“It is an interesting thing when you’re called a new artist…when you’ve been doing it for a really long time,” smiles new-but-not-really-new Nashville phenomenon Natalie Stovall. “I keep hearing that it takes 10 years to become an overnight success and we’ve been at this for about nine years, as a band together. So I keep hoping that that’s true because that means in one more year we’re an ‘overnight success.'”
If this is the first you’ve heard of Stovall, rest assured that she actually has been at this music game for a while, along with her longtime band the Drive. Although they are currently ratcheting up tons of attention for the hit single “Baby Come On With It,” Stovall, a Tennessee native, began playing the fiddle at an early age, eventually going professional at just 10 years old. She made her Opry debut at 12, and went on to rack up further impressive notches on her resume, such as an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Upon entering college in Boston the aforementioned near-decade ago, Stovall met up with drummer James Bavendam, hit it off musically, and began working on putting a band together, playing Music City on school breaks. “My parents let the whole band live in their house during the summers and we’d play around Nashville,” Stovall explains. After graduating, they moved permanently to Nashville and solidified their lineup with guitarists Miguel Cancino and Joel Dormer, and bassist Zach Morse.
The combination was a magical one, proved positive by extensive time on the road. “Everyone just kind of [dove] in and started traveling,” notes Bavendam. “And I think when you start realizing, you’re like, oh my God, we just played 34 shows in the last 32 days and we’re still having fun…you’re like, we should keep doing this. This is a good thing. Not murdering each other is step one for a successful band,” he deadpans.
“Finding the chemistry for a band – it’s not something that just happens instantaneously; at least it didn’t for us,” adds Stovall. “But it did become very obvious over a bit of time, since we have all played with different people and we’ve all been working to find that core unit and that core group. I think once we realized that there was something special here and you don’t want to let that go and you want to cultivate that in every way possible and make the most of it.”
That they certainly have; given the rapid-fire attraction of country fans to both their live show and the rockin’ debut single, which Stovall explains was originally written with a male singer in mind for its performance. However, the very first time she heard it, she knew she wanted to sing it…and had the attitude to carry it off.
“That was what was fun about it, was that I immediately heard it through ‘the Drive filter,'” she laughs. “I love taking a kind of masculine song and flipping it. It’s a really fun perspective to sing from.”
The fact that she’s a chick who isn’t afraid to rock out (in fact, on Wikipedia, she is defined as a “rock violinist,” a tag that makes her chuckle) definitely helps Stovall to carry off the ballsy tune. “I think we definitely have a lot of rock ‘n’ roll influences,” she adds. “But that’s the beautiful thing about country music right now is that the genre has expanded to incorporate so many different sounds and styles. That’s the fun thing about right now is you don’t have to necessarily be put in a box.”
There are lots of “fun things” in general that add to the Drive’s appeal besides the malleable nature of country music at the moment, not the least being the sense of live energy they have worked to bring to their upcoming debut full-length, collaborating with Grammy-winning producer Paul Worley (Lady Antebellum, the Dixie Chicks). “We’ve been in the studio so many times trying to get what we do live, get that energy, get that same feeling onto a record. And that has not happened for us until this project. And actually it happened when we met Paul and started working with him,” Stovall explained.
“He’s produced so many amazing bands that I’ve looked up to all throughout my life and you see why when you go into the studio with him, because he really just encouraged us to be us,” she continues. “I think in our minds we would go into the studio sometimes and try to play like studio musicians, because that’s what happens a lot in Nashville. Most of the records, or a lot of the records, are done by studio players. But instead of trying to sound like ‘oh, that great guy’ or ‘that guitarist,’ he would go ‘no, just do what you do.’ And without that I don’t know that we would have been able to capture what we do and be as proud of it as we are. This is the first time for me that I can take an album and say this is us on a record. I don’t have to make any explanation whatsoever. This is just us. That’s a really good feeling.”
Stovall and the Drive can’t give all the credit to their producer for the unique character they’ve achieved musically to date. This is a band that naturally oozes personality, a fact that they seem to not take too seriously, but still acknowledge.
“We go into it just trying to make the best music possible. I don’t feel like we put on an ‘OK, we’re gonna make this sound country’ or ‘we’re gonna make this sound rock ‘n’ roll’ hat. It really is just how we play, maybe because we can’t do anything else,” Stovall says, with a laugh.
“I mean we go in, and we play…and it just comes out sounding like us!”