Interview by Maya Eslami. Photography by Heidi Tappis, styling by Sissy Saint-Marie and HMU by Whitney Matija.
This article originally appeared in Monster Children #63, The Travel Issue. To see more, grab a copy here.
Natalie Mering—the powerhouse that is Weyes Blood—is a natural born wanderer. And though the act of travelling is a large part of what she does—touring and making music for the world to hear–the earth itself is of greater importance to the California native. Titanic Rising, her fourth album and first for Sub Pop Records, is Mering’s ode to earth; a breathtaking sonic dream that weaves through ten tracks heavy with the themes of world collapse and man’s inability to secure a sustainable future. Weyes Blood implores her listeners to wake up, put down their phones and pay attention. But it’s not all doom in her eyes. ‘My main focus,’ she tells me, ‘is trying to find a way to engage my fans and give them more understanding about what they can do to deal with these issues.’ As Mering transitions into the ‘fourth wave’ of her recording phase, she hopes to turn her music into activism, because, in the end, what would travelling be without the beauty of Mother Earth?
You just got back from touring in Europe. What countries did you hit?
We did the UK, Germany, France, Belgium, Holland…
What’s your favourite spot when you’re touring there?
Probably Lisbon, Portugal. Lisbon’s the best.
Do you get to venture outside of the designated tour cities at all?
I try to end tours in fun places and explore it a little bit, but when you’re playing shows in a row, you don’t do a lot of fun stuff, like, you can’t go to all the castles or really get to know a place.
Are there any spots in the US you look forward to travelling to?
Oh yeah. Austin, Texas. We have a day off there so we’re gonna go to Barton Springs, which is my all-time favourite swimming spot. I love Philadelphia because I used to live there and I have a lot of old friends from there. I can’t wait to play Minneapolis; I’ve never played Minneapolis before. It’s a badass city. I love America, and I love travelling around and playing these places. I like Atlanta… Obviously, I have no preference. I like it all. I’m stoked about all the cities.
So, this issue of Monster Children is all about travel.
Awesome. Travelling is a little bit a way of life for me. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, and I think that got me in this headspace of ‘Wow, there’s so many different places to see,’ and the more you see, the more you know about the whole big picture. So as a young adult, when I left my parents, I started moving around pretty steadily every two to three years. I ended up living in six different cities and touring and getting into music and doing things that involve this wandering way of life. It’s fun to collect all the information about the different cultures in different places and also see the similarities, too, you know? So yeah, I find that I’ve always been a seeker, going and seeking out new experiences in different places.
Do you feel like you subconsciously adopt a different identity based on where you are?
Yeah, totally. But I mean, at this point, I’ve pretty much just balanced it all out to where I’m basically the same. Like, I have this weird accent that nobody can really place. And I know about a lot of different zones. But when I was younger, I think I used to actually emulate it more, like I had a lot of friends from the Mid-West and they had really fun, funny accents, and I would get into talking like that and thinking like that. When I moved to New York, I very quickly adapted a ‘New York state of mind.’ And when I came to LA, I just kinda cut loose and I felt at home because I can relate to how people think.
What’s your opinion on NY versus LA?
I think New York is more poetic. It’s full of poetry and magic. There is such a thing as New York magic. But I do think that my constitution and where I come from with my family, New York didn’t really… New York kinda spit me out, you know? I was living in its mouth and trying to keep up with the whole thing, and ultimately it was like, ‘Thank you, come again.’ I had no grip on anything there because it’s changed so much. I just think as a person, my personality, the way that I operate didn’t work with New York. And my luck changed so immediately the moment I set foot in Los Angeles, my entire life changed. I think my life in New York was just an endless struggle, but so necessary.
And in a way, you were returning home.
Oh yeah. Even hormonally, my glands appreciate the arid weather. Humidity really fucks me up.
Music can be such a transformative thing, literally and figuratively. How do you feel about the idea that music can move you?
I think that’s a very important aspect of music, because I think we all get stuck, you know? And we need to find ways to move on and get past and play out any emotional stuff that we’re holding onto. When music makes me cry, it’s one of my favourite feelings in the world. It’s kind of like patting my back and drawing me out and being like, ‘It’s okay, just experience it,’ and it’s such a great release. I prefer art and music that is moving.
Where else do you fantasize about living?
Recently, I’ve been thinking about living in Ojai, which is basically LA but in the woods. I love the woods. And I always fantasize about the Sierra Nevadas. My great, great, great grandfather built a little cabin there in like 1917 or something, and it’s still in our family; it belongs to my uncle but he still lets me use it sometimes. I go up there and swim in the river. I mean, that is my favourite place on Earth. Literally just melted glacial water in a crystal-clear river with huge granite rocks and old pine trees.
So, you’re a California girl, straight up.
Through and through. Yeah, my dad is from Sacramento, his parents are from Sacramento. My Mom is from LA, her parents are from LA. Which is rare. That’s probably why I felt at home when I moved back to California.
Speaking of glacial water, the title of your new album is Titanic Rising. What does that mean to you, and how did you choose that title?
A part of it is definitely about a Titanic-sized rising of sea levels. The Titanic is such a symbolic event; our lack of dominion over nature so perfectly represented man’s hubris being responsible for the deaths of innocent people. And now, as opposed to crashing into an iceberg and sinking a ship, we’re melting the icebergs and sinking civilisation. I just find that so meta and interesting, especially because the Titanic was such a massive Hollywood film. I thought the message was so clear, and yet it was lost on so many people in power.
I mean, Mike Pompeo did a press conference praising the rapidly shrinking sea ice in the Arctic for its economic opportunities and oil drilling. I don’t know if you heard that.
That’s really insane. Man, Americans are twisted.
We were kids when Titanic came out. What kind of effect did the movie have on you?
I was already so fascinated with the event historically. That and the Hindenburg both really fascinated me. The Titanic was just so stunningly beautiful, and I had a book that you could open up and see the inside of the ship and the swimming pool, and I just remember being so fascinated by this moving city. And when the movie came out, I was just obsessed with it. The drama, you know? The drama of men’s stupidity. I felt like that was the biggest takeaway, like the third class was gonna get fucking screwed. It wasn’t just about Leo and the love story, I was reading into it probably a bit more.
When you were coming up with song titles and the album’s concept, were you having flashbacks of that? How did the Titanic–both the ship and the movie–play into your album?
I’m really into this composer Gavin Bryars, who made another piece inspired by the Titanic called The Sinking of the Titanic. I was always fascinated by art that references the Titanic; I just knew it was this weird archetypal thing for humanity to continuously revisit. So, I was attracted to it naturally and sonically. I love the Celtic music they use in the film, for sure. But I already like to make sounds that feel like they’re underwater and feel like they’re a whale in the distance or something. So that was kind of fun to weave in, that texture with the music. Like, we would think about the songwriting and the lyrics and the feel and then go, ‘Well, could we add another texture that would make it Titanic-like?’ I feel like in the Gavin Bryars’ pieces you can really feel that infusion where it’s definitely music in his own interpretation, but you’re almost reliving the experience on the Titanic.
How do you feel about releasing it into the world?
I feel good about it. I do so much of the things that I put out on my own, so I move a little slowly sometimes. And now that I’ve finally made my statements and created this concept, I’m trying to walk the walk, too, and find ways to get involved as an activist. Because it’s so hard touring as a musician and also trying to do any kind of political activism right now. My main focus has been trying to find a way to parlay the whole thing past it just being this art piece, and into something that engages my fans and makes them think about what they can do on a day-to-day level to deal with the issues brought up on the record. It’s a lot of responsibility because I think there are millions of things you can do, and any one person probably feels overwhelmed as to how they can positively impact the world. Now I think, fourth wave level of this record, is for some stuff to start happening and some education. Hopefully I can inspire people to educate themselves.
See more from the Monster Children Travel Issue by picking up a copy right here.