Bat for Lashes Redux
By Noah Michelson
This past spring Natasha Kahn -- aka Bat For Lashes -- released one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the last few years, Two Suns. To create the album, the former preschool teacher, who BMX biked her way into our hearts with the haunting track and video "What's A Girl To Do" her first album, Fur and Gold -- pulled electronic elements and a blonde, possibly evil alter ego-esque character named Pearl from her bag of tricks. The result was a collection of songs about love and heartbreak that alternate between sounding like they were born in the streets of downtown New York City and plucked up off the cobblestones of a medieval castle.
Kahn met up with us in a crowded, dirty park just outside of NYC's famed Bowery Ballroom to chat about comparisons to Kate Bush, the glitter-drenched boys who come to her shows, and how Andy Warhol and a few drag queens influenced the concept for Pearl's makeup.
Out: Every review I've read of Two Suns refers to you as 'the new Kate Bush.' Did you grow up listening to her? Are you a fan?
Natasha Kahn: I'm definitely a fan. I think she is an amazing artist and her body of work is so incredible and she's had such a long career and has taken so many risks. I think as someone to kind of look up to, she's a real inspiration. People compare me to her quite a lot but on the last record it was like, 'I really compare you to Bjork.' This one's Kate Bush -- maybe next time I'll be Nico if I play harmonium or something. [Laughs.] People kind of latch on to certain names and maybe because I am using more electronic instruments -- I don't know why -- this one seems to be getting more Kate Bush references. But I do love her and Bjork and all those women but I hope people realize I've got my own thing to say as well.
How do you see yourself fitting into the larger musical landscape especially amongst other female artists? Or is that even something you really think about?
I don't really think about where I fit in the music industry per say just because I am going along trying to make my work. My biggest critic is myself and I just try to give my vision a place and put what's in my mind down and that's my main concern. Afterwards people like my record company and manager sort of freak out trying to work out where it's going to go because I doesn't really fit in very easily. There have always been innovative artists on the edge of mainstream music that have excited me and hopefully there will always be a space for those sort of artists.
Speaking of Bjork and Kate Bush -- gay audiences certainly love their unconventional female artists. Have you noticed that you have a particularly strong gay following?
It's always the beautiful boys with the glitter on that come to the shows and make me feel really happy that they're into in. In London, The Gay Times has been a real supporter of my work. And my cousin Jason is super gay and says all his friends just love it. For me, personally, I love that underground scene and a lot of the old documentaries, especially from New York, like Paris is Burning and Jack Smith and The Destruction of Atlantis and all these crazy performance artists that are gay and fabulous. I just love it.
I read that drag queens were a big influence on your style --
I don't know about my style so much, but I think drag queens and fictional characters in books like Last Exit to Brooklyn I was reading when I moved to New York and Andy Warhol's whole situation with The Factor and Velvet Underground. I love Lou Reed. I feel like the sort of subterranean cinematic characters you hear about are associated with the gay scene of fabulous strange people are really inspiring. And the makeup for Pearl, who is a character on Two Suns, I explore that really garish sort of symbolic feminine makeup like the lashes and the blonde wig, which kind of got into all that.