Ever wanted to know what breakups and climate change have in common? Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood can tell you that. On her new album, Front Row Seat to Earth, out Friday on Mexican Summer, she's taking personal, human experiences and blowing them up to a global level, uniting us all in our struggle and transcending the selfishness that's woven into our every day lives.
Mering has been dishing up her brand of smooth folk since her 2014 debut The Innocents. She followed that up in 2015 with her EP, Cardamom Times, recorded in the beach landscape of New York's Rockaways. Her music requires headphones or the acoustics of a large church, and most of the time, you'll want to be alone. With Front Row Seat to Earth, she's channeling the feeling of floating in the atmosphere, overlooking the earth and bearing witness to the tempestuousness below. She's got the Laurel Canyon vibe of yesterday going for her, with low-alto tones and harp-like piano. It's Julia Holter mixed with Ariel Pink—a dreaminess found in the retro.
So, about that breakup/climate change riddle. Mering's answer: "A breakup is kind of like this catastrophic event where you have learn to be on your own and forgive yourself, just like climate change is kind of a catastrophic event where we’re going to have to learn how to live in a different way and forgive ourselves," she says over the phone from her home in Echo Park, Calif. "It’s not easy to turn back."
Catch the rest of our convo below.
Fuse: What do you mean by the album title Front Row Seat to Earth?
Natalie Mering: It's like a comment on how we’re witnessing the world around us in kind of this disconnected way, whether it’s on social media or on our screens. It’s like creating this theatrical detachment to the things that are going on on the planet. So it’s like we’re all in a theater witnessing it. Like the first-world country, kind of as a joke, we have the front-row seat to the drama of the Earth. Also, we’re right there with it, yet we still feel detached from it.
On "Generation Why," it seems like you are singing about constantly being plugged into our phones, where the chorus goes: "Y-O-L-O , why?" Is that part of the frustration?
It’s all about ascending the way things are going in a healthy way, so it doesn’t drive you crazy. It’s really hard to get out of what’s going on right now ‘cause it all plays into an emotionally manipulative technology playing into human instincts, which is to stay connected and to stay stimulated and to stay aware and a part of a tribe. So I feel like it’s easy to get set and give everybody a hard time for what they're doing with their phones, as if we were all these awful people. But we’d be giving ourselves too much credit to say that we have the willpower to turn our phone off for the whole day.
Have you ever taken a break from your phone?
I’ve had my phone turned off, and I’ve lost my phone and not gotten a new one, all the time. But now, like business and everything pertaining to society is involved with this too. So it’s a new element of keeping you locked in.
It’s the necessary evil.
It’s because we’re all human. We’re not the most disciplined of all people.
In the album opener, "Diary," you sing of a different vice. What's that?
That song is about someone who is very close to me who is a heroin addict. Eventually everyone had to abandon him because he had to deal with his addiction.
On “Do You Need My Love," you sing, “How it feels so good to feel how I want to feel.” How do you trick yourself into feeling a certain way?
Basically what that lyric means is “how it feels so good to feel how I want to feel” as in feel, the verb. There’s a numbness to the choice that we’re surrounded by constantly. There’s a numbness to relationships if you’ve had enough disappointments, so wanting to feel is really just wanting to feel those feelings roused up within you. Like wanting to feel something that’s beyond yourself.
The record sounds incredibly sounds incredibly Laurel Canyon of you. Were you thinking about that era of the '70s when you were writing and recording?
Some amazing records were made in that era. I recently relocated to L.A. and my dad used to live in Laurel Canyon. I have a lot of history with that music world. I feel connected to it, but I wasn’t intentionally trying to make it sound like that. I was trying to occupy my own sonic space.
So what were you going for?
I was going for kind of like, big, bombastic, kind of like a Zombies record, Odessey and Oracle, kind of like, in a church, like the theater of the Earth. Like if the Earth had a Cyclops record, what would it sound like?
The album definitely warrants a solitary listening experience, but what was it like creating that tone with collaborators? Was there ever a moment where you just needed to kick people out and record?
I’m a very solitary person and generally kind of a loner. That was definitely reflected on the record. The only other person in the room with me was my engineer Chris Cohen, who’s also kind of a meek guy. So we didn’t have that many cooks in the kitchen.
Did you need alone time?
I had to spend a lot of time listening to the record by myself, how to arrange it.
So it makes sense that you'd open one of your songs, "Away and Above," with layers of your own voice. What made you want to do that a cappella?
I just wanted it to get intimate. That was recorded for the demo of the song, when I first wrote it. It was just kind of perfect, so I decided to put in on the record.
Did moving to L.A. have an influence on this album?
I think it did because I was born out here and I grew up here, and I had a lot of reconnecting with some people that I knew as a child and my old family members and stuff like that. But mostly I just stayed indoors and just worked on my music and watched the sunset out my window, which is pretty dramatic out here in the desert. And then finally getting to collaborate with a lot of my favorite musicians like Kenny Gilmore and Meg Duffy. L.A. has a lot of heavy players right now. It was really wonderful to invite people to be on my record and not have it be like New York where everything is so hectic and time is so crazy and L.A. is a little bit more kicked back.
Like you have time to put things into perspective?
Yeah, and also have time for people to come over and jam. I jam to survive.
What was it like stuffing octopus in your mouth for the “Seven Words” interview?
That was shot in Malibu at this place called Deer Creek. It was like a cheesy homage to that Korean film Oldboy. It’s a really great Korean movie about this guy who actually eats this whole live octopus. It’s actually really a plot point to describe what’s going on. At that point, I’m caught for being a mermaid creature and this guy is trying to feed me seafood to see what happens.
Did it taste good?
No! It had been out for hours.
Do you have experience with acting? Your videos are really thought-out.
I’ve done some auditions, and as a child, I would do a lot of theatrical plays and put on plays with brothers and friends and make funny videos so it’s always been in there. But I’ve been so gung-ho about music that I’m only just recently tapping back into role play and being a character.
What's the story behind your album cover?
That was taken at the Sultan Sea, which is an incredible, kind of failed vacation resort in the desert of California. They diverted the Colorado River to pour water into this lake in the desert and the problem was that it was a natural saltwater lake, and I think that they put too much of this other kind of water in it, and it started evaporating really fast and the drought started. All the salt, over salinated the water, killed all the fish in it, and made this rotting ecosystem. And then all the buildings and all the vacation spots around it shut down. It’s a place that’s rotted and decayed. There’s a bunch of dead fish everywhere, dead birds, and abandoned buildings. It’s just this very strange environmental phenomenon.