By Chris Shapiro
For Pittsburgh native Natalie Shugars, life has always been about music.
“To be a performer is who I’ve always been. It’s part of who I am,” said Shugars.
From an early age, Shugars had a desire to be involved in the world of music and performance. Being only four years old and heavily influenced by Madonna, Shugars can remember giving performances for her grandparents in her parent’s living room.
The years have passed and the audience numbers have grown but Shugars still receives a rush of emotion and energy when performing.
“You go through so much emotion and so much physical energy too, being a good stage performer, that you just really thrive off of it. It’s like a roller coaster ride of pure insanity but yet the most amazing, cool feelings, that you feel so blessed to be able to do what you love to do so much,” said Shugars.
Shugars says that, before the concert beings, “you submerge yourself into your own kind of performance world and the audience is blacked out and it’s almost like they disappear and it just you doing what you love to do and all you know how to do.”
She goes on to say that once the music begins, whether it is the beginning pulse of the kick drum or the first note of a guitar echoing out, there’s a transformation that connects her with the audience.
“You feed off their energy just as much as they feed off yours,” she said.
Shugars went on to describe the entire process as “indescribable.”
Having had the opportunity to tour the east coast, performing at venues as such as the House of Blues at Myrtle Beach, and perform in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Shugars has experienced an array of musical scenes.
She said it can be harder for musicians in more “hometown” cities such as Pittsburgh due to the lack of a tourist like atmosphere.
“In Pittsburgh, it’s kind of like an old fashion town. You know, you have to pay your dues like anywhere else,” said Shugars.
Shugars suggests incorporating covers into sets. She goes on to say that, even for bands performing original material, covers serve as a great way to allow audiences to become familiar with the band through songs that they recognize.
“Give them something they want, give them something they feel comfortable with. And then through there, you kind of interlace and intermix your own personality,” Shugars said.
“Our sense of community is really strong here in Pittsburgh and with that there’s always bands playing, whether it’s light up night or community day somewhere.”
By playing at these events, Shugars said it can help a band gain exposure and build a name as well as a following.
When it comes to the Pittsburgh musical scene, Shugar said, “I think live music is making a huge come back in our city which is such a breath of fresh air.”
Shugars considers all the blues bands, open mic nights, and many indie groups as indicators to the growing live music scene.
“Here, it seems to be very responsive, like little coffee shop duos and happy hour bands that go out, little trios everywhere and of course, with the casinos being in town too, that I think has helped out tremendously as well.”
Having come from a football loving family, Shugars has always sported a love for the game. While touring across the country, she noticed the large following of Steeler fans known as “Steeler Country.”
“Our team has certain roots to it that I am really so proud of because it reminds me of how like I was raised. Very, you know, strong heritage, deep rooted, blue collar, you know work for what you get concept, very classy,” Shugars said.
It was in these values that Shugars related with both the fan base and team itself. They inspire her to write the Steeler fight song, “I Love Black ‘n Gold.”
The song was penned by Shugars and a friend and recorded by the band Mercedez, which Shugars was a member of at the time.
The history of “I Love Black ‘n Gold” goes back to a small bar in Latrobe where Shugars and a friend were rearranging the chorus of the Joan Jett original, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll,” one night after a show.
“She grabbed a couple of bar napkins and a couple hours later the song was done. It was like two weeks later it was on the radio. A couple weeks after that we were playing Heinz Field for the AFC Championship game and all of a sudden it was a whirlwind,” Shugars said.
“The really rewarding part is, it was actually the first song to ever be a fight song ever written by a female and it won an award on ESPN’s radio station for Best Fight Song of the Year,” Shugars said.
When it comes to fellow Pittsburgh musicians, Shugars gives the advice of, “never say never. You know, never let anyone else tell you what you can do with what you want to do.”
She also points out that, “you have to stay very strong and learn how to develop very thick skin for the entertainment criticism. You know it’s really tough to have something, that you hold so personal as an artist, criticized at first. And you know it takes some getting use to.”
Shugars suggests that musicians should listen to their critics and if there seems to be genuine remarks then make the adjustment and, if not, then to ignore them. Shugars explained that it’s important to remember to, “always stay true to yourself.”
In the aspect of making a living out of music she adds that musicians must, “learn how to balance yourself also as a musician but also conduct yourself as your own business. Because you are your own business and anymore these days, with how the music industry has changed, there’s a big difference. You know, you have to manufacture and be your own product, your own self-marketing and promotion. So you have to treat yourself like you are a product. And physically, you know, it’s part of you as a musician and it can be hard to learn how to separate personal from the business part of it. But you are the business. And I think if more young musicians balanced that, they would have much more prosperous careers.”
The last piece of advice Shugars offers is to, ‘create a plan for yourself and then attack it and don’t give up.” And to make sure that that plan is fuel by passion.