Natalie Schlabs hails from one of the windiest places in North America, a land where the perpetual bluster gives a sense of impermanence to all things.
“There’s a toughness that’s innate to the Texas Panhandle,” she explains. “It’s normal to work your butt off and not ask for help from anyone. There’s a steadiness that I’m comforted by. Four generations of men on my dad’s side have farmed in Hereford, Texas. You have to be real tough and real patient to do that in the kind of climate we have.”
You can hear that same steadfast quality in Natalie’s songs. When she takes up her guitar and sings, the atmosphere grows heavier, thicker, fogged with echoes of other times. Her haunting melodies bring to mind a whispering wind across the moonlit plains. Heartfelt and melancholic—but shot through with a buoyant desire—these songs are like a rain shower after a drought. Music runs deep in Natalie’s kin. Her mother sings, and her brothers have played from an early age; she grew up singing alongside them. But her biggest influence was her grandfather, a singer, stunt pilot, crop duster, and sometimes-actor known for his sly sense of humor. Listening to the scratchy recordings that remain of her grandfather’s Western songs, one hears echoes of Natalie’s lonesome sound.
Though she’s been singing all her life, it wasn’t until a relationship ended four years ago that she started playing guitar. From the depths of her heartache, new songs came bursting forth. Around that time, her brothers moved away and her songwriting shifted toward the real love of family: “Not the gooey stuff, but the stuff that keeps you loving each other through all the changes of life. My love for music comes from my family, and my love for family has been the substance of my songwriting.”
But, more than family, there is another element that binds these songs together. Through the heartache and joy of her lyrics, through the solitary wail of Natalie’s voice, through the reverberating emptiness of the West Texas plains, a strand of something else can be heard, humming in the spaces of Natalie’s elegant lyrics, whispering behind her thrumming guitar. It’s a constant presence in her songs, and it’s what has turned the heads of her fellow songwriters in Nashville and what holds her audiences in rapt attention.
That furtive presence is hope.
It’s a hope that has been nourished by Natalie’s dogged spirit, and it grows like a mesquite tree in a forty-mile-an-hour wind. As she sings in “Future Glory”: “My grandpa tilled these lands with his brother / ’til he was eighty-three / He says it's all about / not giving up on seed. / It'll grow.” Like that seed sprouting up through the dry dirt of the Caprock, Natalie has continued to grow as a songwriter and a singer, and now she’s set to blossom in the fertile soil of Music City.