Gay Times April 09 - Issue 367
As Bat For Lashes release their magical follow-up to Fur and Gold, the woman behind it, Natasha Khan, tells GT why she’s obsessed by drag queens and why she’s not afraid of dying.
There are many, many pretenders to the thrones of Kate Bush and Bjork. Every year some overzealous publicist will try to pass off the latest 20-year-old with a penchant for dressing up boxes and harpsichords as ‘The Next Kate’. The outrageous comparison will have started from the artists themselves, though. They will have spent their adolescence tiptoeing through forests in a shawl feeling really affected by everything and talking to goblins. Their only friends will have been ‘Wuthering Heights’ on 7-inch and a signed copy of Homogenic.
More from Gay Times April 09 - Issue 367
So when you first see pictures of Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan wearing peacock feathers and face paint, your heart is very likely to sink. Yes, yes, yes, bring on the howling, the obscure homemade folk instruments and the samples of someone being feltched and let’s get it over with. But then, then, you hear the record.
When Khan’s first album Fur and Gold came out in 2006, for an hour every music critic in the country lost their cynicism. And then they played it again. Still no cynicism. Days later reviews were published which appeared to have been written while the writer was being fellated, such was the enthusiasm. And rightly so. A Mercury Music Prize nomination followed. Scandalously, The Klaxons won it. This second album is, therefore, Khan’s revenge and proof that she is worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as Kate Bush. So astonishing is Two Suns that Natasha could insist she was a white witch married to Apollo and everyone would allow her such indulgences. As it is, in the hour GT spends with her, she says many things that sound like an infusion of Bush and Bjork (which may well be something that’s served at The Fat Duck), but so delightful is she, so consistent is her magical fairy essence that you come away thinking, “Thank God – someone who is neither banal nor suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” So, moments after the interview begins, when the Brighton-bred 29-year-old announces: “I feel really strong in my feminine power, I’m emotional and fantastical and I have lots of dreams and a wild imagination and I’m theatrical and love singing and using long words…” you want to throw your arms round her rather than slap her. And that’s just the start.
When I ask how the success of the first album affected her, she avoids the usual, “Oh it hasn’t affected me at all – I’m still the same person” garbage and instead offers: “It was a frightening, turbulent whirlwind. I felt like I was in Dorothy’s house in the middle of the tornado and suddenly I landed in this crazy place trying to find my way home and a lot of the time I was clicking my heels together and I still wasn’t finding home. I’ve got a strong, protective, sensitive side, so I felt quite exposed and thrown into the cauldron and I don’t think I coped very well.” And if that isn’t one of the gayest extended metaphors you’ve ever heard, you’re probably related to Liberace.
But then, Natasha feels deeply entwined with gay and trans people – something that imbibes her personality and work alike. Indeed, one of the tracks off the album is about her alter ego Pearl, “a blonde, New York, Candy Darling type”. In an upcoming documentary about the making of the album, its director George Scott got her to dress up as Pearl, “which is unprecedented” says Natasha.
“She loved it!” Scott tells me. It’s not hard to believe. It becomes clear during our time together that Khan barely separates her inner fantasy world from reality, much less deems it any less important or vivid. But, she says, it’s not that that makes her feel a kinship to us homosexualists. “I got into the whole ‘80s New York vogueing transvestite scene and then when I was in Brooklyn I felt a real connection to it. My cousin Jason is gay and we get on really well in the way that we’re the different ones in the family. I think there’s an understanding of melancholy that comes with that.”
On to the new album itself, how does she feel it differs from the first? “I pushed it further. It’s more extreme and odd and dark. Whereas Fur and Gold was much more private and all inside of me, like blood onto a record, this was more physical with visceral human emotions and landscapes because when I was writing it I was all round the world – in the dessert or New York or wherever – and experiencing so much heartache from missing my partner.”
Being so out of the mainstream (who is sufficiently imaginative these days to have an alter ego?) are there any current big British pop stars she admires? Duffy? Adele? Amy Winehouse? “I’m not into that mainstream thing, it doesn’t touch my soul or make me feel sparkly. I’d rather listen to [legendary jazz trumpeter] Chet Baker than Amy Winehouse.” At this, she shrieks with delight before listing her current enthusiasms: Joanna Newsome, the Cocteau Twins, and This Mortal Coil.
How does she feel, then, about the comparisons made between her and the aforementioned Kate Bush and Bjork – not to mention Tori Amos and PJ Harvey?
“I’m hoping that as I produce a body of work people will not do that anymore. But they’re four great women that they compare me to, which is really flattering because I do feel this kinship with those older sisters – they paved the way. When I first heard them I was like, “Oh my God, I’m not mad or weird!”
Speaking of madness, the subject of religion comes up. Being Pakistani British, Khan’s upbringing was, she says “strongly Christian and Muslim” but that she “managed to avoid the guilt complex”. So where is she now with religion? This provokes the kind of Joycean response that would silence anyone who thought that hippies were a thing of the past. “I believe in universal consciousness and that we’re all on a path and your psyche always strives to be whole, and painful experiences come and bite you on the arse because you’re not looking at those things consciously. So I think I’m quite psychoanalytical in that Jungian way, but I think religion and science are one and the same thing, that everything is working on a parallel coexistence and it’s just this amazing interconnected patchwork organism called ‘life’. On the plane back from New York a couple of weeks ago there was terrible turbulence and I was convinced we were going to crash and I just thought to myself, ‘If I do crash I feel really happy, I’m not frightened of dying.’” She pauses for a second, suddenly aware of what she’s just said, laughs, and adds, “Sorry about that. That was a bit intense.” But there’s no need to apologise. For this, Natasha, and your glittering, kaleidoscopic music, we heart you.
Words: Patrick Strudwick