Natalie McCool – in the ascendency

We spoke to Natalie McCool about songwriting with Macca, the tabloid press and Bernard Butler… 

We’re a little early for our slot to interview Natalie McCool, so we wait as she finishes soundchecking. The 24 year old from Widnes, whose star seems to have been on the rise since she landed at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, is thorough but relaxed, joking with the musicians in her band.

McCool is just a couple of hours away from launching new single Thin Air, a track which has attracted air time on 6 Music (the night is compered by 6 Music DJ and McCool fan, Chris Hawkins) and Amazing Radio amongst others. It is another quantum leap in her fledgling career.

With Stealing Sheep another band part-forged at LIPA, and practically calling 6 Music a home from home lately, casual observers could be forgiven for thinking this is just the way of things; book your place at LIPA and you’re half-way there. Obviously, despite McCool’s rise, it isn’t that easy. So. Where did it all go right?

In 2007 she was encouraged to enter Make it Brake it, a competition judged by music industry professionals, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and head of Hubris Records Steve Levine amongst them. “I entered and ended up winning. Steve Levine was one of the judges so that’s how it happened … he signed me.”

Wanting to complete her education, McCool held her nerve, continuing at LIPA when many would have high-tailed it to London to record with their new label. Her patience paid off. Final year students get a session with co-founder and lead patron Sir Paul McCartney, one she made sure to make use of.

“Loads of students take songs they’ve already written. I took a song I’d written a verse and chorus for and thought, ‘I wonder if he’ll help me write it’. Stuck for where to go for the bridge in the song, McCartney offered a couple of suggestions. “He started playing something I use in the song now.”

That song would become America, which in July of this year featured on The Drive Sessions, a series of live sessions recorded and uploaded to her YouTube channel. McCool confides that America, in a nutshell, is “a song about celebrity culture and public hangings. It’s about seeing someone fail – the papers looking for someone to crash.”

A big draw on the sessions, and the reason for the title, was her cover of Kavinsky’s Nightcall, a track featured on the Nicolas Winding Refn movie, Drive. It’s a good example of how to take somebody else’s song and make it your own. Indeed, after the interview ends and we’re watching McCool and her band perform a cozy set at Studio 2, Parr Street, we’d bet there’s more than one person in the crowd accepting it’s a McCool original.

But even the slick sexiness of Nightcall doesn’t really prepare for what’s next. Fittingly, this being its launch and all, new single Thin Air is the closer to the evening. It is delivered with confidence and intensity, and stands head and shoulders above the perfectly competent material that preceded it.

Recorded – impressively –  with guitar-hero Bernard Butler, McCool said: “I couldn’t believe he said he’d do it. It must be his type of sound, I laid down guitars for it –  I wanted it to be like PJ Harvey’s Big Exit – really jangly and big. Maybe that’s what he liked about it, being in Suede.”

The result could be the thing to push McCool on once more, and with all this momentum we wondered when we can expect the debut album. Typically, McCool is considered, all about willing to defer the gratification in the manner that has served her well thus far: “I’ve probably got songs I could use for an album. I don’t feel quite ready for ‘the big one’ – you have to get the songs and they have to be the right songs.”

Thin Air is out now on Hubris Records

Posted on 04/09/2012 by thedoublenegative