Aussie Nat Dunn on her songwriting success with Marshmello and Anne-Marie
Ever since claiming the title of Most Added just two weeks ago, ‘FRIENDS’ by Marshmello and Anne-Marie has gone from strength to strength.
The track debuted at #58 on Hot 100 and has risen to #19 since, and was also #1 on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist worldwide as well as peaking at #14 on the Australian iTunes chart.
But did you know that the track was co-written by an Australian songwriter?
Nat Dunn has previously performed solo, as well as alongside the likes of Drapht, Urthboy and Tigerlily. But it’s her recent collaboration with Van She’s Nicky Night Time on NAATIONS and her work as a songwriter that is putting her name up in lights.
Having been based in Los Angeles for the last three years and signed to Mushroom Music Publishing since the age of 16, she credits expat crew Young&Vicious (led by Andrew Hawkins) for the support to stick it out as an Aussie working overseas – “I definitely wouldn’t have done any of these things without them” she explained.
TMN chatted to the songwriter about the opportunities that came out of attending an APRA AMCOS SongHubs camp, working through writer’s block and what it’s like to have the Backstreet Boys record one of her songs.
You’ve worked with the likes of Charlie Puth and Duke Dumont, but this Marshmello and Anne-Marie track is really the biggest breakthrough you’ve had in terms of songwriting. What makes this track different, do you think? Did you predict that it was going to be “hit”?
No, definitely not. I don’t think you even set out when you’re writing, thinking about hits or anything like that. I definitely didn’t predict it and never do. You actually really doubt things more than pump them up in your own mind. Well, I do anyway!
How did the collaboration come about?
Anne-Marie had cut a vocal on a song that I had written with Rodney Jerkins, so I had known and spoken to her manager a lot. I was always a really big fan of hers. Even when she was doing the Rudimental stuff and her solo stuff, I knew that she was just an artist that I really wanted to work with at some point, if I could.
When I moved to London for the last half of last year, my role felt a bit different over there. Because my management mainly wanted me to do NAATIONS sessions, nothing for other artists but I said ‘if I want to work with any artists, apart from just the NAATIONS stuff, I’d really love to work with Anne Marie, in the room with her’ because we’d never actually met.
We’d worked together with producer friends of mine on her album, and then knowing she was going to be working with Marshmello she actually said to me ‘do you want to come and do this song with me? It’s with Marshmello’. So the three of us got in the room together and that’s how ‘Friends’ came about.
Has there ever been a time you almost quit the music business?
No. Never thought about that. Not that you don’t doubt yourself sometimes or doubt how to sustain because given the way that streaming has affected songwriters in particular. It’s not that easy, and having the support of people like APRA AMCOS and Young&Vicious and your publishers, it’s everything.
Let’s talk about songwriting. What do you love about it, and what do you hate about it?
I love that it’s clearly my form of expressing myself. I took all of that Christmas period off to not really do any writing at all. You realise, in those times, when you’re not doing any writing and you are a creative person that does use that as your outlet every day that you kind of really depend on it, to be your therapy.
The part that I don’t like, or rather find frustrating, are the days when I feel like I can’t get anything out. Nothing I’m doing or singing, no melody sounds good, my lyrics don’t sound good to me… I guess those days where there’s writer’s block.
The way I’ve learned to deal with that, more recently, has just been realising that putting that pressure on yourself every day to be like ‘today, I’m just going to write the most amazing things’, it’s not realistic. You need to just be a channel every day and if you are that day, you are, and if you’re not, you’re just not. You actually don’t get that choice.
On those challenging days do you stop and think about what emotions you want to write to or what kind of life events you want to write about? How do you get that spark?
It’s definitely about not forcing it, but it’s also who I’m with and what I’m doing – it matters to me that they’re the vehicle. Whatever we’re going to write, it needs to be believable with them as the vehicle for that song and that message. So I think of it differently, I put a different kind of hat on.
Whenever I had to do my own stuff with NAATIONS, I’d go to a different place. And then I also just couldn’t not work with other artists because I love having muses. I get so inspired by other people being the vehicle of a song and also their talents and their melodies and their ideas and their choices. That’s just as exciting to me as writing something for myself.
Do you think songwriters get enough credit (given that Spotify has only just added songwriting credits to songs recently)? What more can be done?
I don’t even think it’s about getting enough credit, because we all do what we do because we love it. It is great that they’re crediting songwriters on Spotify – I think that’s very long overdue – but there are bigger steps that need to come.
To be really honest, the pay structure is something that I think needs to change for top liners – people that are songwriters but not producers. The music model has changed so much with streaming so what needs to meet that change is the payment structure to keep this as a sustainable creative job for top liners. The producer should definitely not get less, but maybe labels need to start putting in the budget enough for both producers and songwriters.
You attended APRA AMCOS’s SongHubs program in Nashville 18 months ago, along with the likes of Alex Lloyd, Joel Chapman and Morgan Evans. What was that like?
It was amazing. All the crew from APRA have been great and they’re just amazing people and supportive people and they understand the process and they understand creative. I don’t know where we’d be without them and their support.
With camps, a lot of people ask ‘what actual songs or artists cuts actually come out of camps?’ To me, the more important thing about camps is the connection you get with the people that you write with there. And you don’t necessarily write that song at that camp, but those relationships last beyond that camp. It’s more about the connecting with people that you would never have met or never have been put in a session with unless you were at that camp.
The pressure at a camp, the pressure of finishing a song that day because you really want to have a finished product, and you’ve got a new lot of people to work with the next day, is a good thing. I like that I don’t have the choice of who you’re working with, but then we’re going to come up with something at the end of the day and it’s going to be really different.
What are you working on at the moment? What are you excited about for this year?
A lot of NAATIONS music is coming out – videos, live show and some more collaborations. With writing, I’ve still been working with Anne Marie, a little bit of stuff with Rudimental and the Backstreet Boys just cut a record.
How did the Backstreet Boys song come about?
It was a spin out for me. It was a song that was written with another artist in mind, but the label RCA, they heard it and they were like ‘well, we’d like them to sing it’, and they played it to the Backstreet Boys, and they all loved it and they said they wanted to get in the studio and do it.
I was in London at the time, so I couldn’t be in the session to help them produce it but my friend and one of my favourite collaborators that I work with a lot now, Ferras, he vocal produced it and we just checked in on the phone together.
We were talking about who would be singing the bridge and who would be doing, which guy should sing which part… and I remember thinking, this is so weird choosing whether Howie or A.J. or Brian would sing the first verse. It was funny.