I met up with Natalie Sharp at a coffee shop by a lake on the edge of Victoria Park. Whilst waiting for our meeting, the water was still and it felt like an inspiring spot for creativity and wondering minds. Not afraid to make a statement, Natalie turned up wearing a bright blue hoodie with the European stars emblazoned on it.
I’d caught a performance she had done with Lone Taxidermist at the Test Pressing festival in Tottenham. With a team of performers that Natalie refers to as ‘arsonists’, clad in some impressive brightly coloured in-your-face costumes, it’s no surprise that her latest album, released last August, was entitled Trifle.
Can you tell me a bit about the set up of the band and how it all started?
When it started it was just me, hence the name Lone Taxidermist. That was about ten years ago. Initially it was me experimenting being a one woman goth project… It all ended in this really bad critical zenith when I bought a new guitar, and a keyboard, and a mixer desk, all of which I’d never used before. I hadn’t rehearsed or anything, tried to do the show, had a panic attack, didn’t do the show.
My friend put me in touch with Phil Winter who was in a band called Tongue. I didn’t know him at the time and I just thought ‘he’s not going to want to do it, he’s probably too famous.’ He came to one of my shows and luckily he was quite pissed. He said that he enjoyed it, but he needed to finish his Ableton course in order to help me.
I bought this drum machine, it’s an MC505 – the reason I bought it was because someone said that MIA used it to record her first album and at the time I was a really big fan. I didn’t have a clue how to use it and it was Phil’s main job to read the manual with me and show me how it worked. I learnt basic synthesis on the drum machine and we wrote our first song on it called Home. It just grew outwards from then and we got a live drummer involved and then we got Will.
On top of that we have this family of arsonists who I think of as part of the band, ’cause they’re the art family. They’re the sensualists and the provocateurs who make themselves known during the performance.
You have some quite outlandish costumes. How did that come about?
I never really wanted the show to be meat and two veg – standard drums and guitars. I wanted it to be an absolute 360, fully immersive, fully sensory performance piece that was continually changing.
The costumes, apart from the colour, which is representative of trifle, are supposed to be like these bombastic… Have you heard of Pat Sharp’s fun house? A TV show. I’ve always wanted to have something that feels as though you’re inside Pat Sharp’s fun house with a bit of Handmaid’s Tale and Leigh Bowery. I just really like making huge ridiculous overgrown vaginas.
Is it important to you to create a whole experience and interact with the crowd?
Yeah definitely… We place the performers, the arsonists, in the audience because we don’t want there to be any discernible difference between what we’re doing on stage and what’s happening in the audience. In my head, it all should be a big glutinous mess.
What made you decide to start this project?
I’d been touring with Gazelle Twin – she’s a really amazing woman… She creates environments and characters and she builds worlds... Her last project Kingdom Come is based on JG Ballad’s last project. It’s all about two city workers stuck in a shopping mall. We perform on treadmills with these Cindy Sherman-esque tights over our heads and we become slowly more and more feral and unleashed. There’s no music equipment on stage, it’s just a radio mic. I really fell in love with this way of performing and the idea that you don’t have to have a band in order to do a musical performance. Trifle was inspired by her.
What’s your role in Lone Taxidermist?
When we perform live I’m the provocateur and mainly singing through a chaos pad and doing vocal effects and stuff. My main role is to sing and scream.
I write all of the music. Phil Winter is my music husband so he writes with me as well. A big chunk of it is just me.
Do you have a plan for the performers?
How the arsonists interact is entirely down to them and how they’re feeling so that can always change. I often change my outfit and make up and we have these in between instrumentals that I record as well.
Another thing I dislike with performances is you get a band and have that awkward silence between the songs – ‘we’re just tuning up’ and ‘this is a new one’, and ‘we might not do…’, and they’re apologising before it’s even begun, ugh, f*cking just hurry up and get on with it! Instead we have these seamless sounds. They change all the time as well. Some of it will be stuff I’ve ripped off the internet and some of them will be stuff that we’ve made ourselves.
At Test Pressing festival, you covered the crowd in plastic. Is that a signature thing that you do?
Yeah it has become a bit of a signature… Initially when I was unrolling it I was like ‘oh, this is cool, everyone’s inside a massive trifle,’ because a trifle is normally in a transparent dish. Then it changed into being more like ‘oh, they’re inside a hymen’.
I’m on my second hymen actually because the first one had been repaired so many times. I try to reuse as much of the plastic as possible, but it had been repaired so many times it looked like a Frankenstein hymen so I had to make a new one.
Everything revolves around a trifle – what made you pick that?
It’s the name of the album. I couldn’t think of a good name initially and there were loads of really crap names. We were having a party to celebrate finishing the recording about three years ago and me and my mate Dan both said trifle at the same time. It was so perfect it totally hit the nail on the head.
It’s my favourite desert, it makes me think of me mam, it’s very 70s retro and there’s an element of weird Britishness to it as well. Not that I’m in any way a f*cking nationalist, by the way. I think it represents the sound of the album quite well. It’s really full fat and really gluttonous and there’s loads of layers… As soon as I got the name all of the other stuff, like the video and the imagery and the performance, all kind of fell into place.
If you had to describe Trifle how would you describe the music and the album? The music and lyrics can seem quite controversial at times.
I felt that in the last year of doing this performance there seems to be almost a cream separation between how men and women react to it. We played with a band called Pissed Jeans who came over from America and their audience is very different to our audience. It’s like dudes with guitars, rock dudes, metal dudes, just dudes… When we performed with them… someone had got the foam and covered all these guys in it. There was a big gap where they stood back from everyone that was in front of them and they all had their arms crossed covered in foam – they looked so dissatisfied. I find that more often than not a lot of guys respond negatively to it, they’ve walked out or they feel that it’s not aimed at them.
I think it’s interesting that you think the lyrics are controversial because in my head we just need to be more open and talk about sex more than we do. I don’t know if it’s a British thing or whatever but I find that quite important to talk about on a stage… I don’t know how to describe it really. It’s like being violently shook (sic) whilst covered in hot wet sauce.
Why do you think some guys may find it inaccessible or difficult to get their heads around?
I don’t know, you’d have to ask them… It’s not all guys, I’m not making some kind of blanket statement, some guys love it.
Is your fan base quite mixed?
We did a gig down in Bristol for an amazing sort of LGBTQI* organisation. Club Thorny is a mixture of everything – it’s trans, queer, lesbian, gay, non identifying, just everything and they absolutely lapped it up. There were people between the age of 18 and 65 and they all just got it straight away… As long as they love it or hate it, as long as they’re not indifferent to it, I’m happy. I don’t really care who the audience is I just want them to get something from it either negative or positive.
What’s been your craziest encounter with a fan?
We’ve had quite a few girls who have come to our performances, just as audience members, who have loved it so much and have been like ‘oh my god, how do I be a part of this?’… When people are really into it we get them to become part of the project so we sort of just bring everyone with us… I think the fans are just our mates now and they become part of the family.
It feels like you have quite a strong message in your performances…
We have inflatable vaginas and stuff so it’s pretty obvious that I’m a hardcore feminist but I think that that’s not the only message. The message is more about everyone having this really good open experience and we all just happen to be feminists at the same time.
Are you working on any new projects?
I’ve been working on this new project… It’s got a working title of body vice. It’s to do with the body becoming an instrument or the body being an interface for sound. That was born out of me having a problem with a bulging disc in my lower back so I’ve been inside an MRI scanner lots recently. I’ve had some really amazing techno experiences that I want to try and recreate live by creating a big magnetic coil and doing a performance piece inside that.
In the film industry there’s been a lot of things come out around Harvey Weinstein and #metoo… but the music industry hasn’t quite had the same kind of ‘moment’. How do you feel about the current climate for women in music?
I can only really speak about my experience which I think has been very different to people who I admire, like Cosy Fanni Tutti and Viv Albertine who I think have had to fight really hard to have their voices heard. But because of women like that I feel like I’ve just had a really good time with it. I don’t know if that’s because of the people that I’ve surrounded myself with.
I haven’t encountered any direct sexism but maybe there’s been subtle things, like if we have a male sound technician they’ll never ask me what the sound set up is, they’ll always ask Phil or Will, the two guys, and they’ll say ‘ask Natalie’… I’ve had some weirdos message me calling me a slut and stuff like that through Soundcloud messenger. They just immediately get slammed down.
Another thing to remember is women can also be sexist against other women. I can think of more times when I said to another women ‘I’m a musician’ and they’ve immediately said, ‘oh, are you a singer?’ and I’ve said ‘I do sing live but I’m also a composer, a sound designer, a producer.’
It’s funny because a lot of the shows that we’ve done have been queer focused or we’ve played at women only festivals. I feel like I’ve just been lucky. I’ve been riding this wave of really positive feminism and being invited to do all these amazing shows because I happen to be a women so it’s been pretty alright, I would say.