Q&A: Crooner Natalie Cruz on R&B

“I hope to always keep the peace within my audience,” says Cruz.

“I’m feeling like I should live timeless,” Natalie Cruz sings, setting the tone for an EP guided by meditations on what it means to live without restraint in the time she’s been given. Throughout Feelings, Cruz alternates between crooning and spitting, her lyrics about the urgency of love and lust simmering over mellow beats.

Cruz’s career as an entertainer began at the tender age of ten, spanning performances at venues of every size, and sustaining an exploration of several genres. The transition between acoustic recording and R&B took place in North Carolina and New Jersey, as Cruz examined which genre would best suit her energy as a performer and a songwriter. Feelings is the result of that exploration.

Cruz spoke to The Triangle Guide about Feelings and how her career as an entertainer began.

What is your origin story? What inspired you to become a musician?

“I grew up in New Jersey playing music as a child, funny enough no one in my family has musical abilities. I had fallen in love with the way this guy at my church played guitar and I had to learn! Thankfully I was gifted a guitar around eight years old and began to teach myself and learn more. I enjoy knowledge, so entering high school I decided I couldn’t graduate until I learned every other instrument available to me in the band room. Now I can play guitar, trumpet (any horn), piano, bass, violin, and anything else put in my hands. I moved around a lot growing up so having one consistent friend was hard to keep, music was something I didn’t have to worry about leaving. My inspiration was the constant smiles I got to put on faces and knowing I was an enjoyable entertainer.”

You started performing at a very young age. What did you learn about performing early on?

“I started performing VERY young, I bounced around from covering songs around ten to thirteen, to joining a few rock bands and traveling a lot more. I was grateful to start so early because I got to learn how a lot of the industry works as far as booking and what the audience expects from the performer. It taught me how to network and market myself at such a young age for so long.”

Your first EP, Through the Night, was an acoustic venture, while your latest release, Feelings, pulls from R&B and hip-hop. What motivated that transition?

Through the Night was written in North Carolina, as some things were not working out for me in New Jersey, I decided to move. This EP was written all on guitar about a rough breakup I had been going through. When I moved I could not bring all of my music belongings so I decided to bring the smallest guitar I had. I felt the acoustic guitar kept this EP in its rawest form, as the chords were just a part of the emotions I was soaking in as the lyrics.

After leaving North Carolina I found myself back in a rock band playing bass and singing backup vocals. As versatile my music style was getting, I figured it was time for me to stop hiding in the background and take my solo career more seriously. I found that I kept resorting back to these bands because the energy on stage couldn’t be matched with an acoustic guitar, Hip-Hop-R&B could change that.”

Did your writing process change as you switched genres? How?

“My writing process did not change too much, being that I write upon emotion for most of my songs. If the music can make me feel something writing is no problem! If the beat or groove of the song doesn’t catch my interest is when it gets a little trickier. I had gotten the beat for “December” off my album Feelings and I wrote to it in twenty minutes! Listening back and back to this single I was set on releasing it as just its own track. Throughout the process of it getting mixed and mastered I had kept writing and expanding my sound to be beyond just my guitar.

My writing process is my best in the car, I like to either record my instrumental or beat and play it on my drives and freestyle in a sense to the tracks, there is inspiration everywhere and in my car I feel most free. I can normally write a full song in the car this way, or the main hook and first verse, I like to consider that my map to my destination which would soon be the completed song!”

In “Timeless,” the first song on Feelings, you describe your desire to live in the moment. The rest of Feelings follows a similar narrative thread, with tracks about the immediacy of love and lust. Did you begin working on Feelings with the intention that all of the songs would be centered around those themes, or did that happen organically as the project developed?

“This is the first time I’ve been asked the story behind the album! Although “Timeless” is the first track on the album, “December” was the first track I had written off of guitar. I had gone to my nine-to-five job a few days later, and I had kept running into conversation about how we work work work and we lose time. I had evaluated that in myself and realized that all I do at work is look at the clock (waiting to leave) hints to the line “I’m feeling like I should live timeless, like I should look at the clock less.” I feel like time is on our side and it’s how we choose to use it. Being that music is my passion, jobs are not my favorite thing to embark in, although we have to do what we have to do to eventually do what we want to do. At the end of the day I had run home and found lyrics I had written working my previous job that had fit perfectly into my second verse after they were rewritten.

At that point in the album, I had two tracks that had gone way too smoothly, but I was still lacking energy in those songs which is where I dove into some fun hip-hop grooves. “Playin” was written next on the album, which is another song about me being such a lover and looking for someone to just let me love them and stop playin’. This album happened super organically being that I wanted to escape the hip-hop/r&b trend of drugs, sex, and money in every song and keep my purity. Everything I write is either real life-based, or watching someone go through a certain situation making every song relatable to someone in some shape or form.”

You’ve played a variety of venues, from Stone Pony to Boardwalk Hall. Do you prefer to play in large venues, or more intimate ones?

“This is a great question. Coming from a fan base of zero, I enjoy performing, being I touch one out of the five people in the crowd, or hundreds out of the largest venues I’ve played. My goal as an artist is to connect and teach others things that I’ve learned through my course of life. Although the energy of a large venue is incredible, I always love the one-on-one personal connections gained from smaller venues.”

What kind of vibe do you want your shows to have? What do you want the audience to take away from seeing you live?

“I want my shows to be a safe, saving place for people to go to and enjoy. I want people to feel at peace as I sing a slower track and embrace their emotions and turn up and enjoy life when we pick up the tempo. At each performance I like to share a different message and I hope if the stranger in the crowd doesn’t enjoy every song, they can at least take from my message I am trying to send them.

As an artist I am also a person, being that I write mostly upon emotion I want to share with everyone that they are not alone on their journey. And although we may have bad days it is not a bad life. I struggle with anxiety and depression daily and I hope if anyone going through the same can take my words and relate and know they’re not alone, and all of our hurdles are bigger than ourselves. I hope I can teach my fans to not only love and receive but to find outlets to expressing their further emotion be it music, art, writing or speaking to someone. I hope to always keep the peace within my audience.”

Who’s another artist you would love to work with? Why?

“If you know me you know Post Malone is my man! Although I listen to so much music in the course of the day, I feel like Post Malone and I have a very similar background and style. I covered his song “Falling Apart” and got such great reactions on Instagram and Twitter. Being that we both grew up listening to so many styles, me and him could really produce a great product of music.

If not Post Malone, it would have to be Kehlani, being her aura and message she sends to the youth are so powerful to me, and is what I look to do throughout my growth as a musician.”


All images courtesy of Natalie Cruz.

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