Natalie Prass, LARPing, and having to be a person

Nashville Scene

I wrote almost 1000 words on Natalie Prass’ self-titled album before deciding to scrap the entire post for various reasons.*

I don’t want to “review” Prass’ album. You can go and listen to it yourself. You should go listen to it yourself.

Instead, I want to talk about a specific aspect of Natalie Prass that I haven’t really been able to stop thinking about since I’ve listened to it.

In 2013, Nashville Scene interviewed Natalie Prass, revealing that the singer-songwriter spent her adolescent summers going to LARP camps in Massachusetts (LARP stands for “live-action role-playing”, for all the nerds who aren’t in the know – I recommend the documentary Darkon if you want to know how awesome LARPing is). This bit of trivia has been floating around since then, being picked up in various interviews by various music news outlets (Here, here, and here are a few in which the topic comes up).

It’s a charming story and a reminder of those painfully awkward middle school years, when you’re trapped between being a (allegedly) cool teen and a kid who just wants to play make believe. For Prass, LARPing was a means in which she could express herself creatively. In that Grantland piece, Prass said “I put all of my energy into pretending I was someone else, battling and screaming and all that stuff.”

LARPing is one of those things everyone hears about the first time and laughs it off. But I think there’s something unappreciated about the art of fantasy role playing.

What better way to empower anyone than to allow them to construct entire worlds at their own whim? What better way for someone to navigate through their formative years and really come to terms with identity?

And as much of an amusing anecdote as Prass’ LARPing years is, it informs much of what her album is about for me. Talk to anyone or read almost any review of Natalie Prass and they’ll talk about the production and Prass’ bare sincerity. They’ll talk about break-ups and love and all the things the album is undeniably really focused into.

But what’s interesting to me is that the way the album is constructed. It’s like a soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist. Not just with how the songs -sound- either (God knows how many times the song It Is You has been compared to an old Disney film, and rightfully so).

I always get the sense that in her lyrics, Prass plays around with characters. Every song is written in first person and they’re all incredibly personal. But it never really feels like the same person or the same relationship she’s singing about from song to song.

It’s like Prass continually embodies a different person to work out all these relationships. From the disaffected narrator of the opening track, My Baby Don’t Understand Me, to being a jilted lover in Christy, and to this person who is head-over-heels in love in It Is You.

Storytelling in music isn’t anything new. I think people gravitate towards narrative in any medium, It’s relateable and easy to grasp. And like any sort of creative pursuit, an awful lot of it is bad but sometimes it’s really great.

But what I feel like Natalie Prass is doing isn’t just storytelling.  I never get the sense that these are tales spun as allegories to real experiences. These are real experiences.

In none of these songs does Prass ever suggest these narrators aren’t her. There is no “asking for a friend” moment here. And yet, I can’t shake the thought that she’s singing as herself, necessarily.

I think Prass has done something exceptional. Beyond just writing these songs (gorgeous and layered and lush as they may be). It’s like in each song she’s compartmentalized an aspect of herself that she grapples with. Cynicism, desire, self-loathing, idealism. A moveable feast of horrendously vulnerable, human traits that many of us would feel ashamed about framed in the context of various shattered relationships.

And in such a way, each of these aspects of her self are molded into these characters like they would be in a film or a play. They’re characters defined by their flaws and by these singular moments in time. Taken separately, each of these songs are about heartbreak, sure.

But viewed as a whole I think what this album means to me is really what it’s like to just have to cope with being a person. An utterly complex human being with contradicting emotions and thoughts and personalities having to navigate a world and form relationships with other equally complex human beings. And sometimes these people hurt us. And it’s bad and messy and sometimes it feels like the cost of being human is too much. But we move on. Hopefully to greener pastures.

As corny as it is, I think that’s what I’m so drawn to about this album. In its totality, it’s an earnest portrait of these familiar, human experiences. It’s mostly heartbreak and sadness and disappointment. But there’s an awful lot of that in life, and the album concludes very beautifully with this affirmation that would be laughably earnest if it didn’t feel so real.

I’m not sure where I’ve really gone with this. Maybe nowhere. Maybe this amounts to nothing but an observation taken too far. Or a lot of overthinking and overreaching on my part. I don’t know. I like this album a lot.

* It was something I drafted a month ago, picking at it little by little whenever I could force myself to write. Writing it and thinking about it became a chore and I honestly didn’t think I had anything interesting to say that any review didn’t already cover. It did include a pretty obtuse comparison to Pavement’s Slanted & Enchanted though (which I still stand by!)**

**This second post I started about month ago (after I wrote that first note). So this post has just kind of been sitting here for almost two months and I really didn’t know where it was going to go. It just started off as linking the LARPing thing with how I felt about the album and now we’re here. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it is what it is.

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