Photography: Jenn Cliff-Wilcock / @lens_of_a_wool

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“I grew up in the theatre, so I always wanted to incorporate it into my work,” Natalie Papa of NATALIE AND THE MONARCHY reveals. We’re sitting outside Café Tabac a few days after the country’s grand re-opening. Naturally, Bold Street is bustling with faces. But even among the array of people, her flair for the dramatics is obvious, decorating herself with pins, jewellery trinkets and a discernible punk style. “My dad’s a playwright and was obsessed with directing horror-filled, dark plays. So, I grew up in that experimental, scar-you-for-life kind of world. If the play ever required a child, there I was!” As we chat, she remains effortlessly captivating, and yet, what could be an otherwise intimidating feature of the young artist is dulled by the welcoming gleam in her eyes that seems to suggest that wherever she’s going, there’s an open invite for you. “I’m obsessed with dark cabaret as well,” she continues. “All my friends call it clown music, but it’s just what makes me happy.”

Despite her decadent origins, the artist felt constrained by her New Jersey surroundings before coming to Liverpool in 2018 to start her musical career. “Who I am as an artist didn’t really exist before I moved here,” she confesses. “I was 18 and desperate to get out of the US because of Trump. Gigging in the US under the drinking age is very difficult, so it’s almost impossible for younger artists to start out. It was so weird being able to play at bars and clubs here, and then go back home where we would have to secretly drink in my parents’ basement.” There’s an obvious humour in the disconnect between her identity as an artist and the image of youth this confession conjures. “I had a friend in Berlin who basically told me coming to the UK was the best way to make a name for yourself,” she continues. And what of the name’s regal origins? “Natalie and the Monarchy sounds like this really political name, I know. But it’s really because all my bandmates are British, and I like the word monarchy – it gives off a very powerful vibe!” she announces giddily.

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With her journey for independence and musical exploration underway as soon as she reached UK soil, the artist’s image quickly emerged as one tethered to gothic decadence. Through a blend of Riot Grrrl influences and her own ethereal vocals, the persona of Natalie and The Monarchy is one that ties brooding punk soundscapes with celebrations of sexuality, power and the nature of femininity that carry across the full breadth of the artist’s catalogue.

“I’m involved in sex work full-time, and that identity really ties into my music,” she spills. “I was always really interested in that world, but as I got more into it, I found so many people who cared about me, and who could help me realise my goals. Now, I realise that it goes both ways: I can use sex work as a way to help people with their problems as well. I never thought I would have another career outside of music, but they’re both passions of mine, so why not combine them?” She pauses before weighing it up. “Although, sex work is such an emotionally exhausting job. You need to have time away from it otherwise it just consumes you.”

“So often in the media, when you see a persona rooted in femininity and sensuality, it’s either a figure that is untouchable and dominant, or someone who’s very vulnerable. It’s never both”

The topic of overindulgence soon served as inspiration for the artist’s recent single, Envy The Villain, a riotous punk ballad that cuts to the core of forming alter egos and the reality-inducing feelings they can conjure, with the artist’s own confession-like lyricism quickly climaxing into an explosion of biting vulnerability. “I wanted to be this character that I was in my work full-time because it’s a type of fantasy. So, trying to separate myself from this persona I created in my sessions and how I am in real life caused some massive friction. It really made me hate myself for a time,” she admits. “That’s where the track’s inspiration really comes from; it’s about having a glorified idea of sex work and how that can backfire massively.” Alongside the track came a music video rooted in twisted campery, designed to build on the all-encompassing duality previously established. Throughout, she plays the role of a villain and a victim, flashing between images of her as a demon and those of a vulnerable individual. “I wanted the music video to really have an impact, so it’s set up almost as a Faustian exchange. It’s pretty corny,” she grins. 

However, alongside the mind-altering visuals and unabashed punk displays, comes an emotional call for conversation. As we delve into her candidness surrounding vulnerability and power, it becomes clear that the vocalist hopes to encourage a wider conversation around the shortfalls in the depictions of sex work in both public and private spaces. “So often in the media, when you see a persona rooted in femininity and sensuality, it’s either a figure that is untouchable and dominant, or someone who’s very vulnerable. It’s never both,” she explains. “That’s what I’m really exploring, those two sides and how they work in tandem.” It’s a mantra that doesn’t need to force itself into the artist’s persona, but instead seeps throughout it, working hand-in-hand with her domineering musical style. “I wanted the track to be as sincere as possible,” she admits, before pausing slightly. “A lot of friends I have are involved in sex work, and they experience very similar things. No media was really speaking about this issue, no one was expressing it, and it’s such a common feeling! So, I wanted to be the one to capture it, so others could use my work to help figure their own problems. That, and to let people know it’s OK to have those two sides of yourself and embrace both.”

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Despite her insight into sex work and the ability to speak for its unheard masses, the artist’s personal drive remains at the core of her ability to create. “When I put something out, I always forget that other people can relate to my music,” she admits. “I’m very new to both of these industries, and so I want to use music to capture my own beginning period,” she tells me. “But in terms of the future, I think I’ll try and focus on my identity as a dominatrix more. That mindset of authority really works with my music in general. I think that, regardless of where my music takes me, it’ll always remain a big part of it.” 

It’s a statement that hangs with certainty, that no matter her future plans, her two passions will continue to grow with her, forever intertwining, while helping others in the process. But, true to fashion, her closing statement is one of high dramatics. “I will be filming a bunch of music videos,” she concludes. “The first thing I want to do is hire a fire-breather!”

 

Envy the Villain is available now.

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