Interview with NATO
We sat down with NATO, the North East based rapper/beatboxer/anything else he puts his mind to, to find out what makes him tick.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Stanley, County Durham
What is your musical background?
When I was younger I used to listen to a lot of blink 182 & No Doubt, that sort of vibe, Gwen Stefani was my gal. Then I started getting into the rave scene as that’s what they played at my local youth club, plus its huge in Newcastle!
That's when I first saw somebody on the mic and it blew me away.
I noticed the older MCs, who were a bit more advanced, got a lot of respect from everybody and that's what I wanted.
So I started trying it but, as time went on, I dropped the rave and jumped onto something more around 140 bpm (Grime and Trap kinda vibes); it was slightly slower and I could fit my words into these kinds of beats a little more.
But then my friend started listening to a lot of Cypress Hill, and overtime I got into it too, that's where I found my passion.
I started writing my own lyrics on hip hop beats and found it so much easier, who knew all I had to do was slow the pace down to make it sound nicer!
Which of your own gigs stands out most for you?
I remember one show I did in Central Station a few years back which was a scary one…
I'd never done anything like that before, people were waiting for their trains, and getting coffee as they waited. I remember I was more nervous for that show than any show I’d ever done in a club, maybe it was the environment as it was daytime in the eye of the public.
But in the end I had so much fun! And they seemed to enjoy it too as they all clapped!
What is the most memorable gig you’ve ever been too?
I remember when I was living in Cyprus I was hosting in this club and it was filling up, then all of a sudden Giggs came on stage and started spitting ‘Talking The Hardest’ and the whole crowd went crazy! Me and my DJ looked at each other like “What is actually going on!? this is sick!” I’ll never forget that.
Musically, what are your biggest influences and who are your favourite musicians?
Do you have a favourite album?
My fave album would have to be Cypress Hill’s ‘Unreleased & Revamped’, I’ve been listening to that on repeat for literally years and I’m still not sick of it, I prefer some of the revamped tracks to the originals!
Also Kendrick’s ‘Good Kid, Mad City’ changed my life… That record changed the way I rapped and changed the way I look at music too. I'd never felt like I was actually there with the person, while listening to an album before, but I did with Kendrick, he's an amazing story teller!
I listened to ‘Good Kid, Mad City’ every day on the bus to college and back for that full year, and I still love it to this day.
Other artists who have influenced me would be: Mac Miller, Logic and Yelawolf.
What do you think of the rap scene in the UK at the moment? Who are your favourite UK rappers?
My fave UK rappers would have to be Jehst, Chester P and Shotty Horroh, I actually supported Chester P a few years back in Newcastle and he was sweet as a nut!
I think the scene is growing rapidly everyday, there's a lot of competition out there and I love checking out new artists.
Another one to look out for is my good pal Kaniva, I met him and his boys in ‘napa 2015 (#INSIDEEE) and we've been mates ever since. He's just dropped a new track called 'Okay' on GRM Daily and its doing really well, I can see him making so many moves in the near future so make sure you remember the name!
If Notorious B.I.G. was still around, what one question would you ask him?
I’d like to ask biggie, what did it feel like blowing up and becoming the biggest rapper of that generation, I can only imagine it was an amazing feeling.
Who do you currently collaborate with? And who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
I don't collab enough to be honest, I mainly record my tracks between 2-5am…
However I’ve always said I’d love to collaborate with an artist called Spooky Black, he's changed his name to Corbin now, his vibe is dark and ambient, and I listen to him daily.
I'd also love to do a track with Twenty One Pilots, they're my favourite band in the world.
My friend Reali-T is an amazing artist too, I’m sure we'll end up working on something in the future…
In what ways has your music evolved from when you first started?
Oh wow! My music has changed massively, I’d say I’m slowly becoming more of a creative artist now more than just a rapper.
I like to make all sorts, whether it’s a tongue N' cheek hip hop track, a hype trap kind of vibe, or experimental and ambient, if it’s a vibe it's a vibe.
I'm so excited for everyone to hear my new stuff, I think it's going to shock a few people that didn't know I had it in me…
What are the main inspirations for the lyrics you write?
I have two things that drive my lyrics… I either use emotion to write; if I’m sad I’ll write a sad track or a love song, or if I’m in a good mood, maybe I’ll make a hype track or something silly.
If I’m tired I might make an interlude or something ambient and mellow, but I also just write a lot of random stuff when I’m out and about. I could see a leaf blowing in the wind and think oh, maybe that could be a good start of a song, for example "I was looking out my window, just watching the wind blow". It just depends on how I’m feeling that day and what I come up with.
I was once eating shreddies and ended up making a whole song on eating shreddies in the morning, so you could say my bowl of shreddies inspired me… I do love a good bowl of shreddies on a morning.
What would be your dream venue to perform in?
I don't really have a dream venue to be honest, however I do dream of being on stage at a huge festival with the crowd singing my lyrics back at me. I want to experience that, and I feel like I’m ready! Something like Lollapalooza, that kind of crowd!
If you weren’t a musician, what life would you be leading instead?
I think if I wasn't doing music I’d probably either be doing graphic design, music videos for people, or maybe a host/MC, that's my job outside of music.
I’m a hype man, so I guess I’d be doing that, but I think that's still in music, so maybe thats cheating…
I’ve always said I’d love to be a therapist, some kind of drug counsellor. I used to work as a youth worker for a little bit when I was younger and I loved doing the Talk to Frank type talks with the kids and telling them about all the different effects they have on the brain. So maybe I’d do that, who knows!
If you could go back in time, which artist would you like to see live?
I’d love to see Lil Peep live, I listened to him for about two years before he passed and he really inspired me in some ways. That was one of the first things I said when I found out… “Damn, I’ll never get to see him live” it's such a shame.
How did you find inspiration for the lyrics on ‘Something About You’ and how long did it take to reach the final mix?
Haha that one’s easy! The lyrics in that song are actually about my cat…
I’m allergic to her so she makes me sneeze and I can't breathe very well when she’s in my room, but she always creeps outside my door trying to get in.
Hence the lyric “I can't seem to breathe, it’s been like this all week, I open my window, shivering myself to sleep, i can't seem to sleep, with you sleeping next to me, why don't you leave me be, outside my door you will creep”.
Have I switched the whole song up now you know what it’s about? The final mix was quick, the beat and everything was already done so I just played around with my vocals a little and bounced it down. It wasn't going to be anything originally, just something for me to listen to when I was out and about, but I showed a few friends and they said “this is super chill you should upload this”, so I did.
Musicians can go through fame very quickly, how could you best deal with this?
I’ll have to get there before I know the answer, I think I’d be fine though. I’m a very confident person and I love meeting new people. I always try to keep good heads around me, so I’m sure they'd keep me sweet and not let it get to my head, I just want to make everyone smile and give the world some good vibes!
If you could live with one musician for the rest of your life, who would it be?
I’d probably live with Snoop Dogg, he seems super chill and we could freestyle all day.
What advice would you give to upcoming artists?
I’d say stack your music, work on your craft don't go uploading the first thing you create, make a few tracks listen to them for a bit and see if it still sounds good in a few weeks.
If you’re not sick of it or cringing, get some feedback from somebody who isn't your friend or family, and just be yourself in the music. If you’re passionate about it don't let anybody get you down, never stop creating and moving forward but also take in what people say, you need to take criticism on board because sometimes they might just be telling you the truth!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Remember that festival I was talking about? where the crowd sings my stuff back to me? I think that's exactly where I’ll be. But with gold teeth…
If you could only listen to 5 songs for the rest of your life, what would these be?
It depends, if I was here still doing my thing, then off the top of my head I’d say:
Fleetwood Mac - Everywhere
Goodbye Horses - Q Lazzarus
Mase - Tell Me What You Want
Lauryn Hill - Doo-Wop
Twenty One Pilots - The Judge
If it had to be my own music:
NATO - Toy Lighthouse
NATO - Coin
NATO - Lightbulb
NATO - I’m Sorry
NATO - Why Don't You
Some of these tracks aren't out yet so you will have to wait and see what I’m talking about. I think I’m gonna change the name of 'Why Don’t You' to something else too, so I’ll keep it a surprise.
What is your most memorable experience abroad?
I don't remember any of it really, do you know how drunk you get out in those places? it's the rules.
Nah I remember driving to the top of the mountain on a quad and crashing into somebody on a moped when I got to the bottom. Weird thing is, I ended up moving in with the guy I crashed into...
If you were going to live on an island what would you bring with you?
3 boombap instrumentals
2 trap instrumentals
Photography by Jay Dawson