weyes blood creates darkly beautiful folk music for a digital future
Natalie Mering premieres the dreamy new video for 'Used to Be,' from her fourth album ‘Front Row Seat to Earth.'
"I'm kind of eerie naturally," says Weyes Blood's Natalie Mering. "I've always been attracted to the mysterious and unexplained parts of the universe." Her fourth album, Front Row Seat to Earth, embodies that affinity for the unknown and the otherworldly. It's been two years since she released her indie-folk album The Innocents, and you can hear the growth in the melodies.
Mering was formerly a part of the West Coast's underground noise community, playing with experimental bands Jackie-O Motherfucker and Ariel Pink in the early 2000s. But the chanteuse left that part of her story behind in the spring of 2012, when she moved to New York, an experience which she describes as "bootcamp." After a relationship ended, Mering found herself isolated — alone and untethered in the city which she had retreated to for a fresh start. The music of Front Row Seat to Earth comes from that difficult East Coast period.
Gorgeous 70s-inflected folk melodies, laced with tragedy, are woven through the album as Mering looks back at her abandonment and focuses on starting anew. The songs feel like dark hymns, with moody refrains that crash like waves against the surface. Last year, she left New York and returned to L.A., where she was finally able to reflect on her new sound and how she'd grown along the way. "L.A. was like a homecoming for me," she says.
Here, Mering fills us in on her cross-country journey and her Christian upbringing, and shares her video for "Used To Be" — a nostalgic vision of California's Salton Sea captured on Super 8MM film — exclusively with i-D.
Your album is about the disconnect that people feel even with a "front row seat" to technology. How did the idea of technology feed into your album?
When cell phones came out I was pretty resistant to them, but when I finally caved in, I realized what was going on, which was tapping into what we're already predisposed to as humans. Biologically we're tribal, community-based beings. We've evolved through cooperation and care-bonding; we're not these lone wolves. Technology taps into what we're already pre-disposed to. So, in a way the addiction to technology isn't so much just everyone getting stupid; it's about everybody becoming more human in a weird artificial sense. I think the interconnectivity of technology is a farce and also because of the influence of capitalism there's a lot of commodification and advertising. Overall the desire is to get closer and draw together, so technology is getting ahead of itself in that way. I feel like Steve Jobs was an emotionally manipulative person. I think he knew that. I think he was trying to create technology that people would bring into their beds. He wanted it to become an extension of each person. Computers could have gone the furniture route: they could have become centerpieces in homes.
Tell me the story behind the song and video for "Used to Be," which we're premiering.
This is a video we shot on Super 8MM film in the Salton Sea, which is an abandoned resort town in the California desert. Basically it's a manmade lake. They didn't realize how much water was going to evaporate when they poured all this water into it. So, it became really salinated and killed all the fish and things that were living in it. The resort town was abandoned and it's just a desolate wasteland. It's full of abandoned boats, cars, and trash. When we went out to film it, we captured that. We stopped by this famous road stop on the way to the Salton Sea, the Cabazon dinosaurs, which were featured in Pee Wee Herman's movie. It had a real, California, earthy desert scene going on.
How does the title of the record, "Front Row Seat to Earth," relate the album?
Like I was saying about the technology stuff, I feel like the globalized community is getting access to so much news and being bombarded by so much stuff going on on the planet right now. It's like we're watching everything play out on the stage. We're in the front row seat, but still disconnected from what's going on. And that's a very natural human protection mechanism. We kind of watch these things play out in a theater.
You grew up with born-again Christian parents and your songs often sound like hymns. How did your church upbringing play into the making of this record?
I don't consider my music to be religious. I don't subscribe to any religion. I think that my music tries to be sacred, which is a very different word. It has more to do with reaching a universal space of human understanding. My upbringing is very interesting, but my adulthood has been basically dismantling that and creating my own cosmology instead of the dogmatic Christian cosmology. I did have access to spirituality at a very young age. I'm grateful for having these concepts and meaningful ideas instilled in me as opposed to having ideals that are agnostic and atheistic.
Is technology tearing our relationships apart?
No. We're one of the first generations who grew up being told how special and how different we all are. That makes us a little more selfish, not necessarily in a negative way. Our concept of romantic love, if anything, has been really distorted by the media. I think technology plays a role in that, but I think there are bigger things going on. I think it's mostly capitalism poisoning the well of movies, media, and television with beautiful people, perfect love, and fantasy lust. These are all things that I think make people distracted and incapable of pursuing monogamy long term.
What do you think makes your music so intimate?
Maybe because I'm just speaking from a vulnerable place and trying to draw people in. I'm not trying to isolate people culturally by subscribing to specific genres or tropes in music.
Do you intend to make your music sound eerie? How do you play with that feeling?
Sonically, the soundtracks of horror films have always been interesting to me because they tickle a certain part of your brain to keep you on edge. Putting it in my music is like reflecting the greater picture of how I experience reality. Not everyone is in tune with mysteries, but I feel very much intrigued by that stuff.
Text Ilana Kaplan
Photography Katie Miller