Interview: Nat Conway’s new sound
‘So Loud’, Nat Conway’s first new release in eighteen months, marks a new direction and an earthier pop energy for this one-time club artist and DJ.
It has been close to eighteen months since Australian singer-songwriter Nat Conway released new music, and if it wasn’t for a bit of sneaky manoeuvring on her part, it could have been even longer before we were blessed with the gorgeous, chilled-out new single ‘So Loud’ – if at all. Why? Because its initial recording went missing in action.
“It’s still unclear exactly what happened to the song,” Conway laughs now. “It was written. It was recorded. And then nine months later the producer admitted he’d lost the song.” Luckily for Conway – and music fans across the globe – she had made a recording of the completed song on her iPhone during a studio playback and the song could be recreated. “I don’t feel guilty about taking the sneaky recording now,” she says with relief. “I’m so glad I didn’t delete it!”
Now signed to a new record label and with a new musical direction, there is a sense that the salvaging of her song was the final link in the chain of Conway’s musical rebirth. And a new era of her career is now just beginning.
Conway first came to national prominence on the seventh season of The X-Factor Australia in 2015, finishing in sixth place. And while The X-Factor is best known for making music superstars out of brand-new talent, in Conway’s case she had been a professional musician for many years leading up to the show. Having performed in cover bands and as a DJ across the world, as well as releasing clubby dance hits for UK label Defected, among others, Conway saw The X-Factor not as vehicle to score a record deal but to get exposure.
“I didn’t go into it thinking, ‘I want to win,’” she explains. “I went into it genuinely thinking that I’d done everything I could in the Australian music circuit, and I needed something like The X-Factor to get noticed.” It worked. Her first two solo singles after the show ended – a house remake of the 1991 Rozalla hit ‘Everybody’s Free’, and the dance-pop ‘Summer to Stay’ - have pulled over a million streams on Spotify, with ‘Everybody’s Free’ chosen as the official anthem for the 2017 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras.
It’s not bad for someone who quite openly admits she did not have an enormous amount of music in her childhood. “Some people say, ‘Oh, I’ve been singing since I was one,’” Conway says. “That wasn’t it [with me]. I never learned an instrument. I wish now that I had.” Her parents always played music around the house, though, including Sade, Carole King and Sam Cooke – “quite a lot of R&B, urban soul things,” Conway says. Perhaps explaining the roots of her later career in house and club music, her first memories of music involve the soundtrack to 1980s disco film Xanadu.
So when it came to starting a career in music, for Conway it was completely accidental. Studying to be a teacher at university, she auditioned for a part in an amateur production of musical Anything Goes. After landing a role in the ensemble, she was well and truly bitten by the music bug but admits the experience may have given her something of a big head. “I think, foolishly, the musical gave me a bit too much confidence,” she laughs. “I was like, ‘I’ve done a musical – what’s next? Record deal.’ I thought it was as easy as that. I’ve since learnt!”
That boldness, though, may have got her where she is today. After scouring the classifieds section of a local music paper, she called up a covers band who were looking for a singer and got the gig. Although she completed her teaching degree and even worked as a teacher for a time, music eventually won out. “The gigs were offering way more money and more frequency at the time,” she says. “So I thought, ‘I’ll just ease out of teaching for a bit. I’ll see how this singing thing goes and I’ll go back to teaching later when I need to.’ And I never went back.”
Although she was soon making a living as a professional singer, Conway’s lack of professional music training has, she says, played on her mind for much of her career. “I’ve been my own worst enemy sometimes,” she reveals. “I’ve limited myself by thinking, ‘Well, don’t dream big because you’re not a musician – you’ve not trained properly.’ I thought I didn’t deserve it as much as others did. Eventually, I thought, ‘You only get one life. What’s the point in holding back?’”
Although she says some insecurities still affect her – “I have yet to find a remedy for self-doubt,” she says – these days she feels more able to withstand the anxious comparisons that social media can induce in just about everyone. “It’s easy to look in on someone else’s life and see them posting their greatest moments and go, ‘Oh their greatest moments are so good – they must be doing so well. Oh, let me compare … Maybe I’m not doing as well. Therefore I must be not be as successful. Therefore down the tunnel we go.’ All the time.” But Conway’s message is that it gets easier with time. “Definitely, as I’ve gotten older,” she admits. “Just with life experience and more years on Earth, it makes you a bit more resistant to it.”
Plus the release of new single ‘So Loud’ in October has given rise to a new way of thinking for Conway. Moving away from her signature house and club music into a more traditional pop sound, the track is warm and summery, its laidback yet addictive melodies snaking into an evocative, singalong chorus, all presided over by Conway’s gorgeously sweet, husky vocals. The change in direction is, she says, another case of throwing off the shackles of her former doubts.
“When I was doing the house and club music – which I still love – I was singing a certain way,” she explains. “I thought that was how I should sing because that’s the sound that got me in.” There was always a more classic pop sound inside her, though, and it was working with esteemed US songwriter MoZella (Madonna, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna), who co-wrote ‘So Loud’, that helped Conway overcome some of her fears and mental blocks.
Conway admits she didn’t know much about MoZella before going into a writing session with her. “I’m lucky I didn’t look up who she was before I went in because I would’ve been shitting myself,” she laughs. “She was incredible and one of the people responsible for just letting me be myself. She was the one saying, ‘No – just be you.’ She helped me, encouraged me to find that sound. It was an incredible learning process for me.”
Conway performed the single live for the first time at the recent Hay Mate charity concert in Tamworth to help raise money for farmers affected by the severe drought gripping parts of Australia. Performing alongside musical legends such as The Veronicas and John Farnham was, she says, intimidating. “It’s always a bit of a tough one, being a relatively up-and-coming artist performing a song to people who’ve never heard that song before,” she says. But she won them over. “To be honest, I found the crowd at Tamworth to be one of the most welcoming I’ve ever had in my entire career. Hopefully it hasn’t given me a false sense of confidence! But it was pretty liberating to perform there.”
And that sense of liberation is tangible. There is a glow, a sense of anticipation about Nat Conway today that makes this rejuvenation of her career exciting to watch. And Conway herself is more than ready.
“Hopefully the Australian public and the broader international community embraces me and the sound that I’m making right now, and everything that I represent,” she says. And there’s more to come. “I have been writing a lot more songs – there are other songs in the works,” she confides. “I just really hope I get the opportunity to share them with everybody.”
‘So Loud’ is out now via Neon Records/Universal Music. You can download it on iTunes or stream it on Spotify. To keep up with all things Nat Conway, you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.