Natalie Mering started recording music as Weyes Blood at the age of 15. Now in her late 20s, she’s streamlined the project from having a dreamy folk feeling to more instrumental-based folk music, yet she’s still maintained a strong feeling of experimentation to her sound.
2016 sees Weyes Blood return with a new studio album Front Row Seat To Earth, an album that finally, after two previous attempts, she’s actually happy with. Once again her voice is inarguably the star of the record, as she builds her sound in layers using loops of different instruments – all coming together to compliment her immersive vocals.
We caught up with Mering to chat about how Weyes Blood has changed and developed over the past decade or so, the difficulties in trying to write lyrics as someone who sees melody first, and finally realising the record that she’s wanted to make for years.
Music Feeds: What drew you to folk music to begin with?
Weyes Blood: I always had an affinity to a rugged individualist type of lifestyle, just someone alone out in the mountains doing their own thing, and folk has a lot of that about it – like a Woodie Guthrie, wondering minstrel and Joni Mitchell thing. So I just felt like I identified with the archetype and I also love the sound of just guitar and voice. There’s something really hypnotic and special about that.
MF: How do you think your experiences and time as a musician have led to you making this type of music as Weyes Blood at this point in your career?
WB: I think the music I’m making now is definitely just a more realised version of everything I was trying to make before. A way to think about it would be to compare it to the story Goldilocks; the first porridge was too cold, the second porridge was too hot and the third porridge is just right. I’m just getting all my influences and ideas balanced in a way that is just right, and not too extreme. My first record was very experimental and I made it all myself, and I think it’s really beautiful in its own right but it is also very cold and not a lot of people can relate to it. Then my second record is extremely just song and voice, and very crispy and produced in a very certain way – like it was too hot. Now this one is situated between the two.
MF: What was your instrumental background like?
WB: I grew up playing piano and guitar and singing. My parents were musicians, and my dad played a lot of guitar around the house – but I’m self-taught on the guitar and the piano. I did a lot of choirs throughout high school which was where I developed my sense of harmony.
MF: Your lyrics are often quirky, but generally seem to be making a statement about society or stereotypes or the way people interact. Is it important for you that your lyrics are a lot more than melodic placeholders?
WB: Yeah, lyrics are really important. I like to try to say more than what would just sound good. I think there’s a way of writing songs where you’re just saying these words that fit well with the melody and sound good, but it’s better to have words mean things while you’re singing them that reveal something about yourself.
MF: What comes first in your writing process, music or lyrics – or do they emerge together?
WB: It’s a bit of both. Lately, I’ve been writing a little bit more words before music but most of the time the melody – that’s my first language the melody and then the words come second. I’m actually working on getting better at the words, it’s an endless corridor. When I think about bands like The Grateful Dead, really wonderful bands that had other people write lyrics for them, I’m slightly tempted to specialise in the melody and bring an actual poet on board – to say more. But then I also have a lot to say, so it’s hard to strike a balance.
MF: How much of what you sing about is derived from your personal experiences?
WB: Most of it is personal experience. It’s hard for me to write observational songs, I’ve tried and they just don’t sound as honest. So I tend to write more about things I’ve experienced and things that affect me.
MF: If the sound you’re making now is finally a realisation of what you’ve wanted to do musically, how do you see yourself developing and moving forward from here?
WB: I think I’ll continue to develop, I still have a lot of aspirations sonically – and ways that I want to combine all my influences under one umbrella; songs that I want to do a certain way. I still don’t feel satisfied and I want to keep going, and a part of keeping going is to incorporate more of the experimental elements in a way that’s very subtle and nobody can really tell. That’s my next thing.
MF: How do you feel when you look back on your early compositions?
WB: I have a place in my heart for all my early stuff just because when you’re younger the inspiration you get, you just become mobilised as a vehicle for whatever you need to get out. As I get older I feel a little bit more blocked off, I have to work a little bit harder to get the lightning strikes of inspiration because inevitably your mind becomes a little bit crustier when you stop believing in fairy tales. There’s something about being young and believing in everything and believing in true love and fairy tales and those sorts of things, and writing about it. So when I feel early stuff I feel really nostalgic.
MF: Do you think that your lyrics have become more cynical as you’ve developed as a musician, given now you’re writing songs like Generation Why which are quite critical of the technology age?
WB: I don’t feel like I’m overly cynical, and I actually do feel like I might have been more cynical before. My expectations were higher for reality, but now I feel more realistic and on an even keel – and focussing on the things that really matter, focussing on the things that need to be criticised.
MF: Your videos don’t tend to follow typical music video narratives, and are often quite quirky and individualistic – trend-bucking even. How important is it that your videos stand out from the traditional serious style of music clips?
WB: I don’t think that anything should be oppressively serious, and I think it’s important to have a bit of fun because that’s what life is about. If I were to try to make a really serious video I’m sure there would still be a joke in it and some laughter and crying; which are chemically two pretty similar things.
MF: What can we expect from your upcoming tour of Australia?
WB: I’ve got a new band and I’m really excited about, they’re very musical people. They can play an acoustic song and add any atmosphere we need to add – and then when it’s time to do a band song the drummer can hop on the drums and we can do that. We get loud, and get quiet; it’s a very dynamic kind of experiences which I guess if you were to lay all my records together it would be quite dynamic. I’m really looking forward to coming to Australia.
Weyes Blood’s ‘Front Row Seat To Earth’ is out now. She’ll be heading to Australia soon as part of the Sugar Mountain Festival and Sydney Festival lineups.