Natalie Prass’ excellent 2018 release, “The Future and the Past,” is a deceptively upbeat collection that layers polished pop melodies over deep pocket grooves.
On Friday, Prass kicked off the action on the big stage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival with a powerful performance that showcased her artistic range. Her gauzy vocals caressed the melodies on wistful love songs such as “Never Too Late” and built in intensity as she spat out the words for the more aggressive break up track, “Why Don’t You Believe in Me.”
Onstage she wore a yellow ensemble, a buttoned-up shirt tucked into a flouncy short skirt that she paired with mid-rise maroon boots and white sunglasses with tiny pink flowers on the sides.
We caught up with her backstage after the show to talk about how she goes about crafting a look that complements her music.
Deborah Sengupta Stith: How would you describe your personal style?
Natalie Prass: My personal style is very eclectic. I do love comfort but I also love making a statement. I wear a lot of mixed brands. I wear a lot of thrift store clothes and stuff that people have given me from sale racks. (I like) trying to piece them together to make them look unique.
Talk to me about the outfit you wore on stage today.
So I do love fashion a lot and design. I designed this pink dress that looks just like the yellow dress. It’s basically just a really simple ensemble. It’s a long sleeve button-up shirt with a skirt. I have all these neck pieces that I interchange, a lot of neckties, like a menswear tie.
I like the button-up long sleeve shirt because it makes me feel pretty masculine and then the skirt feels obviously very feminine and (I like) mixing the two.
The yellow dress I wore at ACL, my friend Dominique Jernigan made for me based on the pink dress that I designed. She made it a lot more sculptural so it doesn’t move around quite as much when I’m jumping and not flashing anybody. It’s this beautiful fabric. It’s this thick, almost woven plastic in it, so it’s very shiny. I love it.
You say you like wearing things that are kind of masculine sometimes. What's that about?
I started my first band in middle school. I was the only girl in music where I grew up, in Virginia Beach at the time. So I think I just I feel very comfortable with my masculine side. ... I didn’t realize at the time that I was studying boys so I could fit in, just so I could play music. Now I love owning my femininity within all of the masculinity that I’m surrounded by constantly. I love doing myself up on stage. I like just playing with the two gender roles a lot, with fashion.
(Photos by Erika Rich for American-Statesman)
On your album cover you’re wearing a blazer, right?
Yes, and I’m wearing a bow tie. A real bow tie, and when you open the poster in the middle I’m wearing a skirt. So it’s like super feminine all of a sudden, but on the cover, I wanted to look very androgynous and vintage but also could be timeless.
Is there something powerful about being androgynous?
I think so. It’s very freeing, at least for me. I think there is something very powerful, just blurring the lines with fashion. It’s a fun thing to play with.
PHOTOS: What people are wearing at ACL Fest
I know you had a different album that you were going to release and then the 2016 election happened and you changed it. Did some of that mood feed into your desire to put a blazer on?
I think so, yeah. It made me want to embrace my masculine side a little more ... just being assertive and not double guessing myself constantly. Speaking my mind. Putting my foot down. Things that as a woman I’ve been trained to not do, just being comfortable with knowing what’s best and making sure it’s known.
In your years doing music, have you had moments when you’ve been wearing something on stage that’s made you feel uncomfortable, or the way people responded to it made you feel uncomfortable?
Yeah, it’s interesting. I still don’t wear anything that shows the top of my body. And that, I think, is because I grew up with people commenting on my body all the time. I matured pretty young. I still like to hide all of that. That’s something I realized pretty recently. Even though I’m wearing a skirt and my legs are out, I still don’t like to show off the upper part of my body on stage. It does make me feel uncomfortable, having the guitar there. I would rather just not think about it. I would rather just focus on my singing and my performance and my playing.
I like the way you had all of your dudes matching in blue behind you. Do you always do that?
Yes, we call them the blue boys.
Are they always blue?
They’re always blue. I want to get them some more colors, but right now, they’re always blue.
It sort of frames you. When you’re designing your stage look is that something you’re thinking about?
It’s the same shade of blue as the album cover. The album cover, the background, the scene that’s behind me is that royal blue. I thought that would be a nice way to tie in the whole feel of the album, the look.
As your career has evolved, has style become more of a focus?
I think having a look for each album that’s coming out is becoming more and more important to me than it was in the past. This is only my second album that is out in the world on a major level. But now more than ever, I want to create a mood. I want to create a look, so when someone sees a photo, they’re like, “Oh, that’s Natalie from that era.”
I think there are a lot of artists who are doing the same thing, like St. Vincent.
(This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
In this series that combines music and fashion, Deborah Sengupta Stith talks to musicians about how image plays into their art.