Paul Monkouse interviews Natalie “Indya” West of rising stars INDYA...
‘’He hit me so hard I actually blacked out and when I came around, I could actually see stars’’. Natalie ‘Indya’ West is used to hard knocks but this one was especially unexpected. This time it was due to being accidently hit around the head by her bass player’s headstock as he swung his instrument around during an especially energetic set on the tiny stage of a venue. So momentous was the event that it made not only the local newspaper but also a lot of the rock websites. Fortunately, West is made of sterner stuff than to let a blow to the head keep her down for long and, through the past five years of a real rollercoaster ride, things are really starting to take-off for the singer songwriter. With great reviews of her album ‘Gimme Ya Luv’, increased radio airplay and a growing number of high-profile gigs, it looks as if 2020 could really be her year as she becomes one of the hottest artists on the scene.
It seems as if music has always been in her blood, as she recounts the beginnings of a real love for singers that was literally started in the cradle, her delightfully North London brogue full of laughter and vitality. ‘’My mum was a huge fan of David Bowie and would of play ‘Ziggy Stardust’ as she rocked me to sleep. There was music constantly on in the house and I grew up listening to my parents record collections so it was a diet of Janis Joplin, Free, Rory Gallagher, Deep Purple and Rainbow. I particularly liked Jimi Hendrix and could sing along to every song we had of his by the age of twelve. It was about the same time that there was a really brilliant collection of strong female singers that filled the charts in the 80’s so I got inspired by the thrill of hearing women like Madonna, Blondie, Stevie Nicks, Kim Wilde and Kate Bush on the radio and watching them on television. It’s a cliché but, from that moment on I knew I wanted to become a rock singer’’. This led to her doing a diploma in music and dance at the famous Brit School and she followed this up with three years at a performing arts college in Essex, her apprenticeship complete.
Indya the band grew from West’s desire to add her own unique voice into the music world. A real mix of influences, her writing is mainly from the hard rock end of the spectrum but there are liberal dashes of ska, punk, industrial, goth, soul and even modern pop to what she does. Never wanting to restrict her creativity, she certainly is intent on forging her own way and admits that this freedom has caused her problems with some people in the industry trying to pigeonhole her.
‘’My music does confuse some people and, with the variety of tracks on the album, the style changes almost from track to track. The opening song ‘Pink and Leopard’ is really sassy, me channeling my really ‘street’ side and then we go into ‘Harder Faster’ which is much more like a Marilyn Manson song…but done in my style…a sort of glammed up goth rock. I really just write what I want, from the classic rock of ‘Strip Me Down’ to the rock/hip hop mash up of ‘Ignite It’…I even put a bit of a power ballad on there in the shape of ‘Rewind Love’. People seem to really like the mix and live, all the songs come across much heavier.’’
Like the tracks themselves, her life has been far from straightforward and from that has sprung the very autobiographical tone to the lyrics. ‘‘I’ve had loads of bad things happen to me in life but, rather than let all of it get to me, I’ve turned them into songs. It’s not all pain and anger on the album though…there’s a lot of sensuality, love, fun and positivity. Maybe my talking about some of these things will help other people realise that they’re not alone.’’
The album came together slowly, West writing and recording the songs over years. ‘’The problem I have is that I fund everything myself and do all the songwriting. Practically everything is on my shoulders. I work with a great bunch of musicians from London for Indya but run everything from home myself. It’s been a stretch and I work two, sometimes three jobs to cover not only my living costs but the band too so things take time’’. Even though she’s absolutely focused and driven, it’s not been easy to constantly run things by herself. A prime example of this was their first outing as a band: ‘’Our first gig was, amazingly, an aftershow party for ‘Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ in Liverpool in 2016. I had to hire some session musicians in London and a van from down the road from me here on the South Coast to go to play. I drove up, picked the guys up from all over the city, headed up to Liverpool, did the show, dropped the guys off and then drove home. I was utterly exhausted on the last leg and was stopped twice by the police and breathalised because I was starting to drift across the road…fortunately I hadn’t been drinking but it was a little scary. Not something I’ll be doing again!’’ She continues thinking back to the night and then laughs. ‘’The funniest thing is that I walked offstage after the set and a guy touched me on the shoulder and said ‘’Great set’’, I just smiled and carried on past him…later a friend told me it was Alan McGhee, the guy who signed Oasis amongst others! I missed out there!’’ More laughter ensues.
This reaction to fame is pretty typical of West, her down to earth approach runs through with an appreciation of talent but with no need to put people of pedestals. A neighbour and close friend is Saffron Sprakling, singer with Republica and her relationship with the singer is one of genuine, understated honesty. ‘’It’s really funny when Saffron and I go out anywhere…she gets stopped all the time by people wanting a photograph or a signature. I just treat her as a mate, we never talk about music and I think she really appreciates that we’re friends naturally and that I’m not there to constantly ask her for favours in the business. We went out for a drink the other night and she had quite a few people come up to talk to her. She’s a brilliant person and I just love her company.’’
Indya have played on the same bill as Republica a few times but the band have also done gigs with Space, Gun, The Soap Girls, Dorja, EMF, Shvpes and many others along with a handful of festivals like Camden Rocks, Girls Wanna Rock and Wildfire this past year. She’s also had quite a lot of media and radio exposure. ‘’My tracks have been on Kerrang! Radio a lot and I’ve done a few live sessions with BBC Radio Kent, which has been great…and there’s a few more shows coming up. I also got a track on the cover mounted CD of Prog Magazine earlier in the year…which led me being invited to their annual awards and hanging out with Dream Theater and Nick Mason…which was really cool.’’ One thing that’s going to potentially generate a lot of interest is the release of a single she did with Ed Sheeran’s cousin Jethro. ‘’We’ve just completed the recording and we’re waiting for him to come back into the country to do some promo. It should be really interesting to see the reaction to the track and hopefully it’ll open a few doors for me.’’
Whilst the current band are settled and have been solidly supporting West, it has always been more of a solo project before and, despite some good breaks recently, it’s not always been plain sailing with people she’s worked with. ‘’The guys in the band now are brilliant but it’s taken time and a lot of work to get here. One or two musicians in the past haven’t been exactly…helpful…but hopefully, if Indya get huge, they’ll regret treating me the way they did.’’ She laughs again but you can see under the smile there has been pain in the past. Despite her charm, seemingly people have had axes to grind and this has reared its head in the form of stories about her appearing in some of most disreputable newspapers on the stands. ‘‘That REALLY annoyed and upset me to see such rubbish and lies printed about me. I was furious. Someone just pretended to be me and ‘sold their story’ to these papers who then used photos taken from my Facebook page to go with them! I’m no angel…but close friends, who know all about me, were shocked at how such stuff could be put out there.’’
It’s striking that this is the one time that West becomes visibly upset during our time together but she happily admits that the past has been full of disappointment and struggles. ‘‘You know, I’m always honest and would expect that from everyone else…I guess that has cost me before and I’ve probably hurt people a little and also been let down myself. But…you know…honesty is the most important thing and people always know where they stand with me. Like I said before, I have turned all these things into songs and that’s been really cathartic. I really don’t let the things from before control who I am and always say ‘’Don’t look back, always forward!’’ It serves me well’’
This attitude encompasses both how she feels on the inside and extends to her image, trying to look as good as she feels. ‘‘I always try to be as glamorous as I can be and spend so much time projecting this positivity and good feeling…and if that means buying a great new dress or yet another pair of shoes then that’s cool!’’ (laughing). ‘‘I exercise as much as I can and am try to keep in the best shape that I can. It’s really important to do this to mentally feel great but also, I really put everything into my live shows…I would feel like I’ve cheated the audience if I didn’t give them a memorable evening. I’m always looking for a classic photo opportunity at gigs…you know, the sort of thing that will be remembered as an iconic moment or image. Sometimes that can go a little too far…I ended up biting my guitarist several times at a gig recently…he knew it was going to happen and was fine about it…but his girlfriend didn’t and was really upset with me! We sorted it out though eventually and she understood it was just part of the act. Maybe I need to try something else!’’
With a forthcoming UK tour with Velvet Insane and JoanoVarc looming, along with articles in some major rock publications hitting your local WH Smiths shortly, not to mention more festival appearances and radio play, it seems like 2020 is going to be big for Indya. ‘’It’s shaping up to be a really busy year ahead…lots more writing, plenty of touring, another BBC live session and I’m playing Camden Rocks again as well as opening the main stage at Weyfest…I can’t wait to get out there again!’’ With album Number 2 partly written it would certainly be a good time to catch up with her debut, one of the most eclectic and stimulating releases of the past twelve months, it perfectly capturing the wild spirit of West and her many influences. ‘’I think people ought to buy a copy, come along to a gig, get involved and get down the front…I promise I won’t bite…again!’’ With that she starts laughing again and you find it impossible not to think that, despite all the hardship and setbacks, that West will be having the last laugh.
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REVIVAL BLACK Broken Home (TMR Records)
FLOYA Epiphany (indie)
TWISTER Own Worst Enemy (indie)
MODERN MIMES Down And Dead (Curtain Call Records)
TUNGSTEN Northern Lights (Arising Empire)
THE GREAT LESLIE Feel Alive (indie)
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