A Q&A With Nathalie Nedeljkovic—3rd Place Winner in the American Songwriter 2022 Song Contest

1. What made you decide to enter American Songwriter’s Song Contest?

I had never entered a songwriting contest before, and thought, “Why not?” The opportunity to have your song heard by people in the industry was a good enough reason to enter for me.

2. How did you feel when you learned you were a winner?

Getting third place in the contest is still such a mystery to me as so many people entered. I feel seen and motivated to keep writing songs. Sometimes you just need that extra push to know that you are going in the right direction.

3. What was the inspiration for your song? Why did you want to write it?

I wrote “Milky Way” on a night out in Brighton. I had just been to a Marika Hackman concert and the lyrics Hey man felt like a fun opening phrase. As a Simon & Garfunkel fan, I just had to bring in the reference to 59th street from their song “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).” As I went alone to the concert, I started chatting with a man in the audience. There was something about him that didn’t feel too unfamiliar. He reminded me of someone who had recently passed away in my life, so I got inspired and I decided to write a song about that night. The guy in the audience is a metaphor for missing someone so much that you start seeing them in strangers.

4. When writing a song, what comes first the music or lyrics?

Both. As English isn’t my first language (Swedish is), I find it really helpful to sing in gibberish until something starts to make sense (and sound cool). I usually know what I want to say when writing a new song, but sometimes the gibberish also leads me in a direction of storytelling that I did not see coming. It’s almost like my unconsciousness knows exactly what’s up. With my guitar/piano and some iPhone notes (this is where most songs are written), it becomes my task to figure it out. The song already exists and I have to catch it… sometimes quickly.

5. What keeps you motivated as a songwriter?

I absolutely LOVE a good title. Figuring out a good title for a song is 40% of the work. I can think long and hard about these things and sometimes I will even start off a song with just that—a great and quirky song title. I wrote a song called “Iconic Pizza Night” which is about, well, a pizza night. I thought the title was so fun and interesting that the rest of the song was written in under 30 minutes. Just so that I can tell people, “I have a song called ‘Iconic Pizza Night.’”

6. How long have you been writing songs, and what are your songwriting goals?

I wrote my first song when I was 8 years old. My goal is to keep releasing music and (hopefully) write with or for other artists. But mostly, keep writing for myself and find new and fun ways to express what I’m feeling. That is mainly what songwriting is for me—cheap therapy.

7. Are there any songwriters, artists, or events that have especially inspired you lately?

The New Zealand singer/songwriter Aldous Harding. My goodness, she is cool. I recently saw her live in Stockholm and it was just brilliant. What I admire most about her is her way of writing songs. It’s as if she writes with pure emotion and less with logic. I don’t always understand her lyrics, but I still get so affected by them and something in me really resonates with her words of choice, and not too easily swallowed melodies. Another songwriting hero of mine is Canadian Andy Shauf. His storytelling is always on point. Shauf inspires me to get out of my own head and write from other people’s perspectives, even if it’s partly made up. What I also love about him is his witty sense of humor.

8. What is your idea of the perfect song?

A happy-sounding song with sad undertones and some witty, clever lyrics. Oh, and a great title of course.

9. What’s the best piece of advice another songwriter has ever given you?

Write what you know.

10. Who are your all-time favorite songwriters and why?

I think Laura Marling will always have a special place in my heart. When I was 18 years old I went to see her live in Stockholm and noticed that her guitar playing was so complex and interesting. From that day on I decided that I was going to become really good at guitar, especially finger-picking.

11. What’s next for you?

I’m releasing my debut album Short Stories later this year (Keep an eye out!)

12. What would you tell other aspiring artists who are considering entering the Song Contest?

Do it. You can’t lose if you give it a chance.

Photo Courtesy Nathalie Nedeljkovic

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