Join us for an introspective deep-dive with Nat Vazer, our new favourite singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Melbourne. Released in May 2020, her debut album, ‘Is This Offensive and Loud?’, is rich, full of brooding melodies and invigorating riffs. Intimate storytelling with retrospective sentiments is sublimely executed, threaded with wistful nostalgia and a bona fide take on romance and life.
She is a blooming artist who left a career in law to pursue music, now, in the context of the pandemic. In a time where people are more than ever sharing each other’s stories for support and comfort, Nat Vazer’s music and personality couldn’t be a better example of how one’s artful expression can leave a positive impact. We had the honour of speaking to Vazer about how the personal sincerity in her music is translated into universal paradigms, and the impact it signifies for her.
A lot of artists decided to postpone their releases in 2020. What made you feel reassured about releasing an album at the height of the pandemic?
I wrote most of the songs in 2018. I had sort of planned for release in 2020 and I was quite dead set on that, you know, the songs have been around for one to two years. I just thought it was really important to release it while still in that zone and still excited about it. With everyone being in lockdown, I felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel. So that time was as good as any. It just made sense to release it.
How were the release and the promotions that came with it different from what you expected?
I thought there would be a lot more touring opportunities, and I was really looking forward to doing a full band tour. My band and I were getting bigger festivals and bigger shows, and it just felt like a really exciting time leading up to bigger things. But hopefully down the line, when things go back to normal, [we can] do a proper tour, do the album justice.
How do you bring a song from scratches in your notebook to the final product? Could you walk us through what your creative process is, and how you feel about working with others?
The creative process for me, personally, has been ever evolving. It hasn’t been the same from the start to now, and every song has been different. So, I’m conscious of trying not to fall into some kind of routine process. It could be notebook scratches, it could be guitar riffs, piano riffs, it could be anything as long as I keep my mind open, and intuitively work out what excites me and where I want the music [and lyrics] to go. I think practicing that in solitude has been really effective.
For me, [it’s about] giving myself the time and space to explore ideas with conviction, without compromise, without compromising ideas. That’s something I find challenging when I’m working with other people; if I can’t let that initial idea fully realize itself, [it feels like] I’m cutting off opportunities to explore. Sometimes, yes,
I think ideas do need a band to help you realize what that potential could be. Sometimes it might need a producer, but from song to song, it’s just been a very, very different process. And I do like 90% of the arrangements, as well. I really love arranging music.
Do you think your best songs are the ones that were smoothly created or the ones that had a more gruelling process?
I used to think that the songs that came to me more naturally, the ones that I could write in the shortest amount of time – those were the best ones. But sometimes, [it’s about] not being afraid to revisit or iterate on things. There have been a few songs that I’ve had to rewrite almost five times, and I’ve found that sometimes it ends up being stronger that way. It challenges you because when you’re uncomfortable, and heading towards this new territory creatively, it can be stifling. It can be very self-torturing and gruelling, but if it works, sometimes it works.
You also mentioned that the album was like a personal doco of your past couple years. For example, ‘Better Now’ was inspired by the little girl you talked to in Toronto, is that right?
Yes, it’s true. I often draw a lot of inspiration from things in my everyday life and things I care about, you know, subject matters that I’m passionate about. I was in Toronto at the time and met a little girl at a bus stop who was just telling me how she watched the news that morning [about] all the high school massacre shootings happening in North America. And the Toronto van attack happened, which really shook up the entire city because nothing like that had ever happened before. I think in 2017, we had that Bourke Street Mall rampage in Melbourne. So it was like reliving that all over again, but in a different city, which is really weird to experience. [There was] just something about that morning. That girl at the bus stop just plagued my mind when I went home and I jotted down all these things that were going through my brain like a stream-of-consciousness. And I thought, Hey, this sounds like it could be a song. It could be cool.
There were definitely clear messages that stood out throughout the album. Were there any particular lyrics that were most reflective of what you felt when you wrote the album? Or that you’re most proud of?
It was just a year where I felt like being in a new city. And everything was just new. It was a sensory overload of new things, and it gave me that mental clarity. When you’re in the thick of it, sometimes it’s hard to see the wood from the trees. I can’t think of any lyrics I’m particularly proud of. I enjoyed the process of writing a lot. I’m quite happy with the way it’s turned out.
So, you actually used to be a lawyer, right? And then, you quit law because you tried to do two things at once and it didn’t work.
Yeah, that sounds like a bit of a joke, it [feels] like a weird past life or something. But yeah, I just kind of did law school in Australia. You needed legal training and I ended up at this firm and [going] to court almost every day because I worked in litigation. It was so intensive, you had to be switched on, and on the ball all the time. If you miss something in court, you have some judge scolding you or you get in trouble. People are serious about that stuff. When I went home, I felt really exhausted all the time. I felt like I wasn’t bringing the right sort of energy to the writing, and it was just really frustrating. On top of that, I was stressed with work. It was hard to sleep and it was really getting to me. I just thought, if I’m going to do this properly, I’ve got to really do it properly. I’ve got to make the time and the space to focus on it.
So, we know that after you decided to pursue music full-time, you took a trip to Toronto. Was there any particular reason you chose Canada?
It was a bit of an improv trip. I love traveling, and I wanted to get away from home because I felt like I was too immersed in the daily grind of things. I’d be distracted by friends, family; I’d be catching up with people all the time and I just wouldn’t be able to focus. I needed to get away to a new city. And I thought, you know, Toronto.
You really inspire me, because I study engineering and am also a creative. How do you get the kind of resolve it takes to quit what you’re doing or step away from the stable path that your parents want you to be on? What advice would you give to a young person who lives with high expectations from their parents but wants to pursue a creative life?
My parents are still not very supportive of what I’m doing now. But they’re supportive of the fact that I’m a happier person for it. At the end of the day, I’m doing what I love, I’m chasing my dreams, writing music and surrounding myself in a good, healthy, happy community. But yeah, it’s terrifying. I totally empathise. It’s just so much pressure [especially] when you’re in uni. There’s always people talking to you about work and career opportunities. You’re totally focused on that all the time, and it’s so easy to overlook the things that make you ‘you’ and the things that you personally need as an individual. I came to a crossroads and decided, No, music is where I want to be, it’s what I’m good at. It’s what I’m naturally veering towards, and I just... I felt excited about that.
But sometimes, you have to go through with the exercise to know what you really want. Anyone can tell you, “You’re gonna be a great engineer.” It’s great fuel to get into what you’re good at. But only you’ll know once you get there. I felt like no one really had an idea of what [being in law school] would be like day to day. You kind of have to go through that to know. And yeah, it was terrifying. But it also gave me self-confidence. I convinced myself that I could do all these things that I thought were completely out of my reach or just impossible. [Standing] in the world of law, I felt like, if you can do this, then you can do this in another industry. So, I probably wouldn’t be able to song write if I hadn’t gone through that whole past life.
How did the bonds you’ve created over your music life, like being in bands when you were younger, influence your musical persona today?
I think playing in different bands over time, growing up with my parents’ eclectic record collection and classical music has made me a more open-minded musician. I think creatively, that’s come into play in a strange way, because I feel like I try not to close myself off to certain genres and ideas, and I try not to think in terms of rules. Drawing on my own past experience and my background, growing up with all these tunes and melodies... they’re influential. It’s just been so much fun. You learn so much from working with other people. It kind of feels like you’re on adventures all the time with different characters in different places. It’s exciting.
‘Remedy’ is about healing and recovering after the world has changed. We’re looking into the significance of making the personal, universal. Do you think sharing your stories is therapeutic for you, or do you think that kind of vulnerability can be a bit daunting instead?
It’s definitely daunting. I don’t think it’s easy for a lot of people to express their emotions all the time and be vulnerable. When I’m doing things for creativity, whether it’s drawing or making music or making art, I’m often doing it because there’s something I want to explore or learn about myself. Even if the goal isn’t for healing, incidentally, it can be cathartic or therapeutic...I’m kind of nurturing this innate desire. That’s something really fascinating about humankind, this uncontrollable inherent desire to express something. That’s where that sense of healing comes from; that ability to explore some kind of emotional truth, rather than literary truths. It’s not always about writing a hit song.
Do you have any experiences that you think may be a ‘remedy’ to things in your personal life?
For me, it can be as simple as going for a 20-minute walk everyday. Even a short walk can really dramatically alter your consciousness sometimes. I get a buzz out of it. It sounds so boring, I know. But yeah, just sleeping well, eating well, and being kind to yourself. I think a lot of people forget that.
What do you do when your work consumes your life and becomes difficult?
I try not to let the music come to a point where I feel like it’s work. As soon as it feels like that, I like to step away and give myself some objectivity. If it’s not working, or feels too stressful, I can’t write from that kind of headspace. So, it can be counter-productive.
Are you still writing music on the daily? What does a typical day look like for you?
I try to write when I’m inspired and feeling excited about something. Otherwise, it just feels a bit forced. It’s kind of like staring at a blank piece of paper everyday and hitting your head against the wall. Most days, I try to play a little bit on the guitar or the piano and see what comes to me. But there’s so much other stuff to do, like planning for promotions and touring, setting up, you know, shows and things. There’s always the whole business side of it, which keeps me busy.. I have a part time job, too. It’s not always everyday music. I wish. What else do I do? I don’t know. Just exercise and admin stuff, I guess.
Do you have any specific goals or New Year’s resolutions this year?
New Year’s resolutions, I can never stick to those. But I’m trying to do yoga every day. Just 20 minutes, first thing in the morning. In terms of goals this year, I would really like to get back on the tour bus and play shows. Hopefully, things will be back to normal.
Finally, what kind of artist do you want to be? Do you have personal benchmarks you want to achieve? Or more professional goals, like getting on the charts?
I would love to be able to tour internationally in the coming years – that would be a dream. Also, just being able to write, record and release sustainably, long-term. I don’t know about charts and awards and all those things. I mean, it’s always nice if you’re recognised in the industry. But I think for me, it’s just about trying to create a life out of this. I want to explore, go on adventures, and meet exciting and interesting people. That’s the best life I can hope for. I try not to get caught up in the commercial side of things. I mean, it’s interesting— it can be fun — and it can lead to more opportunities, but that’s not what I’m doing it for.