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2023 SXSW Festivals Interviews Music

Interview: Getting Offensive and Loud with Nat Vazer


Scouring through the numerous names at SXSW, I’m often greeted by the usual suspects: US artists who are on the rise vis-a-vis the blogosphere, one-off shows from Asian musicians, and people who we’ve likely covered on the site in some way, shape, or form. But it wasn’t until I gave the artist list its umpteenth lookthrough that I stumbled across an artist who I hadn’t heard before. Quite quickly, I made my way to her Spotify page to click on the first song I could find.

“I was not made for sitting still / For standing in line / For swallowing pills / Think I can think for myself / Are you asking me to dial it down? / Is this offensive and loud? / Is this offensive and loud?”

The second I heard those lyrics off of Nat Vazer’s strong-willed “Like Demi,” I dropped everything to schedule an interview with the Melbourne-based artist in Austin. As I was doing so, I was quickly swept away by the singer’s honesty and detailed storytelling throughout her debut album, Is This Offensive and Loud?, which arrived fully formed during the pandemic in 2020. Drawing from an obvious love for indie rock, the album is dreamy yet sounds best when cranked all the way up. Simultaneously, it tackles hard-hitting issues like the issue of the glass ceiling (“Grateful”), family struggles (“Mother”) and even the shitshow that is American politics (“Evelyn”). You’d never know it just from a quick listen, though. Vazer has a knack for couching these sensitive subject matters in melodies that envelop you in a sunlight sway and invite genuine rock-out moments — most particularly in songs like “Sunlight,” “Grateful,” and “For a Moment.” 

I was lucky: I was able to quickly catch the singer-songwriter at the Austin Convention Center, where we talked about her first experience in Austin, her method of songwriting, and Melbourne’s indie rock scene.

Nat Vazer press photo.

How are you enjoying SX so far?

I am loving it so far. It’s been… not what I expected, but it’s just wild up here, pretty wild.

Is this your first time?

My very first time at SX. First time in the US, performing. This is part of my US tour. 

How are you taking in the sights? How are you liking it?

I just had my first Texan barbecue, like, proper Texan barbecue last night, and it was just obscenely good. And I think I bought three pecan pies because I had the first bite and I was like, “Oh, my God, this is amazing!” You just don’t get that sort of stuff in Australia, I guess. I’ve been checking out a lot of bands. I went to the Paste magazine event yesterday, and that was so good. It was so good to see, like, Thao Nguyen play and Trials of Cato. I’ve been just having a lot of time with the band. We’ve been walking around town and checking things out. 

It’s just a wild scene, and I love the architecture here. I love the way that they’ve preserved a lot of old elements of the architecture. It’s modernized in certain ways, but it’s also stayed kind of true to itself in other ways. 

So I kind of want to jump in and talk about your latest single that you released, “Addicted to Misery.” Could you tell me a little bit about what that song is about and the process of writing it and creating it?

So “Addicted to Misery” is like a portrait of a time of feeling low, and it’s sort of explored through this conversational journey. And it’s just kind of about feeling powerless to help someone you love or feeling a little bit hopeless in the sense of spiraling through all those kinds of emotions. I guess it was sort of also inspired by my state of mind during COVID during all the lockdowns, and just feeling a little hopeless myself.  

I just started noodling on the guitar. I do a lot of sort of folk. I’m inspired by a lot of folk music — modern folk music, I guess — and then came up with this riff. And I decided to just chuck on a few effects and thought, “Oh, this could be really cool, with a little drum beat.”

I went into the studio to work with my producer, Rob Muiños, and he had the idea to put a little drum track at the start of it. Yeah, that worked really well. And then the band came in and we all just did the more full band thing with the drum track over on top as an overlay. 

And then the track also features Andy Campbell from my band. It sounds like French horns and like a horn part or a little bit of a synthy part, but it’s actually just guitar and just swells on the guitar using the volume knobs. 

It was an interesting process creating it as well. And we recorded that in Melbourne with Rob at Sauna Studios, where I recorded my debut album.

With that song, I know that also came with a music video, and some of the visuals in that are pretty striking. Could you tell me a little bit about that? How did that all come together?

So I wanted to convey, or sort of portray, this sense of trying to break out of this bubble… I’m trying to break out of this loop that I’m stuck in. And so I was trying to think of a visual way to depict that. There were these bedsheets that we used. It’s just kind of creating this white world, and I’m trying to find my way out of it. 

And the woods are kind of, like, juxtaposed to that. So it’s just a bit of a sense of feeling lost while you’re also trying to break out of this sad place in your head. 

I really like the way that it captures the feel of the song as well. It’s, like, very billowy. Even though you’re talking about being addicted to misery and stuff like that, it’s still very calming in a way!

There’s also parts, I think… little scenes where I’m kind of punching at the screen or just trying to show signs of struggle, feeling like I’m drowning or something. We just wanted to create that sense. And Benjamin Joel, who directed the film, had a lot to do with coming up with those kinds of concepts as well, so he’s really a great thinker.

It’s been quite a stretch since you released new music, and the most recent one came probably a year or two years after you released your album. Are we going to be expecting a new album or a new project coming out soon that this is teasing?

Yeah, absolutely. As you said, it’s been a really long time since I’ve released anything. 

I’ve kind of wanted to save up and wait till it was a good time to release again or until I was ready to come back out to tour again. And so this release… there’ll be many more releases. You can probably expect maybe one. 

Nat Vazer – Strange Adrenaline (2023)

This is the first time I’ve actually mentioned this, but there’s probably one new release every month for the rest of the year. I’ve just got a lot of new music out and definitely a new album coming out at the end of the year — around October, November as well. 

I would like to ask you a few questions about Is This Offensive and Loud? That album was released during the pandemic. Did you think that affected the way that you’re touring the album or have there been a lot of live shows from that album?

Nat Vazer – Is This Offensive and Loud? (2020)

I still enjoy playing that music live. It was a crazy time to release an album. It was hard to make that call, but I’m really glad I did it. People were still buying records during that time. They needed entertainment at home, like, Melbourne went through so many lockdowns as well. I ended up having to think a bit more laterally about how to tour that album, not being able to head out overseas or even interstate or anywhere around my city. So I ended up doing a lot of livestreaming, which is not always my favorite, but it was good to still connect with people and engage people through those channels. 

I guess that’s what sort of saved us in the end. And it was like, so much of that. The success of that was attributed to my label manager as well, from Hotel Motel and Sarah Guppy from This Much Talent. So I had a good team around me, and I was really lucky to have that.

One of my favorite things about the album is just reading through the lyrics. It really does feel like you’re telling story after story from your own life, especially how there are a lot of details in it that don’t get left out, and they become hooks that you would kind of think would be unexpected. I know that you have one song where you’re talking to a girl at a bus station, and then you’re talking about gun violence. And then I know in another song you were talking about your mother, and you get really personal about a cancer diagnosis. 

So from these stories from your life, how do you decide what’s going to be a song and what’s going to not be a song? Because they’re very pointed memories that you create in your album. Does the songwriting come first, or is it kind of like, “Oh, I want this story to be told. Let me make a song about that.”

Yeah. Oh, my God, that’s such a big question. I think most of the time, I don’t get to choose the song. It’s a weird thing. What I try to do is be in the right state of mind to catch the ideas. 

And it’s almost like you’re a vessel and this thing that just needs to come out or whatever wants to come out will just come out if you are just paying attention and noticing the things around you. I think people could maybe generally afford to think less and feel more. I think that really gets you in the right kind of headspace to just channel the right things.

I love all the details. I’m not intentionally trying to put detail in there, but I think that, again, coming back to being in that clear state of mind, that clarity of mind, the extraordinary little details that you kind of notice… they will just come out naturally and organically. 

And if you’re in the right state of mind to just capture all that, whether on a notepad or while you’re playing guitar and recording or something, that starts to form the basis of a song. And that’s kind of like how it goes with me. 

I really want to follow this whole philosophy of trying to build worlds through songs, just following that kind of tradition of using words and music to just build worlds, because it’s just like a book, almost. Like an audiobook, I guess. I love that. I love hearing other artists who do that, and it’s really inspired me over time to also write like that. I’m still figuring it out. The songwriting just keeps evolving.

I think another point that I want to touch on from your first album is the title itself. It’s called Is This Offensive and Loud?  Personally, for me, when I saw that title, it was kind of a moment where you’re speaking up and you don’t care. You’re going to say your piece. I was kind of curious what you were thinking about when you chose this album title 

Yeah, I think you absolutely nailed it. Is This Offensive and Loud? is a bit of a sarcastic question. It’s how I felt at the time I was writing the album, because people were just telling me… you know, people tell you all kinds of stupid things all the time, and if you don’t pursue the things you want and just follow through, then you’re really missing out on your life. And it was just more of like a statement to those people who tell you that you can’t — who tell you you can’t dream, you can’t do crazy things like quit your job and start songwriting. 

They tell you you have to be sensible, but art isn’t sensible. It’s not even really logical sometimes. So you just have to do what excites you and follow what you stand for. Is This Offensive and Loud? is a bit of an ode to that kind of mantra, or that kind of way of thinking and living. 

So currently, you’re based in Melbourne, I believe. I’ve previously talked to Yeo about his experience as an R&B artist there. Could you tell me a little bit about operating within the indie pop/indie rock scene over there?

Yeah. Well, first of all, I do follow Yeo, and I love his little cooking segments. But in Melbourne, there is absolutely an indie scene. It’s bustling, it’s busy every night if you go to the northern suburbs in Fitzroy, Collingwood, or even the west side in Footscray, that’s really growing as well. There’s a strong music community, and I definitely would say the indie pop/indie rock kind of scene is definitely there and it’s growing. 

I would say it’s pretty big. It’s hard to compare because I haven’t lived in other cities. There’s a lot of micro-labels and record stores and it’s nice. It’s kind of like heartwarming like that. 

Everyone kind of does events together. There’s a lot of musicians and artists. One of the sad things actually, I think, about Melbourne is it is in a little bit of its own bubble sometimes. 

And I think that’s probably why a lot of people in the US haven’t heard of these great bands that are just playing locally around there. And it’s also hard sometimes to just bring that music overseas because we’re so far away and there’s limited funding, especially after COVID. 

The music industry was the first to collapse, and it’s probably going to be the last one to bounce back from all that. We haven’t had a lot of support in Victoria and in Melbourne, but I think all of that is probably going to change in the next few years as well. So, staying hopeful about it.

I guess to also get a little bit more granular about that scene: Are there a lot of Asian Australians who are playing the scene? Do you see a lot of Asian representation in music in Melbourne?

I’m going to be honest and say no. There is hardly any visibility for Asian artists in Melbourne… in Australia in general. Often, I am the token Asian on a festival lineup. 

I’ll be even just put last on a lineup for the sake of filling some sort of cultural quota thing, or even a gender quota sort of thing, which I think is sad. And I think there’s definitely not enough representation. There’s also not enough diversity in the leadership space to really push for that as well, because I think a lot of that change comes from top-down. Yeah, that’s definitely a space that needs work, and we need to change that. I’m totally all for that, and I’d love to do what I can in terms of advocacy or any other way — if there’s anyone out there who knows what I can do!  

I guess there’s probably a few more in the pop scene. Maybe not so much in the indie rock scene, but even so, it’s a small handful in a giant city.

Have you found any Asian artists outside of Australia who have inspired you in any way? 

I’m a big fan of Mitski. I just love what she does and what she’s got going on. I love that she also just started with punky, grungy kind of sounds earlier on and the way that her sound has just evolved over time. It’s just been pretty amazing to follow that journey.

\[Also,] Japanese Breakfast. I’ve yet to buy Michelle Zauner’s book, but I’ve had a fan who recommended me that book, Crying in H Mart, I think it’s called. Yeah, I can’t wait to dig into that. I guess those are the two main Asian artists I’ve been following outside of Australia. Who else is there? It’s hard. I mean, I shouldn’t be thinking this hard! Obviously, it goes to show that there are not enough. There’s very little representation. 

I’m just thinking of other ethnic minorities as well, like Bartees Strange, who I’m excited about seeing tonight. And Vagabon!

I have one last question for you, and it’s based on one of the songs that you have on your album. What is your favorite David Lynch film?

That is so hard. I don’t know! I think they’re all so good. David Lynch film… the Twin Peaks film wasn’t so great. I love the series. I love the series!

Probably Mulholland Drive, because it’s just a bit… they’re all pretty extreme. Blue Velvet’s pretty extreme. [I’d say] the Twin Peaks series. That’s probably my favorite.

Nat Vazer’s latest album which was referenced in this interview, Strange Adrenaline, is out now.

This interview was conducted by Li-Wei Chu in-person at SXSW in Austin, Texas in March of 2023.

Header photo by Benjamin Joel.

Artist pages: Website | Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Spotify | X (fka Twitter)


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