Natalie Tate is well-known for her role as the lead guitarist in Ark Life. She was recruited into that band by Jesse Elliott when he saw her perform at Leon Gallery. At the time, Tate had recently returned to writing and performing music, and she quickly proved capable of writing gently moving yet vibrant songs to go with her luminous voice. Music has long been a part of her life, but she stopped playing after college. She was teaching fourth and fifth grade when she saw one of her favorite artists and felt something click.
"I went to a Brandi Carlile show with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra," says Tate. "There was sort of an epiphany moment, and I was really moved by her and thought, 'Damn, why can't I do something like that?'"
Tate plays tonight in Boulder with Liz Longley and Esme Patterson, and tomorrow in Denver with Longley. More information can be found at the end of this article.
Filmmaker and songwriter Laura Goldhamer is an old friend and connected Tate with Leon Gallery, where she made her first foray back into music.
"I wouldn't say it was new to me, but it was the first time performing for me in front of a lot of people in the music scene in Denver," says Tate about her first show at Leon. "I was so ready to feel that again and play stuff I was really proud of again. I was able to lose myself a bit and got really good feedback from people I really respect. \\
"I remember Ian Cooke was there and I thought, 'You like that? Okay!' It was a nice boost. I kept playing house concerts and opening for people, and recently I got to open for Gregory Alan Isakov and Cave Singers. It was slow growth, so that was good."
A year or so into performing as a solo artist, Tate joined a very active band in Ark Life. Though more or less self-taught, Tate's ability to listen well and to play to the song ensured her central role in that band. Whereas many musicians play just a couple dozen shows in a year, Ark Life played over 120 times last year, many of them on the road.
In 2013 Tate released her debut record,Given Day
. Named partly because it was recorded in a single day, the album has a pastoral sound, a clarity of tone and vibrantly gentle emotional colorings that could be described as folk but will surely be appreciated by fans of more introspective country music. On the album, Tate displays a knack for using space and shades of volume to frame her melodious and expressive voice. It is also very different from anything she's doing in Ark life. Tate has had to learn to balance her life and her creative projects by being conscious of her limitations as a human being.
"What I'm realizing now is that it's important to stay healthy so that you don't get burned out and that when you do have the time to work on [something], you're present," says Tate. "It's easy to get exhausted playing out a bunch. You have to take good care of yourself, because you've got to go to work every day.
"I guess I'm not a person who is always writing. I have a really productive week and not write for a month or something. Just when I'm able to get in that place. It's okay for me to take a little time. I don't have to do it every day. Some people do or they're not happy."
With Ark Life, Tate's role in the early stages of the process is, like her bandmates, arranging and fleshing out Elliott's skeletons of songs. She's an adept and imaginative guitarist and has found her niche within the music. Her approach to writing her solo songs is, of course, much different.
"When I'm writing, I'm way more critical," says Tate. "And it just has to be alone. I work with a friend, Shane Boris, with whom I'll write lyrics. Then I'll take those and work on the musical part of it and then we'll edit it together. But as far as sitting down and working something out, that is a very solitary endeavor. Shane is an old friend from high school. We started working together and going on trips and holing up in Utah for a week. A lot of this new stuff came out of camping in the desert. It's always been a sacred place to me. There's just a sort of an unearthly beauty with the rocks and the desolate, harsh environment that evokes feelings."
With her new set of songs, Tate is working with the core three members of experimental pop band Chimney Choir. She had been experimenting making beats on Ableton Live early on in writing her songs, but with Chimney Choir, the electronic element has become a more pronounced and important component of where Tate's songwriting will go next. She may not fit the mold of a typical singer-songwriter, and that's what has always set Tate apart.
Catch Tate tonight, May 28, at Shine in Boulder with Esmé Patterson and Liz Longley or tomorrow night, May 29, at Soiled Dove Underground with Liz Longley. Both shows are $10 with doors at 7 p.m.
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.