Nina Nastasia: From the heart, not the throat

Nina Nastasia prepares to tour the UK with two unexpected new band-members
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Nina Nastasia's last album was called Run to Ruin, and it featured an animal skeleton on its sleeve. The one before that was called The Blackened Air. On stage, Nastasia usually pins her dark hair back in a severe, old-fashioned braid, like a schoolteacher in a horror movie. She writes songs about weakness, fear and heroin, and has them engineered by Steve Albini, the dark dynamic genius behind Nirvana's bleak swansong, In Utero. In short, Nastasia doesn't do sunshine pop.

Nina Nastasia's last album was called Run to Ruin, and it featured an animal skeleton on its sleeve. The one before that was called The Blackened Air. On stage, Nastasia usually pins her dark hair back in a severe, old-fashioned braid, like a schoolteacher in a horror movie. She writes songs about weakness, fear and heroin, and has them engineered by Steve Albini, the dark dynamic genius behind Nirvana's bleak swansong, In Utero. In short, Nastasia doesn't do sunshine pop.

So it comes as a surprise that, in person, the American singer-songwriter is a picture of cheerful sprightliness, and lists the Pontin's holiday camp at Camber Sands as one of her favourite places in the world. "I'd like to move there permanently," she says of the site of the All Tomorrow's Parties alternative-rock festival, at which she has played twice. For now, she contents herself with living in Manhattan, where she moved from Hollywood.

Nastasia didn't write a note of music until she was 25. "I studied piano when I was little," she says. "And I always enjoyed singing, but I was never in a band. I never really thought to pursue music." The years before she began writing were taken up with the sadnesses and tragedies that inhabit her songs. She won't be drawn on the details, admitting only that "most of them are pretty personal, so sometimes singing them will remind me of something that's sad." She also understands why people say that her music feels haunted: "Well, I've felt pretty haunted sometimes... people I've loved that have died..."

Her first album, Dogs, from 2000, was re-released in the UK yesterday. The girlish singing contrasts with the powerful voice on Run to Ruin, but the album, which Albini named as one of his all-time favourites, is more varied. Though she was accompanied only by Dylan Willemsa's viola and Joshua Carlebach's accordion at All Tomorrow's Parties, Nastasia's usual band surround her clear voice in a storm of discordant strings and percussion that makes her one of the few introspective singer-songwriters whose concerts can captivate even those unfamiliar with her records.

Her latest tour features two additions: Kaigal-ool Khovalyg and Sayan Bapa of Huun-Huur-Tu, the most successful group to come out of Tuva, a region on Russia's Mongolian border. Huun-Huur-Tu's records combine throat-singing with traditional songs about love, horses and the steppe that work with a similar lyrical economy to that of Nastasia's brief tales. Khovalyg and Bapa will play several stringed instruments, including the igil, which provides an eerie background and staccato rhythm to their songs, much as the viola and cello do on Nastasia's records.

There are clear affinities between her music and Huun-Huur-Tu's, though the famous throat-singing won't be heard. "I've asked them not to do any of that," Nastasia says.

'Dogs' is reissued now on Touch & Go; Nina Nastasia tours the UK from 14 to 22 June (w ww.cmntours.org.uk)

Comments