“I was struggling, if I’m honest”: a classic interview with Bat for Lashes, plus FACT TV episode and more
Natasha Khan, a.k.a. Bat for Lashes’ The Haunted Man looks set to be one of 2012′s most discussed albums.
That cover [see page 2] helps, obviously, but most importantly, it marks the first album since 2009 (the excellent Two Suns) from one of Britain’s most frequently endearing and intriguing pop acts. Over the years, FACT has featured Bat for Lashes rather a lot: what follows is an interview with Khan, conducted by FACT’s Sean Bidder in 2009, a 2007 FACT TV feature, and the front cover that Kahn designed for FACT’s discontinued print magazine (R.I.P.), also in 2009.
“It was just partying and drinking and everyone is really on a hedonistic mad binge…it was quite dark atmosphere, quite self destructive. I was drinking a lot more and not sleeping that well, and struggling quite a lot if I’m honest about it.”
Is Two Suns the record you’ve always wanted to make, but only recently had the means to do so?
“I don’t know. Stylistically it’s quite different but I think that happened quite naturally as a result of me coming out of my bedroom, moving all over the world, doing a lot of touring…living in Brooklyn and picking up on the transatlantic influences the last couple of years…just hearing more complex music. I’ve always liked quite complex and layered and lush music but my first album was pretty much done in a month and was very purist – I kept it that way because that’s where my confidence level was. With this one I was gathering all the elements over one-and-a-half to two years. I was writing while I was touring Fur & Gold, then I moved to New York and then I was in England, all the time I was writing, trying to make sense of all these disparate elements and different experiences I was having.
“It was all happening very fast and I think that’s why the album sounds quite vast, not because I set out to do that but because naturally my scope of experience was vast compared to what it was before. I guess making something of a transient situation almost helps you put little pins in the map.”
How did the time you spent in different locations affect the sound and feel of the record?
“Whenever I had time in Brighton I’d always be thinking of being in Brooklyn, because that’s where my boyfriend was. I always felt like no matter where I was there was always a piece of me missing, but also at the same time a really nice thing happened which was that I met kindred spirits and this kind of extended family developed of people in California, in New York and back home in Brighton. I felt a real sense of the vastness of the different countries where I knew everybody. There’s a kind of heartbreak that goes with that because wherever you are you never quite feel complete. But then at other times I felt quite happy to be moving all over.”
Did you hook up with Yeasayer while living in Brooklyn?
“Actually I met Yeasayer in Amsterdam…when we were supporting Radiohead we did a couple of shows with MGMT and I knew the drummer from living in Brooklyn. We all went out one night and they invited Yeasayer, who were supporting Beck in town. I hooked up with them again in Brooklyn. It was mainly Ioan (check!) and Chris who I ended up working with on the album. They’re really hi-energy and fun to work with; we had such a laugh and tried out all kinds of different things. Chris, who sings, also does a lot of interesting beat programming…I’d already started beat programming on ‘Pearl’s Dream’ but when I went to work with them they pushed it into an area that was even more dancey than I’d expected to go. I’m quite protective and territorial usually about my vision, so letting groups of people come in and do their thing was quite challenging but it was fruitful to do because it took me out of my comfort zone, which I’m not used to. It was good to just step back and let it happen.”
Does Brighton feel a bit quaint these days?
“I think so. I lived here for so long and I went to university here. I’m not so enamoured anymore with the whole quirky seaside town thing and I treat it more as a sanctuary really. I’ve got my old flat where I can be completely myself and hide away from the world, with my piano and instruments…I feel like in Brighton you can just drop out if you want to, there’s a very relaxed artistic atmosphere which suits me, and being by the sea. I struggled with living in New York City, I thought it was really intense.”
“I just felt a massive connection between relationships and landscapes and the universe.”
How did the time you spent in the desert in California affect the album?
“When I’m in England I dip into London but I know I can always come back to Brighton, and the sea. When I was in New York I struggled with the whole massive concrete jungle, endless buildings, the pace of life, feeling like you’re plugged into a 1,000-voltage socket constantly…I didn’t realise until then that I can’t write that much in that environment.
“I find it really hard to come back to myself and reflect on things and have time to sleep properly… a lot of my ideas come to me when I’m falling asleep at night time when it’s quiet. In Brooklyn, it was just partying and drinking and everyone is really on a hedonistic mad binge or that’s what it felt like…it was quite dark atmosphere, quite self destructive. I was drinking a lot more and not sleeping that well, and struggling quite a lot if I’m honest about it.
“And so I thought I have to get to California, which I think is similar in some ways to Brighton, in the air it’s just calmer. So I went to the desert, when I first got there the sky hit me first, and the stars and the barren wilderness of it, the silence is deafening…it was such a stark contrast to New York and those two juxtaposing landscapes really affected me. They were such polar opposites…and I think a lot of the record is about polar opposites and wanting to unify those things so that I felt more whole. And always being one extreme or another, being together with my lover or being separated by oceans, expanses of land…I started thinking about it in more cosmic terminology when I went to the desert I suppose because I was thinking about planets being in orbit and sometimes crashing into each other and sometimes creating third things, beautiful comets…like when you meet people and come together you make a third, new thing, but then you’re pushed apart again into your own orbit. It all sounds a bit philosophical but I just felt a massive connection between relationships and landscapes and the universe, and trying to make sense of all of those.”