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Interview With the Vampire

People move to Los Angeles all the time in pursuit of a sense of self or of place that they might never find. The City of Angels is so full of fancy it’s easy to paste whatever dream you have over its hazy skyline and tell yourself what you hold in your mind is really found there. But, as with any metropolis, in the end LA cares only about itself, and not at all about any human desires or needs. And yet people are succeeding all the time in Hollywood, moving West like new-age pioneers and finding exactly as much there as they can will into being.

After ten years and four albums under a major label, British-born Natasha Khan, AKA Bat For Lashes, has struck out on her own and made her fifth under the California sun. Steeped in nostalgia for her childhood cinematic loves (The Goonies, ET, The Lost Boys) and rich with the language of cinema, Lost Girls is a woozy, synth filled journey through Natasha Khan’s technicolour mind.

The album follows Nikki – the ‘mischievous younger sister’ to her previous album’s The Bride – and is a dark tale of female bikers, Hollywood vampires, and young love in all its horror and splendour.

The striking landscape of the city and its surrounding desert wind through Khan’s lyrics, imbuing them with an atmospheric sense of place. On the opener Kids in the Dark, Khan sets the scene with breathy adoration and a nod to the album’s fantastical leanings. ‘Lying next to you,’ she muses, ‘we could be on the moon.’ Ten tracks later, all littered with longing, body bags, hauntings and chase scenes, the album’s final lines embrace a circular longing for the magic and mystery of a new love: ‘Like it was at the start / Sing to me in the dark’.

All of which speaks to the album’s title, and all the rich symbolism therein: a loss of innocence, a longing for eternal youth, the potency of female energy, and at the same time the knowledge you can never turn back the clocks.

Fittingly, Lost Girls feels like a panoramic expansion of the feelings captured so well in one of her best-known early singles, Daniel. There she translated the childhood longing for a movie-screen crush into the same cinematic language, where ‘under wild blue skies, Marble movie skies, I found home in your eyes’. With Lost Girls Khan has somehow made an album in an entirely new city that still feels like a homecoming.

I phoned Natasha the day the album launched for a conversation about its inspirations and outcomes. Speaking to her I got sense that her remarkably undimmed passion and wonder made her conquest of LA inevitable.

Congratulations on the album launch! How does it feel finally having it out in the world?
It’s good it feels really nice, I’ve had lots of messages from friends and family. It’s really exciting and sweet.

You’re back in LA now, how long have you been living there?
I’ve been here for three and half years now.

I feel like the cliché is that people go to Hollywood maybe searching for something, or a part of themselves. I don’t know if you can relate to that?
I think, when I moved, I had just finished a ten–year album contract with a mainstream label and I had just finished The Bride, which is a very deep, sort of dark record. And I think it wasn’t so much to find myself, but I just wanted a clean break and to connect with some of my creative community, and fellow artists andmusicians that I knew were living here. So, I guess I was trying to find a part of myself that was the writer–director, a sort of more film–based aspect of me. When I first got here, I went to the desert and I did a lot of painting and photography, and just travelling around all the landscapes. And I do, between each album I will go somewhere and kind of fill up the creative well a bit. But I think I did sort of make a decision just to move here because I knew that there was a bit of a scene happening here with music and film and dance, and things seemed to be bubbling up in LA, and it seemed a good place to be.

Do you find that the film community is very different to the music world?
Yeah the film community here is hard in a way because of all of the agents and the companies that affect it. Like you have to get permits to shoot everywhere, it’s such a movie–making town thateverything that you do officially really goes through a rigorous process. But on the flipside of that there’s a lot of opportunity for guerrilla–style indie filmmaking, and so many collaborators and cinematographers, actors, actresses, you know, people that just want to help and be involved. So it’s been really nice because there’s just a lot of positivity around getting together and just making stuff for the fun of it, or trying things out.

I think in England, like when I was doing my short film, that went through quite a rigorous process. It took a long time to make it and a long time to prepare it, and then we had two, three days to shoot everything for the fifteen minute short I made, and suddenly everything’s over really fast.

Whereas here I’ve just been doing loads of stuff on my phone, and doing all the Instagram rollout videos, and like building this narrative just by myself with my friends and collaborators.And the light is always beautiful here, so everything looks better (laughs)! Sunsets look great! So, it’s just a lot more, you can really do stuff off your own back here and just really create what you want.

I know you’ve put out two videos and also some teasers on Instagram as you mentioned – are you planning to make a lot more videos? Is that going to be a continuing process?
I would love to do that, but at the moment we don’t have a huge budget. I mean music’s sort of different than it used to be when I first started and so, we got to make two sort of proper videos with production companies and all that stuff, but now that’s kind of used up. I would love to carry on making more videos if I could, but I think at the moment, I have to… you know I can still make them off my own back like the Instagram–style that we’ve been doing, but I need to focus on the tour, and pulling that together.

Do you know your plans for touring the album yet?
Well we’ve released information about a tour in England in November, so I’ll be doing major cities in England at the end of November.

With each album obviously being such a different world, do you feel like you recalibrate how you perform your live show?
I think it’s different, the last album we did just in churches, with no mobile phones, and like I came down the aisle singing the first song and stuff. So it was very theatrical and based a lot around that bride concept. And then obviously when you do big festivals and stuff I have a big band and we have a big sound. For this tour I’m going to strip it right back and just do voice and synths, so it’s still lush and epic but very minimal, just two of us on stage. It’s nice to switch it up as well, after doing it for so long, to put yourself out of your comfort zone and be doing something different.

I can imagine! And you’ve spoken about how this album is inspired by films you watched growing up, I wondered, did you go back and re–watch those films, or was it drawn more from memories?
I mean I never really stopped watching those films I have revisited all sorts of films over and over again since my childhood, I think. I watched ET just recently, they were projecting it at the Hollywood Forever cemetery with fireworks, and everyone went down and we re-watched ET. And I watched The Lost Boys on the beach, and whenever I see showings of any of my classic films that I love I will always make an effort to see them. So they’ve always sort of remained in my consciousness, and obviously there’s a whole bunch of new films too that have been very inspiring. But I do think cinema and films are some of my greatest inspiration for music.

You can definitely see that. And I think you’ve also spoken a bit about horror and I wondered if that’s a genre that you’re drawn to in particular? I feel like there’s a new appreciation that we’re seeing for horror now.
Definitely, that makes a lot of sense, the types of horror films I’ve always liked are sort of psychological horror, and things that kind of delve into our shadow. You know, like The Shining is a meditation on an alcoholic man going cold turkey and going mad in his isolation. I love reading beneath the gore and the scary symbolism and the archetypes and the metaphors that I think horror uses similarly to fairy tales, or old myths and stories. I kind of love, I’ve always loved that, sort of using quite shocking, intense, almost Greek mythological tales, you know in the way that they explore the darker aspects of our psyche.Like Hereditary I really liked recently, and then there’s that film The Babadook which came out a few years ago, an Australian indie film, and very much about mental health and grief.

I think there’s so much anxiety and mental health issues in our society that get overlooked, and I think sophisticated horror is a really interesting way of creating catharsis for those darker aspects of our society, without being too preachy or blatant. And I love genre films too, so I love the idea of vampires and zombies, and you know extra terrestrials and all those things But again, I like the idea of using them in a way that brings our human struggles to the surface.

Yeah I think the way people treat something that’s Other is always very revealing, and so things like zombies or vampires are great tools for that kind of insight. Thinking along a similar line about the title of Lost Girls, which is a play on lot of things – the film The Lost Boys, Peter Pan – it speaks to that idea of an eternal youth, but also all of those texts reference a loss of innocence, and I don’t know if that’s a duality that interests you?
I think there’s definitely that aspect of childhood nostalgia, or innocence, and the first time you fall in love or the first time there’s romance, and you know, like a lot of those heady, intoxicating feelings. But I think Lost Girls is also a nod to the lost aspects of Nikki the protagonist, I guess me or the main girl in there, the Lost Girls are haunting, well she hunts them but in the end they start hunting her. And it’s about integration for me of like, she’s trying to love someone, she’s trying to live in the world, but the Lost Girls come to hunt her because they’re lost aspects of herpsyche. And each of them has their own wound to work through, or beauty to them, or whatever sort of dark, beautiful magic they hold as a group. I think once she integrates with them and lets them in, she becomes a more complete person, and is more able to love. And I think that we all, you know if I was a boy I might have called it Lost Boys if the film didn’t exist already!

I think it’s the same for everyone, that you know, especially when you really love people or you’re in a relationship, I think a lot of demons can come up, and they look like demons, or vampires, or dark things, but when you actually get to know them they just need love and integration and healing, and to be taken in. And I think that’s an interesting microcosmic story that could work on a bigger level, for everything that’s going on in the media and news and the world right now. There’s a lot of fragmentation and splitting off of factions, and right and wrong, and black and white, and finger pointing.And I just think that integrating your own whatever you’re pointing your finger at is something that you can’t accept in yourself. Or is you know a shadow side to something that’s scary. And I think that if we all spent a bit more time in our dark side, or in the shadows, healing those parts of ourselves, we’d just be more loving and accepting.

I think that’s a very powerful message. Did you feel like you were doing lots of your own introspection while making it, or was it after a period of doing that that you felt able to make it?
I think I’m always in a period of introspection at some level (laughs). Because that’s where I mine my thoughts and my creative ideas. So I go down in to that dark place a lot to mine those thoughts and feelings, and a lot of the time they’re quite difficult or scary or I don’t want to go there. But I try to transmute them, you know into stories or storytelling structures to make sense of them.And there’s a lot of songs on there that do talk about dark things or being hunted, or power dynamics, or being vulnerable and feeling joy and feeling fear, and all the spectrum of everything.

But, that is just a document of what I go through day-today over the year and a half of making a record. It’s not always one feeling or another, there’s nuances and shadowy bits that I can’t, you know, I guess if you listen to a whole album the whole album does take you between all these different spectrums.

I could also see echoes in the lyrics to some of your much earlier songs as well, and I thought that was a nice circularity in the idea of youth and maybe escaping it or gaining it. I don’t know if you ever keep your old work in mind when you’re creating new work?
I definitely wasn’t thinking about the first album or anything, I think I was… I’m sure that there’s threads back to all the albums just because they’ve all come through me and my creative brainworks a certain way and is attracted to certain chords or certain combinations of instruments and melodies, or stories that I’ve known for years or whatever. But I do very much, I’m very much in the moment with each album trying to sort of just channel what wants to come through and feels very much like a document of that time.

And when you’ve toured this album and you feel like you’ve put it to bed – maybe you never really do – do you think that you’ll go back to filmmaking? Is a full feature film something that you hope is on the table?
Yeah, that’s definitely something I’m pursuing and working on. It’s nice to have a project like that for me, because now that the album’s done I sort of panic that I’m not creating anything! I love playing live, but obviously that’s sort of communicating what you’ve already made, and it’s lovely and it’s got its ownfeeling, but I like to be studying and learning and creating stories as much as I can. So, that’s definitely, having directed the two videos and been doing so much camerawork and reading other film scripts, and you know just thinking about it and for a long time having lived here, I’d definitely like to pour some energy in to making my first feature film.

That’s an exciting prospect.
I think it will be really fun!

Would you write and direct, or is it just directing for now?
Well, I write the stories, and then I would probably find a scriptwriter that’s much better than me at scriptwriting to collaborate with, because I know that’s not one of my major skills. It’s a definite skill, but I would definitely provide the chapters of the story and the characters, and I have a very strong idea of a narrative I’d like to do.

I feel like I’ve seen comments recently from showrunners, who say that they like to think of their series as albums, in the conceptual way that an album flows and creates a whole So, I think that coming from your background you’re very well equipped to make something very contemporary and relevant. I look forward to that whenever it materialises!
Oh really, that’s funny! Thank you!

I think that’s all from me, thank you so much for your time.
Lovely to talk to you! Hopefully you’ll go to the cinema and watch a film of mine soon! You can let me know what you think!

Yes, fingers crossed! I can interview you about that when it comes out!

Lost Girls is out now via AWAL Recordings Ltd.