Time Spent With: Natalia TenaBy Steph Wilson
On the 6th March, the day after my 22nd birthday (and surprisingly perky considering) I went to meet Natalia Tena, aka “Tonks” from the Potter series, or Osha from Game of Thrones. As a first “Time Spent With…” it was pretty key to set the standard, and, gee wizz, did Tena set the bar high.
I arrived at her café of choice, Fika, slap bang in the middle of Brick Lane, and flew up the stairs. I found her poised like a vivaciously elegant male bird amongst the kitsch fake green leaves of the balcony’s decor. Her red lips popped. “Mac?” “Yeah, who are you?” “Shit, sorry, I’m the interviewer.”
Natalia Tena was beautiful enough as it is, but then she opened her mouth, and I fell in love with her instantly. Something I’m a sucker for doing these days… I’m in the right job for it, I guess. Lucky me.
SW: Do you have a lot of spare time?
NT: At the moment, no, I don’t tend to have a lot of spare time. I spend a lot of time cleaning out my boat with the cats. Practising the accordion’s another thing, drinking, going to see comedy.
SW: What stand up do you see and recommend?
NT: At the moment Brett Goldstein at the Soho theatre for one more night. (Sam, Natalia’s boyfriend and band member mutters something to spark the following) Shit, yeah! Tom Rhodes! He’s brilliant, I did a podcast with him. Joe Wilson, he’s amazing. Andrea Hubert, I always think it’s “Hubbit”… She’s fantastic. But I also love the fact that there’s a few places, like the Camden Head, one in Angel and one in Camden, and on Mondays you can go to nights which are free as it’s big comedians trying out their new stuff. Professional comedians seeing how their jokes land. It’s great.
Another fun thing I’ve said to Sam we should do, that I recommend, is going to the top of Sushi Samba and having a Hendrix Cocktail over looking London. It’s this green thing that makes you feel healthy, like a super-food smoothie, but…drinking at the same time.
SW: So, spare time, is it vital to keep you “going”?
NT: Absolutely. I have time off, but sometimes you can have too much time off. It’s that middle bit.
SW: It’s not fun to go into that brain dead lull of nothing, right?
NT: Yeah exactly. It’s like “this is death, this is death. I need a project, I need something to keep moving, we’re gonna die one day.”
So (after sussing out who is PR and who are band members) how long have you been together for?
NT: It was about 5 years ago, but it wasn’t really a band… It was a bit Chitty chitty bang bang, no, more like Mary Poppins. You know Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins? Where he’s just outside, you know, basically busking with some pigeons, hitting everything. That’s kind of how it was at the beginning. Like, the trumpet player also played the cajon. It was useless. So now we’ve homed it in. It’s become a much more solid thing.
SW: Looking at and listening to you guys… It’s hard to put a label on you. It’s a nice amalgamation of all the “best” stuff.
SA: (Amalgamation? That’s a great word…! We could use that in an album title or something…)
SW: So what would you describe your sound as?
SA: “Tropical gypsy” is the most recent attempt with –
NT: (Cutting off Sam) “Tropical URBAN gyspy…”
SA: …but, you see, the more words you put in the clumsier it gets. Got to be careful with all that.
NT: It’s pretty visual as well. The last thing we did with Oona Chaplin with the Neon Lights single, however, is a bit grimmer and darker. It’s set in a strip club, lots of violence – it’s great. It has that dirty, dark side of London.
SA: We tried refining it at the beginning, visually, to just black and white with hints of red, but we realised we just cant do refined. We’re not serious enough for that.
NT: On the 4th of April we’ll be performing our album launch show at Heaven, and I’m going to get neon nails, just neon everywhere. It’s all got to clash, every part of my body has to clash with another part of it. I’ll probably get a massive four foot tall neon head-dress. Feathers – I want a dead parrot – spray painted gold. Spray painted road kill head-dress, let’s go.
SW: Any musical influences?
SA: A lot of our influences come from our time spent in Brazil, and carnival, and it’s whole feel rather than the actual sound.
SW: Yeah, you seem more than about the sound. So many other elements involved; like a, a big packet of “woof”.
NT: “Big packet of woof!!!” “Yes!” (Natalia loved that…) Oh yeah, there’s our lead single of our second EP, “Tick Tock”. We did a day of the dead vibe, I had a coffin built for me in Malaga. It’s all about day of the dead, I was born on the day of the dead. They go mental for it in Spain. They clean all their graves, and bring their favourite foods down to the graves and have parties. The idea of the single all goes along with the theme that time catches up with you. You can get really anxious about it or you can just dance to the rhythm of that beat that time ticks along to.
So, anyway, we went to shoot the video in Malaga, and we wanted to do it in a graveyard. It was literally me in a coffin being pulled around and Sirius with a shaved head being the priest.
Sirius (Natalia’s Manager): I looked like such a paedo. They barely let me through customs.
NT: Unfortunately that day happened to be father’s day. It was totally full, the cemetery, and I’m in a flamenco dress, in a coffin, painted like a skeleton with an accordion… I felt so bad, but they were all grateful for us brightening up their day.
SW: That’s amazing. Have you lived anywhere other than London?
NT: No, London’s always been my base. I could live in Rio, or Amsterdam or Barcelona easily – especially with the boat culture in Amsterdam. For Barcelona, I’m Spanish… and then Rio because its JUST an urban jungle, an urban beach jungle. It’s incredible.
SW: I often get the urge to flee London, sensory bombardment to the point where there’s no time for your own thoughts. Drives me up the wall, do you find that ever?
NT: I love it. But I was born in it, so to me it’s normality. I lied, I lived in Brighton for a year but I couldn’t hack it. Too many hippies. Loads of white hippies. I was like “where’s everything else? Where’s life?”
SA: Exactly. Very middle class white Rasta’s. Very angry about everything and all vegans.
SW: What do you wish you had more time for?
NT: It’s not so much what I wished I had more time FOR, it’s more how the timing is put together. Music gets booked up so far in advance, and acting, I go to an audition next week and they’re like “oh you start work next month, for three months”. So it’s the incompatibility of the two’s timelines that’s the problem. It’d be great to get to that established point where they wait for you to tour. It’d be great to do that, but at the moment we’re not quite there yet. Other than acting and music, I’d love to get into breeding. Breeding bulls. No, Pigs!
SA: We were thinking of getting a little barge to attach behind our boat, with a goat and a pig and a chicken.
SW: Tell me more about your magic boat..
NT: It’s amazing. I’ve lived there for about a year and a half. I really think that’s a great way to enjoy London. I think two things have changed my view of London; starting to ride a bike when I was 19 is one of them, only because I didn’t care if I died. I was totally nihilistic because I’d just had my heart broken so riding around London didn’t phase me, and it definitely changes your perception of London, riding a bike, as does living on a boat. You’re friends with your neighbours, you’re almost back in the country…
SW: And do you live on your own?
NT: I live with my cats, Tea bag and Uncle Cumbia Middle Eight the Clap Shlomo.
On that note, we discussed where to head next. For a gander and some more snaps. The light wasn’t great in Fika.
Next door was “the” bagel shop. If you’re familiar with Brick Lane you’ll know the one. Natalia swooped in and grabbed herself a beef bagel with enough mustard to give you a full nasal sensory enema. Half way through she’d smothered the thing in so much lipstick it would have qualified as a secondary condiment to its ingredients. But, wonderfully, she didn’t give a toss.
On the way, we got a little deep. I mentioned a friend’s recent diagnosis of Cancer (I apologise for the dramatic change in tone after the mention of nasal enemas) and Natalia, beautifully, told me the following on the effect of time when you hear you’ve not got much left of it:
NT: One of the most liberating things I remember reading was this book by John Diamond, he says that having cancer is liberating because you realise how little time you actually have. So when you’re at a party and you’re chatting to some heinous person, you won’t sit and actually follow through with the conversation; you realise “I don’t have time to talk to this person anymore”. You realise whose important; friends and family are the ones you want to see, and it becomes clear the things you need to get done. And I thought, yeah, wow, I want to live like that. He said it himself; people should live like they have cancer. It’s a really positive thing to come out of such…darkness. I read it when I was 19. A woman called Jenny lent it to me. It’s just always stuck in my head.
We then quickly got onto discussing Breaking Bad…
NT: I’ve also been watching Cracker the past few days. Fucking love it. I’ve always wanted to look like Panhandle – the female cop in it, but BE like Robbie Coltrane. His whole attitude to everything, I was like “I want to be like that when I’m older”, to be that intelligent but not give a fuck.
SW: You’re getting there…
NT: Fucking yes…
We headed to The Water Poet (above), a beautiful pub on Folgate Street, after passing through Spitalfield’s antique market – the perfect playground for Natalia’s playful mind. I got us a round, turned the Dictaphone off and just let myself absorb them all in their entirety. It was a lovely end to a lovely couple of hours.