By Cameron Lee
August 11, 2021
Photo: Pete Stuppard
There’s a frayed vulnerability to the voice and lyrics of emerging Charlotte-based pop singer-songwriter, Natalie Carr. She has a susceptibility that draws you in, and the type of unpredictability that makes you wonder what will happen next.
Carr’s sound is a style of sultry contemporary R&B and synth-pop that literally spawned from the bedroom. Dialing in from LaGuardia Airport where she was waiting on her flight back to Charlotte, Carr explained her early fervor for music and writing songs.
“It was my refuge. I listened to music all the time. Every genre, I loved it. I was a really weird kid. Growing up, I didn’t have that many friends until I got to high school and kind of started figuring that out. But it was definitely like my solace,” she said.
She began playing guitar and keyboard at a young age and officially started putting out music in 2019, but her appreciation for music came well before that. Carr’s early memories came from her father’s adoration of The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, and she began writing her own songs at the age of 13 while growing up in Stamford, Connecticut.
“I don’t think a lot of people knew that I did it because I wasn’t, you know, like, out at talent shows and in bands or theatre. It was just kind of like something I did when I’d get home from school. I would play guitar and sing,” said Carr.
Carr was also an exceptional student. She chose to attend Duke University in Durham, North Carolina not for a specific course or career path, but mainly for a change of scenery.
“Honestly, I just wanted to go to a good school. And I got into Duke. I never visited, I just showed up freshman year and was like, this is pretty tight,” Carr said. “I knew I wanted to go to a really good school, but I worked really hard and I studied a lot. You know, I did everything right. I just wanted to get out of the Northeast.”
After earning a B.A. in Public Policy from Duke University, she worked as a bartender at the Motorco Music Hall in Durham where she would daydream about performing at the venue one day. Even right upon arriving at Duke she was mentally devising a path for her music.
She moved to Charlotte in 2018 on the recommendation of mix engineer Chris West, who thought it would be the next natural step for the aspiring singer-songwriter. Releasing her first two songs in 2019, Carr displayed a rare refinement in emotive pop songwriting on the track “Talk About You,” stacking a range of melodies and vocal effects on a spacey track produced by NC State alum J-Mac and CAMEone. On “Bad Side,” she showcases more of her modern R&B stylings on a darker hip-hop tempoed beat.
The convoluted candor in Carr’s lyrics makes her songs alluring; that vulnerability is a skill possessed by some of the best indie-pop songwriters. A universal pop sound that is catching on far beyond Charlotte, the hundreds of thousands of listens she’s accumulated on Spotify span from a majority of listeners in London, Australia, and Los Angeles. She’s fully aware of the impact of her music and how it has resonated with fans all over the globe.
Getting comfortable in her new surroundings in Charlotte was a daunting task at first, but it was easy for her to get acclimated to the city working various bartending jobs and eventually connecting with musicians, artists, producers and engineers in the area.
“It’s cool to see, like, three years or so later, when you go to a certain place you know people’s names, and they know your name, and it’s really cool to live in a city that is a city but yet feels really small and intimate,” said Carr.
One of the most pivotal music connections and friendships for Carr thus far has been with her music director, famed Charlotte guitarist Shago Elizondo, who is well known for touring with Anthony Hamilton and Fantasia, two North Carolina music titans.
“The first time I met Shago, I was like, oh, this is easy… just the way he plays and the way I write, it just complements each other really beautifully. I just found him to be so incredibly respectful and meticulous,” Carr said.
Working in partnership with Raleigh-based label and music consulting firm, 4th Quarter Time, headed by producer John “J-Mac” McCall and music manager Mike Ramsey, Carr has now built a solid team around her. Michael Finster, former member of Charlotte rock band Flagship, directs and produces most of her music videos, including 2020’s “Blue Lights,” a grandiose pop song about a carnal relationship packaged into an intimately shadowy visual at a seedy motel.
Carr’s latest single, “Scraped Knees,” showcases a more free-spirited and spontaneous side of the budding artist. In the music video, directed by Carr and shot at Sur Studios in South End, she arrives at the studio late with a beer in hand, lackadaisically going through her routine with dancer and choreographer, Jonathan Davis. The video goes into a playful fisheye lens episode, displaying a more carefree and less calculated approach to the visuals for her music.
While Carr is still experimenting with her talents and artistry, there’s a cautious nature to her progression that might be best described by her own lyrics: “Fate hasn’t killed me yet, I’m still holding my breath.”
Maybe it’s that inner conflict inherent in many pop songs that makes Carr’s music so likable, or maybe indeed it’s fate. Either way, her journey as an aspiring songwriter seems to be built on her fondness for the craft.
“It can really just be whatever it ends up being. I just want to know that I gave it 100% and that I’m doing something right,” she said. “Having people respond positively is so important to me, because it means that I am doing something right, and I’m contributing something of value.”