Natalie Imbruglia: 'I am the most creative I have been in my life'
As she releases her latest album, self-confessed '90s vintage' singer and actor Natalie Imbruglia talks to Alex Green about the highs and lows of a career that includes Australian daytime soap Neighbours, international pop hit Torn, divorce and the birth of her son with the help of IVF and a sperm donor
IT has been a decade since Natalie Imbruglia's last album of original material.
A lot has happened in that time.
The 46-year-old Australia-born Oxfordshire-based singer was dropped by her record label and her fourth album Come To Life had such a disastrous run in the charts in her home nation its UK release was cancelled.
She also split from her husband, Daniel Johns of Aussie rockers Silverchair, and developed a serious case of writer's block.
But as she appears on Zoom from her new record label's offices in west London, things are different.
"I spent 10 years trying to be normal, trying to overcome a divorce and fix myself," she explains.
"It is quite refreshing to realise there was never anything wrong.
"And also to discover through age and wisdom that you can be a road less travelled person and that that is really cool."
After the painful release of Come To Life in 2009, Imbruglia went back to Australia and became a judge on its version of The X Factor.
She returned to acting (pleasing those fans who had followed her since her early days in Neighbours) and became a mother.
And, as the title of her new album Firebird suggests, she rediscovered her creativity.
Her sixth record and first for BMG, it is full of melodic hooks and smart lyrics and was created with a promising list of collaborators including Albert Hammond Jr of The Strokes, Romeo Stodart of The Magic Numbers, KT Tunstall and Fiona Bevan.
"We think that if we do something differently or go down a different path that there are social norms and stigmas," she tells me when I ask about her new approach to songwriting.
"I think busting through all of that and coming out of it feeling like I am really comfortable with who I am... I am super happy.
"I am the most creative I have been in my life."
Imbruglia was 16 when in 1992 she was cast as Beth Brennan on the internationally successful soap Neighbours.
That role made her a household name in Australia but it was Torn, her cover of Ednaswap's 1995 song, that made her a household name across Europe.
"I would say this," she begins with a knowing laugh.
"The 90s were fantastic. What a great time for pop music.
"So I have such happy memories and I do think it seems to be trending at the moment. Long may the 90s reign. A lot of good music came out of it.
"I can only relate to it personally. But it's really wonderful to think what I lived through and the music that was around me at the time, or my music, that it might have an effect on younger generations - that's really cool."
She adds with a cheeky laugh: "Does that mean I'm vintage?
Imbruglia made headlines in October 2019 when she announced she had given birth to a boy named Max Valentine at the age of 44 with the help of IVF and a sperm donor.
"It is hands down the best thing that has ever happened to me," she says, addressing how becoming a mother has changed her.
"The feeling of unconditional love is very hard to put into words, especially if it is something you have yearned for for a very long time.
"That can only benefit every other area of your life, be that song writing or performing - just all of it.
"I am content and I feel very calm and very peaceful.
"I also think, separate to being a mum, I am 46 and at this point you should have chilled out a bit, take yourself less seriously, enjoy life a bit more.
"Surely that is the goal? I definitely think I am more easy about things."
Imbruglia tells me she feels guilty the pandemic, which affected others in such awful ways, allowed her to spend more quality time with her son.
"I got all the benefits of extra cuddles and was able to nip next door and record a vocal," she says.
Her statement announcing her pregnancy and revealing her decision to embark on motherhood solo helped spark an important conversation.
"What I would say is I received so much love and support after I released my statement and so many women reaching out to me saying: 'Oh gosh, I feel more comfortable in trying to do that, I have wanted to do that but I didn't.'
"So there was definitely something going on there. I never intended to be that.
"I was actually trying to avoid further press intrusion by stating it and then, 'Let me have my private life'.
"But there is a lot to be gained from this conversation being out there.
"I don't think women should feel they can't talk about, or they are alone in it.
"And if I can play a small part in that, then so be it."
Imbruglia's influence can be heard in a new generation of female musicians, with Lorde recently covering Torn in tribute and Rina Sawayama a fan.
Her advice to those coming up through the ranks?
"Be who you are," she says.
"You don't want to wear that outfit? Don't wear it. You should never succumb.
"I got called 'difficult' because of that, but I'll wear that. That's fine.
"But it's important you take care of yourself, because not everybody else is going to.
"And it's important you put forward what you think is important about being an artist, and the voice you have as an artist is protected at all costs."
::Firebird by Natalie Imbruglia is out now on BMG.