Natalie Imbruglia interview: "Sometimes you just have to be bold and brave"

We talk to the singer-songwriter about her long-awaited comeback to music.

After six years in the pop wilderness, Natalie Imbruglia has made her long-awaited return to music with Male; an album which sees the Aussie singer-songwriter take on songs solely by - you've guessed it - male acts, including Daft Punk, Damien Rice and even The Cure.

But what triggered a comeback now? And will we see another original album from the star in the near future? We sat down with Natalie to find out.  

Hello Natalie! Male is your first album in six years; are you excited to be back?

I’ve been telling people it’s been five years but I actually haven’t counted on purpose! Has it really been that long? My last album Come To Life only came out in the UK for a second. It seems to be a running theme that I do things in six/seven year cycles, which is weird.

Well you’ve been away for ages and the music industry has changed a lot during that time. Was the prospect of returning to music ever a daunting one?

In a way it’s great because I took a break so I feel like I’m learning a new industry again. I don’t feel jaded, I’m just excited to learn how it all works these days. Before, there was no online media department! It’s very different. I’m also signed to an American label but I live in the UK so everything feels like it’s taking that bit longer. Honestly, it all feels very nice and easy and relaxed. I’ve had a really warm reception from the public, which is lovely!

MORE: Look back at Natalie Imbruglia's Official Chart history

We imagine making a musical comeback is quite a big undertaking; how did you go about it?

I missed singing, but initially I wasn’t looking for this. I met one of my managers in LA and he convinced me to meet with some people and it sort of just happened. I said I wasn’t going to get back into music unless we did it my way and with the right people, and everyone has been really great. The point from that meeting to signing a deal with Sony Masterworks to having the album finished was really, really quick.

I’d also just booked myself in to do a play, so we recorded the album pretty quickly so I could go and do the play before the release. It’s been a whirlwind and it’s a very difficult industry, so I feel grateful to have a label that got behind me.

Image: Pierre Toussaint

Having been away for so many years, was there a certain amount of ‘rediscovering your place in pop’ to do?

Not really, because I've never felt like I fit in to the music industry. Even after my first couple of albums, I wasn’t quite sure where to place myself. I was never the sort to put on a big show with a big outfit and lots of dancers, but I also wasn’t a band. Also, I was never a Radio 1 act, I was always more Radio 2. The main thing was working out if there’s still a fanbase there and there’s seems to be, which I’m so grateful for.

The album is a fairly straightforward idea on paper, but you haven’t taken the easy route, covering songs by Zac Brown Band and Death Cab For Cutie. How did you approach them?

Well [producer] Billy Mann is brilliant. He and [musician] Christian Medice did a great job with the arrangements. It was important for me to work with a great producer who was confident about making choices. In the end, it was about which songs I was drawn to and what I wanted to express. There’s lots of songs about love lost and love in the future, so once we’d discovered that theme, it helped us eliminate lots of songs that didn’t fit that idea.

Before I got in the studio, I’d never even heard of Zac Brown Band – that was Billy’s suggestion. I thought, there are no rules to this, I don’t necessarily need to solely pick songs that changed my life – some are just songs I was loving at that moment or I’d recently discovered.

Which was the most challenging song to tackle?

Friday I’m In Love I was most nervous about because Cure fans are pretty hardcore. It’s been switched up a lot as well – it’s almost a hoedown! Sometimes you just have to be bold and brave. We flipped the song on its head. Not everyone is going to love it but I don’t care – it’s my most fun song to do live, and I’m a massive Cure fan, so it’s all coming from a good place.   

You’ve covered a Daft Punk song (Instant Crush), which not many people do. Did you have to ask their permission to do it or anything?

Thank god I didn’t have to otherwise they might have said no! The guy who mixed my version of the song also mixed their album, and he loved it. I’m really proud of that song, because it’s so beautiful song and it really lent itself to being reworked (almost) acoustically and somehow feels like me, even though it’s not mine.

Has this album encouraged you back into the studio to record more original material?

It was always the plan - I’ve started recording a new album already. It’s frustrating because I almost want to split myself in two; I’m promoting a new album but I’m also really keen on getting on with the next one. I feel a bit annoyed that I’ve broken that flow. The sessions have been so great that I don’t want to lose what we’re doing. It’s early days though, so what I’m doing could completely change come January.

You must have some old unreleased songs knocking about that you could tidy up?

I’ve got loads of unreleased stuff sitting on my computer, and they’ll probably never be heard! I don’t go backwards. I do go back and listen to them occasionally, but I’d feel weird about re-working them or finishing them off, because they were left unfinished for a reason.

And what does brand new Natalie Imbruglia in 2015 sound like?

I guess this new album is a good segue between my older stuff and the future stuff. I’ve tried to identify what is it that I like in the music I listen to, which is much more alternative than what I put out. I try and communicate that to the songwriters and we’ve created a sound bed to work off, rather than writing songs with a guitar and tried to produce them later, which can be tricky.

I’m inspired by acts like Daughter and Kate Bush. So far there are lots of electronic beats to it, but it’s still very emotional and storytelling. It might well change, but that’s where we are at the moment. We’re just playing and it’s a lot of fun. I’m excited!”

Natalie Imbruglia releases Male on August 21 via Sony Music Entertainment.