Natty interview: Release the fear

Henry Lewis caught up with the singer songwriter, ahead of a massive UK tour.

Henry Lewis

Last updated: 27th Nov 2017.
Originally published: 24th Nov 2017

Image: Natty (credit)

2018 will mark an entire decade since Natty released his soul ska debut Man Like I, and in that time it's evident that the Londoner has developed massively, not only musically but spiritually too.

Journeys to Africa and South America ahead of writing most recent album Release The Fear, an album that gives credit to Natty's now permanent band The Rebel Ship, provided huge inspiration and those excursions abroad were a huge part of his most recent musical output.

The record itself dips in and out of a range of genres, with grooving afrobeats, soul, ska and reggae all combining in one big mixing pot of roots goodness. Focusing on the celebration of life, what it means to be spiritually wealthy and escaping fear, Natty's second full length release is an almost conceptual affair, ending with a glorious piece of spoken word from George The Poet, a truly great collaboration. 

Ahead of a lengthy UK tour this winter, Henry Lewis spoke to Natty about the MOBOs, artist independence and his immense charity work.

How are you man, what's been going on?

Emails, and public transport - not my favourite kind of day but all good.

How are your tour preparations going? 

It's going well, it's a bit scary being a roots reggae artist in these times. It's a little bit nerve wracking going ahead with tours in this climate but its all good, I'm excited. 

I tour every year, but it just feels strange this time round. Even Halloween was dead, it's not a pun or anything, I just mean I was out on the street and I was like "where are all the children with face-paint on and costumes?" I spoke to a couple of mothers and they noticed it too, everyone just wants to stay in and hide. I think everyone is just fearful of Brexit or something (laughs).

Ahead of recording your last album, Release The Fear, you journeyed to Africa - describe how this influenced you.

Yeah I did a lot of writing out there, and in South America too. A lot of influences were taken from travelling, but also the one thing I realised the more I travelled: the further you go, the more you realise that things are the same no matter where you go. We all experience the two fundamental emotions. Essentially I experienced this, what would you say? brainwave. I'm sure someone has said this before, but every emotion we go through is derived from either love or fear.

The further you travel, the more you realised that we're all pretty similar in situations. Rich poor, this and that. Different situations might turn people into an arsehole or turn them into the best person. We've all got this love and fear and I realised that we are all connected at the root source.

What was it you saw out there?

Poverty. I grew up in an environment where people use the term 'the hood',  like "man's from the hood, yeah I'm from the ends" or whatever else, and so I understood from a western sense of the word poverty. When you go and see slums in Rio or Freetown, in fact the worst I saw was actually South Africa, I've never seen poverty like that. When I say poverty, I mean like squalor in the suburbs (I'm talking about Cape Town here) and then the middle of Cape Town is like European, fine art and buildings so the disparity is huge.

In terms of spirituality and the internal wealth of people, means that they're rich in their spirit and in their heart, it was first world problems. It put a lot of perspective on that phrase.

Are you still doing a lot of charity work here in England? 

I used to do a lot in England but then I was like 'man, people aren't grateful' (laughs) I'm obviously joking. It wasn't so much that, it was like after travelling I released you can't really go broke and starving in London unless you're on a self destructive path. In that case it's probably your own choice anyway. I was doing a lot for children, so I was Patron at The Winch in Swiss Cottage, but I always will do. Every Christmas I'll still do stuff for Crisis but I want to focus a  lot of my attention on Africa, where people actually have nothing, like really nothing. 

We have four schools and an orphanage in this charity that I'm part of, the erase foundation, I've been part of that for about five or six years - my friend actually started it about seven or eight years ago and then I came on after a couple of years, I'm proud of the work we've done. We've sent 17 containers over to Africa, so these containers will have bedding, desks, office materials, cleaning products and things to furnish schools, nurseries and orphanage. I'm going out there in March next year, I get there once a year or every two years if I can. 

I think it's really commendable to do all of this charity work alongside your music career

Thanks bro. 

I spoke to Ghostpoet a few weeks ago and he said something very similar...

Oh Ghostpoet's doing alright (laughs) He's independent but he's not independent. He's got a team, and that team will get him distribution which is essentially like a record deal, you could say within an independent label. 

I don't have a team, I don't have a record deal, I don't have a publisher. I'm a one man band - but, in the industry's defence what can it don't for me when I don't have someone shouting from the rooftops for me. I think a lot of people in the industry would jump on board with what I'm doing and help if there was a lane for me.

If I put out a song, if it's reggae it won't be reggae enough for Rodigan and even then only he will play it, and then it's not pop, it's not urban - you see my thing, it's more personal to me.

You got your first play on GRM daily recently though, hooking up with Akala, Mic Righteous and Raspect Fyabinghi - was it a good experience?

It was with good friends so it wasn't weird or anything, maybe it would have been if it wasn't. Me and Akala grew up a minute from each other's houses, it was one of them where he was in one crew of boys and I was in another but we weren't in the same crew but we knew each other and have done for time.

I've put myself in a position where I've got a lot of music, I've got a new live agent in Diplomats of Sound and they've been cool so far. The band is solidified with key members, its cool. I've got shows booked but I want to get to the next step now.

There are some core members of your band who been a part of your set up for a while nnow, that must help a lot moving forward musically? 

Ah you know. Massively. My bass player Jamel is amazing, in terms of not only as a bass player but he's the band leader. He does the Backing vocals, he makes sure that if we have a new guy that he's up to speed. Really and truly we get by with a little help from our friends. I put them on the flyer and on the album because I feel like what we do right now, they're just as important. 

How was your pre Mobo Awards show? 

It was really good, they didn't know what hit them, I think some people are still reeling form what happened. We just hit them properly, it was good. 

This Mobo pre awards ceremony was somewhere in the docklands in some posh venue, sit down thing. It's just a small awards show with VIPs, champagne, red carpet and all of that. Because the MOBOs have so many categories, they put some of them on at the Pre Awards show, so they did soul, gospel and reggae. It was cool.

It was the first time I've been to places like that, because I was always like 'awards, what? nah' I've always been invited but it's like if you'e not gong to nominate me then why would I go when I've got freinds who can just jam with and watch it with them. It was good to play there, some stuff at the MOBOs can be quite contrived and similar so to do something different made everyone's jaws hit the floor. It was a vibes and the fact we got invited to play it was a nice little boost for us. 

Find Natty tickets below

Manchester - Academy 3, Sunday 26th November

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Leeds - The Belgrave, Monday 27th November

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Birmingham - Hare & Hounds, Tuesday 28th November

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Cardiff - The Globe, Wednesday 29th November

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Southampton - Engine Rooms, Southampton, Thursday 30th November

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Bedford - Bedford Esquires, Sunday 3rd December

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London - The Garage, Monday 4th December

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Brighton - The Haunt, Tuesday 5th December

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Bristol - The Marble Factory, Wednesday 6th December

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Norwich - Norwich Arts Centre, Friday 8th December

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