“A lot of people are scared and ashamed to admit how things have changed. Especially baby boomers.”
In Tourcoing, a town in northern France within spitting distance of the Belgian border, Natalie Mering is reflecting on her latest record. It’s called ‘Front Row Seat to Earth,’ and she released it under her pen name Weyes Blood a little while back now, in October of last year. On paper, it was the perfect time for it to make a pointed incision into the political climate, a little while after Britain’s leave vote and just before Trump was elected in her homeland.
That’s not quite how she meant for it to go across, and at the same time, the way the album seems to lend itself to 2016’s borderline absurd political narrative seems too pertinent to be accidental. The cover of the record, for instance, shows Weyes Blood lying in leisurely fashion in front of the sad but striking surrounds of the Salton Sea, in her birth state of California.
It’s a beautiful place, but since its status as a resort flickered and died years back, it’s fallen into a state of disrepair - one not immediately apparent to the naked eye, but one that’s very evidently sunk its hooks in on closer inspection. “I got light-headed from posing there,” she laughs, “the smell, and the methane there - they were so insane.”
And that, there, is the mentality that Natalie took into her third full-length; it was less that she was looking for a way in which to turn the world’s myriad ugliness into something prettier, and more that she wanted to tap into both sides of the dichotomy at the same time. On ‘Front Row Seat to Earth’, she explores her own psyche in a manner that’s endearingly honest and tremendously easy on the ear, the latter aspect apparently thanks to her moving to Los Angeles and leaning upon a very seventies, Laurel Canyon sound.
“Steve Jobs knew that this technology was going to be emotionally manipulative when he developed it.”
“I think, in a lot of ways, it just emerged sounding that way,” says Natalie of ‘Front Row…’s defining sonic characteristic. “It just seems that there’s now this myth that things always have to be completely different and new every ten years. That seems weird and capitalistic to me; if music feels like a throwback these days, it’s because people are kind of trying to access something relatable, and there’s something accessible about the arrangements and melodies that were often used in the seventies. I’m never trying to emulate anything from the past, but as somebody who doesn’t feel like a modern human, it tends to crop up.”
Her disconnection from the present day is a recurrent theme on ‘Front Row Seat’, and it’s usually visceral in the way it comes across. Chief among the cases in point is ‘Generation Why’, a cut that serves as the axis for the rest of the album to revolve around both sonically and thematically. “I wrote that song at the age of twenty-five, when I started to have friends that were younger than me,” Natalie explains. “Until then, I’d always hung out with people who were ten years older, but I realised it might get gnarly if I couldn’t relate to the next generation coming through.”
On the face of it, ‘Generation Why’ might seem like a pointed evisceration of those at the younger end of the millennial scale, the ones that haven’t really known a time before social media and the internet’s ubiquity. Really, though, the message was more measured. “That stuff scared me at first, but then I realised that it’s born out of the natural human instinct to stay connected,” she says. “Our addiction to our phones just represents an internal process, one that’s ended up being slightly perverted by capitalism, I guess.”
“I mean, Steve Jobs knew that this technology was going to be emotionally manipulative when he developed it. He knew that it was something people were going to take into their beds with them, and he was right. I think on the record, instead of having a luddite’s perspective, I’ve kind of embraced what that sort of thing means to this first generation who’ve been raised with it. There’s some positive aspects to that, and some scary ones, too.”
“I’m never trying to emulate anything from the past, but as somebody who doesn’t feel like a modern human, it tends to crop up.”
Part of being that forward-facing, of course, involves constantly keeping in mind what might be next in terms of recorded output. When the topic of ‘Front Row Seat to Earth’s unanimous rave reviews is raised, Natalie acknowledges that they’ve bought her more time both in terms of her ability to tour - “I’ll probably be on the road for the next five years now” - and afforded her more generous resources when it comes to studio time, too.
Before that, though, her guest spot on Perfume Genius’ new album ‘No Shape’ will see the light of day, and she’ll also open for the ubiquitous Father John Misty across North America in October, Europe in November and, surely, the UK when he finally does announce dates. “He’s a cool guy, but I still haven’t met him. I’ve been doing lots of demoing and, to me, three records and one EP in ten years doesn’t feel like enough. Once the crazy Father John fiasco is over, I’ll head back into the studio in early 2018. There’a a lot still inside of me that can’t wait to come out.”
‘Front Row Seat to Earth’ is available now via Mexican Summer.