"I’m just from a different can of worms. I can’t relate to people who just write vanilla stuff."
This week sees Natalie Mering release her fourth album as Weyes Blood – the colossally ambitious, varied and forward thinking record ‘Titanic Rising’, driven by a diverse range of inspirations from Enya to The Kinks, from surrealism to 90s movies.
Mering spoke to NME about the record, which she describes as ‘drenched in symbolism’, and about how she made the space to accomplish it. She also opened up about the ongoing changes in the music industry in the wake of movements like #MeToo, and the unfair comparisons to other women she received early on in her career.
Your new album ‘Titanic Rising’ is huge in its scope. How did you go about creating the space for such a diverse and varied album?
“I just do a lot of the work myself. I’m really grateful I’ve gotten as many resources as I’ve had. Just getting to go into the studio and play with other musicians is a great gift. I don’t harp too much on about what’s missing from my career; I focus on what’s there and what needs to be done. But I do find that in general there’s this expectation from the music industry for everyone to be a little Todd Rundgren: to make your music, produce it, play everything and then promote it all, it’s a little bit of the freelance economy vibe. You kind of just have to bring it on many different levels, you can’t focus on having one thing to be good at.”
You’ve cited Enya as an inspiration. How does she influence the record?
“Enya is a very matriarchal musical force. Her music is very feminine and she layers her voice a lot. It leaks into my music secretly on the side. There’s a lot of lush layers of my voice hiding in the cracks. I guess there hasn’t really been much choral influenced rock music, but Enya was the closest thing I could find to express both of our desires to reach into ancient realms. She records in castles and stuff, she’s already in the ancient realm!”
What can you tell us about the ’60s pop influence on the album?
“What I think of as popular song isn’t 21st century pop, which to me is a totally different beast. It’s usually more the nostalgic version of popular music from the 20th century. I really love chord changes and lots of meaning in lyrics. These layered concepts don’t really fit into popular music now. In the ‘60s it was very malleable and fun. In the ‘70s too, songwriting had a lot of space to be introspective and complicated but still popular. A lot of money was given to weirdos in the studio to go and make their strange masterpieces, which you don’t see as much now. That was definitely an all-time peak for the type of pop music I like.”
Do you feel at odds with your contemporaries?
“I have difficulty with the lack of interesting experimentation I see with popular music. It’s a little difficult for me to be like, ‘Oh great – all the alternative artists are merging with the top 40, how fun!’ I think it’s cool and I’m happy for the indie artists who have crossed over and have these full-blooded careers now, but I don’t feel like I can participate in that culture. I feel separate from it.
“There’s a lot of artists out there who are pretty big but don’t write their songs, they just have a lifestyle brand. These are all things that I think are a great enemy to music. I don’t want to make a statement about who I don’t like, but I definitely don’t relate. There’s a lot going on to my chord changes and lyrics that I don’t hear so much sometimes. I’m just from a different can of worms. I can’t relate to people who just write vanilla stuff.”
‘Movies’ seems like the centrepiece of the album, can you tell us more about it?
“As somebody who was such an impressionable child and watched so many movies, I felt so disenchanted and disappointed that by the time I hit puberty I didn’t watch any for three years wanted to talk about that somehow, and also the great disservice that movies have done for people of colour and people who have been written out of the classic Hollywood equation. In our culture the way women have been represented in American film had a pretty big impact on my self-esteem and I’m sure it did on a lot of other girls. I think they have a greater psychological impact that anybody’s willing to talk about. At the same time no matter how grandiose and altruistic the message, it seems like blockbusters don’t have a great social impact. That’s directly referencing Titanic, which was a movie engineered for little girls and was a big part of my life. It had that huge message ‘man lacks dominion over nature’, but it was like a cough, the biggest movie ever and nobody took that message home. It’s like putting a match on a wet pile of blankets.”
Do you think that there’s been a healthy change in terms of people questioning the influence that films can and can’t have?
“I think things have really changed. If you’re an evil company who’s casting minorities to be in your commercial to get the politically correct card, it’s like putting a band-aid over a bigger problem. But I think it’s an incredible start. We’ve really gotten to a point where every white person who isn’t a scary alt-right person has taken time to acknowledge their privilege and see how blatantly racist our culture has been, and still is even now. The #MeToo movement also made people incredibly more aware and I do see the differences, people getting more angry and awake. People used to live in this weird assumption that everything was pretty advanced. I grew up thinking that obviously things needed some work, but I didn’t realise how bad they really were until the internet and viral videos really took off. We’ve heard from a lot of voices that didn’t have a platform before. The changes are slow and laborious but they’re very noticeable.”
What changes have you noticed in the music industry?
“I think people are like a bit more comfortable promoting multiple women. There was a time where women were like these token treats. In country music you couldn’t have two girls with the same colour hair being promoted at the same time. But now I see there’s a lot of women who are all co-existing with each other and not getting compared to one another, which is a huge step forward.”
Have you ever been compared to another artist just because you’re both women?
“Totally. When I started it was non-stop. I got the Angel Olsen thing. There was a minute when it felt like Angel Olsen was the only woman allowed to make music – she’s my friend, I don’t say that in any bad way – but a lot of girls took that heat. I was really young it was, ‘You’re like Cat Power! You’re like Joanna Newsom!’ It made no sense, like, ‘Here’s the only female musician I know!’ If anyone listened to our music side by side they’d see that there’s some pretty big differences there.”
You’ve described this album as the sound of you ‘forging your own path’. Why was it important to make a statement like that?
“I got to take the reins pretty hardcore once I had the success I had with my last record. People gave me the keys, like ‘Welcome to the music industry!’ Before then it was all just like barely trying to stay afloat and prove myself. I think as somebody who grew up loving bands like Sonic Youth and Talking Heads, these bands that had girls in them, my dream was to be a feminine support force for a cluster of brilliant musicians and I would just be a contributor. Being a solo musician was not the plan, but because I was the only one I knew who was as obsessed with it as I was, I just had to do it myself. I wasn’t really born with that ego or that desire to self-promote, I was more interested in being a girl in a band. When that wasn’t working out and I became my own thing I had to learn the hard way how to navigate being a woman in the music industry. It’s changed a lot and a lot more people think about it.”
Do you see yourself and this album as surrealist?
“Yes. I think conceptually, and even sonically. The aesthetic and the imagery, it’s all drenched in symbolism. The cover, me in my bedroom is symbolic for how a lot of us grew up with these westernised individualist bedrooms, kind of like our sacred place, the alter of worship where we choose what we’re obsessed with and hang up posters about it and formulate all our ideas about reality in this strange little incubator. I wanted to get into that symbolism on the cover, what it’s like to grow up in the 90s and become an adult in the 21st century – a very interesting turning point.”
Why did you want to write to a past self?
“I needed to reconcile some of the trauma of growing up in a world where I really believed things weren’t gonna change as much as they have. I don’t think even my parents or the generation before thought things would change as much as they have. When that foundation gets rocked and you realise nothing is stable, even the climate, your ability to survive, the quality of the lives of your children, all of that stuff plays a role in how you cope with reality. It’s particularly heavy and you need a little therapy, a little ‘remember what it was like before we were all worker bees droning out on our cell phones, and what it was like when there were coral reefs? My family have a cabin in Sierra Nevada and 40% of the old growth pine trees have died. That’s been an intense thing to witness. I’m going back in time and saying, ‘Hey it’s gonna get crazy, but you’re gonna be OK’.”
‘Titanic Rising‘ is out April 5.
Weyes Blood will tour the UK at the end of April. Visit here for tickets and information.