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[Q&A] Natalia Kills on dark dirty secrets, keying cars, and being the creator not the creation

It took Natalia Cappuccini a few tries and a few years to arrive at Natalia Kills: after moving from acting (in BBC radio!) to music, she went through a number of personas, including Verbalicious-- a nom de plume that she had a minor hit with in 2005 called "Don't Play Nice".

"Verbalicious" is a pretty appropriate description of the 24-year old Brit when I caught up with her a few weeks ago; she may have been in the midst of a brief German tour (what with her recent RedOne/Akon collaboration "Zombie" being a German hit), but she was still able to talk a literal mile-a-minute. We did a feature on her last week as a sidebar to our Robyn feature, seeing as both of them descend on the House of Blues this Friday (with Diamond Rings in the middle of the lineup), but that feature only contained a fragment of the conversation I had with Ms. Kills. For your edification, here is the complete convo:

Why is your album (due out in March on Interscope) called Perfectionist?
Cuz I'm a perfectionist.

Well, duh! But it must mean more than that, right?
Well, I just think we’re all perfectionists, really, from the minute you're born to the day you die you’re looking for the best: in everything you do, whether you’re on a date or you go shopping or you’re on a job interview, you know, you want the best girlfriend or boyfriend, you want to look the best. It’s something that enables us to be ambitious, although if you’re like me if you’re an extreme perfectionist it can destroy you and your life becomes over-run by ideals where you’re always looking for something that doesn't exist.

Now, you’re opening for Robyn in Boston in February; and like her, you got started in the biz at a super-young age. How do you think that has affected your approach, your music?
I think when you do something for such a long time it becomes part of your lifestyle, as your love, as a practice, as an art form, it makes you more healthy minded in the sense that you know exactly what you’re looking for. like, there’s nothing you could offer me, like fame or something that I wouldn’t like-- for example, if you sing like this or take your shirt off or do a really distasteful film or song-- there’s nothing you could offer me that would make me say yes because I know exactly what I'm looking for. I already have the lifestyle that I'm looking for whether I can pay the rent this month or you know,I'm back to being a waitress. what happens with a lot of new artists is they have their identity, they know who they are, and they want to get signed. And they sign to a record label and the label sees all the these things that they want to bring out. and they write a million songs and work with all these producers in all these different styles and genres, they sound and look exactly how they never ever wanted to sound or look, but they made the decision to go along with it because they’re told “oh, just go along with this, it’s your first album you’ll be famous and successful and by the time you get to your second album you’ll have more power”. But then they get to the second album and they have to stick to what they started doing so they don’t lose their fan base and they end up being miserable forever and ever but really really famous and rich.

You have been doing music for a while, but you were in acting first. Did a switch just go off, or was it a more gradual transition from one to the other?
You know what, it’s definitely been an evolution. I started off in acting, but it wasn’t the kind of performing that I wanted to do. And after a while, even though it was nice at the time, I found myself dissatisfied, because I wasn’t the creator, I was the creation. I was interpreting someone else’s vision, and that was exhausting. So I started writing songs that got into some soundtracks and I thought “Oh, ok, the world of acting and music can collide and I can do this”.

Was your music always dark? Or rather, do you consider your music dark?
People call my music dark, maybe because it’s more confrontational than a lot of people are used to hearing, but I'm not sure if it’s the perfect word for it. I think it’s definitely emotional and honest, and I feel like that’s what a lot of pop music used to be, like what I grew up listening to: Kate Bush, Depeche Mode, Eurythmics, and that was considered pop. They were singing songs about, like, making deals with god and hedonism and self-absolution, and all this stuff, and it was perhaps a darker sound but it wasn’t recognized as separate. I don’t think I'm creating my own genre. it’s funny, the first CD I ever bought was Alanis Morrissette and the second was Eminem, and they were both pretty angst-y and aggressive, but no one ever said “Oh, this dark pop” or “dark rap”, that was just what they were singing about, the truth, you know? That the world is full of disappointment and bad relationships and people fucking you over, and why can’t we sing about that? Instead of it all having to be about falling in love, meeting the right person, being in the club and being rich and dancing around, and those sorts of things.

How do you feel about being a new-ish pop artist at this moment, with what’s going on right now?
I’m very pleased with this time, as a new artist, because I definitely feel like I have the right amount of similarities in my sound to what people are really into in a certain way.

Right-- although your stuff has a pretty angst-y edge to it...
I think that there are things that you would scream at a boyfriend during a breakup, the secret dark deep dirty secrets you would tell to a best friend in your most depressed or most angry hour, there’s that part of me in all of us that hasn’t been put in a song, and I think that it should. I mean, if you want to key someone’s car, or cut all their suits up and smash all the photo frames-- if that’s an emotion that we all go through, the release to free ourselves from disappointment or disrespect or distrust, it’s still a freedom, it’s still a celebration even if you are doing it through pain. and I don’t understand why that’s not around.

Yeah, but at the same time you kind of juxtapose those kinds of things with relatively uptempo dance music.
I like the juxtaposition, because I feel like my musical taste, my production sound, still fits the current market to a certain degree. I do like uptempo, I do like to listen to a driving beat, when you listen to a song and it feels like you’re riding on a motorbike. And that’s where we are in music right now, everything’s so uptempo, because you hear it and you can’t do anything but dance to it. But I still try to put my own unique aggression behind everything, despite the tempo or instrumentation, even if it sounds like Black Eyed Peas or Usher or Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga or Rihanna. But my subject matter, the way I write my songs, the way I make my sounds within those parameters, I still feel like it’s different.

I got the chance to speak to Robyn as well this week, and I asked her about the concept of “reinvention” within her music, and she really didn’t see what she did as being at all about a reinvention. Like her, you’ve also had a career where you’ve had to change up what you are doing due to circumstances: how do you view the concept of an artist “reinventing” ones self?
I dunno... I tend not to think about things too much. That’s the one thing you can do, if you calculate all your moves, because the reason people fall in love with you and identify with you is you’re being who you are. And with humans, if you be who you are, you step back and evaluate and think “Ok, I'm going to change this and that and be better and more productive”, but you have to evolve into a state that will trigger that, and I feel like if you sit and calculate “Ooh, how am I gonna get them now, should I dye my hair or go out naked or suddenly start singing about something totally different and bizarre and very esoteric”, people will think “That’s a lot of fake shit, I liked her because she didn’t do that, why would I like her now?” I feel like when we are most honest, we make our best connections. Like, I'm a songwriter, I write my songs, and I'm writing about me, but I'm also writing for me, and people who might have had a similar emotional experience, I feel like there’s that connection, that magical moment when two people who haven’t met each other, totally different ages, different nations, different languages can listen to the same song and think “Fuck, I remember when I felt like that, wow, that’s great”. And it’s like if you start faking it and calculating that, people won’t connect, it just won’t work. I just think it’s better to keep going along and being yourself.

Do you think it’s hard, as a woman in the pop music world, to actually be yourself?
I think that lot of women in pop music try to assert themselves to kind of, you know, try and make themselves more--- you know, they amplify the testosterone. And that’s not how you become powerful, as a woman. The way you do it, I think Robyn does it in a really primal way, which is like to express “I kind of care but I don’t care, that much”. And that’s amazing, that’s powerful. Like, I kind of hate when someone who is clearly a nice kind person goes around in their music like “I’m a bad bitch” or “I’m a rebel”. And you think “No, you’re not!”

It kind of reminds me of something my choreographer told me once, that it’s like a fashion show, being an artist, because if you go out on the runway and all the clothes are pinned instead of sewn together, people won’t notice it. But if you stay out on the runway for too long, the photographers will start seeing threads coming loose, and that’s what being an artist is like, if your shit’s not pinned down right, if it’s not sewn tight and doesn’t fit you perfectly, people will start seeing the threads come loose if you stay out in public, and then you have to start reinventing.
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