Weyes Blood: “Music has become my crusade”

It is simply one of the most beautiful current voices. The American contemplates the chaos of the world on a precious fifth album. Meeting with a major figure of modern pop.

According to her passport, Natalie Mering is a young woman born in California thirty years ago and dust. However, listening to his albums, it is impossible to situate in space-time his elegant voice, capable of intoning madrigals with the free flow of Joni Mitchell, nor his songwriting of timeless beauty, adorned with sumptuous arrangements, make his own idols green with envy.

The same paradox when you find yourself in front of this frail silhouette: by his erudition, his wisdom, his sibylline smile and his royal bearing of the head, Weyes Blood exudes an overpowering aura. No wonder the entire indie scene is snapping up its talents, from Beck to Lana Del Rey via Drugdealer, Father John Misty and Ariel Pink. His fan club will grow even more after the release of his dizzying fifth LP, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, of which she reveals some secrets to us.

your previous album, Titanic Rising, date of 2019. When did you tackle the sequel?

During confinement. I had planned to shoot for another year, but the Covid turned all my plans upside down. So I set out to explore avenues for the next chapter of the trilogy. The first, Titanic Rising, offered an observation of what was to come and sounded the alarm about what might happen in a world that was still functioning. At that time, some doubted the reality of climate change, whereas today no one doubts it.

When I started composing And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, everything had completely collapsed and we were in the aftermath. The pandemic has brought to the surface a lot of disillusionment, especially about the shortcomings of modernity. I didn’t want to make an album to say that everything was going to be fine. I preferred to highlight the nuances of all these subjects which concern us and which evolve extremely quickly.

In order to heal and plan for the future, we must first understand what went wrong, what we are going through right now, with these feelings of imminent danger and uncertainty. I already have the title of the next part and I’m working on it, but I don’t want to say too much about it, otherwise it will bring me bad luck!

One of your new songs, The Worst Is Done, specifically alludes to containment. How did you experience this period from Los Angeles?

I didn’t want to rejoin my family or take a vacation. I couldn’t have rested during such a weird time, but looking back, I think it wouldn’t have hurt to go camping for two months. I was left alone to work in my small apartment, telling myself that it would only be a matter of weeks before things got back to normal. I wanted to keep up the momentum from my last album and keep making new stuff. I installed very basic equipment to prepare my demos at home.

How do you feel in this home studio ?

In peace. I wrote my first songs when I was 12 or 13 in my bedroom. Now this space is in my living room, but it remains nostalgic and out of sight. It’s a sacred place where I can play for myself, without an audience, without meeting any expectations. My way of composing remains the same as when I started, based on improvisation and intuition.

I record myself trying out different ideas and I listen to it all again to come up with a melody or a verse. Kind of like trying to catch an eclair in a bottle. I think I’ve made a lot of progress in my songwriting, because I’ve learned to say what’s on my mind without covering my words with a veil of abstractions and platitudes. I am happy to have had this clear evolution as an artist.

Music is a vector, which transports towards a certain transcendence, with an idea of ​​elevation

When I was younger, I played more noisy experimental music. I love the idea of ​​creating something very beautiful, extreme and ugly at the same time – this marriage of opposites that forms a whole in my career. I believe that I made the right choice by giving up the idea of ​​being an underground experimental artist, because I thus became myself.

You used the word “sacred”, and it is a term that perfectly describes your music, imbued with spirituality more than religion…

I am very interested in ancestral music, in the centuries when the musicians had God as an imposed theme. I feel a resonance. Music is a vector, which transports towards a certain transcendence, with an idea of ​​elevation. I try to leave room for that in my songs. In our culture, it’s a concept that some may find awkward, but I absolutely don’t mind.

You grew up in a religious family. Did you learn to sing in church?

Yes. My parents played in the church band and my brothers were crazy about music too. I have always sung and I was part of several choirs at school. This is where I discovered the harmonies and all the technical aspects. Besides, I recently quit smoking to prevent my voice from becoming too low. When I decided to dedicate my life to music, my parents told me it might not be a good idea, so it became my crusade.

What was the first track that gave you the impetus for this new album?

Children of the Empire,which I wrote at the time of my previous record. In the United States, the CDC [Centres pour le contrôle et la prévention des maladies] gave a staggering figure: one in four teenagers had suicidal thoughts during the pandemic and continue to be in mental crisis. I get it, even though I’m technically a millennial, that age group stuck in purgatory between Generations X and Z.

Then I wrote grapevine . In all, the recording took us about six months, interspersed with breaks. I recorded part of it in EastWest’s studio 3, in Los Angeles, where the album Pet SoundsBeach Boys was designed, and I felt inspired by this place. I also listened to Scott Walker a lot.

I wanted the voice to be very clear, with instrumentation straight out of a film, but without too much density in the sound. I also went to a much cheaper, smaller studio where I could have fun playing for hours without pressure. It’s important to leave enough room for the unexpected: that’s where the magic can happen.

What were you looking for in these songs?

An intimate bond that makes a song speak directly to us and strike a chord with its melody and lyrics. When words intertwine with the emotion of instruments like a Rubik’s Cube, these two elements magnify each other and create a fourth dimension. I go through moments of spontaneous combustion during which I can write a song in one go. Sometimes it’s much more spaced out in time and it can take me months.

What have you learned from your idols?

How useful it can be to be an asshole. We shouldn’t over-analyze what we’re doing. Conversely, if we don’t think enough about what we want to do, we have nothing to say. How confident or insecure should I be? There is a certain dosage, a balance to be found. I’m a huge fan of Joni Mitchell, Kurt Cobain and Leonard Cohen.

I’m also interested in the Tin Pan Alley movement, the songwriters of the 1940s, Willie Nelson and the Nashville country sound of the 1950s. I read a lot about all these subjects and I like to understand chess. That’s what I particularly like about Bob Dylan: I love the uneven side of his career.

You’re a solo artist, but you often surround yourself with other musicians – Jonathan Rado, Mary Lattimore, Meg Duffy and Daniel Lopatin feature on your new album…

I loved working with Perfume Genius, with Blake Mills… Collaborating with the Killers was a strange experience, but we got on well. It was amazing to sing with Lana Del Rey, whom I have always admired. I saw that there was nothing calculated in her, that everything she shows us is very real.

You collaborate with many female artists. Is there a sense of sisterhood between you all?

Yes, and I am happy to witness this change. Today, there is nothing extraordinary about being a singer and songwriter. We almost come to wonder where all the male artists have gone! It’s a brilliant reversal of what I experienced when I was younger. After my first concerts, when I was 15, people told me that I reminded them of Joanna Newsom, when we didn’t have much in common.

It was just their only reference in the matter at that time. We now have the privilege that men have had for a long time: to have our own subtleties. With my musician friends, we try to stay in touch because it’s important to keep sticking together.

And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow (Sub Pop/Modulator). Released November 18. Concert on February 4 in Paris (Trianon).

Weyes Blood: “Music has become my crusade” – Les Inrocks