Interview: Natasha Barnes takes us track-by-track through her new album, Real
Natasha Barnes shot into the public consciousness in March 2016 when the Funny Girl understudy stepped in following the indisposition of the show’s star Sheridan Smith, much to the acclaim of critics and audiences. After a whirlwind couple of years, which included playing Fanny Brice at a number of dates as part of a UK tour, Barnes has released her debut album as a solo artist.
Here, Barnes talks us through the album, titled Real, which is available to buy and stream now.
"You Don't Mean It"
When you really sit and listen to this song, you can imagine it falling into a DJ's hands and them thinking “this is amazing”. There’s a huge following for northern souls tracks on YouTube and we loved trawling through that. I love it. It’s bizarre because the woman who sang it originally was called Towanda Barnes, and apart from the football player John Barnes, I hardly hear anyone with my surname.
"Sun, Moon and Stars"
It’s so cool that I didn’t want to touch it – and that’s a running theme with all the original material. It’s very chilled, what I would imagine it’s like driving through Hollywood Hills in a Cadillac on a sunny day. It is saying: “I am good enough for you, and you can realise it or not, I’m not bothered either way”.
Releasing the first single all happened as a bit of a blur, and I just found out I was pregnant too, so there was loads going on. I was so proud of it and I just wanted people to hear it. “Supermodel” was something I connected with straight away, I think a lot of people have felt uncomfortable in a room but decided to have one more drink or chat to one more person before going home. I was going for Paloma Faith vibes with this.
This is a really, really beautiful song. My producer’s lyrics are hopeful, but tinged in tragedy. It’s about the exterior layers we put a lot of value on in modern day live. We put a lot of pressure on what the number on your payslip says or what borough of London you’re in, but this is about genuinely being with someone who is enough as they are.
Home is one of my favourites. It’s the only song I’ve dedicated to someone because I was at the beginning of a relationship when I first recorded it, and it’s about finding that one person that you don’t need to be in a room full of people with to have fun with. In your twenties, you will be dating somebody and having a wonderful time with your mates, but it’s never quite as good when you’re on your own at home. This is about finding somebody who’s your best pal.
"I'm Controlled By Your Love"
This is quite an old-fashioned song. It’s an interesting song because it’s quite of its time. It’s saying ‘I will do whatever you want me to because I am yours’. I’m wondering how people are going to relate to that. It’s kind of an Amy Winehouse-y tune, it sounds like a song that could be on her second album.
"If It's for Real"
This is originally by Porgy and the Monarchs, and a guy sings the original. He’s unapologetically Motown. It was never quite a big hit, but I love it. It’s so bluesy and desperate, it really feels like he’s putting himself through the ringer because he doesn’t want to let go.
"The Only Exception"
This is the song I was most frightened of doing. I’m a massive fan of Paramore so I was a bit hesitant to do it, but we’ve made it so different that it’s more of an ode to what a great song it is, rather than me covering it. With the time signature and rhythm on it, you can imagine it in a New Orleans bar so we did it as an experiment. It’s just showing a different side.
"If You Only Knew"
This has been written about a person bumping into somebody they’ve never quite got together with. They bump into each other and for the first time they’re both single, but they both walk away. So she thinks “why didn’t I ask him out? I’ve fancied him for years”, and writes this song. It’s quite a simple notion, but everyone’s been there.
Recording "People" for the album was about completely turning it on its head. It was about doing it how I wanted to sing it, and no one had ever asked me to do that before. I was terrified of doing it because I’ve done it hundreds of times though sadness, worry, elation, every sort of emotion. We’ve made it very intimate, I was very close to the mic and you can hear breath on it. There’s no belt, there’s no tricks, there’s no riffing. It’s just me singing the song. It’s almost become a separate entity from the musical now, which is the only way I would allow it to be on the album.
Photos credit Oliver Prout courtesy Sony Music Entertainment