Melbourne indie artist Nat Vazer wants the hard questions and “absolute truth”

The singer-songwriter talks her debut album ‘Is This Offensive And Loud?’, the importance of representation and her journey to "live the most artful life I can"

Most artists would baulk at the idea of releasing a debut album under a global pandemic, but Nat Vazer isn’t worried. Over an Instagram video call two weeks from the release of her debut album ‘Is This Offensive And Loud?’, Vazer speaks with calm, collected confidence – reminiscent of a chess player deciding their next move.

Vazer is focused, driven and willing to take her chances – because for her, releasing music isn’t simply a means to an end. Rather, it’s another stepping stone in her metaphysical “path of creation”.

“The aim is to live the most artful life I can,” she tells NME. “What that means to me is pursuing the things that excite me the most. Chasing the ideas I’m most curious and obsessed about, because I think that’s the only way to really live – the most honest life you can. And in a way, that’s the only way to really discover who you really are.”

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Throughout her life, music has always been a constant for Vazer, at times seeming like a divine calling. She found solace from a tumultuous childhood in the riffs of Metallica, Thrice and Nirvana, and played in a metal cover band at school. She subsequently embraced the ’90s riot grrrl movement, which she admired for its feminist platforms created by pioneers like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. But it wasn’t until she started listening to storytellers like Andy Shauf, Aldous Harding and Adrianne Lenker (of Big Thief) that Vazer began to find her own voice bubbling to the surface.

“Getting into music was one of the best things I ever did for myself,” Vazer muses. “I think it all started out to be a distraction, but it turned into something a bit more cathartic and therapeutic over time.”

But Vazer didn’t plunge into music full-time. Instead, she finished law school and went to work as a civil litigator. Forging a legal career while moonlighting as a gigging musician meant sipping from a dangerous cocktail of stress, overwork and sleep deprivation.

The hectic arrangement lasted until 2017, around the time she was writing her debut EP, ‘We Used To Have Real Conversations’. One night, she had a nervous breakdown and gave herself an ultimatum – and in doing so, embarked on the first leg of her creative journey.

“I couldn’t sleep properly and I felt like my body was breaking down,” she recalls. “It was so completely clashing to the point where I just felt so drained and tired all the time. I didn’t even have time for my own relationships with my partner, my friends and my family. It just wasn’t viable, and I guess I came to a crossroads with that.”

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Nat Vazer Australia Melbourne Is This Offensive And Loud
Credit: Benjamin Joel

In 2018, Vazer quit her job and packed her bags for a trip to Canada, where she commenced writing ‘Is This Offensive And Loud?’ in earnest. The majority of its songs were penned in a small town on the outskirts of Toronto, with a few more added on her return home to Melbourne. Each track on the album could easily double as a diary entry, ranging from sentimental anecdotes to reflections on wider societal issues like gender equality.

Racial diversity in Melbourne’s music scene is a topic equally important to Vazer, an Asian-Australian with Malaysian and Vietnamese roots. While she acknowledges there’s “no shortage of ethnic minorities or females playing indie rock”, she suggests there’s a certain lack of visibility for people of colour. As we swap names of prominent Asian-American artists back and forth, she finds it startling that Asian representation seems to fall short Down Under. But she doesn’t consider herself a torchbearer.

“I don’t think I’m super unique in that sense, because there’s definitely other performers out there,” she explains. “In terms of diversity in Melbourne’s music scene alone, I think we have a long way to go. But if artists like Mitski, Vagabon, Jay Som, The Tontons and Japanese Breakfast have been able to break the indie white mould of America, it’s just a matter of time before it happens in Australia.”

Vazer is acutely aware of the challenges surrounding the issue of visibility, and she knows it’s neither a simple nor instantaneous process to incite change. “I think it’s really up to a lot of industry people on the fence to drive that,” she says.

“Like the way people are curating lineups. They could have policies about that sort of thing – for example, asking themselves this is a diverse enough lineup – to make sure it’s something they’re constantly pushing and being mindful of. You need leaders in that space to lead that change for it to trickle down. ”

But she’s determined to address it the way she knows best. Identifying, vocalising and tackling these sensitive issues lie at the heart of her forthcoming album. Sometimes, she feels like her songs pick up from where she left off as a lawyer.

“People often comment that my music can be confronting and address touchy subjects,” she says. “I don’t care if people think that’s obscene. I don’t care if it’s offensive and loud. I think it’s important to have real conversations about these things, and that can occur through any art form or medium that speaks to people, including music.”

It’s a sentiment that harks back to Vazer’s 2018 debut single, ‘Keep Away From Parks!’ The song was “written as a ‘fuck you’” to a policeman who told her to stay away from her local parks, and to never go out at night without a man by her side. That same biting conviction remains present years later on her debut record: “Used to cut my hair so short / Like Demi Moore in Ghost… Used to care what people think / Now I’m all out of fucks to give,” she croons on lead single ‘Like Demi’.

“All my songs are inspired and based around real-life experiences,” Vazer explains. “Sometimes they’re written from a third-party perspective – I try to imagine what it’d be like to live in someone else’s situation and to observe it from their view.”

‘Better Now’, the fourth track on ‘Is This Offensive And Loud?’, is a sterling example of this. The song was inspired by a conversation with a little girl at a bus stop in Toronto, in the wake of the city’s infamous van attack in 2018. A chillingly similar event had occurred in Melbourne’s Bourke Street just a year prior.

“I was waiting for a bus to take me into the city, and this little girl there randomly started talking to me,” she says. “She told me she was watching the news, and how she was scared to go to school after the attack and after hearing about high school shootings all over the US. After I got home, I wrote that song in half an hour, which was the shortest time I’ve ever spent writing a song. I was really touched from hearing her story. That whole state of shock was quite familiar to me – seeing it happen all over again but in a different city.”

While Vazer’s solo career is still in its infancy, her journey so far has garnered her life experience beyond her years. Currently, the most significant mantra she abides by is to simply be true to herself, and to not shy away from the call of creativity.

“Following the things that make you curious and the things you’re passionate about – that’s definitely been the most important thing for me,” she says.

“Naturally, your intuition will steer you towards the things you care about. It’s put me on this path and helped me make sense of the world in a way I didn’t really think was possible. I think that ultimately leads you to absolute truth, and that’s been the biggest lesson for me after all these experiences.”

Nat Vazer’s debut album ‘Is This Offensive And Loud?’ is out May 29.

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