sure, everything I write is influenced in some way or another by true life events or are inspired by that sort of thing.
I don’t always write about myself, but most of the time I do write about what’s happening around me and things that I really care about, and they definitely feed into my work. Even wider social issues like gender equality and social equality, like social justice. That’s been a bit of a thing with this album, as well as with my last EP.
Sometimes I like to write from other people’s perspectives because I think that that can be interesting - guessing how they might be feeling or experiencing something, trying to imagine what it would be like being in their shoes in certain situations.
That’s something I did for one of the tracks in [Is This Offensive and Loud?], the fourth track ‘Better Now’. I was living in Canada at the time and came across this little girl at a bus stop who was telling me how crazy everything was, she was watching the news and having a real hard time dealing with all the stuff that was coming up in it. She brought up all the shootings that were happening in America at the time, and there was the Toronto van attack that happened that week which was crazy. There was a guy in a van that ran over all these people in the city, and I felt like I was going through that all again after seeing that happen in Bourke Street. That song was kind of inspired by that, I was trying to write it from her point of view.
Things that I do in my everyday life can also have an impact on the writing. So for that song, for example, I had just gone through a whole week of media deprivation [...] I cut myself off from everything. That was pretty crazy, since I heard that that exercise can make some people feel suicidal and it can be really enlightening for some people as well.
For me, it was just a really good exercise to gain that mental clarity to write songs like that.
Q: Going to Toronto, you almost took a leap of faith into the creation of your music. At what point in your life did you decide to move out of a conventional career and delve fully into the arts with your music?
Before 2017, I was working full time as a lawyer which is a stressful job. It’s pretty full-on and the volume of work took a lot out of me. I found it really hard to write. In 2017, I took on this new role and things got even more hectic, but I was still really determined to write my EP during that year. It was really, really hard to get anything done - or to get anything done well - and I just felt exhausted all the time.
I didn’t realise how much I missed the music and wanted to do it properly and wholeheartedly, not just as a side career. I just started getting more exhausted and tired until I came to this crossroads where I had to either law or music, and choose which one I wanted to do properly.
So, I decided to take some time off to quit my career, get away from Melbourne for a while, and travel through North America for a little bit and stayed mostly in Toronto in Canada. It was one of the greatest things I’ve done for myself. It gave me that space and clarity to write and I haven’t looked back since. I don’t really miss that 9-to-5 career. I’d much rather be doing this and I love it.
Q: In a number of your songs, such as 'Grateful' and 'Like Demi', you seem to sing about self-worth. How would you say that you use music as a form of self-reflection?
A: Sometimes when I write songs, I’m trying to give advice to myself. It sounds really weird, but you’re trying to almost affirm or convince yourself of something.
Sometimes I vocalise that in songs and in the lyrics, and for those two songs it was a bit about self-reflection - but also about trying to express how much I shouldn’t care and should continue to not care about people’s expectations and social expectations and always trying to conform to those things to please people. We think that you’re a good person because you try to please everyone and do right by everyone all the time, but actually it’s often at your expense. If you’re not trying to be unapologetically yourself, you fall into that trap of trying to meet people’s expectations. Those two songs are kind of about that, and the importance of just following the things that you believe in and doing them with conviction. [It] ultimately helps people a lot more because when you are being more honest with yourself, with your art, people can see that, and I think it is more beneficial to people than being a people-pleaser.
Q: With your transition from being a lawyer to becoming a full-time musician and delineating yourself from expectation, was there ever a time you felt apprehensive about your choice?
A: Music, since I was young, has always been a really powerful force in my life. Every time I’ve tried to make it a side thing or a hobby, it’s always come back to bite me in the ass. It’s always been like ‘make room for me’ and ‘you need to do more 'cause this is what you love and are passionate about’.
I hadn’t always thought of it being a possible career. I really loved and really do love my role as a lawyer and the experiences that came with it. I think, ultimately, I came to the slow realisation that this was more important to me than law and I felt like there was a higher sense of purpose to it. The more I wrote over the years and the more time, energy, and focus I gave to it, I came to realise how much I needed it and how much prevalent it should be in my life. I find so much in it ... It’s the highest form of self-expression for me.
To answer your question, I do feel quite apprehensive about it. People always think of a career in music as something that’s quite challenging or that there’s not a whole lot of money to make as an artist in this industry. All these fearful thoughts come to you straight away. But the prospect of you succeeding is never something people think of as well, and that gives you hope. Even if it’s not commercially successful, there’s just so much you get out of life when you try to engage with art or even self-exploration.
Q: You mentioned that you have been through some tough times in your musical career, but how would you describe the greater moments, like opening for Lime Cordiale or Last Dinosaur?
A: They were really fun shows. I played with Lime Cordiale in 2018. We went on a seven-show tour, some of the shows were in Melbourne and some were in regional Victoria. At that time, I’d only been playing with my band for three months and we literally had a few rehearsals. Things picked up really quickly with shows like that, it was really exciting to be on the road and supporting such amazing musicians. Lime Cordiale were such lovely guys, such a nice bunch, and they were just looking after everyone on that tour.
New Year’s Eve last year, my band and I got invited to play at a show [at the] Croxton which was one of the biggest venues we’d ever played at. It was a capacity of 900 and sold out that night. It was crazy and packed, and people were ready to party on New Year’s Eve. That was so amazing - a bit overwhelming because there’s all these people just packing the place out ... leaning over the bars and throwing stuff at you. It was a really fun show.
Last Dinosaurs was at the Espy and it was a sold-out show. That was just incredible, that show. The energy from the crowd was just wild. My band and I thought it was the most rockin' show we’d ever played because everyone was so excited about it and started rockin' on stage and getting crazier.
Q: What can you tell us about your upcoming album?
A: It’s called Is this Offensive and Loud? and it’s coming out this Friday on the 29th of May. It’s going to be released by Hotel Motel Records. I basically recorded the entire album in a room above a guitar shop, there was a bit of a DIY approach.
I recorded it with my band and Robert Muenos - he’s worked with a number of artists such as Saskwatch, Dorsal Fins, and Julia Jacklin. A lot of it was live, and I think that was a special part of that process. The ability to do all that in the one room with no isolation booths... it wasn’t like your typical suave recording studio. We were literally all in one studio together doing the tracking together, so if anyone stuffed up we’d have to start all over again. Pretty old school, but it gave us an opportunity to engage with each other and use that energy to make the album.
I’m pretty happy with how that all translated into the album and how it’s turned out with such warmth. This organic sound we’ve been able to achieve together is quite unique. It’s a really special album. I just can’t wait until it comes out this Friday.
Q: Looking back, what advice would you have for upcoming artists and smaller bands?
A: It’s so hard to give advice on it because every journey is a unique one. I reckon one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is that people should always so "no" to the things that they genuinely don’t want to do. The industry can put a lot of pressure on people to do things they may not necessarily want to do or doesn’t make sense to them. The way people try to market things or even put ideas that seem sensible to them into your head, forcefully almost. They instil in you what seem to be sensible ideas but art, music, and creativity has nothing to do with sensibilities.
I think it’s about pursuing your vision. If you are able to stick with that vision and do it with conviction, forging your path and avoiding all the pitfalls from the industry can impose on people, then you’re on your way to a pretty good start.