Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan is ready to expose herself to the world.
The October release of the singer’s third album, The Haunted Man, promises to show both a more vulnerable and confident side of the indie darling than did her critically acclaimed first two albums, 2006’s Fur and Gold and 2009’s Two Suns.
Having already garnered multiple BRIT Award nominations (the British counterpart to the American Grammy Awards), Natasha has also toured with musicians such as Coldplay and headlined two sold out shows at the Sydney Opera House. With an accomplished resume like that, it may seem like the chanteuse has already lived her dream. But Natasha has only just begun to raise the bar for herself.
I caught up with the singer about The Haunted Man, how she feels she’s evolved artistically, her future aspirations, the summer Olympics, and more.
ALEX NAGORSKI: What does the title, The Haunted Man, signify to you?
NATASHA KHAN: It’s the name of one of the first songs I wrote for the album. I actually decided to call it that quite late. After shooting the front cover and thinking about how the album is about letting go of relationship patterns and ancestral things that get passed down, plus the fact that there are some songs about soldiers being away at war and wounded men and things like that, I decided in the end that title seemed to encompass a lot of the themes on the record.
Speaking of the cover, it gives the impression that the album has a much more stripped down feel than your previous releases. Would you agree with that?
Yes, I think that’s true. I think in general, the artwork tends to be quite synonymous with the record. When I stared writing and making the songs for the album, my intention was to create something much more stripped back. I wanted it to be more bold and direct and a bit more upfront. I think visually, the front cover is obviously very raw and quite natural. There’s no retouching or Photoshopping or adornments. I’ve used a lot of objects on my covers before. There’s not so much of that here. I just wanted it to be like you say, stripped down and much more direct. And I think it works well with the sonics as well. The vocals are much more upfront and there are far less reverbs and washes of sound. It’s got a lot more space in it, I think.
You kicked off your last album, Two Suns, with a song called “Daniel.” Now you’re launching your new record with another single simply titled after someone’s first name, “Laura.” Can you tell me a little bit about who the muse of this track is and what your relationship is to her?
I think we all know Lauras or have been a Laura at some point in our lives. I think there’s a universal Laura which the song has progressed into and its kind of taken a life of its own. But a very close girlfriend of mine, who has a different name, initially inspired it. The song is a product of a very heavy, debauched party that I had. The next morning, she draped her arms around me and asked, “Can we bounce on the tables again?” The song kind of came out of that compassion and sadness in the aftermath of being crazy and losing yourself. But I think that relates to our society’s ways of dealing with loneliness and pain, because so often all we want to do is just escape. To be the life and soul of the party and the person that all the boys love is often quite a tragic character. That was an idea that fit really well with the more traditional songwriting structure I was thinking about. There’s a whole balance between being traditional and lyrically being quite subversive and a bit dark.
How do you feel that you’ve grown as an artist since the release of Two Suns?
I guess one way is production-wise, I feel a lot more confident in the studio. I was able to do a lot of the demos and early incarnations of the songs just on my own at home. For example, doing string and horn arrangements for “Laura” and “Winter Fields,” I did on my own and really enjoyed doing beat programming and those kinds of production techniques. I felt I could bring the songs to a cohesive space quite early on. And obviously working with lots of different people to develop the songs and take them through lots of different layers and refine them into where they finally ended up took a lot of confidence. As an artist, I usually like to be in control of everything. The collaborative process was very long and detailed, and for me, that was quite risk-taking. Plus I think I’ve also grown as an artist vocally. I’m not too frightened to be really far up in the mix and take away all those washes of reverb. I also think putting out much more intimate emotional subject matter has been a growth area as well. Obviously also posing naked was a pretty confident thing to do and I don’t think I would have been able to do that before. So overall, as an artist, I do feel far more confident and don’t care what people think as much.
You collaborated with Beck on a track for the soundtrack to the movie, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Is writing music for film and/or other mediums something you’d like to continue to explore further in your career?
Definitely. I love the idea of doing music for films because I really enjoy orchestrations and arrangements of orchestral instruments. I’ve always been informed by film scores and been inspired by not just films themselves, but the music in them – sometimes almost more than other people’s albums. In my year out, I directed some dance films for a dance company that are friends of mine, and I have made animations and I do lots of life drawing and things like that. So I think other mediums really come naturally to me and I’m always keeping them going, even though at the moment my output is based in music. But I put all those other disciplines into the making of this record. It happens to come out as pop music at the moment, but I think there’s definitely room to grow there.
This fall you’ll be embarking on a European tour in support of the release of The Haunted Man. Do you have plans yet to bring this tour stateside?
Definitely, yeah. I think the beginning of next year will be the first tour — the big cities tour. But yeah, I’m really excited to bring it to America because we always have really great shows when we come here.
Tell me a little bit about your songwriting process. Do you like to write your lyrics first and then music to accompany them? Is it the other way around? Or do you prefer to write your songs in one fall swoop?
The best ones always come in one fall swoop. You write the music and then the lyrics and melody just come and 10 minutes later, you have this fully formed thing. So that’s a real gift from the heavens when that happens because you’re always hoping for that – but that’s not how it works across the board. The music and chord structures always come first for me. Then around that, I’m able to develop a melody. And then depending on the melody, the lyrics will fit in syllable wise. The rhythm of the words is denoted by the melody. That’s generally how I do it and it’s usually in that order. But it could also be that it comes from some light beats or a big bassline and the melody will come from that. But usually, it’s some kind of musical structure and then the vocals on top.
You play a variety of instruments, including the piano, bass, guitar and the autoharp. How old were you when you starting learning how to play these and what do you consider your go-to instrument when you’re writing a new song?
I started playing piano at the age of 8 or 9 at school. I had lessons but I was really bad at learning other peoples’ music. I just wanted to play my own stuff. So when I was 11 or 12, I started writing my own music on the piano. I carried on lessons for a little while but I never really had that much formal training. Then around the age of 15 or 16, I got into Nirvana and Neil Young and artists like that, and I decided I wanted to try the guitar. So I self-taught the guitar, which explains why I don’t play it that much and when I do, it’s quite conventional choices of notes. And everything else was also self-taught. I think everything comes from a keyboard-based understanding or a string-based understanding. If you can play guitar, you can get your away around a bass or pluck an autoharp. If you know how to play piano, you’ll know how to play all the synthesizers and understand them. I’ve gradually refined my understanding of various instruments through making three studio albums and playing all sorts of electronic instruments and doing drum programming. I like to turn my hand to anything really, because I find that it’s mostly about being expressive with instruments rather than being a virtuoso player.
Being from England, what was your favorite part of this summer’s London Olympics?
It was probably the opening ceremony. I also loved watching Mo Farah win his 5,000 meters, which was amazing. But the opening ceremony was good for us because we live in East London and all of our friends had a big party on a rooftop right near the Olympic stadium. You could see all the fireworks and they had a big projection screen where we watched the Arctic Monkeys and Paul McCartney and everyone was singing along. Everybody was dreading it in London. We thought it would be a real nightmare, but it ended up being a great bonding experience for the city and we all really enjoyed it in the end.
The Haunted Man will be released on October 23 via Capitol Records. Pre-order it here.