Natalie Imbruglia talks writer's block, comeback album and single motherhood: 'I've had this epiphany that nothing is missing'

Twenty-four years after she first broke out internationally with “Torn” and 12 long years since she released her last studio album of all original material, Natalie Imbruglia is finally back with Firebird, out Sept. 24. The singer-songwriter suffered a terrible bout of writer's block leading up to what she rightfully considers to be the best album of her career, but in recent years both her professional and personal life have been on the upswing. In October 2019, at age 44, Imbruglia gave birth to her first child, Max Valentine, and she tells Yahoo Entertainment, “I had started the writing process, but when I had that success with IVF, it's like there was a pressure lifted. The bulk of [Firebird] happened after I conceived Max, and then I was able to express myself creatively. And suddenly I was working with all these amazing people and I had this confidence back. … I feel like a lot of the creative juices really started to flow as well after that.”

Looking back on the making of the deeply personal Firebird with collaborators like the Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr., KT Tunstall, Romeo Stodart of the Magic Numbers, and Adele/Dua Lipa/Sam Smith songwriter Eg White in Byron Bay, Australia, Imbruglia says with a smile, “I did a lot of writing whilst pregnant. In fact, when I was in Byron, I was very newly pregnant, so I wasn't saying anything to the guys, which was an interesting experience. We were having a laugh about that because obviously they had no idea, but I found it very inspiring. And it was nice to write whilst I was pregnant and then to record while I was pregnant. I think it's given me a sense of peace… that without me knowing it, that yearning and that want for that particular thing in my life was affecting everything. And it's one of those things — it's like, you try not to think about something, but for any woman out there who has that same yearning to be a parent, it's not the easiest thing to just let go of or switch off. And my heart goes out to any women out there listening to this who are still on that journey, still wanting that still on the other side of that, because I remember time and time again, being that person where another friend got pregnant, and you're like, ‘Arghhhhh!’ It can be very intense, that yearning.”

Natalie Imbruglia in 2021. (Photo: Simon Procter)
Natalie Imbruglia in 2021. (Photo: Simon Procter)

While Imbruglia had usually made her best music during dark times in her life — including her hit debut Left of the Middle, which she wrote while she was young and struggling and living in London — she says the creative process was very different during the stagnant years prior to Firebird. “Things were really tough, and it wasn't even like in a kind of whimsical, younger time where that's kind of fun. This was just difficult and hard,” she confesses. Imbruglia’s last original album came out a year after her divorce from a fellow Australian music icon, ex-Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns (with whom she’s still good friends), and while she never directly recognized the connection between her writer’s block and that breakup, now she muses, “I think that's an interesting point. I'm sure that there's certain things you go through in your life that are too painful to want to write about at the time, so it wouldn't surprise me if there was a correlation between those two things. I did do some writing, but I think any kind of heartbreak is difficult, even if it's an amicable separation. I think these things can take years to process and come to terms with, and I think anyone who goes through any kind of relationship breakdown or breakup, we always blame ourselves. There's always that thing of, ‘Is it me? Is there something wrong [with me]?’ Or for me, it was feeling like I still needed to get the guy and have the child and be socially ‘normal’ — whatever that is.”

Incredibly, despite being considered one of pop music’s great beauties, Imbruglia insists with a hearty, self-deprecating laugh that she had a terrible time once she was “finally ready to date” after her divorce, saying, “I couldn't get arrested in my thirties! I don't know about you, but I found my thirties for dating was just impossible. And I don't know if that's because it was like there was something written on my forehead: ‘I want a child!’ But it just seemed to repel them. … I think maybe sometimes strong women do struggle, yeah. Obviously I can’t pretend to be a wallflower. It's just not happening.”

Imbruglia says that in spite of all the professional she enjoyed starting in the ‘90s, motherhood wasn’t something she ever deferred to concentrate on her career. “It’s something I wanted to do young. It's just at that period of time of my life, things in my relationship weren't in a place where you would do that. And then my marriage broke down. So I mean, me and my ex-husband were touring; it was just an impossible situation for our relationship, let alone starting a family. And then of course, you're trying to overcome that. You're trying to process a divorce. It's not really the headspace to have a child. So, that takes years.”

Natalie Imbruglia in 2021. (Photo: Simon Procter)
Natalie Imbruglia in 2021. (Photo: Simon Procter)

But now everything is coming together, as evidenced by joyous yet vulnerable lyrics on new album tracks like “Build It Better,” “Maybe It’s Great,” the latest single “On My Way,” and “Nothing’s Missing.” Says Imbruglia, “This whole album Firebird is about strengthened fragility, kind of finding the balance between those two things and finding strength in being fragile, in being OK with that and letting things fall apart. … Sometimes you have to kind of go through that process of a breakdown, which is exactly what I had to do. … It's a really important message, and it's because I've had this epiphany that nothing is missing. You know, I'd had some relationships that didn't work out and trying to kind of force things or whatever. And it’s just that realization that, ‘Oh my gosh, I was actually fine the whole time.’

“We don't plan these things, and I don't want to put the messaging out there that the path that I've chosen is instead of being in a relationship and having a family traditionally,” Imbruglia continues. “No one should ever feel like whichever way their ends up and the choices that they make are not OK. That's the messaging that is important to me because, you know, I wanted love and lots of other things, but I took control of where I was at in my life.”

Now, as Imbruglia returns with her most confessional album to date, after such a long break, she’s actually pleasantly surprised by how comfortable she is with being back in the spotlight. “It should be scarier than it feels, because there's a lot riding on it, but honestly… the confidence I feel and the belief I have in the songs and in this work, I'm so proud of it,” she says. “So, I have a real trust that these songs will find the people that are meant to hear them. I mean, there's career success, but I've never really been one to kind of aim at that. For me, it's more of a spiritual thing, and it's about getting the music to a place where I feel it's like an emotional dump. I've gotten so many things off my chest, delivered them in a way that I think is going to help people feel less lonely or relate to, and musically, it all came together.

“I just can't tell you how sweet it is to go that long, not being able to do something that came so naturally to you, and to overcome that. If anyone out there is struggling creatively, I just say show up for yourself, stick it out,” Imbruglia adds. “I'm feeling so at peace with the whole thing. And it would be wonderful if [the album] does well, but if it doesn't, I'm so incredibly proud. I do think it's the best work I've done.”

Watch Natalie Imbruglia’s full, extended Yahoo Entertainment interview below, in which she discusses the making of Firebird, how Left of the Middle influenced Britney Spears, how the hubbub surrounding “Torn” affected her in her twenties, the one pop star she’d like to portray in a biopic, and more:

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— Video produced by Jen Kucsak, edited by Jimmie Rhee