Lockdowns 1-3 produced all kinds of unexpected things in our lives. Baking obsessions. Much comfier wardrobes. Scarily accurate Netflix algorithms. But for rising star (AND early-rising receptionist) Natalie Gray, this utter sh*tstorm of a year has only gone and produced her first solo album.
Having been snapped up by the savvy sorts down at Aztec Records, she’s entering the post-apocalyptic world as a signed artist with all kinds of exciting stuff in store. Given that most of us are buzzing to just be able to go to a pub, with friends, wearing actual shoes? Well, we thought we’d send blogger Kat to get all the goss and give us a bit of a vicarious thrill.
So first of all, can you please tell me more about your relationship with Gymbox?
I work as a receptionist at Gymbox! I was known as The Morning Girl because I love a morning shift. Being a singer, I'm used to working really late nights, so I love getting up early and actually having the whole day to do things. I finish at Gymbox, then I workout and I've got my whole day ahead of me. Covent Garden is my home club, but I've done Bank and all the other ones really. I've worked at Gymbox now for five years. That is absolutely terrifying, the time has gone so quick. I think my anniversary is coming up next month!
How long have you been singing for?
My mum always says I could sing before I could talk! I don't think she appreciated it [laughs], but I've always been loud. So I've been singing and writing since I was a kid. I went to a musical theatre college in London, Italia Conti, and trained in musical theatre. I graduated and was still writing and singing, but was very much like, "oh, I love dancing and I want to do it all."
I've done a few tours and a few musicals and I've done Edinburgh fringe a couple of years ago, but I always came back to writing my own stuff and being my own artist. I just think there's something so great about being able to put my feelings in a song and then go, "this can mean anything to anyone," rather than taking on a character from a show.
How did the signing to Aztec records come about?
Basically, I had a moment in lockdown (I think everyone did) of going “what am I doing with my life?!” I've actually got PTSD from an attack years ago and during lockdown I kind of let it take over me. I put massive barriers up with music and got really in my head and was like, "I'm very anxious. I don't want to release anything because what if people hate it? And what if I fail?"
I had a really brutally honest conversation with my friends and family and they were just like, "well, it's either now or never, no? Why are you sitting on all this music? If you release it and people hate it...so what?!” I kind of had this revelation of being like, you know what, I don't really care if people hate me or if they like me or not, as long as I like me and I love the music I'm making...Why not release it!
After that, I had a day of reaching out to loads of labels and calling in favours. I've been quite lucky, I had a song come out with Joel Corry and Billy da Kid two years ago which did really well - we were on Celebs Go Dating and it was all over Radio One - but I was too scared to do anything about it. During lockdown, I just went "sod it, I'm gonna just release some music.” Then Aztec Records got in contact with me and they were like, "we love your music – we'd love to do an album with you!”
What was the song that made Aztec records get in touch with you?
I actually released a song a few years ago called ‘Live in Love’ which I debuted at London Pride. I do a lot for Pride in London, I'm very much a big LGBTQ+ ally - I'm at all the rallies, I'm that girl! All the glitter and all the sequins, I'm there. So I decided to release the single then.
I love 80s synthwave music. I grew up on Whitney Houston and Madonna and Chaka Khan and Prince. I was never into like, Take That or anyone like that! I was all about the 80s. So when ‘Live in Love’ did quite well, I kept writing that type of stuff and I sent a few demos that weren't even really finished to Aztec. The new single, ‘My Toy’, is the song they heard and were like, “this is great, why isn't this released?!”
Whenever I've been out for Pride or at a LGBTQ+ event, the music has always been so uplifting and it's just such good vibes everywhere. You definitely get that atmosphere across in your music.
That is one thing with Pride, it’s always like "you've had a bad day? Let's talk it out, let's dance it out, let's go have fun" and I love that, so I really appreciate that. I had an interviewer once who was like, "oh, your music is reminiscent of early Madonna and Kylie.” and I’m like well, a lot of Kylie and Madonna's fanbase is the gay scene! Those artists give so much recognition to their gay followers and their trans followers, I'd love to be seen in the same category as them.
The fact there's been no live music this last year has sucked. If you could pick anywhere to sing and perform for your first post-pandemic performance, where would you pick?
I'm from Reading originally and it's a rite of passage as a kid to go to Reading festival. Playing that festival has always been like a massive goal for me because it's my hometown and it's where I first discovered how much I love music! So I would love to play Reading festival. I mean, that would be great for a first gig back. But I'll happily settle for anywhere to be honest, anywhere where there's people and fun and live music.
What are some of your goals as a singer for the next year?
I mean, the dream would be to be in the charts with my music! I've got a few dance tracks coming out as well as the synthwave stuff with Aztec, so the goal is by the end of the year to be in the charts. But to be honest, I will happily settle for people just enjoying my music! I would love to get this album out and for it to do really well and people listen to it and like it.
I think I spent so long feeling self-doubt and double guessing everything and thinking, "oh, but it might fail," and not enough time going, "but it might not, and who cares” because one person out there might really love it. And if I like it, there must be someone else out there who will...my mum definitely will! [laughs]
You can find our blogger Kat’s Insta here.