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 Ive 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: Im definitely a fan. I think she is an amazing artist and her body of work is so incredible and shes had such a long career and has taken so many risks. I think as someone to kind of look up to, shes 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 ones Kate Bush -- maybe next time Ill 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 dont 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 Ive 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 dont 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 whats in my mind down and thats my main concern. Afterwards people like my record company and manager sort of freak out trying to work out where its going to go because I doesnt 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?
Its always the beautiful boys with the glitter on that come to the shows and make me feel really happy that theyre 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 dont 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 Warhols 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.
Lets talk about Pearl a little bit. It seems like there is Natasha and then there is Pearl and they almost play out the classic saint / sinner dichotomy. How did she factor in how you made the album and how you perform the album?
I felt like when I dressed up as Pearl it kind of made me get in touch with a darker, witchier, siren sort of situation. Pearl is kind of overtly sexual, as well, in the way she looks and how shes coquettish and powerful and dark and the way she is presenting femininity. I got to explore an ultra feminine side and quite a destructive element of my personality. Shes not really my alter ego -- she is more of a cinematic character because I documented her and took pictures of her and put them in my sketchbook and then when I was writing songs like Good Love or Pearls Dream, I would think about Pearl and the way she looks and how she makes me feel. It was quite a private experiment.
Is she going to be in future projects or is this a one-time deal?
I think Pearl is going to remain in the Two Suns universe. That is where she belongs -- driving down the highway looking for her loved one. On the last album I had the song Sarah, which was kind of inspired by the JT Leroy novel Sarah and she was blonde and I was black-haired in that one, so there is this sort of theme that might run through [my work]. It always comes up subconsciously and after the fact Im sort of surprised -- OK, theres a link that I didnt realize. I think Pearl is going to stay with me in this place.
The other thing I noticed while listening to the album is that theres both a spirituality and a romanticism that seems to run through it.
The romanticism has to do with the fact that its about love and heartbreak and distance and longing and confusion and disappointment and all those things you can feel in a relationship and I think the spirituality underpins that and is a soothing balm to that. I would go to the desert and try to get in touch with nature and feel more grounded again and understand the bigger picture and sometimes when you are in a love relationship its all sort of involved. Theres an offset between the two. The spirituality kept my feet on the ground and the love let my heart soar into the heavens. It was all mixed up.
The other thing is that the album -- I dont want to use the word timeless -- but it feels very current to me while also reminding me of almost -- medieval jousting tournaments with the armor and castles -- it reminds me of a past life.
I feel like the fable behind the album and the storytelling is very much in that king and queen situation, which is really a natural byproduct of me and my ex-boyfriend and how our mythology created itself and it felt archaic and archetypal and powerful in that sort of old way. And obviously I really love medieval sounding instruments and timeless ancient sounds and also because Im living in New York and Im young and I want to dance and I love the eighties, its all sort of in there as well.
When you are performing the songs from the album, are you trying to project the album itself onto the audience or do the songs take on a new meaning for you?
I think its different with the live show because in the studio its such a focused and intense and delicate and intricate process to get down exactly what you want. But when you play a live show you have human beings sharing in the communal experience and sometimes it can really recapture where I was at when I wrote the song and other times a whole new thing is created from the response you get from the audience. [The live show is] a lot more dancey than the record in some places and people really get down. Weve got an amazing drummer and there are a lot of percussive, big sounding elements. Ive completely rearranged Good Love and turned it all around so it is this really psychedelic, shoegazing, dreamy version of the song, which doesnt sound like the [version on the record] at all. And then there is a lo-fi version of Daniel that we do with the harmonium. There are a lot of changes and some similarities and some differences. Its really bigger I think and I really like the live show.
Two Suns is now in stores and Bat For Lashes is currently on tour. For a list of tour dates, head here.