Wendy Rose has been writing about the NL arts & entertainment scene since 2012. As a live event reviewer, a former employee of Fred’s Records, and a juror for numerous music awards, Wendy is slowly overcoming her imposter syndrome as a music reviewer who can’t play an instrument or sing. In February's issue, she spoke with Natasha Blackwood about her debut album, Ease Back.
Natasha Blackwood released her solo debut album, Ease Back, in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut down the music industry as we knew it. Despite not being able to attend album launches or live shows this year, music lovers did have much more time to simply listen - and Ease Back is worth a listen.
A concept album exploring grief after the loss of a child, the record begins with “Triage,” a dreamy, melodic pop song, one of many genres explored on this 11-track album. “What I’d Give” evokes adult contemporary jazz with a dash of funk and soul, while “Not Today” is more reminiscent of alternative psych-pop, with Kira Sheppard’s harp. “Sci Fi and Sad Songs” has big band jazz energy, thanks to Jazz East Band, while “A Boat on the Ocean” is a real country/folk song, with Kim Deschamps’ pedal steel.
Nearly 100 musicians and singers were involved in this project, from the core rhythm section of Leon White, Andrew Strickland, Paddy Byrne, Ryan Kennedy and Chris Donnelly; to All-Nations Women’s Drum Group Eastern Owl, Jazz East Big Band, members of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, and Lady Cove Women’s Choir and many more.
I was expecting a somewhat sad and sombre album considering Blackwood’s inspirational subject matter. However, this album - made for Margo Melissa Blackwood (“born and gone on September 13, 2016”) - is truly for anyone who has experienced loss of any kind.
Q&A with the Artist
Wendy Rose: This is your debut album under your name - but we know you from a lot of projects around the city [e.g. Eastern Owl, Jazz East Big Band]. When did you start creating solo material for this project?
Natasha Blackwood: I’ve been writing songs on my own for a long time, but I’ve always been shy of the spotlight. I started writing this collection of songs in 2016, when my daughter passed away. Once I had 10 [songs] finished, I kind of realized that they might be something special, something worth stepping out of my comfort zone for. It is pretty heavy subject matter, so it took me a long time to build up the guts to share them, even with my partner or my band… I waited 30 years to finally hold my head up and do my own thing, I wanted tot ake the time to do it right.
WR: Recorded pre-pandemic, this album features a whopping 94 musicians. How does an artist manage to work with such a high number of collaborators?
NB: We did everything in sections… I had a very elaborate, slightly embarrassing, vision board for this record. It really helped to have the big picture and be able to break it down into smaller, attainable parts: First, we do the band, then the horns, then the strings, then the harp, then the pedal steel, then the backup vocals, then the choir, then Eastern Owl! While we were recording one layer, I’d be in the middle of writing parts for the next layer. It was monstrously time-consuming, but everyone was so excited and was playing so well that it was an excellent motivator to keep pushing through… It takes a village to make a record like this. When I first wrote these songs they made me so sad, but I feel happy when I hear them now because I just feel overwhelmed with gratitude.
WR: You released this album just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut down the music industry. How does a band pivot their plan to creating music while working with social distancing and other current restrictions?
NB: To be honest, I haven’t pivoted well. The record had 94 people, and after it was finished I rearranged and re-rehearsed the songs to work with 27 people so wecould perform it live. Our album release was scheduled for March 14 - the very day that the LSPU Hall shut down for COVID. Horns were shined, amps were rented, dresses were steamed, celebration food was ordered, and we just had to give up and walk away.
On the album I sang and played woodwinds, so during the lockdown, I had to figure out how to play them by myself, on guitar and piano. I did a couple of solo live-streamed shows, but I quickly learned that it isn’t for me. I have general anxiety disorder and I don’t think I’ll ever be a true “solo” artist. I love to make music but I just don’t like it when all eyes and ears are on me alone. I need a band.
WR: Ease Back earned you two MusicNL nominations - Rising Star and Jazz/Blues Artist of the Year. What was your reaction to seeing your name on the list twice?
NB: Surprised, I guess. It was really overwhelming. I couldn’t talk about it or answer anyone’s texts about it for two days. Since I couldn’t share the music the way I imagined, sometimes it feels like it never even happened, or that it doesn’t matter. Getting recognized alongside artists that I respect and admire was really validating for me, like OK, maybe we made something special after all.
Click here to listen to Natasha Blackwood and her ensemble perform "What I'd Give"