Natalie Stewart (better known as The Floacist of the English R&B duo Floetry) returned in March with her third solo project, Rise of the Phoenix Mermaid. The 35-year-old British songstress talks relationships and heartbreak this time around, including songs about positivity and moving on.
Joining the 1990s poetry scene in London, Stewart formed Floetry with her music partner Marsha Ambrosius (a.k.a. The Songtress) in 1999. Fast-forward to the early aughts, and the duo was touring the world, opening for artists like India.Arie and penning tracks for Jill Scott, Bilal and the late Michael Jackson.
Floetry was a success, but the group disbanded in 2007 to pursue solo careers. Since then, The Floacist has released two solo albums: Floetic Soul (2008) and Floetry Re:Birth (2012). With Rise of the Phoenix Mermaid, the poet continues to change with the seasons, all the while intriguing us with her signature poetic style.
In a phone interview from her home across the pond, Stewart speaks with EBONY.com on how reading books influences her sound, what’s playing on her iPod (if she could find it), whether or not she’s open to recording a live project as a solo artist, and the evolution of her music.
EBONY: From Floetic Soul to Floetry: ReBirth to Rise of the Phoenix Mermaid, what major musical differences will we hear this time around?
Natalie Stewart: This album is the first I’ve actually been in acceptance of the fact that I am a solo recording artist. And in that acceptance and kind of submission, there is a bit of calm and peace. I’m very grateful to be 14 years into a really interesting exploration, so that development is there as well—even though on this album I revisited songs that I originally came across about seven years ago, in terms of the journey.
EBONY: I recently found out that reading is your first love, that you read more than you listen to music or watch movies. How has that passion influenced your approach to music?
NS: I think reading and writing—before even getting into the idea of writing a song per se—it is a way to develop your vocabulary, but it’s also a way to kind of live a lot of lifetimes; learn from a lot of experiences, contemplate different ideas and broaden yourself. It’s like travel, but of the imagination and astral sense.
I’ve read books and grown with them. I’ve lived the full life, like the character I just read for four weeks or whatever. Reading is very important to me, it has always been. And then not just the reading of stories but the listening to stories—the oration of story in itself.
EBONY: Soul/R&B music in 2014 is nothing like it was in 2002 when you arrived on the scene with Floetry. Why do you think times have changed?
NS: It’s funny, you know, to say that it’s an attempt to achieve more mainstream. I can’t think of many artists that are more mainstream than, say, Bob Marley, you know. Or even Michael Jackson that so many claim to be inspired by. The content of lyrics in terms of the songs, that he was releasing “Earth Song” as a single.
In terms of mainstream success, there are so many avenues of it, so there are so many ways to become a mainstream successful artist. You could just have amazing art and all sorts of things. I think that’s really the excuse; I think it’s based on trends, the idea of the shortcut; the shortcut is a tempting way to cram a 20-year career into two years.
I remember being at the Grammys once and seeing an artist pick up her Grammy and saying it’s taken 40 years to get here. And then you also see the people who put out a first album. I remember we didn’t win in the categories that we were put forward in and I could hardly wild out about not winning our first album because it’s already been given Grammy attention. So I think it’s the seeking of the shortcut that creates all the other stuff, because really, ultimately, [for] successful artists, integrity is a part of it.
EBONY: If I were to pick up your iPod right now, what artist would I find on there?
NS: First of all, if you were to pick up my iPod, I’d say thank you, because I can’t find it. [laughs] That would be a bonus, I would want to give you a high five and say, “Good job, I’ve been looking for that thing for ages.” [laughs]
But you would definitely find Bob Marley on there. You’d find Burning Spear on there, you’d find Fiona Apple, Erykah Badu. Thandiswa Mazwai. I did a song with her [“Roots of Love”] on my last album. She’s just the most incredible artist, South African sister, incredible.
EBONY: So will there ever be a Floacist live album?
NS: I would love to do that. I do enjoy mixed mediums, the ability to record a live moment to date is one of my favorite experiences. I’m lucky to have quite a few [favorite experiences], and that’s definitely one: to capture a whole show, a whole moment, vibration, energy. That’s definitely something I would enjoy doing.