Natalie Cressman’s Graduation Day
Electronic is kind of a natural next step these days.
I think there are some cool directions you can go as far as mixing it with live performance. I only just got Ableton—I want to at least be knowledgeable. For a long time a lot of people, a lot of musicians, especially in the jazz world, kind of pooh-poohed EDM and dubstep, but there’s good music and there’s bad music, like Duke Ellington said.
I really feel like there’s a lot of good music to be discovered in what’s happening now. That’s one of the things I struggled with at school, was feeling that everyone was kind of revering all these older things. Like my dean didn’t even know who Trey was until Trey put on the musical, and then he heard about him, and then that validated that I was on tour. Before he thought I was just doing a money gig, he didn’t understand that the music was great and that it was explorative.
I always loved people that push the envelope of what’s going on, even people that now are famous. Like I love Erykah Badu. There are just a lot of artists like that, regardless of the style, just what they’re doing is something I can put myself behind.
The jamband scene is especially accepting of different musical styles.
I’ve been really surprised by that. Even the little bit people know me through Trey, people have bought my CD and come to my shows in New York, and it’s definitely a jazzier approach to music. I’ve been surprised how people have responded positively—a lot of Trey fans helped me with my Kickstarter last year. I put out a modern jazz album, and I was surprised people liked it. I was worried they would not know what to expect, but it’s cool how broad their ears are and I appreciate that a lot.
Whenever I see you you’re usually the youngest and the only female on stage. What is it about music that makes someone like you a rarity?
I get this question asked a lot because it is a unique situation. In so many other fields I feel like the playing ground has been totally evened out, or in some cases women dominate. But I think part of it stems from music being such a social thing. Our work and our play are so intermingled all the time and it’s really hard in high school when a lot of girls have other values that don’t really align with spending a lot of time in a practice room or in band practice. I feel like its such a social art form and it’s so male dominated that a lot of females shy away form being the only girl.
It comes with a lot of challenges and I think it’s a struggle to navigate that, so I think that’s why so few people stick with it. I think it has something to do with just socially females are so outnumbered, and if more women were to just stick with it we’d have a bigger community. But I think it’s changing; I’ve been meeting a lot more female instrumentalists, and there are a lot of female vocalists. I think there’s still a misconception that [vocalists] are out in front of the band—the vocalists I really admire are people that integrate themselves with the band. They become part of it and are aware of what’s going on and I think that’s really important.
It’s hard to navigate, especially being young, because you have so much to prove. I feel like being younger and being a female, the expectations are always so low. It’s always kind of a backhanded compliment when people come up to me and are like, “Oh, you’re actually really good.” A guy wouldn’t be treated that way, and I think its just part of our culture. There’s obviously a certain superficiality to it all. You can be a horribly dressed, out of shape dude and play music and it’s beautiful, no one thinks about anything but the music, but for whatever reason when you’re a girl other things come in to play. There’s good and bad attention because of that. So you just have to have a thick skin and be focused on the music making part because that’s what’s really important. If you make it about that, then everybody else will start to focus on your music.
What made you stick with it?
My parents, but also the community that they brought me into. This kind of helped me when I moved to New York—from a really early age I was subbing for my Dad in groups where everyone was over thirty and I was in high school. Where a lot of high school students don’t like hanging out with adults and stick to their own age group, I felt really comfortable hanging out with forty and fifty year olds playing music. And also having a lot of mentors that are older and chilling with them and learning about music. I think that really helped me. Even though I was really young and lacked experience, people were really encouraging and I was never made to feel that way. I definitely credit my family and my upbringing with feeling at home.
What’s it like playing in TAB considering your dad, Jeff Cressman, used to be a member? He sat in with you guys in April too, how was that?
So fun! He’s one of my biggest inspirations. I grew up watching him play and being so excited by his music and so proud—he has a great job and he does it well. We used to practice together and he was kind of my first teacher, so that was a great moment. My mom was in the audience and she was kind of teary eyed. It was just a cute moment.
Who would you say your biggest inspiration musically is?
That’s a hard question. Probably Joni Mitchell, I kind of keep going back to her, even when I wasn’t singing so much I was just so taken by her. She’s one of those people that is also kind of this folk songwriter that brought in all these jazz guys, her own kind of fusion. Not fusion in the cookie-cutter sense and I just really love that.
Now that I’m writing songs it’s like her lyrics, everything that she does songwriting wise, it’s just so inspiring. She’s really upfront too—her lyrics aren’t too smart or too accessible, it’s like she has this really unique thing that you can dislike her aesthetics, it’s just not your vibe, but there’s something really real about what she’s doing.
Tell me what’s on your plate now, are you still doing Secret Garden stuff?
Yeah, we’re actually playing this week, so we’re still doing some stuff. The new album I’m putting out in September is a little different so I didn’t call it Secret Garden because it’s a different project with different people. Its a little bit more indie inspired—I’m pushing it more towards an indie singer-songwriter vibe. I still want to play with Secret Garden all the time, and because I’ve been travelling so much we haven’t gotten to gig a lot, so even though our material is older, it feels fresh when we play.
The plan is to keep that going but also I really want to focus on the new music. It’s going to be released as a solo project, Natalie Cressman, the album’s called Turn the Sea. I’m super excited. We recorded it in Brooklyn at a studio called Candid Music Studios, which is a company that my boyfriend and my bass player founded. It’s an audio-visual production company that just started a year ago. We recorded it there, and my Dad actually mixed it in Vegas, where Santana has a residency at the House of Blues. So he’s been there, playing and then mixing it from his hotel room.
What do you want this year to bring?
Now that I’m not in school anymore, I just really want to go for it. I just booked a tour for my own band; in August we’re doing a West Coast tour in my car that’s still in California. Next year I want to do more touring on the East Coast. I’m starting small and just seeing where it goes. We’re just going to try to build it. I want to tour more with Trey too. I still want to do stuff as a sideman, but I don’t want to just sit and wait to be called, I want to make moves.
Are you going to see Phish this summer?
I don’t know, I’m not sure the dates will line up. I went the day before New Years with James [Casey], and that was his first Phish show. The music was great but I think he was more surprised by the people watching. He doesn’t know any Phish songs, and that was maybe my fifth Phish show. Everyone just cheering when it goes into this song and he just doesn’t know what’s going on; I’m at the point where I know a couple so I can cheer with them when “Divided Sky” comes on.
It’s funny because in that two-block radius of Madison Square Garden we get recognized a lot. It’s not like we’re actually famous, but it made him feel like he was. Especially the fact that we were together, people were just recognizing us a lot. He was like, “this is weird.”
Tell me about your super charming baking videos. I remember James being in the first one.
My huge hobby besides music and dancing is baking. I had this silly idea that maybe people would find it entertaining to know that side of me. Usually what I do is make stuff for my band. When there’s a rehearsal, I’ll just make a batch of cookies, because it just makes people happy and it’s fun for me. So I had this idea: what if I had a little video blog, that while something bakes in the oven we record a little tune. James did my first one with me in December and we baked gingerbread people. It’s a super ghetto set-up with the tripod and we just go for it, but it’s fun and people think it’s funny and want to know the recipes. I’m lined up with good people for the rest of the year.