Rising Sign: Weyes Blood

LA singer-songwriter Weyes Blood channels the celestial energy of her majestic fourth album into these transcendent images. Taken from Notion #83.

“Young me was all kinds of weird”, confides Natalie Mering AKA Los Angeles-based Weyes Blood, “I thought the future of music was pure atonal noise, I thought people were ready for that but they weren’t”. Thankfully Mering ditched her adolescent atonal obsession in favour of the ethereal bops she creates under the Weyes Blood moniker (a play on Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor’s 1952 novel about a heathen preacher who burns his eyes out in search of salvation), picking up fans like Lana Del Rey along the way.

Mering’s cinematic fourth album, Titanic Rising, is a majestic undertaking that further cements her as the “millennial Joni Mitchel”. Although rooted in folk sensibilities, folk itself is a simplistic label for the Weyes Blood sound, that risks reductive categorisations like ‘retro’. Instead it takes in everything from 1970s pop and psych-rock, medieval chamber music, the outsider pop of artists like Ariel Pink (who Mering has collaborated with), Johann Sebastian Bach and the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet adaptation.

Mering first saw James Cameron’s epic movie, Titanic, on its opening night, December 15th 1997. Describing the experience as hugely transformative, Mering says the film is “engineered for little girls” but says it wasn’t the films love story that stuck with her, but it’s allegory about the “hubris of man”.

The album’s title imagines the Titanic resurfacing, like a phoenix from the ashes, as a symbol of our lack of dominion over nature. Mering says the image is a constant backdrop to her writing, drawing parallels between the doomed ship’s sinking and today’s looming climate change catastrophe—we might be melting the ice caps but we’re sinking the entire planet in the process this time.

It’s a fitting metaphor for the melodramatic and, at times, existential epics on Titanic Rising—Mering’s first release via SubPop Records. A year in the making, Mering was determined not to just deliver a rehash of her previous album, Front Row Seat to Earth, instead expanding not only the sound but the imagery on the record—tides are high, the universe is making divine interventions, human nature is twisting technology and capitalism towards their most destructive tendency but through it all there’s love, hope and escapism in the movies.

Mythology, space, astrology, cosmic energy and the ocean are all recurring images/themes in your work. What’s the attraction for you?

For me, deep space and deep ocean are both very symbolic for the subconscious and, as somebody who is very introspective, I am a fan of trying to navigate the unseen, the unknown and those mysteries that live within ourselves. When I talk about the stars or the ocean it’s usually in tandem with the microcosm also—internally there’s a cosmos within each one of us and how we see ourselves reflected in space. We are of space technically, yet it’s such a foreign, impossible to reach place, which is kind of how I feel about my own subconscious and where my dreams come from and where my feelings coming from—when I fall in love with somebody it’s all coming from this mysterious well but I don’t have access to it really.

There’s immense female energy in your music, this matriarchal feminine feeling, but you’ve said before you feel more comfortable around more masculine energy.

I was always a tomboy, I had older brothers and I really looked up to my father and always felt a little bit more comfortable with men. That is a strange tension within myself, being this really effeminate person, this matriarchal singer and yet I definitely identify and feel more at home with men. Women really terrifying me, in a beautiful way, it’s just from lack of experience where I am so used to being one of the guys. It took me awhile to really stretch my wings musically because of that. Over time I’ve learned how to shed all that stuff but that was definitely a theme when I was younger.

Outside of Weyes Blood you’ve become a low-key prolific collaborator, working with people like Ariel Pink and Father John Misty. What do you get from that work that you don’t from Weyes Blood?

I always wanted to be in a band and being a solo musician was just by accident because nobody wanted me to be in their band [laughs]. So whenever I get in a room with a bunch of people and we all start working together, it’s really exciting and I get a lot of joy from the anonymity of it. I really like going in and working on somebody else’s stuff and working for the greater good as opposed to when I’m working on my own stuff—I think it gets a little convoluted with me thinking ‘what is Weyes Blood’. It’s nice to freely create without any of those boundaries.

Listening to Titanic Rising, would you agree there’s a lot of tension in the album?

I was using a lot of chords full of tension and trying to express myself melodically a little bit more succinctly and honing in on describing my feelings using symphonic textures and using things that before I didn’t really have the resources to use, like strings. Also just the amount of time I’ve gotten to spend on the record is more involved than other records prior. It’s been a departure into a more cinematic realm, something a little bit larger.

What did that involve?

We tried to recreate this thing called Frippertronics, which is an invention by Robert Fripp—the guitarist of King Crimson—who had two reel-to-reel tapes that would feed into each other and loop back and we tried to create that. We never could get it to be technically be Frippertronics but it would create crazy weird ghostly sounds. Titanic Rising, the instrumental piece, is really us mixing the reel-to-reels and sound effects and I used an instrument I built when I was a teenager—it’s a long weird droning string instrument that’s been in storage for years and that came out finally. It’s like a 6ft long zither and it’s got a bridge and a pickup and you play the harmonics of the strings on the opposite side of the bridge. It has a very metallic electric guitar sound.

Do you remember your dreams?

I do, I have really crazy dreams. Recently I’ve been having a lot of weird crime dreams, where I’m an acomplice to murder helping somebody hide a dead body. I don’t know where that’s coming from at all. I’ve been trying to figure it out. It might just be from watching too much unsolved mysteries or watching The Ted Bundy Tapes.

I tried to find a dream dictionary with the right terminology. I think most of it comes from shame and guilt and hiding something. I don’t know. Nothing apparent off the top of my head in my life can I say is directly related to that but maybe it is literally watching too much unsolved mysteries and forensic files. Who knows!

Are those the kind of TV shows you watch?

I never used to watch those kind of shows until recently and a part of it was to almost wake myself up because I had been occupying such an isolated space. Watching Unsolved Mysteries, it’s just getting into the psychology of people like that, especially because so many of those crimes were committed against women. In the case of Ted Bundy and all those 70s serial killers, it almost helps me to get into their psychology a little bit, to demystifying it makes it feel a little less terrifying.

Is it true you wanted to be an actress?

That was my first dream. I was always extremely dramatic. I just wanted to be in the saddest darkest movie, all the time [laughs]. I loved performing. If I wasn’t the centre of attention in the room I was in pain on the inside and I didn’t get that much attention, I grew up in a decent size family. My cousins were real actresses, they were actually theatre kids and they would get little roles in commercials and stuff.

When I actually met theatre people and realised how boring and normal they were, with such an intense sense of self preservation, I was like, ‘that’s not my thing’. I’m way more rebellious than that and it became obvious to me that music was the true path. It’s taken me a really long time to be where I’m at with music and I think it’s the same with acting, it’s actually extremely difficult and the times that I’ve tried I’ve been shocked at how bad I am. It would take ten years of me refining it.

Would you call yourself superstitious?

I am a little bit. I try to keep it contained, I’m not as bad as some people but I believe in vibes big time, I can sense when a vibe is off. I think a lot of it is within the realm of your control and I feel I do go through periods of bad luck and that is something that is sort of a superstitious thing where you can profess over your life ‘oh I have bad luck’ and then you will have bad luck.

What about astrology? What’s your sign?

I’m a gemini, I’m the worst—Kanye, Trump [laughs], we’re gemini dragons. I dabble [in astrology] but it’s not my ruling law. When people talk about it like it’s super real I get a little burnt out, just like any other sceptic. I do get a lot of fun out of it and I do like categorising people, making big huge sweeping generalisations. That’s a big human way of creating meaning out of the chaos, there’s a lot of fun to that, even though it’s, the term would be barnum statement, a statement that feels very personal but could apply to anybody.

I like that about astrology, it’s similar to tarot, I have a deck and I like giving myself readings. It’s really onpoint in terms of it being a card deck of archetypes of human experience so at any moment you could have a relationship to any one of the cards, they’re all built to be that relatable. One thing I am a little more obsessed with than astrology is this thing called the secret personality which is research based astrology.

How do you cope living the rock’n’roll life?

I was completely out of my mind when I was 21. For the sake of music I wish I was physically that age because it’s so good for touring and if you wanna keep drinking and partying and raging, it’s way easier to do that with a 22-year-old body, but now I have to be a little more, I don’t drink on tour any more, I don’t rage. I can’t mess it up.

Some people are built different. I’m very sensitive. I’m very affected by food, I have to be very conscious of what I put in my body—even with media, I get on Instagram too long I’ll be like ‘oh I have a stomach ache’. I’m super sensitive and I have to protect myself. You’ve got to be somewhat durable and as much as I am a sensitive person, I guess I am durable in a spiritual sense.

Do you keep a diary?

I do. I actually used to write in my journal but I got lazy, I type it up on my computer in like a notepad. I do this thing I call ‘morning pages’ where I spill the beans, or if something really traumatic is going on—an infatuation that’s gnarly as hell—I’ll write about it. I got to spill it out somehow. If I could I’d see a therapist like every day or something, For me the therapy is writing it all out. It’s a processing thing. I would hate if somebody read this stuff. Oh my god. It’d be so humiliated it if anybody read this junk. It would be fun to write memoirs, that would be a different form of writing, this kind of writing is literally like letting the gutter spill out.

When did you last cry and why?

I cried really recently, like yesterday. I was crying in Paris. I’ve been dealing with some stuff where I have a tendency to have crushes on people from far away and not do anything about it. I get really frozen in my tracks. I’m not one of those people whose like ’hey what’s up’ or can  put themselves out there. I deal with a very imaginative inner world and it’s not always in harmony with reality and that’s a lot, especially when it comes to having a crush on somebody who doesn’t know you’re alive. I get really in my head about it.

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