Album Walkthrough: Nat Vazer guides us through Is This Offensive And Loud?
On the nine-track debut album, the Melbourne-based musician emerges as one of the country's most exciting new songwriters.
Header image by Benjamin Joel.
There's something remarkably special about Nat Vazer, even if the country hasn't quite worked it out just yet. Since emerging with her earliest solo work back in 2018, the rising musician has blossomed into an essential name within the Melbourne music world and its bright-lit future ahead; her debut track - 2018's Keep Away From Parks - acting as a musical introduction to Vazer she'd later expand and build upon in release after release, each on welcoming her wonderfully potent and emotive songwriting to the forefront in different ways.
Take her 2018-released debut EP We Used To Have Real Conversations, for example. It's a six-strong EP that showcases six different sides of the multi-faceted musician, who flexes between her most charged and rock-ready - the guitar-wielding, mid-00s indie nostalgic Keep Away From Parks being an aforementioned example of that - to moments a little more tender and reflective; Privilege, for example, twisting her music into something a little more slow-stomping and subtle, especially when compared to the earlier moments within the EP.
Skip forward two years, and Nat Vazer's musical evolution feels its most clear-cut on Is This Offensive and Loud?, the musician's debut album and a reminder - or introduction, if you were yet to be acquainted to one another - of her skillset songwriting and its ability to be turned into some of the most beautiful indie to come out of the country this year. Across a sprawling 30 minutes, the musician utilises stinging indie/rock-aligned instrumentals as vessels for lyricism that's both reflective and brooding; an analysis of everything that makes the musician who she is - not just musically - and the tidings that surround her every day life and being.
It all begins with Like Demi, an introduction to the album and the core songwriting that fuels its every lyric and guitar riff: innocent and light-hearted at its surface, but brooding with a more powerful message underneath; a story about wanting a bowl cut like Demi Moore seeping into a deeper message about finding confidence in yourself, and being unapologetic in your true self. From here, the record builds. For A Moment reflects on romance, Higher Places on saying goodbye to someone once in your life, and Grateful welcomes a nod to female role models, and the people Vazer look up to in the ever-going battles of socio-political equality.
However, one of the album's most tender moments comes in Better Now, a track that seemingly brought things together for Nat Vazer, and allowed her to build the record around the themes its many tracks dive through. Written while living in Toronto, it builds upon a story of a young girl scared for her future after decades of school shootings in the US and an increasing emphasis on terror in the media, especially surrounding attacks in Toronto and back home in Melbourne too.
"The songs on this record expose some of my deepest insecurities and there are moments of self-reflection I’ve never been more honest about," she says on the record. "There are songs about my mum having cancer, falling in love with a work colleague, and worrying about how long my partner will love me for while I tell the world how "we fucked in a hurry" ‘cause we’ve been so busy lately we haven’t been able to spend meaningful time together. There are moments of heartbreak and vents about broader world issues, looking at how unreal it feels to be living in a time where Trump is in power, high school mass shootings are common headlines, and things like the Toronto Van Attack keep happening, including in my home city, Melbourne."
As Vazer continues to explain, much of the record stems from this period of self-reflection, and digging deep into everything that makes Nat Vazer who she is, both as a musician and as a complex human being. "The songwriting often poured out like streams of consciousness, pulling me
towards new directions and new ways of self-expression," she explains. "At every turn, the making of this album has asked me to follow my paths of curiosity, to surrender to my intuition and learn to be more unapologetically myself."
It's a wonderful album and one that welcomes perhaps the most extensive exploration of an Australian artist in recent memory, so it's well worth diving into below with a track-by-track walkthrough, which features Nat Vazer walking through the album's themes one song at a time:
When I was about 8, I fell in love with Demi Moore’s character in the film Ghost, a widowed visual artist living in New York. When my brother and I were kids, my dad cut our hair so one day I asked dad to cut mine super short ‘just like Demi Moore in Ghost’. Dad got a plastic bowl out of the kitchen, threw it on my little head and started cutting around the bowl like there was no tomorrow. Teachers at school got reports about a mysterious new boy with a bowl-cut hanging around. It was probably more ‘Ringo’ than ‘Demi’ - but ultimately, Like Demi is a song about learning to be unapologetically yourself and finding confidence in your vulnerability. It’s about committing to the things you do and believe in with full conviction.
For a Moment
For a Moment is a love song about an ex-work colleague. There is a strange time-warping feeling you get sometimes when you fall for someone hard, where time can appear to stand still while everything around you seems like a blur. For A Moment indulges in that fantasy. It’s about chasing something forbidden, a longing for someone you can’t really be with and the overwhelming fear of the possibility.
This was the first song I recorded on the album and the guitar riffs are very much inspired by The Strokes’ early albums which had a lot of influence in my teenage years of guitar playing. Apart from vocals and a few percussion parts, most of the song was recorded live with my band. We wanted a live, organic sound for this track and were keen to capture the compelling, collective energy of the band which meant making room for playfulness and individual expressiveness, as well as messiness and cute little imperfections which I think can have a special way of giving songs genuine colour and character.
Higher Places is about trying to be happy for someone who has moved on without you. It revolves around this idea of how vastly different people’s lives can turn out based on all the little decisions we make and the things we choose to pursue at each and every turn.
My dear producer, Rob, thought the song had a bit of a ‘Twin Peaks’ vibe to it. We are both fans of David Lynch so while we were recording the vocals one night, Rob was like ‘hey Nat, can you just try this mic for a sec and imagine you’re singing at a Jazz bar like something out of Twin Peaks?’. To TP fans out there - think James and Donna at the Roadhouse!
Better Now is a song I wrote while I was living in Toronto, Canada, in 2018. The song is inspired by a little girl I met at a bus stop who told me she no longer wanted to go to school after seeing the news about all the highschool shootings happening across the US and the Toronto Van Attack which left the country absolutely devastated. It was an especially traumatic time for people as nothing like that had ever happened before in the city of Toronto.
I wrote this song in half an hour. It was the shortest time I’ve ever taken to write a song and I had just gone through a whole week of ‘media deprivation’ where I completely deprived myself of my phone, computer, TV, movies, music, books. After doing that for 7 days straight, I felt like I was losing my grip on reality. But it gave me the strangest sense of mental clarity which led me to write the song.
The recording features a fiery, chaotic guitar solo by the amazing Andy Campbell who plays in my band. There’s also a part where I sing through a mic that my producer had ripped out of an old handset telephone and the idea was to sound like someone was calling you to warn you= about something important. Originally, I tried singing through a long metal pole like a didgeridoo - but that got too heavy and weird so we ditched it.
Grateful is an ode to all the inspiring female artists and role models, and also a vent about the ongoing battle for social equality. It’s about acknowledgement and respect, with a sprinkle of sarcasm and the kind of non-conformist attitude that used to make my Year 10 English teacher say, ‘girls like you are exactly what’s wrong with the world’.
In my head this song takes place in a hot, cowboy-esque desert town with smokey synths and tambourines in the same vein as The Brian Jonestown Massacre. In writing the drums and guitar, my artist child took a trip down memory lane and revisited the influences from my teenagehood like Nirvana, The Dandy Warhols and The Beatles.
The initial recording was over 6 minutes long as my band and I were possessed by the never-ending jam we found ourselves in.
The song is about my mother who is a cancer survivor and the bravest and most stubborn woman I know. The song also asks the question: who were our parents before they became our parents? What did they do? These people had a whole life before us. What dreams did they have before us? What hopes and passions did they have in their youth and were they the same as ours? Does it even matter? Is there something about knowing these things that helps us make better sense of ourselves?
Floating on a Highway
Floating on a Highway is about trying to make a relationship work when all the odds are against you and everything feels like ‘in transit’. It’s like when you have to live between two places for a while just to make things work, drive a distance just to see your lover’s face for even 10 minutes, fighting sleep so badly just to make it till the end of a movie you’re watching together, and focusing on your career on the thin hope you might be able to get a place together someday. Who can afford to fall in love these days?
This song started out as a poem I wrote one late night while walking around my neighbourhood. It describes having an intense fight in a car with someone you love. The emotional car ride kind of alludes to feeling trapped in a relationship that might be heading nowhere (‘this road feels long’) or going somewhere unknown (‘into the dark or is it the light?’) or even dangerous (‘with the headlights off, you keep driving on’). The poem eventually turned into a song so I was keen to capture the vibe of an intimate poetry reading with guitars that mimicked distant car horns and traffic on a highway, and Radiohead-esque drum effects with acoustic guitar loops.
Sunlight is about supporting a friend who’s going through a hard time and starting to realise that their happiness doesn’t really hinge on anything in particular but themselves. This song started as an acoustic guitar melody I found myself playing whenever I was lying around in my living room. I didn’t realise I was subconsciously building on it until it all came together over a period of time and then out of the haze, Sunlight emerged.
Follow Nat Vazer: FACEBOOK