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Natalie Imbruglia returns to music: “Fortunately the 90s are in fashion” | Music

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NOTatalie Imbruglia isn’t afraid to talk about the lowest point of her career. “Oh yeah, I quit. Indeed, in my head, I did not come back to the music, ”she says. She speaks to Guardian Australia via Zoom from her home in Oxfordshire, England. It is early in the morning and her camera is off because, according to her own description, she “looks like death.”

Imbruglia was just 16 in 1992 when she was cast as Beth Brennan in Neighbors. But if the name is familiar to you, it’s more likely because of Torn: a cover of a 1995 song by American band Ednaswap that made Imbruglia a worldwide pop sensation two years later.

Its version has become one of the most played songs on British and Australian radio and has sold over 4 million copies worldwide. Left of the Middle, the subsequent debut album, sold 7 million copies, won the Australian Aria Awards and was nominated for a Grammy.

It was a path traced almost to the letter by Imbruglia as a teenager at his home in Berkeley Vale on the central coast of New South Wales. “I remember writing that wish list in my bedroom that said, I want to be in Neighbors, E Street or Home & Away,” she recalls. “Then I’ll make music, then I’ll be a movie star. “

Natalie Imbruglia at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, where she won the award for Best New Artist. Photography: Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic, Inc

But fame wasn’t all it was meant to be. Being a global celebrity, she said previously, has left her “prosperous, rich and woefully unhappy.”

“It was intimidating,” she remembers now. “I went everywhere and won prizes and didn’t have a lot of self-confidence. It was that weird combination of trying to step up and own it, and also not really thinking you’re that good. So there were mixed emotions. I see pictures of myself at this time and just want to hug myself, because I think that was a lot.

Torn’s success also drew some criticism. Ednaswap, the group that wrote the original, were not thrilled with his point of view.

“I met them and they were pretty bitter about it at first,” she says. “After it came out, they were like, ‘That’s not really what we had in mind for the song.’ And it’s like, well, you should have signed up for me to sing it for one, so there you go. [then there’s] the money you earned. (In a previous interview, Anne Preven and Scott Cutler of Ednaswap described Torn as a “massive financial windfall” that brought in several six-figure royalty checks; Cutler admitted that while he was not a fan of the beginning, “I love [Imbruglia’s version] now.”)

Imbruglia invited the band to work with her on their second album – but it ended badly too. She “quit” the sessions, she says, and hasn’t spoken to the group since.

After moving to London, Imbruglia released two more albums and starred in a few films, including the James Bond parody Johnny English. But in 2008, all did not go as planned. After five years of marriage, she divorced Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns; while the couple remain friends, being newly single in their mid-thirties has shaken her. “I spent a lot of time after that trying to settle down, find a guy, start a family,” she says. “I [thought] another relationship might be the answer.

And then, in 2009 – after years of working on her fourth album Come to Life – Imbruglia was ditched by her Island Records label before getting a worldwide release.

“I had made this super cool album… and they kept trying to change it and make it more pop,” she says. “Just that typical music industry bullshit… not having a proper release of it really broke my heart. It was hard for me.”

Nathalie Imbruglia
Natalie Imbruglia: “The ups and downs that I have been through have brought me to where I am now.” Photography: BMG

It was then that she considered quitting altogether. “I really thought the universe was telling me not to make music,” says Imbruglia. She returned to Australia for a period of soul-searching – and a hosting gig on X Factor – and spent time in the wilderness around Currumbin Creek in Queensland. Eventually, she moved to Los Angeles to study acting, landing roles in a trio of independent films, and in 2015 released a cover album, before returning to writing her own.

Now Imbruglia is preparing to release Firebird: her first album of originals in over a decade. She describes the record as a celebration of independence, strength and surpassing; like the start of a new chapter.

“I realized [music] is my first love. I might not be the best songwriter, but what I am is a communicator of emotions and I think that’s valid, ”says Imbruglia. “The fact that it took so long is just typical of me, unfortunately. “

In 2019, Imbruglia welcomed her first child as a solo parent, after revealing to Instagram that she became pregnant after undergoing IVF with donor sperm. The album finds Imbruglia upbeat and at peace with the universe, whether reflecting on the joy of having something to lose on Maybe it’s Great or encouraging being “older and wiser” in the chorus of On My Way. On the KT Tunstall Nothing Missing collaboration, Imbruglia sings as she realizes that she is already whole without a partner, an “epiphany” that landed before her son was born.

His return also has another dimension: it aligns with the times. A wave of new pop groups are embracing the genre of guitar pop music that Imbruglia helped popularize at the turn of the century, including Rina Sawayama and Slayyyter; and Lorde covered Torn in a TV appearance this year, citing Imbruglia as the inspiration for her new album, Solar Power.

Imbruglia has yet to listen, but is happy to be a reference. “I think [Lorde] is a genius and it’s very flattering, ”she laughs. “Fortunately, the 90s are all the rage. But she wasn’t interested in returning to that sound herself. Instead, Firebird is a sound mix – pop music merged with country, electronic and rock influences – which has been guided by Imbruglia’s own tastes as well as contributions from collaborators including Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jnr.

Signed on a new label this time around, Imbruglia hasn’t had to deal with outside opinions on what she should look like, or “writing for algorithms”.

“I think the ups and downs I’ve been through have brought me to where I am now, and I’m very proud of Firebird. To do so has been the happiest and most creative experience. So I wouldn’t change anything.

Plus, she says, “I try to remember the highs more than the lows. And I’m having a high right now.

Natalie Imbruglia’s Firebird releases September 24 via BMG


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