“I think we’ve been lacking a lot of raw female and male imagery for quite a long time.”
When Natasha Khan finally announced her official return as Bat For Lashes, she knew how to make an entrance. While a short festival tour with a sprinkling of new material was enough to whet the appetites for the fans lucky enough to see her, no entrance could be louder than the Ryan McGinley-shot cover of Khan’s upcoming third album “The Haunted Man,” which shows the singer in the buff with an equally nude man draped across her back. The man hangs down unconsciously while Khan gazes at you with a quiet resilience.
“For me it represents carrying past hurts and past burdens, coupled with carrying for nurturing purposes, coupled with the weight of responsibility, the idea of sexual roles. I wanted it to be naked and raw. I’ve got no makeup on. It’s not been retouched or photoshopped. I think we’ve been lacking a lot of raw female and male imagery for quite a long time. Thinking about Robert Maplethorpe or John and Yoko. These ’60s and ’70s representations of the natural body were really important.” Although her body shows no sign of strain, she has the look of someone who has been through Hell and is just now coming out of it. The man whose body dangles over her seems to have not had the same stamina.
The concept of reaching out, both to others and to one’s self, is rampant throughout “The Haunted Man,” Khan’s strongest album since she began as Bat For Lashes in 2006. Having received a helping hand here and there from producers and colleagues, the end result of all three of her albums is a very personal statement from inside of her with this record in particular having the sound of her inner demons being exorcised with cleansing light.
Opener “Lilies” sounds like a negative mirror image of “Glass” which started off “Two Suns” like a mournful hymn. “Lilies” is warm and communal with broad strokes of horns and strings and a vocal that is far closer than she’s ever sung to the listener before. “When I started this album, I started in my home studio and what I started with was vocals, bass and beats…What I started to notice was my desire to really bring the vocals up front and really loud and not swathe them in all this reverb. I didn’t want to hide anymore. I felt more bold, comfortable and direct.”
“This album is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
That boldness that Khan exerts on the album’s vocals came in waves over the course of the recording process, which took two years and several locations to capture as she found herself meticulously building up the album’s 11 tracks. “This album is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Khan states without hesitation. Despite the pure clarity that emits from each song, the fuel for the album’s fire was as Khan laughingly put it “self-loathing, criticism and panic.” She worked through her second guessing by pacing herself which she did by immersing herself into Brighton, England’s countryside where she drew, wrote, read Roald Dahl books and watched a great number of old films like “Ryan’s Daughter” and the works of Ingmar Bergman.
As the songs began to take their initial shape, their progress was hastened with the help of some talented friends. “I made visists with Beck, I worked with Rob Ellis and I visited Dave Sitek. It was very much like a going out and gathering of inspiration and bouncing off other people, then bringing the ideas back and then meticulously sifting through what I wanted to keep…with Beck I had a whole bunch of early songs that didn’t even make it to the record.”
While hearing a record with Khan as Beck’s new Charlotte Gainsbourg would be an interesting listen, her choice to keep the record her own is crucial to the album’s strength. Self-produced, the sessions received some co-production guidance with “Two Suns” producer David Kosten and English producer and mixer Dan Carey. “For the record itself I worked with David Kosten and Dan Carey between their two studios. I felt like I was holding the rains in the middle trying to keep it all cohesive. Music and production-wise I’m usually very clear with what I want but I really love working with both of them. Dan Carey especially helped me out with my beats. We’d jam out beats on the MPC and he kind of fleshed them out. And David Kosten is filled with beautiful recording technique ideas.”
One particular idea that Kosten brought to the sessions was on “The Haunted Man”‘s title track which features a men’s chorus, a vocal part the was recorded in the mouth of a nearby valley. “We projected the finished choral part out of a giant amp and across a canyon and then miked up the roof and along the house we were staying in to record the slap-back of the vocals. The reverb on that is actually natural reverb because it’s coming from the canyon.”
“We’ve all been Laura for a time. That need to be a kind of glamorous life-and-soul of the party.”
That song forms the centerpiece for a record that is filled with desires to comfort and heal the wrongs of the past. Kate Bush’s duet vocal in the Peter Gabriel song “Don’t Give Up” feels like the closest relative to Khan’s state of mind on this album — “When you see a wall I see a door,” she offers on “A Wall” while on “Laura” she gives a pep talk to the world’s loneliest party-girl. “She’s a best friend of mine but her name’s not Laura,” Khan clarifies. “It was written after an extreme debauched party and it’s about the fallout of that kind of comedown. But I think it’s a universal theme, like we’ve all known Lauras or we’ve all been Laura for a time. That need to be a kind of glamorous life-and-soul of the party… but underneath it’s a lonely place to be.”
Despite any walls she felt she had hit over the course of the record’s gestation, Khan is incredibly pleased with the results. “I feel good about this one. You just get a feeling. I’m not so attached to the result of it but I do feel like I want people to know about it and that will make me happy…I think with each album there’s a catharsis that happens and often what the album is centered around is something that when Ive finished touring the record, Ive sort of let go of it. And I think by the end of this record I will have relinquished those heavy burdens.” As for if it becoming her defining statement, she says she’d be okay with that. “I’d be happy with that. It means I could go pop out some babies and just chill out.”
Bat For Lashes — “Laura”