‘Y…O….L….O’ sings Natalie Mering in her wistful, luscious composition, ‘Generation Why’. The letters come so elliptically that you almost don’t piece the word together, especially as the sarcasm is delivered in angelic tones, packaged with fleeting guitars. Elsewhere on ‘Seven Words’ the same emotive voice offers a more morose, melancholic narrative. These two songs offer a survey of range of Natalie Mering’s (aka Weyes Blood) canon, and it’s no surprise that she’s considered to be one of America’s most exciting female artists. Whether she’s contributing to other records or delivering her own kind of ephemeral gospel, the music is rich, immersive and often sardonic – the fact that she’s supporting Father John Misty on tour (and is regularly photographed by his wife, and Twin favourite Emma Tillman) seems a perfect fit.
Her third album, Front Row Seat To Earth is filled with West Coast meandering melodies which encompass personal stories and wider musings on the world. Sloppy listeners will find themselves caught off guard in the same way that attentive ones wait with anticipation to see where the lyrics will bend next. Either way, you’ll find yourself surprised and likely with a grin on your face. In the midst of touring, Twin caught up with the Californian singer to chat about the state of music, collaborating with Perfume Genius and the duality of performance.
In the last two years, there’s been a lot of talk about the rise of the 70’s singer-songwriter. Do you consider yourself to be part of this movement?
In some ways, but not entirely – I love music from all decades, all time periods. The 70’s thing is convenient because its definitely a convergence of a lot of different influences, it was a vibrant time that set the pace for the time we still live in now. I can associate with that aspect of it, but I don’t think of myself as 70s.
What does a 70’s sound mean to you? What was magical about that era of recording?
Music started to expand into different micro genres, things were becoming less homogenised. That’s pretty magical. Also most people were recording to tape and collaborating with a lot of different, smart, creative people. Producers, players, arrangers. It was the hey day of money being thrown into interesting projects because mainstream music hadn’t been totally strangulated yet— big record labels were still taking risks and culturally we were discovering the future as we know it now.
How did you go about shaping the sound for your record? What specifically were you influenced by, and what were you listening to?
I was listening to a lot of Soft Machine and classical music — I wanted to make something epic but also personal… Chris Cohen had a really good ear for this concept, we used a very limited amount of microphones while recording and did a lot of things live to capture that feeling, make it all feel like it was recorded in the same sphere. I was also was listening to a lot of Weather Report which is a pretty strange non-sequitur – I have a tendency to listen to things that are very different from my own music while I’m creating.
There’s a strong visual element that runs through your cover and videos, do you think in ‘the digital age’ image has taken on a heightened significance for music?
Not necessarily — we’ve always been a civilisation driven by imagery. Things probably changed the most in the 80s when music videos become synonymous with artists – suddenly people had to look really good, seem young. I think now more than ever we’re less interested in innovative music, which makes the imagery seem more important. It’s like the music is an afterthought. Music has been congealed into a very specific “industry standard” that’s numbed peoples tastes a bit, made it a more narrow experience for the masses as a whole.
In the album the emotional nuances are very powerful – do you have to access and inhabit the original emotions that you had when writing the songs when you’re performing them, or can you do it with a certain level of detachment?
I’ve learned to replace it with other emotions if I don’t want to conjure the old ghosts – I try to avoid detachment in an apathetic sense, but sometimes I do let go and stop thinking and just feel whats happening. That’s like detachment in the zen sense.
Your fashion sense is impeccable. Do you see your style as part of the Weyes Blood persona, or is it an expression as Natalie?
It’s a part of Weyes Blood— if I, as in Natalie, had my way with clothes I would be mostly naked or wearing huge swaths of fabric. I do like a good suit, its like a huge swath of monochrome fabric but organized a bit more. If it fits super well you can climb a mountain in a suit, live in a suit. Classic hobo.
And thinking more broadly about that potential duality – why did you want to work under a different name when putting out your own music?
I wanted it to be a different world. I’m not that much of a realist with my art – there’s a lot of fantasy and imagination involved, occupying an archetypal space, my lyrics are the most Natalie Mering thing about it all and I think that stands out just enough. It’s still not too late to release under my own name someday, but I’d rather just make films or do stand up comedy under my name. Those are more Natalie Mering things.
You have worked and toured with Perfume Genus. Tell us more what that collaboration means to you?
Mike is an incredible soul — he carries very powerful and moving musical ideas that I feel a kindred spirit with. Singing with him is always an elating experience. I think we have the same knack for a certain kind of musical drama and vulnerability. He’s definitely been an inspiration to me.
Generally you’ve worked with a lot of exciting artists, who would you like to work with in the future?
I’d love to work with somebody who’s very different from me, see what that’s like. I’m first and foremost a really big fan of music, so there’s lots of people I can imagine working with. It’d be fun to dip into a top 40’s world or make a Nashville country record. Sky’s the limit.
What are your plans for the rest of the year, and what are you looking forward to?
I’m going to be touring with Father John Misty in the states, UK and Europe this fall – right now I’m writing my next record and cultivating a new sphere to take back into the studio with me for the next one. I am most looking forward to getting back in the studio and recording!