Spotlight: Natalie Cressman
photo credit: Lauren Desberg
When Trey Anastasio Band’s Natalie Cressman arrived on the West Coast to quarantine with her creative collaborator and romantic partner Ian Faquini, it wasn’t long before they started working on the DIY anthem “Already There.”
“The whole message of the song is to just be at peace with being in the present and not worry about where we’re going or what’s happening,” the singer/trombonist explains, phoning one late afternoon from Berkeley, Calif., where she grew up, before moving east to attend college in New York. “We’re already there; we’re already where we need to be. So, it’s been a good mantra to keep going against all this COVID stress—just trying to live one day at a time.”
From top to bottom, “Already There” was a testament to Cressman and Faquini’s ingenuity—they wrote it entirely in their shared home, and shot the music video on Faquini’s roof using only their iPhones. As far as recording goes, Cressman was able to keep the tune safely in her pod, enlisting her father, longtime Santana trombonist and former Trey Anastasio Band member Jeff Cressman, to record, mix and master.
“He’s pretty much been involved in every project of mine in one way or another,” Cressman says of her father. “It’s a nice kind of father-daughter bonding time, and I have a lot of trust in him realizing the vision on the technical side. I feel super lucky to have him in my corner. I’m also super happy to have made the decision I made [to ride out the pandemic lockdown on the West Coast] and, now, I’m just looking forward to when things start back up again and I can go back to New York and feel that energy again.”
In fact, Cressman—who has split her time between New York and the Bay Area in recent years—says that family time has certainly been another COVID-19 silver lining. Instead of touring the country with the Trey Anastasio Band or serenading jazz clubs with Faquini, she’s been jamming weekly with an informal, socially distanced trombone quartet as well as with her parents. “We meet up in someone’s backyard every week and play a mixture of jazz and classical pieces,” Cressman says. She does note, however, that there are a few moments that do leave her yearning for the days of yore.
“It’s weird, I never thought of myself as someone who needed the energy of an audience to perform, but I’ve done probably somewhere between 10-20 livestreams since this all started, and there is something missing when you finish a song,” she says. “That applause is like this palate cleanser, this reaffirmation that what we’re doing is falling upon willing and happy ears. And not having that is so awkward; we finish a song and me and Ian kind of look at each other and it’s like, ‘OK, onto the next thing!’ I never thought that I needed the sound of applause, but it is one of the things that I’ve realized is actually a crucial part of pacing a concert.”
And while cooking and tending to a windowsill garden have been welcome distractions, Cressman and Faquini remain focused on their music, working diligently on a new album.
Unlike 2019’s Setting Rays of Summer, the duo’s upcoming, yet-to-be-titled LP embraces the art of multitracking by harmonizing multiple trombone parts, as well as layering vocals.
“We are one session shy of being done laying it down,” Cressman says of the new project. “We’ve got 13 songs, one of them just needs a little tweaking, and then we’re there and we can start mixing. We don’t have a name yet but its got a theme to it. All of the songs have what we’ve started to call a ‘trombone choir’— so rather than just one ‘me,’ there’s at least four versions of ‘me’ at a time on each track, sometimes five or six. It’s this very lush sound of many trombones at once backing up the vocals, and that’s been super fun to dig into and arrange. It’s something I love to do and I haven’t done it on one of my projects in a little while.”
As for the Trey Anastasio Band, Cressman notes that, while most members are scattered across the U.S., she looks forward to jamming with the collective again one day. She finds the duality of her two creative pursuits necessary and invigorating.
“Both sides complete me as an artist,” Cressman says. “I enjoy playing with a full band, having that interaction with the drums and percussion, and the level of crowd excitement at the types of venues we play brings out a different side of my playing. It brings a different energy then when Ian and I are playing together. That being said, it’s such a soul-soothing experience to strip everything down to just me and Ian—two voices, guitar and trombone. There’s room for a lot of subtlety and different types of emotion that wouldn’t translate or that might get lost in a bigger festival setting. I have this need to express myself in both arenas, and so it’s nice to have that variety in my life—getting to play with the amazing people in TAB, and then also getting to tour as a duo and play smaller rooms where you can feel the energy of the audience in a different way.”