Natalie Nicole Gilbert: Multi-Talented Artist and Founder of On Time Talent
Natalie Nicole Gilbert: Thanks so much for having me, Jessica. Interviews with those you know are always the most enjoyable, and I’m happy to have the excuse to sit with coffee and catch up with you.
Jessica Gilbert: First of all, I’m amazed by all that you do – sing, dance, act, write, and you began performing at such a young age too – singing on stage/screen at four years old! What inspired you to start singing at that early age? And who were your early childhood music influences?
Natalie Nicole Gilbert: First and foremost my mother is to blame for much of my exposure to great music. She’s a professional pianist, so I grew up with music of all kinds at home. I lived at my nanny’s house five days a week and only saw mom on the weekends until I was ten, with the exception of ballet classes through the week. She would play classical music and show tunes for class and I would show off for her as if the teacher and the rest of the students were but background actors. My dance teachers found out that I could sing and gave me vinyl 45s of songs from The Sound of Music and Shirley Temple films to learn at home and sing solo at recitals. Everyone in my family and sphere was very supportive of every opportunity I had to perform very early on. My nanny had always wanted a girl, so she took great delight in putting on my stage makeup and rolling my hair in hot curlers that felt like porcupines. I think I liked most that singing the solos got me out of some of the dance numbers with prissy girls in class. It gave me space to be separate.
Jessica Gilbert: At what age did you start writing songs? And what was the first song you ever wrote?
Natalie Nicole Gilbert: Very young, around age four I think. The first song I remember making up had something to do with a tree and seasons, and I kept singing it over and over to myself in the back seat during one of our road trips so I wouldn’t forget it. I asked mother to write out my compositions once I started muddling around on the piano around age five or six; we still have sheet music from some song I wrote about boyfriends and girlfriends falling in love.
Natalie Nicole Gilbert: Often I start with a catchy phrase or title that springs to mind in the midst of conversation. I have two main formulas for writing. In the first I write the lyrics out fully like a poem with a sense of rhythm, but no melody or musical notions. Then I sort of shop for sounds – decide if it’s going to be primarily guitar or piano, then create the pace and main chord progressions and try to fit the lyrics to that, cutting lyrics here and there to tailor them to the developing structure. Those are the songs that tend to be very wordy and intellectual, full of ironic phrases; this is the method I used for “Breathing Hope,” “Crave, Dangers,” “Surrounding,” “Here Now,” “Solomon,” “Cut on Your CD” and “Welcoming” for example. My second favorite formula, which is easier and much more conducive for collaborations, is to start with a riff or a full piece of music and see what words come to mind when you play the music over and over, circuitously. “Say Anything,” “Stop Thinking About Me,” “Luminescent,” “Sweet Australia” and “7” were all written with that simpler method. Songs originating that way tend to be shorter, more upbeat and composed with more two dollar words.
I also have a sort of litmus test for seeing whether a composition is good enough to finish. If the song doesn’t come all at once, I’ve been known to tuck it away for months and I won’t bring it back out again until it comes to mind on its own. If the melody or a lyric phrase pop to mind later in a catchy way, and especially if I’ve forgotten that I’m the one who wrote it, then I’ll pick it back up to polish and finish it. “Orion” and “Just a Word” came about that way, and there are many incarnations of both. I would test myself to see how much of the song I remembered on my own without looking back at the initial handwritten scribbles from months or years prior, and would sometimes scrap any lyrics that didn’t have enough staying power to be remembered so long after the fact.
Jessica Gilbert: Tell us a little bit about your dancing and acting background.
Natalie Nicole Gilbert: Well, I was cast as Maria in West Side Story for a school production, so mother decided to enroll me in a prestigious acting school. I did a number of musicals, Shakespearean plays and black box theatre pieces with that company (Walden Theatre), and went on to become a theatre and dance major at Youth Performing Arts School. I was accepted for their vocal department also, but wanted to focus more on the talents I hadn’t exercised as much. I stepped into radio work then for a number of years, and someone who heard me on the radio invited me to come in and audition for the part of the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I also worked with Pleiades Theatre on a period piece (Alison’s House / Ann) and a play about stalking (Boy Gets Girl / Theresa). Around that time I also began screenwriting collaborations with John Cosper, and we produced a few short films, mostly romantic comedies. My growing experience with radio commercials got me picked up for numerous TV commercials and a bit of independent film work. I think many guessed that I moved out to Los Angeles to pursue acting, though it was really just to blend in more with the other creatives and widen the amount of resources I had readily available. Workshops that are $300-1,000 to attend elsewhere are $0-100 here; it’s worth paying the high rent. 😉
Jessica Gilbert: While you were in college, you landed a job as a radio host. Over the years, you’ve been a morning host on WRKA, 101QFL and WJIE. Your voice is also heard around the country on regional and national spots for McDonalds, Cadillac, Quizno’s, as well as videos for the Army, Eppic Films, Site Organic and others. What was the very first spot you did? And what was the most memorable one you’ve done?
Natalie Nicole Gilbert: The very first? Hard to say. Probably just something for an in house client at WJIE. I used to call radio stations when I was a teen and request songs, and they’d often put me on the air. I recorded a few of them on a cassette and labeled it ‘my first promos’ as if I expected to have many more, though I had no idea of the sort. Once I became a regular host on WJIE a few years later (somewhat by chance after responding to a part time help wanted ad for another station), I got a few phone calls asking me to come record a commercial for this production house or that client. What was most memorable was that I was treated soooo differently as a DJ than a voiceover talent. At the radio station, the onus was on me to do everything – every turning of the audio dial, every audio element that needed to be played I had to prepare. When I showed up to do these VO recordings at production houses I was treated like VIP talent. “Would you like a water, soda or coffee, Ms. Gilbert?” they’d ask, and then I got to sit in the vocal booth with no responsibility but reading aloud over and over. It was so relaxing to let someone else manage all the recording gear instead of doing ten things at once.
Jessica Gilbert: You are also a writer – articles, short stories and poems. What are your favorite subjects to write about? Do you have a preferred type of writing?
Natalie Nicole Gilbert: Though it’s generally less profitable and marketable, I love writing poetry. It’s so free of rules and has so many uses. I often journal vaguely in poems, so I like that it can be opaque so that only I know its full original meaning. I also like that it can be so easily turned into a song or a larger piece. I’ve certainly been known to use poetry in love notes, as well. Poetry enables you to put your full vocabulary to use with few boundaries, and as such I love that it engages the mind and can keep one sharp and articulate.
As for favorite subjects, I generally write about transitions. Seasons of change are the times I feel most compelled to write – as I notice the pattern of things passing away and new habits or passions arising. Songs like “Here Now,” “Can’t Take This Anymore,” “Say Anything,” and “Lay Down and Listen” were the result of such seasons, and at times they feel like anthems of strength or resolve during times of flux and stress.
Jessica Gilbert: Can you share a short piece of your writing with our readers?
Natalie Nicole Gilbert: Sure. I dug through my online writing archive and found this short poem I wrote in 2009:
My shoulders pressed down
by the here and the now
vexed by the future
perplexed with culture’s vultures
What you already know
may be more than you show
But disclosure may
not change the outcome
When you’re tired of
the lies that they sell
trying to counteract
with the truths that you tell
to yourself while
your mind’s still awake
the covers can’t cover over
can’t make you safe
They’re just the fabric that covers your eyes
Daylight streams in
while the screams weigh in
tires squealing against
when the traffic dies down
all that’s left is the sound
of your pulse and
the breath in your lungs
Just for today
let that be enough
To cover your eyes
From the daylight
piercing the night
from the inside
‘you may not
need this world
but this world
needs you here’
not merely to stand
but also to steer
Jessica Gilbert: You also own and operate On Time Talent voice over studio, where you produce much of your own music. What inspired you to create On Time Talent?
Natalie Nicole Gilbert: A few things. Primarily because I was out of work. *laughs* I had been working for Cox Radio, and after 9/11 they had a number of budget cuts. I was doing morning news then, and as one of their newest hires I completely understood why I’d be the one to let go. I was quite relieved, really. I found doing news – especially during such sad times – very stressful. The 9/11 tragedy hit advertising and radio station budgets hard, so it was difficult to find work in my field right away. So, I created On Time Talent as a voiceover agency initially, partnering with some radio friends and shopping our voices to local production houses for commercial work. I came up with the company name as I made business cards on Vistaprint because I loved one of their clock graphics and timing is always urgent with commercial audio; clients always want the audio files yesterday. After a few years of recording for clients on site, I asked a friend from high school to help me piece together a home recording studio. I’m certainly not an audio genius, but my experience working in broadcast studios prepared me well for recording at home.
Natalie Nicole Gilbert: In no particular order: Sting, Bill Withers, Mary J. Blige, Melissa Nathan – essentially people who speak candidly, have soul as well as variety, and demonstrate strength and/or humor when faced with adversity. Bill and Mary plainly have soul and candidness, Sting records in castles at times (I hear) and likes to try new sounds and rhythm structures, and Melissa wrote comedy novels even as she perished with breast cancer. All of these are highly talented writers who seem to get the bigger picture.
Jessica Gilbert: If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why?
Natalie Nicole Gilbert: Granting the essentials to those who pursue them. I don’t believe in handouts, but I do believe in empowering the unemployed with job training, the underprivileged with everyday resources, and treating people of all races and orientations equally.
Jessica Gilbert: What is one of your favorite quotes (or lines) that inspires you?
Natalie Nicole Gilbert: “Knowing is half the battle” – G.I. Joe
Jessica Gilbert: Anything else you’d like to share? And where can our readers find out more about you, your work and to purchase your music/books?
Natalie Nicole Gilbert: They can find my music at Itunes.com/NatalieNicoleGilbert or in Amazon.com’s music and mp3 sections. You can find the books I contributed to – both Heart-Stirring Stories and Pinches of Salt on Amazon as well. I also love conversing with fans at Twitter.com/NatalieNicole and Facebook.com/NatalieNicoleGilbert.
Jessica Gilbert: Thanks again for doing this interview and I wish you the very best of luck with everything in the future.
Natalie Nicole Gilbert: Thanks so much, Jessica. Always a pleasure chatting with you; hope to see you back in the States soon.