Music Monday: An Interview with Bat For Lashes

Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes shares how The Bride led to self-love— plus! An exclusive performance of "We've Only Just Begun."

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I never dreamed of my wedding when I was a child. I didn't stage imaginary ceremonies for my Barbies or stuffed animals. Matrimony has always felt like an improbable fate, something strictly fictive, that didn't apply to me. My own vision of the future included going to college, writing stories, and winning awards for being smart. There was no space for being a bride.

Decades later, that sentiment shifted when I fell in love with a guy that I met on OKCupid. We started dating after a few weeks of hanging out, and within a year, I began to picture what it'd be like to be his wife. I'd practice writing different variations of my signature with his last name, sometimes hyphenated. I created a secret Pinterest dedicated to bridal inspo from the '70s and compulsively saved images of Victorian engagement rings on my cell phone. But as I reveled in my daydreams, my relationship with my boyfriend became the opposite of a dream. I became codependent and he became distant. In attempts to keep things from falling apart, I confessed one night through a desperate text that someday I wanted to marry him. His response was silence. Months later we broke up, which was painful, but the experience taught me so much about the importance of self-love and of being independent.

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My current ideas about bridehood and weddings are now hypothetical, and practical at best. When I think about the future, I still don't picture myself as someone's wife, but I do see myself being loved. Like the central character on the latest album from Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes, I found myself on the other side of a romance's end.

Through eerie melodies and breathtaking vocals, Khan explores the complexities of romance, desire, and identity on her fourth studio album, The Bride. Heavily influenced by "I Do," a short film that she directed in 2015, her forthcoming follow-up to The Haunted Man is a much-needed corrective to our contemporary culture's misaligned narratives about intimacy and love.

I sat down with Khan on a humid afternoon in Manhattan to discuss what unpacking the archetype of the bride and the myth of idealized romance meant to her and why following her muse is so important.

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Dianca Potts: What inspired you to explore the archetype of the bride on this album?

Natasha Khan: After my last album, I was thinking about writing a script and learning about screenplay. This idea about the bride came to me because I did a song called "The Bride" with Sexwitch, who I did the side project with. It's an Iranian song about a woman who is banished to the desert because her husband doesn't turn up to the wedding, and how broken and cast aside by society she is because she's not a married woman. I was also watching Rebel Without a Cause and The Wizard of Oz, and lots of road-trip movies, and [that's when I got] the idea to look at the archetype of the bride and the wedding, at that kind of romantic heightened idealistic ritual that we're fed through popular culture. I also really liked the idea of going on a honeymoon, but going on your own, and how then you would only have yourself to fall in love with. I wanted to create a metaphor that moved away from the projection of romanticized idealistic love and the idea of someone rescuing you toward a much deeper love for yourself and a journey through the psychic terrain and the landscape of your own soul.

DP: Did working on this album change your thoughts about marriage and our culture's view of brides?

NK: Definitely. I think that when I wrote "I Do," which was the first song, I was still seduced by the idea of romantic love. We're all seduced by the idea of romantic love and finding that person that completes you and that whole thing of this person will rescue me and I'll never be sad again. It's so ridiculous, but it's something that we all pretend that we don't think about but want. It's a very human longing, but I don't think that it's necessarily the most healthy or most realistic way of looking at love.Having gone through the bride's journey by writing these songs and performing them live, I think that it's about a choice and it's about balance, finding a balance between the need for community, the need for connection through intimacy and to be vulnerable in the face of someone else and to find your individuality whether you're with someone or not and to be open to love and companionship [without] becoming codependent and giving up on the ideas like going on holiday alone, being able to say what you really want, or maintain your individual perspective on things, to not shrivel into a vulnerable heap or trying to control another person.

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I think that I long for love, like I'm sure many people do, but I'm also realizing that I can't really love someone else until I've dispelled that [romantic] myth and I've learned that I'm in control of my life.

DP: You're performing the album in churches across the globe, which is so suitable. How have those performances expanded the narrative of the album for you?

NK: The churches that we've done so far to me have been just really emotional and really magical, because it's less about the religious aspects, but for me what the church building itself and that scared space provides is a sacred sense of community and witnessing something as a collective. I come down the aisle in my black veil like the widow bride, and I throw the bouquet at the end of the show, and everyone's been coming dressed up as guests for the wedding, so there's already this theatrical housing around the story and the history of these buildings; all the worship and the vulnerability of the weddings and funerals and prayer that happened in those spaces are very deep moments that [people] share and commemorate together. It's like the antithesis of a narcissistic individualistic society that I think sometimes we're in trouble of being drowned under. I just love that it feels very special and nurturing in a kind of heightened and theatrical way. We're all really missing that sense of ritual and community, and I'm enjoying being a part of that with people.

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DP: Is there a song that you've performed during this tour that you find most fulfilling?

NK: We do a cover a Carpenters song, "We've Only Just Begun," and there's this running joke when we play live that we make the most depressing cover band ever because we take every song and make it deathly sad, but this one particularly is really close to my heart, because when I was little I had to stay with my "nan," who was a bit scary. I didn't really like her but she lived in this house that hadn't changed since the '60s, so it had shag rust-colored carpet and loads of those paintings with the girls with the big eyes and floral vinyl wallpaper. [When I was there] I would just go upstairs and listen to The Very Best of the Carpenters tape over and over again and sing it in front of the mirror. [Now] I play it on piano, and it's a really dusty slow version with bowed guitar, and it's been going down really well. I can't top Karen Carpenter's voice, but I love singing her words and her melodies.

DP: Since your debut LP, I've been in awe of your dedication and focus when it comes to your creative projects. Has there ever been a moment where you've doubted yourself?

NK: I had some serious moments of doubt because it's such a big project to oversee. Not just with each individual song but also with keeping the thread of the narrative arc [throughout]. It wasn't just about music, but also theme and character. One of my biggest [struggles] was on a song called "Close Encounters." It has a very folky three-time kind of swing-like melody that's very strong, and all the way up until the last few weeks after I'd been working on the album for years, it had been an old school-girl-group-sounding love song, and it just wasn't sitting right with me. I was having sleepless nights feeling so anxious. In the end, I came into the studio one morning and I was like, We have to scrap everything and start again. Then I set to work with [the composer] David Baron , who has all of these incredible 1930s B-movie string samples that were so eerie and beautiful, and we set to work arranging these strings, and I basically just put my vocal [on top] of these really discordant warped strings. I was worried everyone [was] going to think that I'm really crazy, that this [was] really avant-garde, but it's been one of the tracks that people have talked about and loved the most.

So my advice about any kind of block or any worries that come along is that it's only fear from the lack of stepping into the unknown and following the muse. It's when you don't [embrace] the true depth of what you want to say. When you don't do that, that's when you feel uneasy, you second-guess yourself, and doubt creeps in because you're not going there. A way to be aware of that is to be really quiet and to be very still. For me it's going out to Woodstock and being in nature, seeing the deer and hearing the trees. You have to cut all the noise and the bullshit and be fierce enough to not get attached to anything, to scrap it all if you need to. Don't worry, the muse will tell you the truth.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Dianca Potts is an assistant at Lenny.

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