Bat For Lashes: “The Haunted Man” Interview

08.20.2013

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“You’re the train that crashed my heart/ You’re the glitter in the dark/Laura, you’re more than a superstar” – the candid lyrics from Natasha Khan’s sobering single, “Laura,” is reminiscent to a distinct, signature fragrance. Natasha, better known as Bat For Lashes, implicit emotion exudes through every music note, while any seemingly ambiguous feelings are exposed by the spotlight of her frank lyrics. The spritz of her emotionally charged candor and haunting vocals serve as the top note of Fur and Gold, Two Suns, and the latest album The Haunted Man. Her first American performance of tracks from The Haunted Man took place in March at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. At the end of August, Natasha will kick off her tour of the East Coast with Depeche Mode.

Later this year, she is releasing a song for the soundtrack of How I Live Now directed by England’s renowned Kevin Macdonald. After attending the screening, Natasha was emotionally compelled to be a part of the film score. “I was thinking about it several weeks after because it’s all about London being bombed by a nuclear bomb and it’s kind of World War III apocalyptic. There’s a teenage love affair amongst that. It just totally freaked me out and it felt like it could be so real. So, I wrote a song really specifically about the scene. It was really coming from a place where I was really emotional about it,” Natasha says. As if creating an exclusive Bat For Lashes track for the film was not enough, she was then approached to direct the music video. “I wrote a treatment for the video and directed it with a big team, a crew, and it was just so rewarding…to not be in front of the camera and be a director for once was awesome. I loved doing that. That’s an exciting new avenue that I’m willing to explore coming soon.” “Director” is just one more title the British songbird can add to her rolodex of creative accomplishments.

Life + Times: Back in 2011, you did a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Strangelove.” Now you’re scheduled to do some tour dates with Depeche Mode! How does it feel?
Natasha Khan
: I think it’s going to be amazing because I think, especially in the US, Depeche Mode is really loved. Whenever I speak to people in America about it they’re like, “Oh my god! That’s awesome!” I’m so excited. I think the shows are gonna be wild. I’ve heard that he’s an incredible performer. We’ve been so lucky. We’ve supported Radiohead and Coldplay on some South American and European tours. It’s always really interesting supporting big bands like that doing shows in front of thousands of people because you learn so much and there’s like an electricity in the air. I think it’s gonna be really fun and I’m really excited to finish out the album this way.

L+T: That will be awesome! Depeche Mode puts on an amazing live show. Years ago I saw them with The Bravery and that was one of the best shows I’ve ever attended. You mentioned that you toured with Radiohead. I saw a past interview of yours and you stated that Thom Yorke gave you some advice when you were going through a little bit of writer’s block. He suggested that you draw in order to build your inspiration. From the courses that you took along with the dance classes, how did that trigger your inner muse?
NK
: I think it’s really interesting when you’re a creative person and that’s your outlet and you kind of expand in one area and people expect for that to be the only area that you want to keep doing over and over again. Sometimes I think that can create a lot of pressure in your one area. It’s really important to kind of explore other creative areas. So I’ve been doing dancing, drawing, or writing. It’s so important to keep your juices flowing. It doesn’t always have to be in one area. To kind of mix and change up gives you that childlike sense of discovery and it makes things fresh again. So when you go back to the thing you love the most and the thing you put the most importance on, you can come with fresh eyes and kind of bring in a whole new angle to it. When I was writing this album, I had some writer’s block so I went and did a whole lot of physical movement to try and unlock the things and ideas behind the songs by embodying those physically or drawing them or whatever it is that’s not like a beautiful song. I think it really helped.

L+T: I would never think of drawing and dancing as being part of your creative flow. Your explanation completely makes sense. You worked with an incredible list of producers and artists on this latest album. With “Laura,” you worked with producer Justin Parker. I find that as a creative person you can become a creature of habit when it comes to processes. So, was it difficult for you to collaborate with others on this project? Did you find taking in creative critiques as something easy or hard to digest?
NK
: I know my own style especially the piano ballads. I know what I can do and I’ve done it a few times. I was looking for someone to push me a bit. I did try collaborating with a lot of people, but you kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. (Laughs) I feel like I’ve definitely kissed some frogs and it didn’t work very well; but with Justin, we definitely had an understanding and a special understanding. We were coming from a similar style. He’s extremely good at understanding those darker, more melancholic themes. We talked about and it literally happened in an hour and a half to two hours. It was quick. It just flowed out of both of us – the music. Then, I took it away and the lyrics and the melodies just flowed out of me so quickly. It felt like this fully-fledged little being right away. For me it’s like a chemical reaction that happens whether it’s between lovers or musicians or whatever that you can’t get on your own. It’s not much fun on your own sometimes. That felt really enriching and it was a new experience. I really enjoyed it.

L+T: Branching off of your last thought, what would you say was a key takeaway that you’ve learned about yourself from this album?
NK
: This album sounds like the pinnacle of the three albums I’ve kind of been writing up to this point the last seven or eight years. I feel like it’s reached a pinnacle very much in terms of the live performance aspect because this album to me is a coming of age, like becoming a woman – it’s quite emotionally deep and quite raw for me in a lot of ways. What I really noticed is in the live performances I feel much happier, [I’m] so much more confident and doing a lot more movement on stage and dancing. I feel like smiling all of the time and it’s just kind of a liberation. I’ve come to the point where I feel like I’m good at my craft and that’s a really nice feeling having finished three [albums]. It’s really nice to have gotten to that point where it feels like a trinity or something.

L+T: That’s a great perspective to have. This raises another curiosity of mine. As the singer-songwriter for Fur and Gold and Two Suns, and now with this third album, The Haunted Man – do you ever just look back, listen to those past songs, and reflect on where you’re at now versus then?
NK
: We’re playing so much that we often have a good selection of the past two records and then a bunch of new songs. So, it’s interesting sometimes when you play old songs and they resonate with you in a completely different way or sometimes you’re repeating the same pattern of shit you keep doing in your life. You play the song and you’re like, ‘Why is this still resonating with me? How did I not get over that issue?’ It’s an interesting mirror that you hold up to yourself. I love how they all so constantly kind of come in and out and resonate with me again or they change meaning. I think that means that hopefully throughout writing songs I’ve always tried to write from a very pure, honest place. The songs never lose that meaning for me. I feel like they’re my children and I just love them all. I’m proud of how they are all maturing and developing and changing. There’s still life in them. I’m such a mother hen with that. I feel protective over them. I’m happy that they’re out there now and they’ve lasted the test of time for me anyway.

L+T: I appreciate the comparison you made between your songs and a mirror. I’ve looked at some of my past journal entries over the years and compare them to now. I’m like, ‘God! Why do I still sound like this?’ on a certain issue.
NK
: It’s so interesting. I think it’s great when you look back and you notice that. It’s such a creative outlet. Those mirrors can be held up to you and you do get a kick in the ass like, ‘Shit, I need to figure this one out.’ It’s good to have a sense of humor about it because we’re all trying our best and sometimes you just can’t help yourself. (Laughs)

L+T: Your album covers and personal style are completely out-of-the-box. You worked with Ryan McGinley for the cover art of The Haunted Man. The cover is very rock n’ roll with a touch of naturalism art aesthetic. How did you and McGinley come up with the concept?
NK
: It was actually completely my idea. It just popped up in my head one day. I love Ryan McGinley’s pictures and I’ve seen a few of his pictures of naked women and men with animals around their shoulders. So, it was initially inspired by his work. I was like, ‘Oh my god! I just have to have him do the album cover.’ I really wanted a haunted man to be around my shoulders because I felt like it represented the burden of relationships, what it’s like to be a powerful woman nowadays or your ancestry, your history, your past – all of these things were coming through the music. I felt that that image just popped into my mind so strongly. So, we actually approached him and he was really wonderful and up for trying it because he had only done that thing with animals and he never thought of doing it with people. It turned out exactly how I imagined it in my mind’s eye.

L+T: Even though you have the American tour coming up, you strike me as an artist that is already working on a new project. Creative people never sleep. Are you working on any new songs?
NK
: I just wrote a song for a new Kevin Macdonald film (How I Live Now). He’s a really well-known British director. He just did the Bob Marley documentary and he did a couple of amazing films. So, he’s written a new film and I’ve done a song for that which will be coming out soon. Also, I direct a video for that. I also have been thinking about some new songs which are very different to the last record. I’m kind of excited about exploring a really different way of writing music, recording music, and singing it.

Photo Credit: Neil Krug

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