ABOUT A BAND: WEYES BLOODOctober 27, 2016
Natalie Mering was growing tired of the underground noise scene. The musician, who cut her teeth with experimental outfit Jackie-O Motherfucker and Ariel Pink in the mid-2000s, left that part of her musical history behind and moved to New York to escape. Over the course of a few years, she entered and exited a relationship, on the other side of which she found herself abandoned. Friends had chosen allegiances and her side had come up short.
“I was in New York alone: no friends, no money, no record deal at the time,” Natalie says. “Literally I had nothing.”
New York City, the metropolis where vulnerabilities become magnified, became the place Natalie established her independence and learned how to admit isolation. The music that resulted comprised her musical namesake’s, Weyes Blood, latest release Front Row Seat To Earth. On the record, Natalie holds the mirror under the nose of her former self to check if she is still breathing, confronting the broken parts to reform anew. The complex melodies that showcase the romanticism of her vocals tie in neatly to the baroque folk compositions grounded by acoustic guitar, steel pedal, horns and piano.
With a renewed sense of self, Natalie returned to Los Angeles, the city where she was born and spent her first 11 years. The timing couldn’t be better: she’s surrounded by friends and family and in an environment that feels like a better fit for her lifestyle. It’s a homecoming, she says. She also has a grand new body of work to reflect on.
“It’s taken some years of trial and error to realize that personal growth really happens when you’re on your own,” Natalie says. “You need to be taken out of your security zone to really find out what you’re all about and what you have to offer the world that’s really great.”
Photos by Joe Perri
Did you do musical theater in school or take vocal lessons growing up?
I never took lessons, but I always sang at my house. My parents were kind of musicians so we always sang together. I sang in church a lot and I sang in a lot of choirs in school. That’s where I got my training. I did a fair amount of singing folk songs with my family — kind of Partridge Family-style. I never had a proper vocal lesson until recently, where somebody was like, “This is how you sing so you can sing nine months out of the year every night on tour.” You’ve got to sing a little different.
Did you find it was a revelation?
It’s a revelation. The voice is a muscle. You have to use it the right way to make it last. The throat too — the larynx — there are certain things that most singers do that you’re not really supposed to do. It’s learning to let go and not have too much control while still controlling it at the same time. It’s a little bit more zen than I had imagined when I was singing off the cuff.
It seems like singing in a church choir or growing up in a musically religious environment can really affect the way a musician performs as an adult.
I was definitely informed by music written for the church, classical music, and sacred choral pieces. My mom was obsessed with Joni Mitchell so she was always playing throughout the house. I was always like “This is Mom’s music!” and there were certain songs that I liked but I didn’t get it. It’s only recently that I realize the scope of influence on what I do. Now I’m a lady folk singer of the canyon. Lady of the canyon as they say.
What were the first songs you ever wrote?
The song “Some Winters” on The Innocents is something I wrote when I was six years old. Not the words, but the progression. It was an exercise, an arpeggiated way to play something that sounded really intricate but was actually really easy to play. I would shred on that chord progression all the time. Just jamming out on E-minor, which is the easiest guitar chord to play. I was really into movie soundtracks, too. It wasn’t’ until I was 12 until I got until rock ‘n’ roll.
The album’s closing track, “Front Row Seat” reminds us of a horror movie soundtrack.
It’s symbolic of a birth. There’s a huge splash — like a water birth. I always like to have an ambient, sound collage piece to give your ears a taste of something more instrumental and atmospheric because the voice and the words are so demanding in terms of your attention. There’s something so dreamlike about manipulated classical music, which is something I feel like people haven’t done that much. But that song is a famous classical song that I’ve sliced together with analog delay and tape effects. What a lot of composers started doing in the 20th century — they were like “Normal music is done! The future is this.” They were right. We forget this little interim period before pop music took over, where doing this became really prevalent in modern music, but they were doing it in a higher academic world. There’s a French composer who was making sound samples from wax records and scratching them to manipulate the sounds, which was basically hip hop record scratching, but he was doing it in the ‘40s. That world was very inspiring to me.
Was that something you studied?
I studied that on my own. But as far as information, there were a couple of books that were really inspiring to me. One about noise music in the ‘50s and at that time, noise music was taking off in the underground world. I was seeing bands like Lightning Bolt and reading an academic text of it, and reading a manifesto behind it was really inspiring.
Was there a time that you thought it was too scientific?
No, but a lot of the dudes were working with conceptual things. There wasn’t a lot of science to it, it was purely emotional. One of my favorite pieces is by Olivier Messiaen is called “Quartet For The End Of Time” and it was made in a concentration camp with a cello with one string, a clarinet with a broken reed and an out-of-tune piano. It’s an incredibly beautiful piece but it was made with broken, busted instruments and in a concentration camp. That’s a good example of this weird modern vibe being just as emotional as some noise dude shredding in a basement.
The record opens with a song called “Diary.” Do you think it was foreshadowing for the rest of the album?
Definitely. That song is autobiographical.
Are any of them not?
No [laughs]. Some of them are a little more exposed than others but “Diary” is in detail also about my brother who had struggled with addiction for years so I was writing through his perspective. It’s a song about addiction, whichever addiction that may be.
How important are familial bonds as an artist?
They’re really important. I try to stay really close with my brothers. And in this day and age, you make your own family from your friends as well. It’s a process trying to keep everybody close because everybody’s so independent and so prone to picking and choosing who’s going to be their inner circle versus this is my inner circle I was born into. So I like to stay tight with my brothers. I’ve always been secretly jealous of those families that are super tight: brother-sister bands, brother-brother bands, sister bands. That’s just mind-blowing when there’s a family situation that happens like that. It’s kind of rare.
Especially when people’s personalities are so different.
My oldest brother is pretty culturally different than me and there’d be times when I’d show him my music and he’d be like “You’ve got it all wrong!” and he’d show me a Lana Del Rey video and be like “She’s got it all right.” And I’d be like “Man, you completely missed it.” Lana’s totally great, but just pinning two females against each other and saying one is more appealing is a cultural difference between him and me.
That has a lot to say about love. You don’t have to be dependent on someone you love for approval and respect.
Totally! I’m pretty anti-codependent [laughs]. As someone that has never successfully been codependent, but has been someone who’s really pined for that: growing up really thinking I just really want an ultimate partner and we’re going to build this musical empire together, we’re going to be romantic and have our professional lives intertwined. I was all about that structure.
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