Drowning Your Muses
Mar 01, 2017
Photography by Laura Lynn Petrick Issue # 59 - 15th Anniversary
Find It At: AMAZON
Ten years ago, you never would have expected Natalie Mering to make an album like Front Row Seat to Earth. Back then, she was 18 years old and playing bass with noise-rockers Jackie-O Motherfucker, working on tracks that tangled witchy electronics around gothy folk as Weyes Bluhd. Despite her obvious gifts as a vocalist and arranger, there were few indications that she would eventually make one of the most gorgeously haunted, unapologetically pretty singer/songwriter albums of the last decade. Familiar yet otherworldly, it's the rare album that inhabits its own insular universe, one that shares more in common with the leftfield cult classics of Judee Sill and Vashti Bunyan than it does with anything made in 2016.
"My record has a lot of comfort food, even though there is some secret medicine in the comfort food," she explains. "People now are shamelessly ripping off '70s FM radio gold. I'm maybe not one to talk, because all people tell me is that I sound like I'm from the '70s, but I never sit in the studio and think, 'Yeah, how can we make this more '70s?' I think I'm mining for a different kind of gold. It's not a nostalgic gold, but it ends up sounding nostalgic."
Co-producing the album with former Deerhoof and Curtains member Chris Cohen, Mering set out to make a live-in-the-studio album where she could play piano with a backing band and allow all of the instruments to bleed into each other under an ethereal haze. As before, Mering's voice is a powerfully expressive instrument, resonant and airy like Joan Baez mixed with Nico and Karen Carpenter. It has taken her until now to fully come to terms with it.
"I think ever since I was a little girl I had a raspy, funny voice—low and raspy and weird," she recalls. "And everyone would make fun of me. They thought I was so funny. And in high school, I'd walk down the hallway, and I'd hear people say, 'I heard Natalie say "hi" to someone, and I thought it was a man. And I turned around, and it was Natalie!' People would give me shit for having a low voice. But my parents are musicians, so I always was singing and my mom would be like, 'Oh, you have a beautiful voice.' But no one gave me special attention, ever. I was never brought into the spotlight."
Despite the album's accessibility, Mering retains her contrarian streak. Now 28, she seems uncomfortable with what she calls her generation's retreat into safe, conventional pop music in the face of an increasingly troubling world. Her album's title, too, is a critique of the millennial tendency to watch that world burn from a privileged distance, spectators who deceive themselves into thinking they can change the world through angry tweets. There are times Mering recognizes just how much she has in common with her generation, though. Working with the 40-year-old Cohen, those differences occasionally came into the open.
"There are certain millennial qualities he couldn't relate to," she says. "We have this tendency to accept everything. Like the Enya thing. There are all these Enya moments on the record, but, to Chris, Enya is really not cool. She's super boring and not hip—shit his parents would listen to. To me, I was a child listening to it, so I have this nostalgic attachment that he can't relate to. He actually didn't like Enya," she says with disbelief, then laughs. "But he's from a different time, you know?"
[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Under the Radar's Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue (January/February/March 2017). This is its debut online.]
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