Taking Charge

Image:  Anna Berglund

Image: Anna Berglund

Swedish violin prodigy Natalie Migdal steps out onto centrestage, finding her voice with a haunting debut single, a newfound confidence and a record label that’s all her own.

Words. Paul Mitchell

Without teenage rebellion, the music world would probably look a lot different – for both artists and their fans. Swedish singer-songwriter and violinist Natalie Migdal had her taste of rebellion, but when the dust settled it made her appreciate her talent for music even more. “Let’s say I sort of had a Marilyn Manson period,” she laughs. “When I was in that phase you could say I had a love–hate relationship with the violin, but eventually I found a way to make it my own.”

Migdal grew up in Stockholm as something of a musical prodigy, learning the violin before she had even started school. “I was brought up in a very musical family and I played classical violin from a very young age,” she remembers. She preferred the piano, though, and one of her earliest memories is sitting by the piano writing music at just four years old. “My parents wanted me to play the violin. It was not really my choice,” Migdal explains.

Creating music became her first love – but it would have to wait. It wasn’t until Migdal was twenty, studying classical violin in Stockholm, that she chose to change paths. “I decided I wanted to sing and write music,” she recalls, “so I switched to another school in the south of Sweden. The choice was: ‘I want to sing and I want to create, I want to express myself in this way.’ It was a very conscious choice, but I think [the thought] had been there for a long time.”

Paradoxically, it was by immersing herself in writing and singing that Migdal finally settled her troubled relationship with the violin. “I found a way to use the violin in a way I wanted to,” Migdal says, and with her brother Daniel she formed the string collective Migdal Strings, in turn becoming an unlikely pop star. “Daniel and I both love playing pop music and we love being part of pop recordings and live shows. We thought, ‘If we love this so much, why don’t we start our own collective and then we can decide who we want to play with?’” Migdal’s baptism into the world of pop was, she says, “crazy” when she toured in 2012 with one of the biggest stars at the time, fellow Swede Loreen, who had just won the Eurovision Song Contest in a landslide. “I toured with her that summer. It was crazy; I was quite young then and I had never played for such huge crowds! But it was very cool.” Migdal Strings recently worked with Loreen again, contributing to her latest album, due in November, however her path is not one Migdal is keen to replicate. Asked if she would like to perform at Eurovision, she hesitates before breaking into laughter. “No! I would never say never, but I have never felt attracted to performing in that way. So I would say no!”

Outside of her string collective, Migdal is now launching her own career as a singer with the staggered release of three singles over the last four months of 2017. While not strictly appearing together in the form of an EP, the three tracks – ‘I’ve Run out of Words’, ‘All the Way Home’ and ‘Open Your Eyes’ – all share the theme of breaking away from a relationship that has run its course. “The story behind the three singles is a story from my own life that I think a lot of people can relate to, when you break off a relationship with someone who is not very good to have in your life,” Migdal says. “Then there is the process of moving on from there and the emotional stages that you go through after you’ve loved someone who hasn’t really been able to love you back in a way that’s good.”

The first single, ‘I’ve Run out of Words’, was released in September and is a stunning piece of pop. There are shades of Adele and Birdy there, but Migdal’s voice and the song’s texture imbues the track with an otherworldly beauty all its own. Backed initially by just a solo acoustic guitar, Migdal’s vocals, delivered crisply and precisely – “There’s nothing left for you to say” – document the breakdown of a relationship with complete honesty, disguising the broken heart at the core of the song. A swell of violins and keyboards build the intensity, before Migdal drops back into a quiet, resigned, “I want to know why you are here/Since I’ve asked you to leave so many times”. The track has a haunting, compelling quality, and Migdal confirms it’s also very personal: “I thought a lot about different things in my life and reflected on a lot, and that’s sort of how the track came about,” she says.

Each single will be accompanied by a video, with the video for second single ‘All the Way Home’ to premiere exclusively on the Women In Pop website on Sunday 5 November. Filming videos is a process Migdal enjoys immensely. “It’s really exciting working with the directors; when I feel something, I put it into words, but when they feel something they put it into something you can see,” she says. “It’s super cool to have them call me and say, ‘Oh, I listened to the song and this is what I saw’, and I’m just crying, ‘Oh my god, that is so good!’ It’s been very rewarding and a lot of fun.”

Migdal has also set up her own record label, Raccoon Recordings, to release her solo work. “I realised that I’ve written the music, I’ve arranged the music, I produced it myself, so I decided I wanted to be the one releasing the music. I wanted to be in charge of that and it felt very natural to do the whole process by myself with my own vision intact.” Naming the label was easy, she laughs: “I love raccoons!” Migdal sees her label as not just a vehicle to release her own music, but to counter the sexism she believes exists in the music industry by signing other female artists to the label. “If you are a [female] vocalist, it can be hard to be seen as a musician. I’ve been complimented on my voice, like ‘Oh my god, you know your pitch and everything, that’s so cool’ – as if it’s almost a given that I shouldn’t. I remember feeling that was quite harsh … You are always made very aware that you are a woman.”

Now that she has her first singles out in the world, Migdal is keen to release more. “I’ve waited for so long to release my very own stuff, so now I’m very excited about writing more and possibly recording an album soon,” she says. With 2017 drawing to a close, it’s a year that is ending on a high for Migdal, with bigger and brighter things underway in the future. “Nothing’s set in stone yet, but I’m feeling that 2018 will be a very good year!”

'I've Run out of Words' and 'All The Way Home' are available now on iTunes and Spotify. 'Open Your Eyes' will be released on November 22 2017.

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