“I’m an open book. I really like to focus on things that people might think, ‘oh, why is she talking about that?’ but it’s a lot of what people talk about: relationships, love, heartbreak. At the same time, there are a couple of stories that talk about being a modern indigenous woman trying to keep hold of the teachings, but still continuing to learn more. There’s a lot of talking about who I am as an indigenous woman, and building those stories so people can get to know who [our people] are a little bit more.” – Natalie Sappier
NATALIE SAPPIER AND NATE MILLER WERE INTERVIEWED BY MARK KILFOIL ON CHSR (97.9FM)’S PROGRAM, ‘THE LUNCHBOX,’ ON THURSDAY 11TH AUGUST.
Mark: That was Floating by Nate Miller. I have Nate Miller and Natalie Sappier on the phone from the casemate – we hear a lot of rain in that song and it seems like that’s appropriate. How’s it going, guys?
Nate: What’s up? We’re doing well.
Natalie: We’re doing awesome.
Mark: I believe the sky has just opened up and it’s pouring rain outside. Is that right?
Natalie: Yeah, it is – it’s pouring, pouring rain but I love it.
Mark: You guys are working together on a project for the next couple of weeks in the Barracks – what is the project?
Natalie: What is the project, Nate? Talk about it.
Nate: Well the project is two artists getting together from different mediums but share a lot of the same love for music, and we’re collaborating on some pieces to perform and record. We’ve worked together before, but right now we’re starting from scratch as well so we’re creating pieces right on the spot. Being downtown – it’s like going to the zoo; you can watch the artists. People write music and you can just watch it happen.
Natalie: This is very new to me. Nate’s been making music for a long time. I wrote for a little bit and I always chanted, but I never really shared my music too much until we met in a residency a few years back and it just kind of clicked. He started playing music – a lot of percussion – I started writing, and we just go with it. It’s a very organic way of creating – it’s a very eclectic style. There’s some dance and some chanting, we have some Blues and Rock, so we kind of just ride with it. We go with what we feel… we’ve got a really wide range of music that we love, and as for sound, all I can say is that it’s so universal. There are so many different types of beats and sounds. Like I said this is very new to me – I just come out with some vocals – Nate is the music man (he does a lot of the arranging) so it’s quite a dance.
Mark: You guys have just started this particular collaboration. I think Nate, you said that you had to kind of set aside everything you did before and go “OK – blank slate.” How hard is it to do that?
Nate: Sometimes it’s actually really easy. It’s kind of like when you’re in a mood and you create something, and if you’re in another mood you can’t actually do it – sometimes creativity works that way. Sometimes it’s a good thing -you have to change it to be in a good mood -or set something aside and start fresh. I guess it’s because the element of surprise is really good for the artist so that you don’t get into a rut, and accidents can create really cool things, too, or errors, even. We’re having a lot of fun so far.
Mark: I can accept the idea that a blank slate kind of allows you to go “OK – all those worries I had about previous works or thoughts I can put aside,” but honestly starting entirely from a blank slate entirely can be a little daunting. Where do you start? What was the first thing you guys did when you got together to get the creativity rolling?
Nate – OK, it’s not exactly a blank slate. I will pull out some beats that I have done before – it might be just some Rock, a very sparse track – and I might play guitar or keyboards on the spot, and Natalie will start singing on the spot, and that happens like that. Of course we’re bringing in everything we have anyway, so we can’t have a completely blank slate, but it feels like that in a way.
Natalie: It’s very new for us both because I was a closet writer and a closet singer, and I would go out and sing karaoke songs and whatever, but to sing my own music and to share my own stories – that was something I’d never really done until in the past two years. Nate’s guidance has actually helped to bring that out of me. But also Nate – you were at home recording, so coming out and performing is very new to you, too.
Nate: Yeah, I perform once in a while, but I’ve really been making music in my studio – mostly just doing that for the past 10 years, doing New Age music, really.
Mark: So how has the, as you described it earlier, Nate, zoo experience for you guys – is that distracting at first or has it settled into routine?
Natalie: It has its moments where we kind of blank it out – we just start creating. I have moments where people watch and then I just kind of shut down, but it’s good for me to have that audience and it allows me to just shake it off and perform, sing, and let it go. I have to get out of my comfort zone, and this residency really helps with that.
Mark: Are you improvising lyrics as you hear the beats or are you writing down things and trying them out vocally? What’s the procedure for you, Natalie?
Natalie: I do both. Sometimes [Nate] starts playing and I start free-styling and I don’t rap, but I come up with some lyrics and I start singing right on the spot Other times he starts to just play and I start writing and I just kind of go with it that way, so I do both depending on how I feel. I’m sitting here writing or I’m standing up just singing.
Nate: I think Natalie has written about half of all the lyrics since we’ve started.
Natalie: That’s what’s cool about it. I met Nate back in 2013 and I was here painting and he was here playing music and I thought “oh, I really like his music, and I really like his sound, and going through a lot of what I wish would be in part my music, and yet with me not playing any instruments – I do a hand-drum and my instrument is my [voice] – so it’s nice to start working together and say, “Hey, are you interested in making some music?” It just happened – the connection was there and we’ve been working together ever since.
Mark: Nate, you’re working on beats – you mentioned a New Age or ambient music before and the track that was played was Floating which has some of that – what’s it like to have someone who suddenly wants to put words to all this?
Nate: It’s awesome. I write songs and I write lyrics as well, but I’m so slow at writing lyrics that I don’t even do it very much. I really like the idea of painting a sonic picture around someone else’s vision in a way, because that’s two visions, but Natalie is obviously the voice representing things so it’s really cool.
Natalie: Yeah, it is cool because his songs are what bring the story out of me. I don’t come in [the casemate] everyday thinking, “I have this story and this song that I wanna sing” – he starts playing a song and it just takes me somewhere and I start writing, so it’s very organic. I just let it go and I can see how I feel and where the music takes me, so that’s what’s pretty special about it.
Mark: I think [the FAA] has given an overarching theme of ‘New Ground’ for this year – how has that influenced what you’re working on?
Natalie: Well, people around me really know me as a painter. I’m starting to come out with sharing my stories in more performance-based work. What I would really like to share is about me being a Wolastoq woman living in New Brunswick. I like to talk about our land and the connection that we have and I just hope that there’s more collaboration between our cultures here and where Nate and I come from different backgrounds. I’d like to share that story of us – the journey that we’re going on with these two cultures – and making something really beautiful and hopefully inspire others to do the same.
Mark: How about you, Nate? Has ‘New Ground’ influenced your process there this week?
Nate: Oh, yeah. That’s what I like about this. I knew when I heard Natalie sing 3 years ago when we shared this residency and she was painting, she brought her drum and started chanting and doing some singing, and I knew that her voice was so powerful that it was going to go somewhere other than what she was already doing, which is for her own work.
Natalie: Yeah it’s definitely pushed us both, you know? I don’t have a way to explain it – it’s just pushing us out of our comfort. We both have different things that we wanna do and different things that we want to explore when it comes to music, and we’re kind of on the same wavelength. It’s nice to be around an artist who I feel so comfortable with – to be able to just go with it and feel as though there are no limits.
Nate: I gave up guitar 10 years ago, so I got into the recording and New Age thing, and now I’m really loving playing guitar again, so there’s a lot of that in the music.
Mark: I’ve got to think that the acoustics that the Barracks provide [create] a particularly rich, sonic environment. Is that the case?
Nate: Uh… it’s got its own character. We’re actually set up here, through the sound system, to play and perform, and to record. So we’re recording everything we do, pretty much, for reference, and we don’t know if it’s gonna be usable or not – we’ll see what happens – but if it’s not broadcast quality then we’ll record it after the whole residency for sure.
Natalie: This is stuff that I’m learning, too. I can come up with singing, but I don’t have any musical background. I need the recordings as a reference for me because I’m learning, and if we’re going to go on and perform songs and do shows, I have to learn the beats. I’m kind of learning that way through Nate on arranging and creating final pieces of work which we haven’t really had a chance to do yet. We’d like to concentrate more on that.
Mark: You guys have just started but you have a couple of weeks to work on things – do you have a particular goal in mind in terms of a couple of pieces, or a performance at the end?
Nate: Well you might just see us outside next week on Queen Street, right outside where we are now. There’s a patch of grass there and we can just put the cords through the window and set up out there. We’d like to do that next week, so look out for that.
Natalie: We’re trying to focus more on even doing a couple of little performances to show the work that we’ve been doing and just go with that and see where it takes us.
Mark: I hope you guys get some good weather for that.
Nate: By the way, that track you played from my CD – that’s Natalie Sappier on vocals on that. I recorded Natalie and included her on some of my works because I wanted to try that out – I knew it would be interesting. That’s kind of like a sneak-peak of something that we can do.
Mark: So Natalie, what kind of stuff have you been writing so far? What stories or ideas or themes have been flowing into your work?
Natalie: Oh, so much. I’m an open book. I really like to focus on things that people might think, “Whoa, why is she talking about that?” but it’s a lot of what people talk about: relationships, love, and heartbreak… but at the same time, there are a couple of stories that talk about being a modern indigenous woman trying to keep hold of the teachings, but still continuing on to learn more, so there’s a lot of that, a lot of talking about who I am as an indigenous woman, and building those relationships and building stories so people can get to know who we are a little bit more. I’m kind of all over the place – I talk about journeys, whether it’s through healing or whether it’s for searching – it’s a lot about that kind of stuff.
Mark: I’m wondering if water imagery is going to start seeping in over the next couple of days. You mentioned guitar, Nate – what other instruments do you have with you? What other things have you brought?
Nate: I’ve got a keyboard, a guitar, and there’s some percussion right now.
Mark: What sort of percussion?
“I’ve been playing the djembes for a while now. Natalie and I jam on those sometimes. For some of the pieces, if it’s got a bit of a techno beat in it, if it’s got kind of a chill-out ambiance to it, sometimes it doesn’t require much else than the voice except maybe a little shaker or something funky on the drum and adding some special effects on it. Something I find neat about music is that sometimes it doesn’t even require much.” – Nate Miller
Nate: We’ve got two hand-drums right now – actually two djembes. When it comes to starting out fresh and having a blank slate, if you have pieces that are really produced and you have pieces with lots of instruments on them, when you take stuff out sometimes it’s better because it’s almost like creating and ‘uncreating.’ Not destroying, but uncreating is something that happens too, I find.
Mark: Pairing it all down.
Nate: Yeah, kind of.
Mark: Do you plan to build it all back up into multi layers on these or do you want to keep it all very paired-down?
Nate: Well there will be post-production on what we’re doing, but what’s good about collaborating with Natalie right now is obviously that we can share in a lot of the decisions about what’s going on if something’s too much or not enough. It’s so amazing how much we click and how many decisions arrive spontaneously.
Mark: So you guys are playing in public, and you’re also kind of building in public – I’m wondering if these people have had a chance to interact with you guys yet?
Natalie: Oh, yeah – there are some people who come in and sit and listen to us – we had a camp on Tuesday run through the Charlotte Street Arts Centre – they came and there were about 12 of them – we had a drum circle, we had a couple other chanters – Judy and Angie Atwin came and we did some traditional songs… we even did the snake dance and round dances… Nate came out and shared his drumming and talked about what he’d done.
“There’s a lot of interaction – when we’re not singing, people are definitely waiting for us to start playing, which is really nice. There are people down here all the time, and it’s nice to have the other shops, too. It’s a very welcoming environment.” – Natalie Sappier
Mark: I wonder about that because I know that normally when I see performers perform, there is a stage which kind of introduces a separation between the audience and the performer, but it’s much more at an even level there, right?
Natalie: Yeah, for sure. We also have other musicians coming in and they talk about what they do. It’s a different vibe because usually we’ll have fine artists here, painters, and they have some musicians here around this area – it just brings a different feel.
Nate: We haven’t had any requests for Stairway to Heaven yet.
Natalie: We did for House of the Rising Sun, though.
Mark: Do you suppose you’ll do your own version, your own interpretations of those by the time you’re done?
Natalie: Well this is more fun, you know what I mean? We do more of just our own stuff. There’s one song that we’re working on, a song that I’m very close with, which is a Wolastoq song written by one of my teachers who passed away, and we’re kind of working on a different version of that song by introducing the guitar instead of the hand-drum so I’m very excited about that because it’s a song that’s very close to my people and I know that they’re going to really appreciate hearing it – I’m very excited about that. The only one song that’s not something we wrote, we’ve been practicing on.
Mark: Alright, well it sounds fantastic and I’m sure as people walk by they’re also hearing and saying the same. I’m kind of wondering where can people find out more about either your collaboration or about your individual works?
Mark: And Natalie?
Natalie: I have a website – it’s thewaterspirit.wixsite.com.
Mark: Cool – and some of your painting is there?
Natalie: Yep – mostly my painting website but you can see some of my other works that I do but it’ll also link to my social media, and that’s probably where I’ll be sharing more of my stuff from this week that I’m doing.
Nate: Yes, you can find us on Facebook, of course, too.
Mark: Very cool. Well, thanks a lot guys – I’ve been talking to Natalie Sappier and Nate Miller. They’re currently in residence at the Barracks and making great music together, so thanks a lot guys, for joining me.
Nate & Natalie: Thanks a lot, Mark.
Mark: We’re going to hear from Emanate 7 – here’s Oceans for all of you people underneath all the rain today.
Listen to the audio podcast of Natalie and Nate’s interview here: