Photo by Haley Varacallo. Clothing by JO KU BA.

 

With a musical presence that captivates, the lyrics and musicality of pianist and singer Natti Vogel are unique, unmatchably creative and stylistically comedic. His music touches upon a cultural relevancy and new-age trends that are pertinent to his millennial peers. In his song We All Move to Brooklyn, through his lyrics he humorously poses the question “do you think that when we die our souls move to Brooklyn?” which reveals the prevalent gentrification of Brooklyn. Despite his entertainingly witty lyrics, he has coped with a lot of heartache and difficult circumstances before coming back to high school from China at 16. He used piano as an emotional outlet for pain. After much dedication to his craft the following year at 17 ended up being the recipient of New School University Battle of the Bands contest winner and that was when he realized he could make a career out of music. Now he performs world-wide, and his most recent sold-out solo headlining concert at National Sawdust celebrated the release of his 6 track orchestral EP “Serving Body”.

What first compelled you to become a musician? What did the beginning of your relationship with music look like?

By the age of 5, I was already obsessed with conducting operas using chopsticks as batons, memorizing entire Rogers & Hammerstein musicals and spending whole days just listening to hip-hop. That’s the beginning of musical Natti in a nutshell. I had done a lot of poetry and fiction in elementary school, but it wasn’t until middle school that I started writing my own music.

Album art and design by Nicholas Kahn,

What were some traumatic experiences you had that playing music helped you to overcome and how did music help you to overcome them?

My house burning down, my mentally ill brother’s daily abuse (physical, mental and emotional) on top of how little anyone cared about it, my “friends” in high school (and even their parents) betraying me, to name a few. When life boxed me in, I composed songs to write myself out and into a better world of my own making. Songs can be profound spells in this way, and I still create them as self-transformation rituals.

What was the defining moment when you knew you’d dedicate your life to music?

Great question. I think it was shortly after my first very serious, very personal song came to me, called “Headjam” and I knew I had something different, weird, luscious, punchy, dynamic and delightful to offer the world. I saw an interview with Tori Amos where she talked about a pact she made with the muses to never betray them, and I cried because it felt true to me and I ran to tell my literature teacher that I understood my role in the world more fully, as a magician or priest in this ministry of the muses.

Where do you get the inspiration for some of your lyrics? They are quite funny and have an organic flow to them.

Millions of punchy, fun, provocative thoughts come to me to every day and very few end up in a song! I refuse to be bored or to bore in life, and it is as important that the meaning behind the lyrics be potent and layered as it is that the visceral sensation of the sounds of each word feel really delicious to the ear whether you understand the words or not.

How would you classify your music stylistically?

I don’t know! This is a tough one! My songs are so distinctly me, I’ve been told, and yet they sound radically different from one to the next, so the overarching theme is just Natti, it’s just me, I guess.

How would you classify Bowie? Or Bjork? Or Prince? Did they need to provide pithy branding buzzwords to be heard and respected? I don’t ever want to be bored or boring, and my music has evolved so much and cannot but continue to do so. It will always be: compelling, unique, rich, dynamic, sexy, soulful and true. But it will absolutely never box itself into a genre, or two, or even three for that matter.

There was a sinister vibe to “Canibal”, what was your creative concept for that song?

The verses are definitely these slinky, serpentine, unpredictably predatory moments while the choruses explode into this shimmery, naive Ferris wheel of a tune. The very first line came to me, words and music both at once, after an initial attraction with someone who turned out to be influential in my young dating life. There was no concept, just the raw emotion of being desired in the hunt and yearning for something heart-based as well, excited but fearful for all that could (and of course some of what did) go wrong upon opening yourself up to someone.

I love your song “We All Move to Brooklyn”. Why do you think everyone is doing it?

The radiation of greed stemming from socially numb capitalism causes a cycle of exile that is profoundly dehumanizing and exponentially relentless. I’m trying to document it with humor so the tragedy of it can be more digestible and so that we can consciously hold ourselves accountable for being a part of it.

Photo by Steven Jaehnert.

Do you think there is a greater need for the LGBT community to express themselves in a creative way?

A bunch of my friends are calling this two-thousand-gay-teen. Absolutely we are called upon to raise our voices louder and demand more and better representation. Let gay actors play gay roles in Hollywood, stop giving them to straight people, who get all the straight roles anyway. Let gays be multi-dimensional characters, not sidekicks, and let them not act like stereotypes of gays or stereotypes of straights, let them be authentically themselves in all their glory, and let them take up the space they deserve.

What other musicians do you look up to?

I look up to Kehlani – who I had a beautiful, fortuitous, mutually encouraging encounter with yesterday in the village – for being such an authentic, openly queer, vegan WOC artist who came from nothing and devoted her creative life to empowering others (her environmental app FLORA is coming soon).

I look up to Joanna Newsom for fearlessly bringing her unconventional, heart-achingly cosmic visions to fully-formed life, for being the most technically gifted composer of the current bunch of working singer-songwriters under 40.

Follow Natti Vogel on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Soundcloud.

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Alexa Modugno is an accomplished classically trained violist, performance artist, fashionista, social media guru and writer who is passionate about NYC, culture, film and the arts.