The stage at PNC Bank Arts Center is the site of two milestones for singer-songwriter Natalie Farrell. Years ago, she walked across it while graduating from Old Bridge High School. And earlier this summer, she opened up for George Thorogood and Sammy Hagar there.
Same stage, vastly different circumstances. It took Farrell and her bandmates a minute to realize the gravity of the moment.
“It didn’t hit my guitar player until later that day,” explains Farrell. “He was in a music video shoot and wanted to watch the Rangers game. It wasn’t until a couple hours before we got on stage where he was like, ‘Yo, we are really about to play at the PNC Bank Arts Center?’ And I was like, there it is. We met up with each other before and talked about the setlist, and what we will play depending on time.
“Once we got on stage, our nerves went away and it felt like playing a show at the Wonder Bar. It felt very euphoric for four to five days after, and it was the highlight of my music career so far.”
Opening up for rock and roll legends is an experience in itself, but for Farrell, getting back on stage was an accomplishment, especially considering what she has gone through the past couple years.
In 2020, Farrell was diagnosed with Muscle Tension Dysphonia (MTD), a voice disorder caused by allergies, stress, anxiety or illness. Farrell noticed that something was off with her voice during the start of 2020. By summer, she completely lost her voice and went to an ear, nose and throat specialist because of vocal tension. It was there where it was confirmed she had MTD, and she had to go to speech therapy to regain her voice.
“Speech therapy was difficult, and there were moments there where I felt lost and had an identity crisis,” says Farrell. “When you lose your voice as a singer, you’re like, ‘What do I do?’ or, ‘What if my voice never comes back or isn’t the same?’ It was tough, but I have my speech pathologist to thank, and she was super helpful. It was a lot of work, and I had to do stretches for my neck and say weird vowel sounds. It was tiring, but it was the best feeling hearing my voice come back.”
While other musicians were making music during the quarantine period, Farrell wondered if she was ever going to make music again. There were times during speech therapy where the pop singer-songwriter thought about giving up, but she pulled through.
“There was nothing more that I wanted than just put myself in a fetal position and say I quit at life,” says Farrell. “But you can’t give up on yourself because you are the main character of your story. Don’t give up and keep yourself close no matter how hard it gets.”
Farrell dives into her experience in the song “Keep Me Close,” which was released at the end of 2020. The song was written long before her diagnosis, but the meaning of the song changed after it, and now it’s more of a song about celebration after overcoming MTD.
Even though she has learned to overcome MTD, she still thinks about it before she gets on stage, and she avoids certain foods before she performs.
“It is something that I think about every time I perform now,” explains Farrell. “I do have to watch what I am eating or drinking because certain things can make it tighten up again. I also have to remind myself not to stress myself out as well.”
You can hear Farrell’s voice shine at a release show at the House of Independents on Sept. 2. Farrell likes to have different themes for her performances, and this one has a rave theme.
“I thought about doing a rave,” says Farrell. “I was looking up outfits online to change the aesthetic on stage, and a lot of the things I found online were colorful, holographic, futuristic and out there. The more I kept looking at these outfits, the more I realized that there was a rave aesthetic.”
The single that will be released during the show fits the rave bill as well. Farrell will be celebrating the release of her song “All Nighter.”
“The song goes in a different direction than what I have been doing,” explains Farrell. “Lyrically, musically and vocally, we are taking a new direction as pop goes. I liked how Christina Aguilera went through all of these different phases in her career. She had Burlesque, ‘Dirrty,’ and ‘Come On Over Baby.’ It’s kind of like how I am feeling right now, and I’m entering this new stage of my life. I’m getting older and I need to own my woman side more. For the longest time, people have seen me as this pretty young face and fresh. I love that and we all want to age gracefully, but this time around I wanted to hone in on my life, being a woman and my sexuality. There are a lot of different sides to people that we should embrace.
With “All Nighter,” Farrell embraces her different sides that haven’t really been explored in her previous songs.
“’All Nighter’ is about pulling an all-nighter with a guy that you are into,” says Farrell. “It’s sexy, it’s pop, and a whole new direction.”
Earlier this summer, Farrell released “Fake Authenticity,” a song that launched the new, poppier direction that she is leaning into.
“We are heading in a pop direction, but wanted to keep the signature Natalie pieces going,” says Farrell. “We worked with our buddy Nick Ryan, and he did a great job with it. The song was exactly what we were going for. It was the perfect amount of synths with live instruments.
“Lyrically, I wanted to write about a social media situation because social media is taking over our lives now more than ever. You see things online that make us want what they have or to be someone else. I went through that process during the making of this song. I would look at celeb pages and be like, ‘I want to look like this or I want to live this luxurious lifestyle.’ But at the end of the day social media doesn’t make you a better person or help you grow. I was tired of the fake authenticity of being online and that’s why I wrote the song. It’s a ‘screw you social media’ song, and we need to return to people being their most authentic self.”
As an independent artist, Farrell does realize the need for social media to promote shows and music, and she tries to find a healthy balance.
“Not a day goes by where I wish this didn’t exist,” says Farrell about social media. “Me, personally, I do struggle with it, but I try to find a good balance. I notice if I am on social media too much or I am trying too hard to get my message across in a post, I’ll have to put it in a draft and walk away. Sometimes I’ll take a couple weeks off of social media, and I know it doesn’t benefit me and it’s something I’m working on because I could put myself out there to a newer audience.”
Having her release show in Asbury Park means the world to Farrell, and she has always loved going to the beach. A native of Brooklyn, Farrell and her family would go to Rockaway Beach as a Sunday treat each week during the summer. Now a Jersey resident, the beach represents an area where her music career launched.
“Asbury will always have a big place in my heart,” says Farrell. “It’s the first time I entered a community that was so welcoming and supportive. Musicians support each other and come out to other people’s shows. I feel very grateful to come from that town.”
Natalie Farrell will be performing at the House of Independents on Sept. 2 with Blaise, Dano and Taylor Tote for the Rave Release Show. Ticket information can be found here.