Natalie Gain. Submitted photo
Natalie Gain. Submitted photo

When Natalie Gain began periodically performing with the Hope’s Night Owl Country Band in 2018, she had no idea she would eventually become a bona fide Night Owl.

Classically trained in music from a young age, Gain is no stranger to the stage as she’s been performing since the age of 15. The 29-year-old fiddler recently spoke by phone from her home in Lebanon, Indiana where she lives with her husband, Matthew, and their two daughters, Via and Evermore.

She recently opened up about her musical journey, what drives her seemingly ceaseless passion, what it’s like settling in as the latest member of the NOCB, and her advice to young people who dream of a career in music.

Q: First, how does it feel to be playing live music again after being on hiatus for almost one year?
A: I’m really excited. It’s been really good to start playing again consistently at all. Everything was shut down so long due to COVID. It was a musician’s nightmare because there was nowhere to play.

Q: Let’s go back a bit. Tell us a bit about your musical training and background.
A: I was classically trained from the age of five years old, so I had a very proficient education in music. I soloed with my first orchestra when I was 16 years old. I started fiddling when I was 14 years old and traveling and performing when I was 15.

Q: How did you get into the musical world of bluegrass?
A: My sister and I actually got into the world of bluegrass thanks to the late Bobby Joe Garrison, Arnold Ellison, and Greg Potts. Ellison was the shop and ag teacher at Hauser, and on Monday nights he would open the shop and do jam sessions. People who wanted to come and learn how to play music would come for free, and they would teach them how to play guitar, banjo and things like that. My mom heard about it and thought it would be a good opportunity. We hadn’t dabbled in anything but classical. So I showed up and brought my violin, and Bobby Joe told me literally, “if you can play that crap – classical – you can fiddle.”

Q: How did you get connected with Matt Lee and the band?
A: Matt reached out to me online. He can’t remember where he heard of me. He messaged me on Facebook saying the band was looking for a fiddle player. I had headed my own band for years, but I had just had a baby and things were getting crazy. Having your own band is a lot of work, and I had wanted to move out of bluegrass into country because it is more my style.

Q: How so?
A: I’m not super traditional, so when you stray away from that in bluegrass they don’t always like you. I definitely feel more accepted in the country music world because you can be more experimental and put your own flavor to it.

Q: What was that first performance like with the band?
A: My first show with them was in December 2018 when we opened for David Allen Coe. Overarchingly, it went well.

Q: What was it like walking in to that first rehearsal/meeting? Even as a 20-something at the time, was it intimidating?
A: The music industry is overwhelmingly guys, and I’d been in it since I was 14 years old. So I was used to walking into a room full of men. It is always intimidating because you don’t know what you are walking into. I’ve played with a lot of people and not all of them are professional or nice. I remember within five minutes of walking through the door, Steve, the drummer, cracked some joke. And the whole mood lightened up and everyone was like, “This is going to be a really good fit.” I felt like I could be myself immediately. It is hard to find. It is hard to mesh really well with a band sometimes.

Q: So is it safe to say you did your homework prior to the meeting?
A: Oh yes. I looked them up online because I was at the point in my career where I wasn’t too keen on working with just anyone. I asked around if anyone had heard about the band to find out if they were legit. About two to three months prior to Matt reaching out, the band had played the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn. If you can play the Opry, I know you aren’t just messing around in your garage with no goal or purpose in mind. A lot people make the mistake of not treating it like a job. You have to work at it, and these guys are serious.

Q: Taking a break from music for a moment, what is your day job? And what do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I don’t have a whole lot of free time. Since COVID my job has transitioned a little bit. I own Gain Music Academy in Avon, Indiana. I formed it about six years ago. So I was teaching almost full time before COVID. When it hit, I stayed home with the kids because childcare was hard to find. I still teach but not full time, and I do all the administration stuff running the business. So between that and the kids, it keeps me really busy. I have myself and four other teachers who work for me as well. I formed it when we moved back down here. In Alaska, I taught but less formally.

Q: You lived in Alaska? And now you’re back in Hope. Tell us a bit about that.
A: I married a third generation fisherman from Alaska. I lived in Alaska for a while, and we have been back for about six years.

Q: Do you miss Alaska?
A: We miss it a lot because it is very rural and just beautiful, stunning. But it isn’t close to anything. Things are much cheaper down here, and job opportunities are more diverse. So it is a mixed thing for both of us.

Q: Living in Lebanon, how’s the commute for band practice?
A: When you move from Alaska where everything is five hours from everything, the hour and 15 minute drive to practice doesn’t seem that bad. It is definitely worth my time. I love it.

Q: Getting back to music, what drives your passion?
A: I’m not sure any one thing drives that. I have been playing since before I could read, so music is quite literally a part of who I am. I think my passion comes from a deep love and understanding for how truly special music is. It’s a universal language. I have performed in other countries and for international audiences. They can’t speak a lick of English, but the music still touches them and gets them excited. Their faces light up, which makes me light up. I think my passion for performing is also a bit of an adrenaline rush. There is nothing like stepping on a stage, having the lights, the friends in the band, the anticipation in the air, and hearing the fans get excited about something you created. It’s an art. And when people like your art, it fuels your desire to do it more.

Q: What advice would you give to other young people out there who see what you do and want to do the same thing?
A: You have to practice tons. And it is OK if you don’t like it all the time, but you have to make yourself do that practice. Hours and hours of dedicated education. You have to treat it like it is your job. If you are still in school, school is your job and then music. My sister and I had to turn down parties, even prom. We turned down everything because I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life. A lot of parents look at the entertainment industry and say that is one in a million, and it is sometimes. But you don’t have to be a massive celebrity to really get to do things a lot of people don’t, and you’re following your dream. Don’t be afraid to work hard for it and do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.