Bat For Lashes still believes in magic

Photography by Logan White

When Natasha Khan was a kid, she would leave tiny notes in flowers to send messages to fairies. It’s fair to say she’s held on to that sweet, creative energy into adulthood, not least through her artistry as Bat For Lashes. 

Natasha’s been releasing music under that deeply acclaimed moniker since 2006, living in various places over that time, moving from Brighton to London, with some time in NYC too. But most recently she’s moved to LA, and put out her fifth album which owes quite a bit to her California surroundings: Lost Girls luxuriates in plumes of 80s film nostalgia, full of golden, desert-sunrise synths, airy drums and those distinctly soft vocals.

We’re sitting at the Ace Hotel in east London (where else?), and everything about Natasha has an engaging softness – not least the way she leans in as she talks, as though letting you in on a conspiratorial secret. It feels like she’s keen to create a kinship through our conversation, pointing out that we’re both wearing gold necklaces with pendants of our initials and showing me pictures of her dog on her phone (a part German Shepherd who, it feels important to note, is wearing a Santa hat in the photo I’m shown).

We speak about the new LP, but also about self-preservation, star signs and still believing in magic.

gal-dem: I read an interview with you back when you were promoting your last album The Bride, and you spoke about creating art as being kind of akin to having a child. And you also spoke about the almost Peter Pan nature of being an artist – and I wondered if that line of thought had fed into the Lost Girls album as a concept?

Bat For Lashes: I think I’ve been able to make such a joyous, free record, ironically, from being the most mature I’ve ever been. In terms of having a dog and my boyfriend and just living a normal life and being healthy and having quite a quiet sort of existence that’s based on homely, loving things and a nice friendship community. I really shut out a lot of social media, and I haven’t really engaged that much in the busyness of the world, so I think I managed to retain that Peter Pan sense of childlike wonder about the music and what I’m doing and creativity. But ‘human’ Natasha has matured and evolved to the point where I don’t need to act out or have too much drama.

“How do I retain my own sense of creativity and wildness and adventure without sabotaging my normal life?”

With The Bride there was this message about the importance of self-love – and in turn, Lost Girls feels like it’s about the importance of adventure. Can you unpack that a bit?

I think it’s sort of almost touching on the Celtic selkie story of the seals that are swimming and come up to the shore and become women dancing. And then one of the hunters catches one of them and takes her to his house, and she bears a child and then they live together for seven years. And she only does that as a contract if she’s allowed to go back, and he doesn’t let her and then she sort of dries out. So to me, the Lost Girls is delving into my subconscious, into the adventure, into other landscapes and worlds and they’re all sort of representing sub-personalities – aspects of a character called Nikki. She has to be out in the world in order to then come back to the town and live and love and be a girlfriend and understand how to be a human being in the world. So maybe this album is less about self love. It’s about… okay, I love myself, I can love somebody else. But how do I keep that going? How do I nurture that? How do I retain my own sense of creativity and wildness and adventure and play in the shadow of my subconscious without sabotaging my normal life? So it’s sort of a record about balance.

When the thing that is your creative outlet becomes commodified in the way music has for you, and it is weighted with external expectations, how do you take a break?

I do a lot of other creative things – they’re sort of nurturing in a way. Painting and pottery, and I was teaching meditation to prisoners were moving back into the work space. And I work with a bunch of kids that have dropped out of school, and we’re in a continuation school making dioramas and stuff. And that’s all been really nice, because I’ve been integrating myself in society, being of service in some way, trying to give back to the community I’m in. My creativity is being of service, but it doesn’t matter how it comes out – they’re ways of being creative that are a bit more gentle, and they don’t have any expectations like with my music. Aside from that,my way of preserving myself  is – and it sounds so generic – but being out in nature walking, trying to do exercise, being with my dog, trying to eat at home and drink loads of water and meditate and go to bed early. It’s all really boring things, but actually when you do them, I feel so much better. But much as I’m sort of keeping my body and my location clean and sort of calm, I think my main priority is keeping my brain clean, and sorting through repetitive thoughts and negative thinking and anxiety stuff.

“I never really cared whether people wanted to label me or not, I just wanted to make stuff as an expression of who I am”

How do you manage that?

For me that has been such a mission. It’s like a form of training where you have to discipline your mind and the compartments of your mind that can either be really destructive or really constructive. Generally, when I’m under a lot of pressure, my anxious mind will go mad. So, I think getting up in the morning and just meditating for 10 minutes – if I can do that, though I don’t do it every day – but if I can do that then there becomes a bit of distance between you and your brain chatter. And you can feel when it’s come in so then you can sort of point it out and call it out and be like, ‘I’m turning you down in volume cos you’re stressing me out.’ 

When you first started out, I remember being so inspired – as someone who is South Asian, I thought it was so cool there was someone like you doing what you do. Was being mixed-race British Pakistani growing-up, or even in the music industry, at all isolating?

It didn’t make me feel like the odd one out, but I was quite unusual for being mixed-race when I was younger – it seems much more normal now. Like, I used to be called racist names and stuff. And then suddenly, it got really fashionable to have olive skin – I’ve noticed that transition. It never really made me feel bad or anything, I just thought I’m lucky because I have a unique perspective where I feel really all inclusive. The essence of a person and their energy and what they’re doing to help in the world is what matters to me more. I never really cared whether people wanted to label me or not, I just wanted to make stuff as an expression of who I am. 

“When I was a teenager, I thought I could psychically communicate with Kurt Cobain – like if I lay under the moon I could just send him messages”

It’s interesting to me how you were into witchcraft and burning sage and kind of “new age” stuff like astrology before it had the social media resurgence that it’s had recently. 

When I first started, people were like ‘she’s such a hippie’, and ‘oh my god, she’s so new age’ in a critical way. But I guess I was always like that – when I was quite young, my older cousin Tracy introduced me to crystals and essential oils. It felt like I’d always been doing that – when I was five, I remember I’d spend hours in the bathroom concocting potions and rose water. When I was really small, I used to write letters to fairies that were like the size of my fingernail, with a really tiny pencils, and I wrote them up and put them in the tubes of flowers, because I thought I could read them. I was really enchanted with the magic of nature. Also when I was a teenager, I thought I could psychically communicate with Kurt Cobain – like if I lay under the moon I could just send him messages.

You’re a Scorpio right? How much does that tie-in with all of this for you?

I’m on the cusp of Libra and Scorpio. So I think I’m quite a bright Scorpio – I’m not a really heavy, dark one. But I’m definitely not afraid to go to the dark side. I’m not afraid to delve into those places, especially creatively. And I can be passionate and dramatic. I definitely have those Scorpio traits. I quite like being a Scorpio – it’s the most maligned sign and probably the most witchy.

“I was always a kid who believed in magic, and I don’t think that’s ever gone away”

Would you consider yourself to be a witch?

I love the word ‘witch’ and I think the dark connotation of what it is to be a witch for me is women who are just really powerful and mysterious and in touch with themselves and nature, were deemed witches and burned at the stake for just being sort of innately feminine or innately having that essence and knowledge. I wouldn’t say I practice witchcraft, but it’s just this sense that I must always retain my connection to those innate deep powers and perceptions and connections. I was always a kid who believed in magic, and I don’t think that’s ever gone away.

Which I guess is unusual. I feel like you’ve retained this youthfulness and sense of belief and imagination that most people lose when they become adults.

I mean, I don’t still leave notes for fairies in flowers. But I do run through deserts with groups of witches. I suppose I’ve transmuted it and turned magic into a way that I can still do magical things as an adult.

Bat For Lashes’ fifth album Lost Girls is out now via AWAL. Listen here. Bat For Lashes is the UK in November, tickets go on sale from 9am on 19 September.

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