Natasha Bedingfield argues that pop music is a numbers game — the product of music executives studying algorithms and dumbing down songs to match popular taste.
“Pop music is very head-driven,” says the 37-year-old Bedingfield, who spoke with Westword by phone from her tour rehearsal in Los Angeles. “It gets very technical and is all about figures.”
That’s not the case with the U.K.-born, New Zealand-raised singer-songwriter’s first studio output in nine years and her fourth album release, Roll With Me. The fourteen-track soul and R&B-tinged collection includes poignant sprightly tunes, vulnerable raw vocals, and more political and social-minded lyrics than its 2010 predecessor, Strip Me.
“This new album is led by the heart,” she says.
Bedingfield worked with multi-platinum producer Linda Perry on Roll With Me. Along the way, Perry — the 4 Non Blondes frontwoman who went on to become a world-renowned songwriter — encouraged Bedingfield to bare her creativity and human side.
“In our culture, people want women to be pretty and act very happy. But Linda lets you go where you need to go," says Bedingfield. "She lets you go where women don’t always let themselves lead in the music industry, which is with their hearts. That’s liberating and exciting.”
Songwriter Hall of Fame inductee Perry, who inked the ’90s hit “What's Up?” when fronting 4 Non Blondes, has worked with the likes of Alicia Keys, Miley Cyrus, Courtney Love and Weezer. She pushes artists to dig deep and be who they are, often working with them to spread a positive message of individuality, self-acceptance and female empowerment. This attitude permeated the production of Bedingfield's Roll With Me.
“We pulled something great out in each other,” says Bedingfield. “Linda made me feel very open, vulnerable and powerful all at the same time. You know, if someone believes in you, it’s really all you need. Working with her, I felt I could do anything.”
Bedingfield says the two have very different personalities. “I think I have this bright thing to my voice, which really lends itself well to being a pop singer-songwriter. And at the same time, I’m a very strong woman. And Linda has more of a darkness and brings an indie and risk-taking feel to the mix.
“I just felt instantly that I had a lot of trust in her,” Bedingfield adds. “I felt very willing to go on this journey together.”
The two first met around seven years ago, at a time when Bedingfield’s label was trying to get her to write another “Unwritten,” her 2004 song that topped the charts and served as the opening track on the MTV show The Hills.
“There was a lot of stuff going down at that time,” Bedingfield says. “Linda and I got together and wrote some incredible songs, and we looked at each other and went, ‘Whoa — we should write more.’”
And in spring of 2018, they hunkered down to write fresh material for Roll With Me.
“We had windows of time when our kids were asleep,” recalls Bedingfield. “We would just nab time when we could. Normally, I write songs late at night. I’ve written a lot of songs like that. But this album was more so written during daytime hours and took about nine months — like having a baby."
In bringing Roll With Me to life, Bedingfield and Perry turned to Motown legends for inspiration.
“Linda and I would talk a lot about Motown and how the music lifts you up, yet it’s not cheesy," she says. Motown is "rooted in pain and suffering. There’s a realness to it.”
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Roll With Me, which portrays the roller coaster of life, includes songs steeped in depth, wisdom and honesty.
Excited to share her new music with live audiences, Bedingfield kicked off a multi-city headlining tour on October 12 in support of the album. The Roll With Me tour will stop at the Gothic Theatre on Thursday, October 24.
“It’s so fun to take music that you’ve written in the studio and then play it live, because it sounds different every time. Music, to me, is an emotional thing. It takes you on a journey. You know, why do we go to shows? We go to them to forget about all the hard things we go through in a week, like with work and problems. There are a lot of things in life that try to steal our joy and hope. So a show is a place to let go and remember to live.”
Natasha Bedingfield plays at 8 p.m. on Thursday, October 24, at the Gothic Theatre, 3263 South Broadway in Englewood. Tickets are $35.00 to $79.50. For more information, visit the Gothic Theatre website.