With strong Hudson Valley roots, singer-songwriter Natalie Forteza fuses textural acoustics with influences of soul, world, R&B, and indie pop.

Soulful and textural, Natalie Forteza’s music fuses the singer-songwriter’s expressive lyrics with shades of soul, world, and indie pop.

Produced by three-time Grammy winner Michael League of the band Snarky Puppy, Natalie and her band have performed at venues in the Hudson Valley and beyond, including local staples like The Falcon and Daryl’s House and New York hotspots like The Iridium and Rockwood Music Hall.

Natalie Forteza performing at Rockwood Music Hall. Photo by Leonardo Mascaro.

Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

Hello, I’m Natalie! 😊

I’m passionate about food, coffee, shoes, and am most especially passionate about being a singer/artist/songwriter.

I have always loved music & singing. As a kid I would often upset my Dad by taking hour-long showers because I liked the acoustics. I would sneak downstairs in the middle of the night to listen to music in headphones on my parents’ stereo system.

Despite my early on bug for music, I started my pursuit for a music career late. Due to a tragic loss in my family, the loss of my Dad, my focus became directed on my family during a time of incredible grief — dreams of being a singer felt far off and unrealistic.

After some time the calling was hard to ignore, so instead of ignoring it I started embracing it. I joined a local jazz group to get back into music, and soon after started my own group with Akie Bermiss (keys), Anthony Candullo (bass), and Erik Perez (drums), who would become my songwriting comrades and dear friends to turn this crazy dream into reality.

Natalie Forteza performing at The Iridium. Photo by Leonardo Mascaro.

I never, ever, thought I’d be a songwriter, but watching the changing landscape of the music industry forced me to adopt an “adapt or die” mentality, which pushed me into trying to write my own songs. An introduction to Porter Carroll Jr. — a prolific songwriter & singer, founder of the band Atlantic Starr, and percussionist for Daryl Hall & John Oates — would lend itself to an accelerated education about having a band and being a songwriter and an artist. Porter was passionate about what we were trying to start and what we wanted to achieve, and he wanted us to succeed. After working on some songs, we chatted about finding a great producer to help us to take our music to the next level. And so, through the degrees of separation, through a bandmate of his he met one, and then introduced me. That’s how I met Michael League of the Grammy-winning band, Snarky Puppy.

Michael produced my debut EP (“01 EP”, released in 2015), and the whole experience again lent a ton of education in producing and releasing a record.

Since then, I’ve continued to enjoy (even amidst the challenges) the process of growing into a songwriter, and into an artist, this curly-haired girl’s childhood dream.

Since the release of the EP, we’ve released some singles, originals, and uniquely arranged covers, and are currently working on releasing more music in 2020.

I might be late, or have started later then I wanted, but I’m definitely not looking back.

How did you discover the Hudson Valley?

I’ve lived the majority of my life in the Hudson Valley.

I was born in Houston, Texas but my family moved to New York by the time I was around 3 years old. We moved around a bit, living in parts of Westchester like Mamaroneck, Mt. Kisco and Yorktown, then moved further North to Mahopac in Putnam County (which I consider my hometown, it’s where I lived the longest).

When I got married our first place together was in Cold Spring and we’re now on the Dutchess/Putnam County border.

I have vivid, wonderful memories as a kid, going camping in the woods around the Finger Lakes and Adirondack Mountains. Playing in the leaves, collecting acorns, bathing in lakes, fishing, climbing rocks, walking the trails, sitting by the fire, listening to the night bundled up in my sleeping bag (sometimes being startled at a sound, hoping that it wasn’t a bear!).

Cold Spring developed into a second hometown of sorts. When I got a job in the village I was introduced to the artist community and musicians that would eventually lead me to the people who’ve helped me to get to where I am now.

Natalie performing at Rockwood Music Hall with bandmates Akie Bermiss and Anthony Candullo. Photo by Leonardo Mascaro.
Natalie Forteza performing at Rockwood Music Hall with bandmates Akie Bermiss and Anthony Candullo. Photo by Leonardo Mascaro.

Walk us through a typical day.

Every day is different, really. The only thing that’s typical is trying to time manage and wrangle different things into a single day or week.

I work a part-time job, so my “off days” aren’t really off, they’re working days for music projects. If I’m in a writing season, I try to do that early in the day in the quieter hours and when I’m more focused (but sometimes that flips to late in the evening).

More left-brain tasks like emails, making to-do lists, drafting social media posts and email newsletters, updating copyright info, updating my website, contacting venues, or researching topics (like licensing) take up another portion of the day.

Currently, I’ve been in more of a pre-production season, working with Akie and Anthony fine-tuning a few of our finished songs, arranging them to be recorded and released this year. So there’s a good amount of time spent in Logic, messing with the demos, flushing out ideas.

One thing I definitely don’t seem to find enough time for is guitar playing — having just started playing barely two years ago now, I can’t seem to do a well-enough job of carving out time to play my two beloved guitars. But it’s on my priority list to get better at.

Do you have a go-to coffee or beer order, and from where?

Great question! Let’s talk coffee!

Well, depends where I am…

At home it’s predominantly espresso with a little milk, or pour overs (and I’ve got my favorite mugs to enjoy them in, presently an owl mug or a Japanese tea cup). We do a lot of our work at Anthony’s house (in South Salem), literally in the kitchen, where there is coffee percolating almost the entire time out of any (or all) of the many coffee-brewing mechanisms Anthony has: espresso machine, Aeropress, French press, pour-overs with the good ol’ fashioned coffee sock, or stovetop espresso cafetera.

Locally, I’ve got a few spots: I gotta say The Pantry in Cold Spring got me into cortados, and when I’m hangin’ in Beacon, Big Mouth Coffee always supplies a beautifully frothy cappuccino. When I really need to strap in and get some work done, I take a ride down to Peekskill Coffee and find a spot (hopefully a sunny spot) to park my laptop and sip at an Americano, cappuccino or house drip — depends what my tastebuds are feeling.

Natalie Forteza performing at Daryl’s House House in Pawling. Photo by Ian Johnson.

Where do you do your best creative work?

This varies, but I’d say most of the time at home in my office. I have a writing chair to nestle into with a pencil (a mechanical pencil preferably) and my notebook/notepad, for starting new ideas or trying to finish a lyric. Or I can just fumble through melody or arrangement ideas singing into a mic at my desk. But some days I can be restless and easily distracted by just about anything like laundry or paperwork I haven’t filed in a year (lol), so that’s when it’s better I leave the house and try to work remotely — usually at a coffee shop.

How has the Hudson Valley influenced or impacted your creative work?

Like most things in life, the things that are right in front of you are often taken for granted. Before I started writing I was just used to being surrounded by the landscape, the woods, mountains, sunsets, and riverfronts of the Hudson Valley.

I think it was when I started writing that I started to appreciate the details of my surroundings. Paying more attention to those details — especially the transformation of nature, everything from blooming flowers, crispy late Summer tall grasses, the palette of Fall foliage colors, ghostly morning fog rolling down mountains, to the crusts of ice forming on the Hudson River, all helping me to write in more detail, to go deeper into an idea — is something I struggle with.

I now realize that my surroundings have become a training ground to become a better writer. My desk sits in front of a window facing the woods, and it gets great sun in the morning. Having that view often resets me for whatever’s next.

Venue: Daryl's House, Pawling NY
Photo by: Ian Johnson
Natalie Forteza performing at Daryl’s House in Pawling. Photo by Ian Johnson.

What’s surprised you most about living and working in the Hudson Valley?

I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by it, but I’d say that what I’m grateful for is the warmth and respect I’ve been welcomed with entering the local music scene.

Maybe it’s because I moved around a lot, often having to enter into new groups of people where people had known each other for lifetimes,I felt like the new kid on the block and built up the idea I had to prove myself. But entering the local music community here of songwriters, musicians, and music industry professionals I found the opposite was true — I could just be myself. I didn’t have to be vetted to participate.

I try not to take myself seriously, but I take my music aspirations and pursuits seriously, and I think people can sense my genuine love and curiosity for music. There’s no manual to this career, and I didn’t have a reference, a family member that pursued a music career. So being among a community of creatives led to great conversations and connections with people that helped me to sort out ideas, thoughts, frustrations, and educate me in various areas. A foundation I’ve been able to begin to build my dreams on.

Anything you want to plug or promote?

I have an upcoming release. A single, an alternate version of a previously released title, “Side by Side (Guitar Version),” coming out on Friday, February 14, 2020. I thought it might be sweet to release on Valentine’s Day.

It’s not your typical love song, but a song about unconditional love. An uplifting, soulful, inspirational song, written with loved ones in mind, about getting into the emotional trenches with someone, seeing through tough moments in their life.

The single will be available for digital download and streaming on all the major platforms.

Side by Side (Guitar Version) - Single artwork
Release date: Feb 14, 2020
Photo by: Ian Johnson
Design by: Michelle Svoboda
Album cover for Side by Side (Guitar Version)
Photo by Ian Johnson, design by Michelle Svoboda
This interview has been edited.

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