Making music as Bat For Lashes, singer/multi-instrumentalist Natasha Khan spins melancholy yarns that embrace darkness while reaching for the light. Her third and latest album The Haunted Man mines musical territory that should appeal to fans of music as diverse Bjork, Brian Eno and The Cure. It’s arty, dreamy and sometimes symphonic in scope, and it’s like musical therapy for Khan and her listeners. She recently spoke with A.D.D. about lyrical interpretation, seeking influence outside of music and personal philosophy.
How did your Twilight: Eclipse collaboration with Beck work? Was it done online?
He approached me to sing and help him on this song, and he sent me a whole bunch of little musical pieces that were a couple of minutes long each. I picked one that I felt resonated the best and extended it and wrote this melody and words on top of it, then sent it back. He changed the music, sang his bit on and sent it back. Then we talked about the mix. I really like it. It feels quite intimate and secret and not as impersonal as it sounds, and I think we gave each other quite a bit of space to have a think on our own. It’s like that game Consequences. You keep passing it back and forth, then eventually you’ve sculpted something but not trod on each other’s toes too much.
Some people think it almost sounds like a Hollywood tragedy.
I guess because you are American that’s probably your instant reference. In England we do have that Hollywood romanticism because we have iconic Hollywood figures, but it’s not just that. It works on a microcosmic level, which is humans in general nowadays especially are good at subversive forms of escapism — drinking away the pain or not really looking at it. I think a lot of people are afraid of real feelings and real vulnerability, so they just want a big escape from that. Whereas I’m saying that underneath all of that glitz and the glamour you’re much more, and I want to know that bit. I think it can go for the whole celebrity-obsessed culture as well.
You have indicated in past interviews that you kind of feel like a dark horse compared to a lot of the other pop singers out there. There’s a superficial image that so many of them have right now, and so many of them come from a cookie-cutter mold. You don’t.
Everyone starts to look the same. I don’t know if I’m radically different but I always follow my own impetus creatively. I’ll be obsessed with different films, art forms, dance or whatever. Different obsessions will occur, and I’ll find myself expressing that visually as well, and it feels like a natural thing for me to do. Whereas I can see how other people get styled and told what they should look like, and I think that’s less interesting.
I find a lot of people comparing you to Kate, Tori and Bjork, but I can also imagine you listening to artists like Brian Eno, Roxy Music, David Byrne and equally eclectic sonic sculptors. Do you listen to any of those male artists?
Totally. I listened to Kate Bush and Tori Amos a lot when I was little. When I was a 12-year-old girl that was really important to me, but I can’t keep listening to the albums that I love for 20 years. It’s interesting because everybody obviously goes with the female, but for me it’s Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, David Bowie, The Cure, Neil Young, Roy Orbison, Scott Walker and Lou Reed. It’s like a million guys that I absolutely love and have been very inspired by. There’s probably a whole lot more of them than even the female artists.
And you have covered many of them too — Bruce Springsteen, Depeche Mode, The Cure. Also, one website joked that you made one of Rihanna’s songs listenable.
Aww, I like Rihanna. I think she’s listenable.
“I think a lot of people are afraid of real feelings and real vulnerability, so they just want a big escape from that.”
One of the interesting songs on the album that shows the dichotomy in your music is the song “A Wall”. In one sense, it could be a critique of a person who has a negative worldview, or it could be positive encouragement about how you look at things in life. Perhaps to not see all these roadblocks in front of you, which is a problem I think a lot of people have.
Yeah. The more you move forward the more you realize that when you follow your intuition and listen to that inner voice, if you really do that faithfully you can move forward quickly. Sometimes when friends or loved ones are stuck, I want to just affirm for them that what you might think is holding you back could actually be the gateway to something totally amazing. If you feel something bad has happened, maybe that lesson is there for a reason. I always want to look at the seed of new growth in something that’s dead — if it’s dark, there’s a light in that — because living as a human being day and night it’s constantly cycling around. You can’t have death followed by more death, there’s always got to be life coming after that. The more I get in my creative cycle, I realize you have a harvest, you have a winter and you have a spring — I really believe in that. That’s something I practice in my everyday life. Experientially I know that to be true, so I try to encourage that.
I heard that while you were trying to create this album that you were looking for inspiration outside of music. You thought about doing teaching or doing some volunteer work. A lot of successful artists don’t necessarily tend to do that, they get subsumed in their creative world. Is it true that you were seeking out these other things?
God, yeah. Hanging out at the record label is really the antithesis of what I want to be doing. For me, it’s about living life in this beautiful, complex world that we live in. Coming off the road is like a blessing for me because I can go back home and just hang out with normal people and shed that bullshit illusory existence that a lot of people actually get quite lost in. In the end it affects your music badly because if you start to believe in the mythology of the industry, it’s just an illusion. So I think coming back down to earth — cooking beautiful meals, having a cat, drawing, gardening, doing ballet films for friends, watching movies, drawing, painting, hanging out with my friends who are having babies — that’s what life’s about. That’s life for me, and that’s rich and amazing. I’d much rather be doing that than going to celebrity parties or whatever. That was my mission and my absolute choice to do that. I really enjoyed that search, which initially was about me and my relationships and the people I love. There’s more to me than just the machine that I’m in, there’s more to me than the fact that I write music. I have other aspects of my life which need nourishing and looking at.
Is there anything specifically that you did that you were pursuing?
I tried to do volunteer teaching, but unfortunately by the time they did the police check, it took a month and a half and I missed the last term. I couldn’t do that, which was a shame, but I did end up doing pottery classes, life-drawing classes and ended up going back to my old university. I did re-enter the educational system in some way because I went back for tutorials with my old art teacher from university, and we worked on an installation that I had and a film script I’ve been writing. It gave me a lot of nurturing. A lot of the things she advised me to watch or to read really helped me define the themes of the record.