Taking audiences on absorbing tribal journeys, Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes draws crowds into a world of her own imaginings with feathered head-dresses and gold Inca-like flourishes in tow. Inspired by Halloween, darkness and dreams, emerald forests, moonbeams and midnight skies, the 27 year old multi-instrumentalist combines her wonders and whims to create hypnotic music that captivates endless fans including Bjork, Thom York and Jarvis Cocker. Recently nominated for the eminent Mercury Prize for her debut album, ‘Fur and Gold’, and having just returned home to the UK after extensive touring across the US, Natasha found a rare afternoon of leisure to talk with Indigo Clarke about the month of October, her birthday and all importantly, Halloween.
Natasha, with Halloween fast approaching I wondered what does this day mean to you?
Natasha: I’ve always been obsessed with Halloween because it’s my birthday… well my birthday is five days earlier. Each year all my friends would come over, completely dressed up. My mum would dress up and wear a prosthetic nose with warts on it, my dad would attempt to be a scary vampire. Every year my parents would take photos of all the kids dressed up in their amazing costumes at our house. I’m really drawn to Halloween because there are two distinct sides two it – one is the Americanised notion, all cool dress-ups and parties, the other is a deeper side linked with Pagan rituals. All Hallows Day was the Pagan day revolving around nature and harvest. Halloween represents the coming of winter, of going into the darkness, witchery and magic – important influences for me as an artist.
Your beautiful video clip for the single, ‘what’s a girl to do’ seemed very Halloween inspired…
Natasha: Yes it’s really inspired by Halloween, and by what I call the 80s hoody movies – E.T, karate Kid, The Goonies and Donnie Darko. Films where there are kids riding at night, with moonbeams through pine forests, and skeleton costumes. There is a point mid-way through the film actually, where there are two kids in shot dressed in Halloween costumes – they are wearing the exact outfits of two kids who had come to my Halloween birthday party when I was very young that I have a photograph of. It was so trippy – it was as though I had stepped back in time, or even walked into a dream. The filmclip embodies darkness and the unknown – things I see as Bat for Lashes symbolism.
Where did you grow up and how did you spend your days?
Natasha: I grew up in Hertfordshire, which is kind of like suburban rows of houses – Edward Scissorhands style. While it’s fairly urban, it is set within a series of five lakes… so a lot of my time was spent wandering in forests, out by the lake, looking at beautiful moons, nature and skies of bats. Feeling connected to the natural environment from an early age definitely affected and influenced me, and has stayed with me.
How did you get involved in making music - was it something you have always been compelled to do?
Natasha: I guess I started making music around the age of 11, just improvising séances with my piano. I was really emotional and dark in my early teens, I used to go out at night into the basement and play my piano – it was like a friend to me, and we would have midnight rendezvous. I would get really spaced out and go into a kind of trance, just improvising. I actually took a snippet from one of these old improvised compositions I had recorded, and used it at the beginning of the last track on the album, ‘I saw a light’. I didn’t start singing properly until I was 18 or 19 because that was the scary part for me. I was playing around with bands at school but didn’t really take music seriously until I was about 20.
Did anything in particular inspire you to create ‘Fur and Gold’?
Natasha: In a way making the album was a response to how I was feeling… I was working full-time with children – it was the most mundane, structured time of my life, and when I wanted to dream the most. I started making this album as a way to communicate, and validate myself and my stifled creativity.
What is your favourite song on the album and what is the story behind it?
Natasha: I really like ‘Bat’s Mouth’, it’s quite orchestral and captured a melancholic but beautiful moment in my life. At that time I was really happy but equally heartbroken – so this is quite a magical but beautiful and sad song for me. It’s about kissing, but I’m imagining this boy I adore is in my mouth skipping and jumping and playing. It’s also about the notion that you are breathing each others spirits in and out of one another when you take in each others breath.
Animals, totems and nature (and love) figure largely in your songs…
Natasha: They say animals that come into our dreams are totems that have come along to teach you things you should understand. The album is full of different animals that have visited me in my dreams. ‘Horse and I’ is all about a big black horse coming to my window and taking me away on a journey… there are also songs about lions, bats and bears. I really believe certain animals can protect you… and connecting with animals reminds us that we’re all just beings trying to survive on the same planet.
Is your characteristic fashion style a reflection of your personality?
I wear things that empower me because they make me feel like me. My style is eclectic and natural – a visual representation of the things I love. I collect things almost unconsciously that make me feel protected – luck charms, things that people have made for me or given me. I’m really into protective forces and believe objects have energies. I like things that have a history – so I generally buy vintage clothing. I just bought these amazing boots that make me think of Stevie Nicks – I’m channeling her energy when I step out in them.
A Bat for Lashes live show is quite an experience – as a performer is it important for you to interact and connect with your audience?
Natasha: It’s really important for a performer to communicate with their audience, to create a relationship somehow. I connect with the audience by imagining we’re all under a huge cosmic sky… I look out and see emerald pine trees encircling us all. A lot of the time we’re playing in cities in big theatres or even dingy clubs – it’s helpful to imagine we’re in a woodland enclosure. I think people sense what I’m visualizing and feel elevated… I’m drawing people into my world and want people to experience it with me.
Thoughts on future days…?
Natasha: ‘Fur and Gold’ is my introduction into the world sonically… and I think I’m now forging my path. I’m thinking of the future and hoping that as I go along, my music will develop and become more me.