Star-Pop Pew Pew

Natural Sympathies: she came from space and shaped this place

Music | by Gregory Beatty

When people consider potential sources of stress in life, leaving family and friends behind to move to a distant city and having a first child rank right up there.

In the span of a few years, Amber Goodwyn did both. First, she moved with her partner from the vibrant metropolis of Montreal where she played in the rock band Cobra & Vulture and was immersed in the arts to, uh… the slightly less vibrant and cosmopolitan city of Regina.

Then she and her partner had a baby.

Some culture shock was inevitable, but Goodwyn didn’t let that stop her from embracing her new life. Currently, she works in community radio, and as her artistic alter-ego Natural Sympathies she just released an ambitious project called Porous featuring a seven-song album and accompanying film with contributions from seven filmmakers.

Stress Relief

“When I left Montreal, I needed to take a break from music,” says Goodwyn. “I felt too destabilized to launch into anything with my whole heart. Then soon after we had a baby. I was home alone, and while I loved being a mother, I also felt a little trapped. It was the perfect time to relieve the stress with an outlet like Natural Sympathies.”

Goodwyn played guitar in Cobra & Vulture, and also sang, which meant she was tied to her instrument and mic stand.

“I love being in a rock band,” she says. “But for a long time, I’d wanted to explore theatrical and performative aspects of myself. I was also curious about whether I would be able to make music on my own, and whether I’d be brave enough.”

As described by Goodwyn, Natural Sympathies is a “pseudo sci-fi character who also makes fun of the ‘born sexy yesterday’ trope.” For those who haven’t heard of it, BSY is a nerd fantasy staple — a physically attractive woman who is otherwise naïve and child-like, like Milla Jovovich as Leeloo in The Fifth Element.

When performing as Natural Sympathies, Goodwyn uses visual projections, and is often accompanied by back-up dancers. “I won’t be exploring these themes forever as I don’t like to get stagnant as an artist,” she says. “Right now is kind of the pinnacle. But anything that’s fun, that’s maybe a bit ridiculous and silly, but also confident and politicized, motivates me so much.”

That duality is reflected in Porous, which Goodwyn says marked a departure for her as a songwriter. “With my previous bands, and even early songs with Natural Sympathies, the writing was pretty thick with metaphor.

“Porous is like feeling I have no barriers left,” she says. “It’s like I’m tired of being indirect and have decided to address things that have been making me angry. Everything around the album, visually, is quite playful. But at its heart, the album is angry about the way the world is right now.”

The first single, “Hello”, was released in May. “It was the perfect start as it talks about the difficult things I’ve experienced in the last few years like motherhood, losing my own mother, and feeling lonely — which is a difficult emotion for me,” says Goodwyn. “I like to be surrounded by friends and family. So that song comes directly from my heart.”

Other songs tackle issues such as sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and racism that Goodwyn has either experienced personally, or through friends and colleagues she’s come to know in Saskatchewan.

“I’m from Montreal, and it’s not perfect,” she says. “But we’re kind of in the Bible Belt here, and it’s really hard for people who live outside the norm. They’re very brave, and they’re making this place better all the time, so I’m really inspired by them for living their lives honestly and hopefully as safely as possible.”

Creating Space

Goodwyn has a degree in filmmaking, and it had long been a dream of hers to make a series of music videos for a project where the videos had an overarching narrative. With Porous, she decided she finally had the songs to do it.

The album itself is being released by Grey Records in Saskatoon. To create the companion film, Goodwyn recruited seven independent filmmakers she knew either personally, or by reputation. She also enlisted local fashion designers, choreographers and visual artists to help with costumes, props, sets and other elements of the project.

“I got word about the funding in May, we started shooting in early July, and shot seven different projects through to the beginning of October,” says Goodwyn. “So it was a really short turnaround.”

After pairing each filmmaker with a song, Goodwyn met with them individually to explain the loose narrative she wanted to follow. “A few of the films are kind of scripted due to the choreography, and one had a storyboard,” she says. “But most had a large aspect of improvisation which is important from the sense of play and collaboration.”

To premiere the project, Natural Sympathies played a show in Regina on Nov. 15. She also began releasing the videos online, one a day, until Nov. 21.

“The films are supposed to be seen with a narrative thread running through them,” says Goodwyn. “That’s 100 per cent the goal. The only reason I did a rollout was to be savvy with marketing, but the artist in me struggles with that as I want it to be seen with the credit sequences at the beginning and end and the videos in sequence.

“There are reoccurring characters, costumes and symbols,” she notes. “Together, they create a narrative which sees Natural Sympathies crash-land on Earth, escape her ship and try to find a way to return home. But she ends up finding that what she needed was here all along.”

As an expression, “natural sympathies” describes people who have a natural bond with each other based on their hobbies, interests, outlook on life and whatnot.

With Porous, Natural Sympathies lives up that ideal.

“I’ve always been one who, if I didn’t see the culture around me that would sustain me in my world view, I’d do what I could to make my own world around me,” says Goodwyn.

“This project was made in concert with a bunch of artists with a vision for Regina, Saskatchewan and beyond that is progressive and healing, and not harmful,” she adds. “I’m just trying to bravely express my perspective, and hope I’m creating space for people, and that they’re liking the music.”

The full-length version of Porous will be released Nov. 23. Find out more at naturalsympathies.com.