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With new album, Baltimore's Natural Velvet lets the anger out

Before Ottobar show, Baltimore band Natural Velvet talks new album, "Mirror to Make You."

One moment, Natural Velvet — a band of mostly Maryland Institute College of Art graduates — is discussing its music in abstract terms, crediting lyrical inspiration to metaphors and aesthetic theory. Not long after, members are comparing themselves to manga characters.

“Basically, we aim to be a ‘Sailor Moon’ villainess,” said bassist and singer Corynne Ostermann as she and the rest of the Baltimore post-punk band are seated around a coffee shop table in Station North. “Have an awesome outfit, some cool magic tricks and some really iconic lines like, ‘You will never … defeat … me.’”

A thoughtful band not lacking a sense of humor, Natural Velvet has built a reputation around Baltimore as a young band on the rise since its formation in 2012. With an EP and a couple of albums under its belt, along with tons of hours spent on the road, the band is preparing to release “Mirror to Make You,” its third album and second for Friends Records, in early spring.

For Natural Velvet — which also includes Kim Te (guitar), Greg Hatem (drums) and founder Spike Arreaga (guitar) — “Mirror” is an attempt to flex their refined songwriting muscles.

“It was almost like the album was a suitcase, and we were trying to pack everything in,” Hatem said of the 11-track project. “We wanted to cover all of the bases of the spectrum of what our band is trying to be.”

Natural Velvet, who plays the Ottobar on Friday, has shown versatility since the group began through loose jam sessions in Arreaga’s basement during their senior years at MICA. After a July 2013 EP (“Salome with the Head of John the Baptist“) and a 2014 full-length called “Shame,” the band replaced its drummer, Adam Jones, with Hatem.

The original trio, all 25, refers to the 29-year-old Hatem as “band grandpa.” (He’s also the only member not to attend MICA.) They agree the personnel switch led Natural Velvet to “a very different sound.”

“We had more dynamics to play around with,” Arreaga said.

For his part, Hatem was happy to play with gusto again.

“It was a lot louder than I had been playing,” Hatem said. “I missed that, so I was eager to jump in.”

The current lineup’s first effort together was “She is Me,” their sophomore album from September 2015. The record proved that the band could pull off shoegaze-y dream-pop in the vein of Cocteau Twins as well as the bass-driven, rough-edged punk of early Sonic Youth.

Today, they like the album, but also realize it could have been more streamlined.

“We just had so much to write,” Arreaga said. “With Greg coming on board so new, getting back into drumming consistently again, it was like everybody had a bunch of ideas running all over the place.”

Or, more succinctly: “I really like the old stuff,” Te said, “but it feels very much in the past to me.”

Naturally, the present and future are on their minds now.

In June, the band headed to Brooklyn, N.Y.’s BC Studio to record “Mirror” with producer/studio owner Martin Bisi, known for his work with Swans, Sonic Youth and Herbie Hancock. After recording “She is Me” “for zero dollars on a laptop in Spike’s basement” at their leisure, Hatem said, this experience taught Natural Velvet to home in and focus.

“We tracked the whole record in four days,” Hatem said, “so we had to stay on task.”

“Mirror” is also their angriest record to date, said Ostermann, who shares lyric-writing duties with Arreaga. For Ostermann, it started with a romantic breakup at the end of last year and “snowballed,” she said. An old friend unexpectedly died. Ostermann was dealing with having little money.

“This past year has been a nightmare,” she said. “It was a long laundry list of things. That will weigh on you, absolutely.”

The tough times manifested themselves into Natural Velvet’s most direct lyrics to date. A self-described “reading nerd,” Ostermann admitted she previously cloaked raw feelings in heady writing devices. On “Mirror,” that’s no longer the case.

“To be able to strip that away and to really talk about, ‘Hey, I’m actually upset’ and to simplify my language in a way,” Ostermann said, “I think it was very extremely vital.”

For all of the members, Natural Velvet is as much a visceral release as it is an artistic endeavor. But it also represents something bigger, something they’ve noticed has been embraced in recent years: diversity in Baltimore’s arts scene.

“More diverse bills, artists of color, women in the music scene — there’s more and more of us as time goes on, so it’s good,” Ostermann said. “I’m hoping for even more.” (Arreaga is Mexican-American, while Te is a Chinese- and Filipino-American.)

For Te, just being a member of a hard-rocking band has deeply personal significance. She, along with her group, is a living example that rock music can and should be made by anyone with love for the artform.

“You don’t have to be this one thing,” Te said. “It’s important to be out there and be able to show people, ‘Nuh-uh, you think it’s all Jimmy Pages here? Watch out.’ You don’t have to be a white boy from the suburbs to play rock ’n’ roll.”

wesley.case@baltsun.com

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If you go

Natural Velvet performs Friday at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St., Remington. Shonen Knife, Cowabunga Pizza Time and Beachmover will also perform. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance, $14 day of show. Call 410-662-0069 or go to theottobar.com.

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