Conversation With Weyes Blood

A few months back, I was sent a press link of Weyes Blood's newest EP Cardamom Times. As a member of the press I get sent lots of stuff to listen to and try to make time to get around to all of it. I admit that my jaded ears were not prepared to listen to one of my favorite records of 2015.

Weyes Blood is the singular vision of Natalie Mering. Below is an excerpt from a lovely conversation I had by phone while Ms. Mering was on tour in France.
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photo by Laura Lynn Petrick

MN: Are you on tour?

NM: Yes, I'm on a tour right now.

MN: After your debut album, I read you wandered around the country and did some things around the country that were quite interesting. Can you tell me what they were? It was like a bunch of odd jobs right?

NM: I worked for an herbalist. I helped him wildcraft herbs in New Mexico. So I was kind of like living outdoors for like a whole month and finding these rare medicinal herbs in BLM land. Kind of like a national park. You're allowed to go there, but nobody knows about it.

MN: Did you say "BLM land"?

NM: Yeah, it stands for Bureau of Land Management. Real nature hippie people know about it. It's not listed on a map as a national park with a campsite, but you can go there. It's legal.

MN: What kinds of herbs and plants did you work with? Did you trip on ayahuasca?

NM: Nah, ayahuasca is actually a mixture of different plants. We didn't find any peyote buttons but we found datura, which is the most dangerous. It can stop your heart and do permanent damage. I grabbed a seedpod for fun, just to look at it. Mostly what we did was look for yerba mansa, which is a wellness herb. It's mildly sedative and it's antibacterial. It grows in swampy, marshy parts of New Mexico and we got ocotillo, which is a pelvic decongestant, if that makes any sense. You collect the bark of it.

MN: Pelvic decongestant. That's an interesting concept. I'm gonna look into that.

NM: Yeah and Ceanothus Americanus that's like this red root and that has medicinal properties that are a little bit more specific. What we would do is harvest a couple of pounds of it. It would take about 6 hours. It was really intense and we would have to overnight it to a company that's based in Seattle that made pharmaceutical grade tinctures.

MN: What else did you do? Wasn't there something in Kentucky as well?

NM: I worked on Kentucky on a farm. I did some wildcrafting there. I helped some people build a sauna, made maple syrup by tapping maple trees. Just did all the back to the land hippie stuff. (laughs)

MN: Sounds groovy.

NM: It was grooooovy, but it was also very isolating. I literally only saw one other person at that time: my boyfriend. But it was cool. I learned a lot about the culture of the south, which was very eye opening. I got to eat a lot of wildcrafted food: wild meats, venison stew, hunter stew like beaver, groundhog, just really obscure food.

MN: That's very interesting. We are very different people. I would be very freaked out by that. That's why I talk to people I find intriguing.

NM: It's cool to get the feeling for it. I used to have opinions about rural people. When you get to know backwoods people you realize everyone is pretty much the same.

MN: You had just recorded your first record and were gathering experiences for the second record?

NM: Yeah, and I was also dealing with this intense guilt. This feeling that urbanization and modernity was weighing heavy on me. I was rediscovering what it meant to be a human on the plant and the implication of that.

MN: Hmm.

NM: I went back to the city. I moved to New York City after that, so I thought, "OK this is great and wonderful". But it's a lifestyle choice that kind of cuts out a lot of other lifestyle choices so I kind of chose people, urbanization, music.

MN: I have this second record, but I don't have the first one yet, The Outside Room.

NM: Yes.
MN: The second one is dramatically different than the third: The EP. Can you comment a little bit on the growth between the two records? Was this a conscious effort to try different things?

NM: Oh yeah, definitely. On the first record, I was doing everything by myself, but was incredibly insecure. So I was kind of stewing in the record - you know just like working on it over and over, adding more and more things until it became this intense psychedelic soup of experimentation. It was also this equipment I was using when I first started making it, so it has its own sort of dreamlike quality. Then for The Innocents, I started working with a drummer, a bassist, and a producer and some other people. Well not a producer but an engineer, rather. I learned a lot from that experience in terms of what I really enjoy most. So for this EP it was myself. I feel like that's the strength in where I'm going is keeping things on a small... not actually a small scale, but keeping things under the umbrella of my control and not really involving too many studio types. Recording in a big studio was fun and that record has this big kind of sound to it that's really exciting to experience but moving forward, I feel like I don't have to do that again. I had the taste of what that means.

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Cardamom Times cover. Mexican Summer 2015

MN: Sure

NM: It was all a learning experience and this was taking place during a sort of coming of age in terms of my confidence. Taking advice from other people isn't something I really do anymore. It's for the best.

MN: Sure. I feel like the songwriting really matured on the EP. The songwriting feels more complete to me. I even hear bits of catchy pop songs underneath the folkiness. I find the way one perceives influences in art is radically different than what the artist was actually influenced by. Can you tell me about the influences?

NM: At the time I was living by the beach, so I was really influenced by some poppy beach artists like Brian Wilson, Christopher Rainbow, Harry Nilsson and some obscure power pop artists. I was listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, because of their conversational tone. These are all things I've always liked and listened to, but it was kind of the beginning of attempting to lay down tracks that were more conversational.

MN: Yeah, I hear that in spots.

NM: And also some of the songs on the EP are really old actually. I wrote them around the time before The Innocents came out. The deal with The Innocents was just that I was jamming with a band and really into Celtic music at the time. so that sort of took precedence, but I was already writing pop songs and always have. At the time I just wasn't feeling convicted to share them and now I feel more on that spectrum. Just watching the pendulum swing from more experimental music. In the last seven years, I've seen pop music take on a new kind of integrity that when I was coming of age in music, it didn't have. Do you know what I mean?

MN: So these were older songs but you had found new ways to do them?

NM: I also found that I was brave enough to do them. Brave enough to show what my life was like and to have lyrics that were kind of exposed like a conversation.

MN: Right. When did you start working with Jackie-O-Motherfucker? That seems like a sharp departure from what you normally do. I find with certain artists that the thing that is furthest away from what you're doing seems to be the most relevant somehow.

NM: Yeah, I started working with them when I was like nineteen. I mean I was really into experimental music at that time. And free music and when they met me they were like, "Oh perfect, you are like an up and coming, young, fresh, new weird-America chick- come join our band," but I never actually did much recording with them. I only did a couple of tours. So it kind of was like experiencing the live, improvisational spirit, like free music. At the time we toured it was 2007 and I think free music was kind of peaking at that time. I think the pop torch has taken on more integrity and now people are more apt to write songs.

MN: That's an interesting idea, I never thought of it that way. Are there plans to make a full length soon? Do you take a lot of time between records to think and work?

NM: I'm going into the studio as in going to a friend's house (laughs) to record my next record in January or February. I've been on tour nine months out of the year that I'm going to spend the majority of next year recording whatever I can and focusing on that for a while, as there's always been a deficit on how much I put out and how much music I write. I look forward to catching up and literally recording everything I've written. It's very permanent and I feel that I'm at a place in my life that I want to step up to that precipice, look over and say "here I go".

MN: It seems to be a thoughtful approach. It's not like you're pumping out work just to pump out work you know? I assume that since you have a name that references Flannery O'Connor I think that thoughtful approach would be rather implicit.

NM: Yeah, well sometimes it's too thoughtful. I probably could have put out twice as much music at this point, but I've thought about it too much and I'm finally letting go a little bit and just letting it naturally flow.

MN: Are there other literary references throughout?

NM: I actually found a poem the other day. I forgot the poet's name already. There's a really famous poem called The Innocents (laughs). A lot of it is coincidence really. I love reading poetry and I love reading books but a lot of my lyrics and a lot of what I work with are within the scope of experiences in my life. I like a lot of esoteric thinkers. I like things more in that spectrum that might reference a little bit of that, but I'm not reading Proust and writing a song about it.

MN: That's a little strident and quite pretentious anyway. No one wants it (laughs).

NM: I didn't finish college and I can't relate to people that are a little too reference-y in that area. It just happens that I started calling myself Weyes Blood when I was fourteen or fifteen years old. At that time I was obsessed with books. These days I'm into books but not as obsessed as I used to be. (laughs)

MN: Yeah, as you become older you become less taken with a single idea and become open to many ideas.

NM: Yeah definitely and also many of the books I was reading at that time were written by men and developing as a woman, it took a lot of time to realize, "hey this isn't the ultimate experience" as much as it was tantalizing like "Wow William Faulkner-what a genius". Now it's like "He's a man. He doesn't know what it's like to be a woman". So whatever.

MN: (laughs) None of us do.

NM: (laughs) You don't!

MN: We still struggle.

NM: You struggle and write some good books. (laughs)

MN: We do what we can. Some of us do. I can't speak for the others. I think most of them are pretty awful.

NM: Yeah

MN: So, are there plans to do some traveling and some more non-music related experiences like you did earlier on? Or was that a youthful lark?

NM: Definitely part of that was not having any commitments. Not having a career, a booking agent, a record label. I was totally free. Now I feel like I want to plan some things like that because I have spent so much time touring and playing music that I really miss escaping into the woods you know? I have a lot of friends that do hiking and rock climbing. I will probably do a lot of that after I finish my next record. Just to sort of cleanse the palette. I love hiking trips. I'd love to do some natural deep isolation for sure.

MN: That's funny, just the other day I was just thinking I would like to drive a cab for a while. Just to have another experience for the next picture. I probably won't do it, but I have these fantasies.

NM: It's a total fantasy, but I think it helps a lot.

MN: Yeah, definitely. I read a story about Philip Glass driving a cab. Made me think, "Hmmm that's pretty cool."'

NM: It is cool. It's nice to be treated like a nobody. You get a taste for people as to who they really are.

At the time of posting this, we learned that the great David Bowie has passed away. I would be remiss to ignore the fact that my favorite artist had died while posting anything this week. RIP David, we love you...

Edited with loving scrutiny by Courtney Eddington