London-based musician Natalie Shay was cautious about releasing an EP. Using songwriting as her emotional outlet, the 21-year-old was protective of her personal story, and rightly so, as consumers of music it can be easy to underestimate the anxiety some of our favourite musicians ride before creating some of our favourite tracks. It’s through their bravery and fearless honesty that we are able to process our own feelings by having them reflected in front of us. 
Going against her usual style of drip-feeding her music to her fans, track by track, Shay now feels comfortable enough to release a collection of work to pick apart the tangled emotions that come with being in a relationship and the emotional anxiety of a 20-something woman. Titled Naked, it provides a frank account of the very visceral feelings that young love ignites. Amongst these, Shay decided to use the tracks Owe It To You and the eponymous Naked to tackle the very real situation of resisting temptation during the breakdown of a relationship.

By writing her music in such a relatable fashion, Shay creates a long-lasting relationship with her listener. We all go through phases with music, listening to certain tracks on repeat because they tap into an emotion we’re processing at that time. Whether we nostalgically flit through those same chords twenty years down the line or not, the importance of that track is not lost. Music has the ability to strike something deep within in us that we can rarely articulate, it strikes in a such a profound manner that we feel mentally and physically better after we’ve lapped up every harmony. With Naked, Shay hopes to become that shoulder to cry on and that positive boost.
Your first EP, Naked is a heartfelt account of the turbulent romantic feelings that a 20-something-year-old woman feels amidst a tapestry of ‘80s-inspired sounds. What made you want to create this collection of music?
I suppose I’ve just been writing about what I’ve been feeling. I thought, if this is my first EP, I want it to be what I’m feeling right now. I can look back in twenty years and have how I was feeling recorded. The tracks are about relationships and how I was feeling, and then one of them [People Like Me] is about how I feel about the music industry and social media. Specifically regarding how I’ve been feeling right now, not feeling good enough and thinking everyone is doing better than you because everyone’s posting the best things about themselves.
Before this EP, you’d only released your work in a serial fashion, track by track, and in the past you’ve stated that you’re comfortable with that. What’s changed?
I always said I didn’t want to do an EP until I knew that I had people that wanted to listen and until I knew I had the right team working on it. So I have people that like what I’m doing and care about what I’m doing. I’ve got the time, I’ve got the fans and I didn’t want to release it to nobody. It definitely is different, it’s quite exciting knowing that a whole ‘thing’ comes out it’s new and different. It’s good.
This collection is equal parts personal and to the point. Did you ever have a moment of anxiety where you felt like this wasn’t a good idea?
Sometimes I think about what people think about me, but I’m not the only person feeling what I felt. You know when you’re going through something or you’re with a boy and it’s either really good or really bad, you find one song that relates to your situation and you just listen to it on repeat. My goal as a songwriter is to be that song for someone, obviously I’ll never know them but it’s the greatest thing. My lyrics really apply to how I’m feeling and I want someone to be able to relate to them and be like, ‘this is my situation too!’ That’s all you really want as a musician.
The headline track from the EP, Owe It To You is about resisting temptation whilst being in a relationship with someone else. Why did you want to document this situation?
A mix of reasons, it’s something I felt and because people don’t really write about that. I’ve been looking for songs when I’ve been in that situation, desperately thinking, ‘what can I listen to on repeat?’, and out of all these artists I wouldn’t find anything. So I thought, if no one’s really written anything about it, I’ll write one! Girls don’t tend to write about stuff like that and in this kind of way, and I just thought, be honest, why not? We, as women, feel like we’re going to be judged when we’re honest. If guys say something, then everyone’s like, ‘Woo, yeah!’ Then when girls say the same thing, it’s almost like ‘how could you say that?!’ It’s the way people haven’t accepted female writers to say the same things. I don’t know why and there’s no real reason for it other than basic inequality.
If I wrote something like this years ago people would question, but now people won’t say anything though they might think it. Things are changing. I remember when everyone posted all the festival lineups without the male musicians on them. When I was younger no one cared about that. Nobody ever said, ‘oh, there are no women in this lineup’. In the last few years, people are noticing and people are caring. Though they’re not quite there yet, they are getting there! If attitudes are slowly changing I still think it’s a good time to see that change.
You want your music to be an outlet for people who are experiencing the same thoughts and feelings as yourself. Is this a symbiotic relationship? Does music work as an outlet for you?
Definitely, this genuinely works for me. If I’m in a situation, there’s a boy and he’s messed me about and I’m crying because of that, the only way I’m going to get over this boy is if I write a song and try and cover everything I’m feeling in that song. I’ll listen to it on repeat that whole night and cry to it. Then the next day I’ll feel nothing. Getting those feeling out by recording them and having them in front of you to look at really works and makes me feel so much better.
It’s kind of strange I released this song called Whole of Me last year – that was the most honest one that I’ve put out so far. I remember seeing everyone enjoying it and sharing it on Instagram, it’s unintentionally funny because they don’t even know the guy it’s about yet they connected with it so much.
Owe It To You focuses on this feeling of resisting temptation from others during the breakdown of a relationship. Now that the track is released and fans have been listening to it on repeat, what do you want people to take from it?
Owe It To You is very honest and I wrote it with this girl called Katie Ray, who I met while we were at musical theatre school. I feel like, for me, if I’d heard that song when I’d felt that way, it might have made me feel less like a bad person because it’s not such a bad thing. I hope someone hears it and thinks, ‘that’s exactly how I feel and no one was talking about it, but you’re talking about it and it makes me feel better.’ I hope that someone can understand because it’s not a song about doing bad things, it’s just a natural emotion and I want someone to feel as though it’s helped them. That’s the same with all my songs, even if it’s three minutes of their day, and they think, ‘that was cool,’ that’s all I want.
Despite dealing with quite sombre emotions, the actual sound of your Owe To You is so upbeat, filled with synths and guitar riffs that can only be attributed to the ‘80s. What was it that drew you to this sound?
I firstly like it. I think Haim was the first thing I listened to and their production was so different, that new indie pop sound. I remember listening to it and just having my mind blown thinking, ‘wow, this is so incredible!’ I held them up as geniuses, only to play it to my dad. His reply was, ‘you do know all ‘80s music sounds like that.’ I couldn’t believe it! I think it’s really, really clever. Owe It To You is mixed in with a bit of country and that’s because Katie Ray is predominantly a country artist and writer. It just reflects the music I thought we would make, we’re both doing pop. I like the ‘80s stuff and kind of grew up on the country stuff and it touches a little on those genres. It’s my favourite one from the EP, I think.
As we pass another week in lockdown, and rightly so, how do you think the way we consume music will change? Will it remain in a post-lockdown society?
I think it will, I haven’t put anything out yet, so I’m not sure if that will affect anything. But even from posting on Instagram, I know my stats very well and I know what time I post on which days and roughly how many likes I’ll get, already that’s gone up. People are at home and they’re engaging more, in that sense it’s nice, and if people are engaging more, then maybe that will change how musicians operate. People are looking for more.
Personally, I know I’m looking to see what’s coming out every Friday. Normally I don’t really care because before the pandemic I was just a mess of everyday stress and I couldn’t wait for the weekend. I think people are generally becoming more relaxed at home as we spend longer inside. This period of time will definitely change things. I was watching my friend gig [on Instagram Live] and all the comments were so positive, some of them said things like ‘Im clapping!’ It was really nice and lovely, this is what I want to be doing – just watch my friends sing.
Now that Naked is out and enjoyed by millions of fans, what’s next on the horizon for you?
My release show has moved to July. The show was meant to be around the time of the EP, but now I have until July and I can drag out this release. I’ve already started working on the next thing, I don’t know what it is, but I’ve got four songs that I like and I’m already doing remote sessions over Skype with producers trying to finish them up. I kind of know what will come out next, I just don’t know when or in what capacity.
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