Originally published in the Feb. 29, 2016 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
Natalie Stovall has arrived, both in the literal sense and figurative sense. Literally, the petite songstress with a ferocious blond mane has just walked into Nashville’s newest watering hole, Bar Sovereign, in the trendy SoBro (South of Broadway) neighborhood for a casual sit-down. Figuratively, Natalie now has an accountant, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
First, though, Natalie sees the Guinness flowing and declares she needs a refreshing libation, too. She orders a glass of Cabernet as the gritty sounds of blues great Muddy Waters spin on the speakeasy’s hi-fi. With snow in the forecast, Bar Sovereign is a cozy setting to shoot the breeze, and its owners have opened their doors a couple of hours early today just for Natalie, who is ready to chat now that her vino is in hand.
Natalie and her band, the Drive (Miguel Cancino, Joel Dormer, Zach Morse and James Bavendam, who is also her husband), have been making music together for 10 years, playing more than 2,000 shows along the way. But the fiddle-playing frontwoman has lost count of the exact number, which brings us back to Natalie’s figurative arrival. She doesn’t have to remember the exact number any longer.
“I’m not sure how many shows we played in 2015—100, 150?” says Natalie. “I honestly haven’t gone back and counted. Now that I don’t have to do my own taxes anymore, I don’t have to know all the show dates. I’ve got someone who does it for me. I’ve finally graduated up to a business manager and they take care of my quarterlies and my taxes. It’s funny the details you can let go of, because I used to have to know how many travel days we had and all of the mileage [on the bus], and I still kinda have to know it on the surface, but I turn it in every month. On April 15th, I’m now the happiest person in the world. I’m not stressed out and going over every receipt.
“I’ve arrived,” she says with more than a hint of sarcasm and a sweet giggle.
Now that Natalie’s arrived, she can relax a bit, because it’s been a bumpy flight for Natalie Stovall and the Drive over the last couple of years. In 2014, the band’s label, HitShop Records, folded right before the launch of their self-titled debut EP. Without a push from the label, the record’s lead single, “Baby Come On With It,” stalled on the Billboard chart at No. 43. With the turbulence of that experience now behind them, Natalie and her boys are preparing for the self-release of their new EP, Heartbreak, which will drop on Feb. 23. The six-song offering was successfully bankrolled via crowd-funding platform Kickstarter, raising its goal of $10,000 in just 11 days, as well as an additional $7,000 by the time the campaign ended. All those years of balancing her own budget must have paid off, because Natalie knew exactly how much money she needed to raise to get the new EP from concept to reality.
“To finally release new music is huge for us,” says Natalie. “I know it gets frustrating for the fans and the people who have all been waiting for it, but it was frustrating for us too and how long the process can take and how many pieces go into that puzzle. It’s not as simple as writing a song, loving it, recording it and putting it out into the world. Sometimes it can be, but sometimes there’s a lot more that goes into the process of allowing a song to be seen and heard, instead of going to song heaven.”
After HitShop closed its doors, the group was forced to hit the reset button. Natalie, the bubbly, glass-half-full kind of girl that she is, saw the hardship as an opportunity to clean her slate. She gathered her thoughts, buckled down and began writing new songs. Heartbreak is the result, and while the EP’s title paints an anguished portrait, the collection is anything but heartbreaking.
“The EP is called Heartbreak because that is somewhat of a theme throughout, but a lot of the songs are about the heartbreak of not giving up on yourself or your dream and about hanging in there when life kinda blows up in your face,” says Natalie. “I co-wrote all of the songs, and I am so proud of each one. I feel like such a goober right now because I just got the masters [of the finished tracks], and I’ve been driving around listening to them. I’m so excited for everyone to hear them.”
The EP’s lead single, also called “Heartbreak,” already has an anything-but-despairing music video (see sidebar), while the anthemic “We Are” is about being stronger than we think we are. “Dear Dolly,” on the other hand, beckons advice from one of country music’s iconic sages.
“‘Dear Dolly’ is a tune I wrote with Ruthie Collins and Jessica Roadcap,” says Natalie. “We were all just sitting around talking about women trying to make it in the industry and were talking about if there was one woman we wished we could talk to and ask advice from, who would it be? Dolly Parton. So we wrote an open letter to her.”
Between her petite stature, big smile, onstage showmanship and sweet singing, there’s definitely a little bit of Dolly in Natalie.
“Well, I don’t know about that, but I’m definitely not afraid to go big with my hair,” says Natalie with a chuckle. “I’m a positive person, I know that. I have tough days but I don’t let that get me down because I’m going to play music no matter what. I’m thankful when people listen, but I’m going to play music no matter what. I’m going to figure out a way to make it work.”
Without her taxes to worry about anymore, Natalie has plenty of time to make it work. And with that, Natalie sips the last of her wine, says her goodbyes and departs—she’s ready for her next arrival. NCW
These Are a Few of My Favorite Things . . .
Wine? Any Mollydooker wine, but especially the Cabernet.
Ice cream flavor? Cookies ’n’ cream.
Album from the last couple of years? Platinum [Miranda Lambert].
Cover song to play onstage? “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” [Charlie Daniels].
Movie? That Thing You Do!
Place to write music? When I’m driving by myself with my recorder. That’s when it gets quiet and my mind is so clear.
Vacation locale? Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
Shoes? The ones I’m wearing. My husband got these for me for Christmas, and they’re so versatile. You can flip ’em up or down. He hated that my feet were always hurting from cowgirl boots and heels—the struggle of being a woman, you want cute shoes but they make your feet ache. He figured out that Uggs make really comfy shoes and he found these. These are Uggs, no one would ever think that. They are stylish but so, so comfy, and now I plan all my outfits around them. Between the Uggs and the big hair, you can’t tell I’m only 5’2″.
Natalie Stovall and the Drive are back on television airwaves with their new music video for “Heartbreak,” the first tune from their upcoming EP of the same name, which drops on Feb. 23. The new video, much of which was shot at the Texas State Fair, features Natalie going on a series of mobile app dates—quite unsuccessfully, by the way—with none other than the members of her band, including her real-life husband, James Bavendam (he’s the video’s beer-drinking enthusiast).
“When the idea of me going on a bad date with each of the band members came up, I started belly laughing at the thought of that,” says Natalie. “It was so much fun, and we really enjoyed making it. I’ve always loved the way the Foo Fighters did all of their videos and kind of made fun of themselves. So this sounded like a fun concept and fun way to make a video.”
Check out the video, and feel free to come up with your own interpretation of what the winking girl is implying at the end of the clip.
“That is up to your interpretation,” says Natalie with a belly laugh of her own. “You can take that however you want to. I have heard a few interpretations of the wink, but I’m not going to say. It’s totally up to you.”
The eclectic 53-seat lounge provides a respite from Nashville’s downtown honky-tonks, serving a full cocktail, wine and beer menu (including the freshest Guinness on tap), as well as small plates of food.
Hours: 5 p.m.–3 a.m., 7 days a week
514 5th Ave. South
Nashville, TN 37203
photos by Hunter Airheart/Marbaloo