In The Mix is a recurring feature series from Stem that spotlights special artists who stand out and have a story to tell. Click here to browse our archives and meet ITM alums.
Lost trust. Faded dreams. No roof and no family on a coast far from home.
Natalie Green faced an uncertain future when he sped down an LA highway last February. Stability leapt into the air and refused to return to earth. Thankfully, the Connecticut native never had a problem lighting his own fuse.
In high school, when most read SparkNotes to reserve time for testing teenage invincibility (or just watching TV), he kept his head down, eyes trained on strings.
“I’d sit at my old Dell computer,” he remembers, grinning. “My mom would log me in every day after I showed her I finished my homework. Then it’d be straight to YouTube. I’d try to pick out what John Mayer would do and copy it best I could with her acoustic guitar.”
Liable to play for seven hours in one sitting, Natalie fell in love with the process at 15. A guitar class confirmed his advanced understanding of the instrument, enabled by unequaled focus, but it took time for him to think of music as a legitimate life path.
“I thought I wanted to be an architect. Took an architecture class, hated it. I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer. Same with photography. I loved music, but I wasn’t thinking about it as a career. Growing up in Connecticut, I always thought I’d play in bands then get a real job.”
Despite low long-term expectations, he kept at it, eventually falling in line with like-minded kids who didn’t think twice about the genre melting pot music had become (Green grew up on Sheryl Crow and Rage Against The Machine, fell for hip-hop in middle school—G-Unit had a monopoly over his ears—and then transitioned to pop-rock bands before streaming brought the songs of faraway cultures within clicking distance). The camaraderie was nice, but not necessary. That Green was able to push himself without support, before there was anything of promise to drive him, would make all the difference down the line. Self-motivation became a survival tool.
Natalie Green Is My Lover leads with the voice of its creator’s mother.
“What’s going on?!”
Her creeping concern—palpable, immediate—will ring a bell with anyone who crossed lines and endured the parental consequence.
Spliced and partly distorted on “June,” their conversation is not staged. After that first night on the highway, Natalie had lived, in secret, out of the back of his Jeep for three months when he called home. The cold opening sets the tone for a gorgeous, grief-stricken, guitar-driven mini-odyssey. A young man, isolated with empty pockets, teetering on the edge. It took everything he had to look ahead and stay afloat.
“I was doing dog walking,” Green remembers. “Sometimes people would offer overnight shifts. I’d take every one I could so I’d have a bed or a couch to sleep on, a shower to use. I wasn’t supposed to, but I’d do laundry too.”
iHop fueled the creation of his EP, written and recorded with two guitars, an old laptop and a cheap stage mic missing its windscreen dome.
“I would go to there, charge my computer. Everything was powered from that. No amps, I didn’t have the means for that sort of thing. iHop is really nice. If you buy a coffee, they let you stay there all night and watch a movie.”
For all the darkness surrounding Lover, it almost sounds sunny. Green’s mixing choices (and the mic itself) obscure his voice, hiding his lyrics behind a veil and pushing his pop-leaning melodies to the forefront. It’s easy to listen along without realizing the torment documented.
Take “Second Street.” The song grapples with the crushing weight of letting loved ones down, detailing the first night Green spent in his car. Spend one too many seconds exploring the song’s words and goosebumps will answer your curiosity. Thankfully, the ending is a happy one: Green intact, more comfortable with himself, ready to share his work with the world.
15 minutes of therapy, for him and for us.
You can follow Green on Twitter, Instagram and Spotify. Stream his In The Mix playlist, which cherrypicks an artist’s favorite songs encountered between childhood and today, below. For more In The Mix stories, get familiar with Swsh, Mulherin, Cam O’bi and Khary.