Nominated for the Mercury Music Prize for a second time, Brighton born Bat For Lashes, aka Natasha Khan, has been enchanting listeners with her new album, Two Suns. I caught up with Natasha to find out about her latest release.
Released in 2007 to critical acclaim, Bat For Lashes’ debut album Fur And Gold gained a Mercury Music Prize nomination that had many bookies backing Natasha over favourite Amy Winehouse and eventual winners The Klaxons.
The second album is notoriously difficult, many musicians touted as the next big thing by the fickle music press have seen their careers crumble when their subsequent offering fails to live up to the hype.
Rather than churn out another carbon copy of Fur and Gold, Natasha has instead created a magical, concept driven album that embraces the horizons that have expanded since she was writing the first album after her day job as a nursery school teacher.
Two Suns reflects her lifestyle at the time, and the experience of writing was radically different to the first, as she tells me. “I was actually living all over the world, being catapulted into lots of different bizarre situations and travelling so much and trying to keep my life together.” The album was inspired by the difficulty of splitting her life between different countries.
“I felt quite conflicted, and fragmented, wherever I was I didn’t feel like I was quite at home,” Natasha says. It was while she was dividing her time between Brighton and Brooklyn, where her boyfriend, Will Lemon of the band Moon & Moon, was living, that Pearl was born.
Pearl is the embodiment of the idea of duality that runs through the album, a representation of a different aspect of Natasha’s personality. She explains, “Pearl came about as a manifestation of New York for me really, she represents the destruction of New York and how it’s quite hard to live there and just my psychological state while I was staying there.”
Pearl was an outlet, and a way to cope with New York’s hectic party lifestyle, as well as another form of artistic expression. Natasha tells me it all started as a “private art project”, inspired by filmmakers and artists like David Lynch, Cindy Sherman and Diane Arbuss.
“I didn’t go out as Pearl or anything like that,” she says, ‘it was just one more in many aspects of me kind of developing a world really, kind of creating a world in itself and with imagery and music and I think that’s how I’ve always worked since I was small really, I’ve always done the two things together.”
Inspiration for the album also came from the Californian desert, which Natasha visited during her time in the US. “I made films there and I took lots of pictures and kind of just, absorbed it really. It really filled me up with inspiration,” she says. The actual writing, though, was done at home in Brighton. “When I write I have to come home and be in my little house and in a place where all my instruments are, and I can just relax and no-one bothers me.”
Natasha’s very specific vision was enhanced by some great guest spots, including a duet with Scott Walker on ‘The Big Sleep’, which came about after she sent him a copy of the song as a ‘dare’ to herself. His vocal adds an extra dimension to the song, “When I’d first written the song I’d always heard Scott Walker or a man’s voice on the record,” Natasha says. She always had a definite vision for the song, as with all her music.
“The whole piano part was written with the vocal and everything was on there. I waited ‘til the very end to present it to him and asked him to just add what he felt was good and necessary,” she tells me. “I’m quite controlling,” she adds, with a self-deprecating laugh. It’s this vision, though, that makes the album a successful piece of art as well as a seamless piece of music.
This synergy of art and music is again reflected in the duality represented by Pearl, who, at the end of the album, disappears back into the ether. Was this a cathartic experience? “The album does come full circle and there is a resolution at the end, and I suppose Pearl sinking down into my subconscious after having thrashed and ranted through the album and been this presence, I think it is cathartic for her to subside at the end.” But does that mean she’s finished with Pearl now?
“I think for the moment, well I haven’t completely finished with her because I’ve got to take her on the road now for a year or two, so I’m kind of living in that exploration of her, but I think in a more kind of personal way I’ve finished with her. I don’t know if she’ll resurface, she’s probably sort of presently in a subterranean aspect of me, but for the next record I want to do something different again.” Natasha says.
The live dates will see Pearl back, but not in a literal sense. “It’s not like Pearl comes out now, and I’m gonna be blond for a minute. When I’m doing the songs I don’t feel like this is a Pearl song and this is a Natasha song or anything that kind of black and white,” she explains. Some of the music critics have taken the idea of Pearl literally, though. Comparisons to Sasha Fierce, Beyonce’s pneumatic alter ego, abound, which Natasha finds ridiculous. “I didn’t even know who Sasha Fierce was, I read about that and I was like, what are they going on about? They’re like ‘Natasha’s been listening a bit too much to Beyonce’ and I’m like, are you for real?” She tells me, laughing.
Natasha doesn’t take herself as serious as some of the critics seem to. “I feel like it’s difficult because people are like, oh that could be really pretentious or whatever, and perhaps people can take it that way, but for me it really is me just doing my thing, and I sometimes can be quite naïve I think, I’m like yeah, put her on the cover, I think it’ll be really beautiful visually to show that, and I’m just wittling away doing my thing and then people always have these massive grandiose opinions about everything which I think is hysterical really.” She says, adding, “I think it’s that kind of lazy way of pigeon holing things and being black and white about things without having to think about the intricacies of them.”
Anyone lucky enough to catch Bat For Lashes at a festival this summer can expect a real musical experience, and Natasha explains that the show is really dynamic, with lots of drumming and dancey elements. “I feel quite excited about really taking it out into the world in a physical way and really letting people absorb it and feel the soulfulness and the realness of the music,” she says, obviously excited by the idea.
Is she looking forward to the festivals this year? “They’re completely different and usually much more shambolic and frightening cause it’s all very quick change overs and you don’t get time to soundcheck, it’s just all a bit like aaahh! when you’re at festivals, but it’s fun cause you get to see other bands play and bump into friends and if the weather’s good it’s brilliant!” Natasha says.
I ask her for any top festival tips. “I think it’s mainly the wellies, you know, the wet wipes and as much booze as possible!”
Two Suns is out now on Parlophone. www.batforlashes.co.uk