Old Habits & New Ways
Natalie de Silver could be the biggest rock star you haven’t heard of, yet. If you do know Natalie, you will know her as the mesmerising singer, guitarist and songwriter for Sydney band the Dandelion, just back from a tour of Europe. After playing 21 gigs in one month from the UK to Greece and all points in between, Natalie got back to Sydney and slept for several days and then talked about the band and her music with Lachlan Colquhoun.
Imagine you could capture the essence of the 1960s, everything from the Beatles through to garage rock, psychedelia, folk and even the soundtrack brilliance of Ennio Morricone. Take that essence and put it through some sci fi looking time machine from a 60s movie and take it out the other side in 2019 and you would have something that sounded like the Dandelion.
I say “sounded like” because the Dandelion has another element as well, and nothing quite sounds like them. It’s not just a trip back to the 60s but a sound for now, and one that conjures its own world of mystery and romance, even magic. If this sounds like hyperbole, then give it a listen and email me and tell me I’m wrong.
There are three Dandelion albums so far (go to the Bandcamp website and find them) but the most recent is Old Habits & New Ways of the Dandelion, released just before the tour of Europe. In addition to writing and singing all of the songs Natalie plays guitar, sitar, drums, keyboards, flute, bass and also the theramin, the freakish electronic instrument you never touch, but senses your presence. As she has done with all her albums, she recorded the drums in a rehearsal studio and took the recordings back home and did all the other recording and production in her bedroom.
“I start off with the drums and start playing with a song in my head,” says Natalie. “Then I bring the drumbeats home and write the songs over the top. The songs take on a life of their own, and the lyrics come out of a stream of consciousness almost. There’s no editing in the production, no cutting, and I leave it all up to God.”
The story of the Dandelion began around 2013 as a recording project for Daniel Poulter, best known as the singer and songwriter with Sydney band the Dolly Rocker Movement. Somewhere in the middle of the second album Natalie took over from her predecessor and has been in control ever since, changing and moulding the band’s sound with her own very particular inspiration. And along the way, because people kept asking her to play live shows, she put the band together to perform with her on stage.
“The Dandelion is a very symbolic flower in terms of my own life,” she says. “It’s a transformative flower and moves from a yellow flower – representing the sun – to white which is the moon and then it spreads as the wind blows and disperses, so it’s a cosmic flower and that’s cool.
“But it’s also an outcast flower. People refer to it as a weed, but it has so many benefits. It has health benefits, but people also make wishes on it too.”
While it is still recognisably the Dandelion the new album is different too, and that’s where the title “Old Habits & New Ways” comes from. It references the old habits of the previous albums but moves in new ways into a different sound which includes some psychedelic folk and even instrumentals which sound conjured up from a surrealist film set in an alternative Renaissance reality.
The evolution of the sound is also driven by Natalie’s increasing spirituality. She’s very private about it but acknowledges that she feels she has a personal relationship with the divine, and this is part of her inspiration to develop as an artist.
“It is a very solitary dialogue I have, but the connection is becoming clearer and stronger,” she says. “I feel protected by it, I sing praises to it, and that is where I get my inspiration and what guides me through life. So, all of my songs now are songs of worship, and they are very much a conversation with the divine and that is what I feel I am channeling.”
Natalie is a compulsive songwriter and has lost track of how many songs she has written. Some of the songs on the new album existed as demos for ages before she got around to recording final versions. But there was a time, quite recently, when she tried to stop music altogether.
“It was a conscious decision and there was a period when I didn’t play at all,” she says. “For some reason I thought I would try and live a regular life, just have a job and have an apartment, and there were aspects of that life I enjoyed, but I got bored very quickly.
“So, I went back to music, but I have a strange relationship with that too. It is my God, but it is also like the Devil in that it lures me in. The world of music can be quite dark and hedonistic, but ultimately it gives me a purpose, a controlled insanity because if I didn’t have it maybe I would be insane.
“That is perhaps why I am compelled to follow religion. I need it to keep me in line because otherwise I would be completely insane.”
And speaking of insanity, that is what the European tour became the longer it went on.
“As the tour went on it seemed that our lives were getting crazier and messier, but on stage it was more solid and together,” says Natalie.
“On stage is where I feel different, and so comfortable, it is one moment in my whole existence which makes sense to me.”
In contrast, the studio is a more defined and controlled environment and it is where Natalie will return – at some point – for another Dandelion album. This one, however, will be different in that it will be a studio album as opposed to a bedroom recording, and she will work with other musicians and act more as a producer.
“I do feel compelled for the next record to be quite different,” she says. “It won’t sound anything like anything I have done before and that is quite exciting to think about. And while I’ve written a few things I couldn’t tell you know exactly what that sound will be.”
Beyond that, Natalie doesn’t rule out anything. There could be a time when she doesn’t use the Dandelion name to record under. At some point, the flower may disperse to the winds and take seed somewhere else. Or perhaps she will make a wish on a Dandelion and take another musical form. Look out for the Dandelion playing gigs in Sydney over winter. Old Habits & New Ways of the Dandelion is streaming on Spotify and all of the Dandelion music is available on Bandcamp.