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July 16, 2007 | by  | in Music | [ssba]

Nina Nastasia

Celebrated New York folk singer/songwriter Nina Nastasia is not a morning person.

Due to a press agent miscommunication (and an admittedly substantial amount of personal journalistic ineptitude), I managed to make my Wellington-London interview call to Natasia three hours ahead of time. Consequently, when the call finally connected I found myself coaxing her out of a dream and into interview mode at six AM, London time. She took it fairly well: “Hey, you know, you did wake me, but I have to catch an important train soon and I would have slept through it if you hadn’t called. So, yeah, thanks.”

What followed was probably the most hazy, drawled phone conversation in the history of music journalism. In light of the fact that I had just rudely woken the poor girl up in the midst of a demanding UK tour, my questions seemed trite and meaningless. There were about a dozen instances in which I was sure she’d hung up on me in frustration. Luckily she was too nice to do so.

Since the release of 1999’s Dogs, Nina Nastasia has made five beautifully intimate albums, full of perfectly crafted songs shaped to sail on the air and nestle themselves comfortably in your mind. Her voice is versatile, able to be stretched thin and fragile in vulnerable verses and then rebuilt large and strident for more assertive statements. Her graceful guitar playing moves with subtle grandeur and warmth underneath the sweeping colourful arcs created by her marvellous lyrical wordplay. In other words:- she’s not bad.

She’s one of the few songwriters alive who can sing the words “I always dreamt of the day I would bury you” in one song, and then deliver lines like, “We lie close to the ceiling/I think of children in our home,” in the next without coming off as insincere. Unfortunately just after being woken up is not the time to discuss lyrical manoeuvres, so I stick to safer topics. “When did you start making music?” I ask tentatively.

“After I moved to New York in 199…uh, yeah the first album was in 1999…wait, what was the question? Oh right, yes. Ah, it was roughly 132 years ago. No, let’s just say it was sometime in the 90s, that’s easy for me to remember. Sorry, it’s early.”

Nina’s most recent album, You Follow Me, is a collaborative effort with legendary Dirty Three drummer Jim White. The pairing of these two is marvellous; Nastasia’s more direct approach to her music is underpinned by White’s characteristically loose and unstructured playing style, giving the album a sense of defined depth. It’s a multi-faceted work of supreme craftsmanship, and one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve ever heard.

“Yeah, it’s been fantastic working with Jim,” says Nastasia. “We’ve been working together for a while now, since Run to Ruin, so it’s not really a new thing, but it’s a good thing. We took a lot more deliberate approach with his parts for the last album, tried to really pin down the drum arrangements, so I guess it’s different in that respect.”

Fortunately for us, Nastasia will be playing a show at Bodega on Friday. “I’m really excited about that,” she says. “I’ve never been to Australia or New Zealand before. It’s going to be really fun.” I warn her about our current somewhat icy climate, but she has no fear. “Oh man, that will be awesome. I really love the cold.”

Since her move to New York, Nastasia has become one of the city’s most revered live acts. She has a penchant for playing smaller venues, where the immediacy of her delivery is likely to be more directly felt by the audience. I ask her what she loves the most about performing.

“When it goes well. That’s the best, it’s fantastic. I think for me, it’s as if there’s a real affinity between the audience and myself, which makes performing really fun. Sorry if I’m sounding vague, but it’s hard to explain.”

And then it’s time for Nina to catch her train. I thank her and ask her if there’s anything she’d like to say to her New Zealand fans. “There are some?” she asks. I inform her that, yes, although there are very few people in our country, there are definitely a few fans, and we’re elated about her visit. “Well,” she says, “that’s good. That’s great. I’m excited too.”

Nina Nastasia and Jim White play Bodega on Friday July 20. Tickets are $25 from Slow Boat.


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