Bat For Lashes' Natasha Khan On Ryan McGinley, Nakedness, & French New Wave

With Bat For Lashes' beautiful new record, The Haunted Man, Natasha Khan has plumbed deep emotional depths and surfaced with her most intimate LP to date. It's been clear she's headed in new directions since she released the powerful cover art shot by Ryan McGinley, which featured Natasha, herself, stark naked with a man wrapped around her shoulders. The album, too, follows this stripped-down aesthetic on songs ranging from the swirling synthpop of "Marilyn" to wrenching first single, "Laura."
We caught up with Khan to talk the inspirations behind her new record, working with McGinley, and her move from theatrical maximalism to something more raw and affecting than ever before.
Tell me a little about the new record. How would you characterize it as compared to your previous albums?
"After the last record, I definitely wanted to move on creatively and try to do something a little different, just to keep myself in check more than anything. And I thought, obviously, the last record is very expansive and about traveling — it's quite cosmic, really, and deals with quite big things. And I felt like a bit of a husk, creatively, when I finished that tour. So, for this album it started out with me deciding to stay in England, and stay at home, and to be in one place. I wanted to make a more direct, bold record with more space, less reverb. A bit more upfront lyrics. A bigger sound. And I think that fit quite well emotionally with my growing confidence — a need to step forward and be myself. So, sonically, that's what I wanted to achieve."
The record has a really intense emphasis on your vocals. How does that play into the overall theme?
"It was mixture of things. When I came off the last album, I had been touring for so long I had developed my vocal and felt much more confident with being able to sing more powerfully. Also, I was tired of hiding behind a bunch of reverb. I wanted to have a much more intimate sound, and take the risk of being more intimate with the listener. I put the lyrics up front to refocus on the communication of my emotions."
Was there a song that was particularly emotional to record?
"It was tough in the recording process, for example, recording 'Lilies.' That vocal is so all over the place. I did it over and over again. It's such a sexual, sensual, almost maternal song about creativity. I got into this trance-like state. My whole body was really aching. I was accessing these places that felt really deep. It was pretty intense physically. But I really enjoyed it, really bringing out lots of different aspects of my personality, which I hadn't pushed myself on so hard before."
How does the title of the album tie into that new direction?
"Thematically, I wanted to make a record that was just about relationships, but in light of looking at my ancestry [and] generational patterns — patterns that had been passed down through the relationships in my family to me. And, [about] how I wanted to heal those things, and change them, and let go and move forward. I think that it's called The Haunted Man is very apt, you know, in terms of releasing old burdens and moving forward toward joyous newfound territory."
A lot has been made of the cover art, shot by Ryan McGinley. How did that collaboration come about?
"I loved his work, and I had seen, specifically, his photographs of men and women naked with animals around their shoulders. When I saw that I was just like, instantly, I need a man to be draped around my shoulders. This is what I want to do. I visualized it in my mind. I met up with Ryan and proposed the idea to him and he was really excited about it. I love him creatively — I really enjoyed working with him. It was very much about stripping back and representing the raw, wild male and female figures. In this day and age, we like Photoshopping, and airbrushing, and lip gloss. We've almost forgotten what it's like to be really raw and naked and upfront. So, I've got no makeup on and no retouching. I felt like it was a bold move to strip down all those adornments I've been using in the past. Just to communicate soulfulness and magic, and mystical meaningful music, but not have to shove it in people's faces. And to represent nakedness and rawness in a way that wasn't sexualized."
What's your favorite of the new songs to play live?
"During the summer, we were playing like four or five new songs. "Laura" came across really well. At some point, we were playing in a tent of like 12,000 people, and you could hear a pin drop. I almost couldn't get through the song because it was so emotional, but it seems to really quite people down. It was quite shocking, because it was the first time they'd ever heard it."
How has your style adapted to the new stripped-down nature? Has your visual style changed?
"I guess I've synched it back a little bit in terms of costume. It's not so childlike and playful. It's solidified into something more minimal. It's a bit more avant-garde, a bit more art-y, a bit more stripped back. I think [the new stage show] will have a minimal-but-still-a-magical quality to it. I don't want it to be super raw."
Fashion-wise is there anyone you've been particularly inspired by, in terms of what you're going to be presenting on stage?
"I've been watching a lot of French New Wave films and watching Ingmar Bergman films. And looking at '70s icons, I guess, some of the people growing up that my mum dressed like. Maybe I'm just becoming my mum now that I've turned 30 [laughs]. I've [also] been doing some dance stuff, and directing dance films with my friends' dance companies, and wrote some films scripts and stuff. So, I guess that's why filmic references are quite strong with me."

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