Chicago, IL sleeps under a never-ending blanket of clouds making even the native Chicagoans question if their notoriously gloomy winters have ever been this gloomy.
But at a coffee shop tucked somewhere between Wicker Park and Bucktown, the clouds have given way to rays so bright the barista should hand out sunscreen with every cappuccino. That sun is Natalie Grace Alford. She’s a multi-faceted musician spinning dreams from her loop pedals, clarity from her soul and depth from her voice. Each song is beautiful chaos layered and looped into relentless grace to mirror her personality and create a genre she describes as a “candy explosion.” And today, we all want a piece of the shrapnel.
Alford’s fusion of indie, pop, and soul underscores her unique voice that might sound like a gift, but it’s something she’s worked toward her entire life. At age 11, she was in a professional children’s choir where her classical voice training began. When Alford was 14, she stumbled upon her deceased uncle’s tapes of The Beatles Anthology and was captivated. “It sounds cliché, but I just became so fascinated with the history of it all,” she reflected, “especially George Martin. He proved there wouldn’t be Beatles music without the classical.” When Alford realized her ceaseless love for songwriting, she pushed her classical training to match. She attended Carthage College for their music program, spent a term at Oxford studying classical voice and even studied under an opera star who, in Alford’s words, “whipped my voice into shape.”
As her voice was whipped into shape, her lyrics began to mature. “if you take art seriously, you are going to grow and so is the content that you write,” she said humbly. Instead of leaning on love songs, Alford began to dive into the sometimes-dark corners of her mind to confront the states of confusion she lives between. She uses music as a source of venting and a way of coping. “A lot of my music now is just being introspective and trying to figure myself out,” she explained. While many of her songs are upbeat and boast a hypnotic rhythm, a second listen reveals the essence behind her catchy, glorious mayhem.
Streaming her songs reveals her story, but seeing her live is jolting. She uses the loop pedals to shape her sound with Mozart-like mastery while playing the keyboard, singing and unearthing a completely new set of dance moves. The entire experience sets a new standard for multitasking. Her energy pulses through the venue proving her ability to coat each song with her signature fervor. It’s an energy that she works to channel when she’s recording her new album. She records at home, usually at night to avoid the loud birds that flock outside her window. Sometimes she has to close her eyes and picture the audience to let the energy take hold.
“Ohhhh,” Alford screamed and pointed to an overflowing bucket of water at the coffee shop. As the staff rushed to turn it off, Alford laughed, “it looked pretty,” she said with a smile. And it is these moments when the clouds of Chicago part. It’s the way her melodic voice carries when she yells out with unabashed passion; her vault of impersonations that linger on her teeth waiting for the perfect moment. he way she name-drops composers, songwriters and opera singers that I feel like I should know. This is Natalie Grace Alford actively spinning apathy into gold. It could even be the reason birds congregate outside her window when she’s recording—to watch her sunlight peak through the clouds.
Her new album, coming out April 2020, will capture her multi-faceted talent and ever-maturing lyrics with a mixtape-feel. Some songs will push her “electronic candy” sound while others are stripped down to her voice and a piano. If you can’t wait for her new release, you can catch her on February 16th at The Empty Bottle for a charity event called Davefest, listen to her on music streaming platforms, and hear her featured on Just Call Me Ripley.