Weyes Blood on Her Next Album and the Post-Pandemic World | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, May 20th, 2024  

Weyes Blood on Her Next Album and the Post-Pandemic World

Clarity Amidst the Confusion

Jun 21, 2022 Issue #69 - 20th Anniversary Issue Photography by Koury Angelo (for Under the Radar) Bookmark and Share

Grappling with the contradictions of late capitalism, Weyes Blood—aka Natalie Mering—sounds both inspired and restrained, cautiously navigating a world of increasing polarities. Speaking of the changing face of the indie-sphere and the disintegration of its broader social cohesion she is cautiously optimistic. “We aren’t mourning the loss of a particular scene, like we used to, say 15 years ago. I feel like in this time is a general understanding that things have become more disparate and, in that disparateness, it isn’t easy to change, because we have all been geared into our own little private self. We are all thrown in the mix together and we have to figure out how to connect and reignite the flame.”

After a whirlwind year of unexpected obstacles, the music industry is emerging from its cocoon to proffer the delights of live entertainment yet again. Still, in the face of deepening social atomization, exacerbated by the pandemic, many artists have found the key to reuniting in turning inwards.

For Mering, this has meant working in the studio on the follow up to 2019’s acclaimed Titanic Rising. Following in its prehistoric sized footsteps, the follow up promises to catalyze an awareness of our social position with all the rapturous cinematic grandeur that defines her work. Speaking about her as of yet untitled new album, Mering remarks on the songs’ devotional qualities. “The last record was like an alarm signal, and this next one is two years after the alarm has been blaring and just seeing where we are at,” she previews. “Which seems like it can only be explained in a non-linear fashion, because things are changing faster than we can fully comprehend. The songs themselves are more devotional and actually more personal, even though they are covering universal themes. I think it’s coming from a place of wanting to return home in a very isolating culture.”

Questions of belonging loom large in the thematic content of the album, as one of the key inspirations for Mering’s recent inquiries into the fragmented nature of our social lives is cultural historian Christopher Lasch’s 1979 book The Culture of Narcissism, which locates a predominant ideology of pathological narcissism as the defining feature of post-WWII American life.

“I think we’re all really softened by the experiences of the last couple years,” Mering says. “It’s been kind of the disintegration of our consensus reality. We don’t have a general consensus as a population anymore. It feels like we’re all just noticing the level of isolation caused by modern capitalism plus the pandemic.”

If the sense of alienation that is so endemic to our contemporary condition paints a grim picture of the future, Mering sees this as the necessary starting point to the sorts of changes that reestablish and perhaps even enhance community. Remarking on the conflictual nature of social change, Mering says that “anytime people try to make a good social change, it is met with so much resistance that it causes this pendulum.” The balance of the countervailing forces of reaction and progress produce a residue that holds a magnifying glass up to the sorts of communities and spaces we occupy that challenges us to define their contours. The tendency of the pendulum to swing back against social progress necessitates the further defining of the goals of progress. Mering sees this dynamic at play in the profusion of identity groupings that typify Gen-Z’s social organization. “The young kids are so defined, and the groups they form are very cellular. They then have stronger communities because they feel they have to remedy this alienation ASAP.”

This pendulum effect is depicted clearly in the twin tendencies towards noise and ambience that characterizes much of the palate of modern music. “For most of history, music has been this very homogenized thing,” Mering says. “It’s been very pedestrian for a long time. What makes our generation kind of worried about this ongoing trend of people wanting something to shop to that’s pretty inoffensive is that we witnessed this very brief golden age where artists who were actually innovating and being revolutionary and rebellious had a mainstream audience, which isn’t the case anymore, except for in hip-hop.”

While Mering sees a golden age of music as having occurred in the 1970s up until the end of Nirvana in 1994, she evinces less a cynicism than an informed skepticism about the unqualified promotions of the music industry’s flavor of the week. Speaking about this tendency to promote the pastiched as the new, Mering is frank. “I think the music industry is overrun by lifestyle brands. There’s some real weak sauce passing for music because it has all the markers of music. But palate-wise people are really stretching the envelope in terms of sound and what is acceptable.”

Mering sees the general loosening of genre strictures as a net positive, with pop now bordering on the fringes of noise and vice-versa. While the opportunities for creative collaboration and innovation are ripe for the taking in this new cross-pollinating framework, there are certain alterations that have occurred at the level of song structure that have Mering worried. “I think less people are good at writing songs nowadays,” she observes. “The terms of what a song are feel very loose now. We have reached the point where we are reflecting back the machines. The noise was always very fringy, but now it feels like it’s at the center.”

Her own music is an example of these twin tendencies towards abstraction and structure. Replete with ornate baroque orchestration and embedded in the song structures that recall the West Coast folk-pop of the 1970s, Mering’s music is marked by her elegiac vocals that soar and land like some diaphanous bird of unspecified origin. One need only take a listen to any one of her albums to see the marriage of pop and experimentation. Take for example, the symphonic swells of orchestration that comprise the rising and falling action of the title track to her wondrous Titanic Rising.

As ever, this dynamic of the revolutionizing of the sonic palate and the attendant innovations in form run up against the antiquated double standards in a still sexist music industry. Reminiscing on such figures as Joni Mitchell in a 2019 discussion with Under the Radar on her all-time favorite album, Mitchell’s 1976 release Hejira, Mering recollected: “As a woman, growing up, I didn’t recognize how rampant sexism was and how people wrote certain women under the table for being really innovative, and instead of being praised for their innovation they were essentially crucified because people wanted them to stay a certain way.”

Though the standards of evaluation remain anachronistic, Mering sees most innovative indie rock, and innovative music in general, as emanating from women creators. It’s no small feat for a profusion of women artists to have come to dominate the current conversations on new sounding music, and with festivals featuring more and more female headliners, the incentives to play it safe and not push the envelope too much are commercially rewarding. Yet, even despite such enticements and with the added additional pressure of struggling to break even as a woman artist in the first place, Mering sees the procession of the formerly avant-garde towards the center as a mostly women-led phenomena. Mering is undoubtedly part of this creative vanguard, even before her Mexican Summer or Sub Pop days when she got her start opening for noise acts in a much more deconstructed version of her solo project. The visceral texturality of her approach to sound has shaped her sonic journey even as the noise has been replaced by warmer ambiences.

Her own growth as an artist, from making noise to regal rococo chamber pop, has been a process of clarification, from obscurity towards cohesion, and this is perhaps what gives her such an optimistic attitude about the future. While there are innumerable symptoms of social decay that must be addressed, the primary means of addressing them remain the same: we must rely on one another and envision a dream of the future that places community above selfish-ambition. Mering sees our potential salvation in the optimism of our will. “The institutions seem to be crumbling and, in that wake, there are a lot of interesting possibilities if everybody can keep it together and pay attention to creative endeavors as opposed to scrolling on their phones,” she says. “We’re just kind of at the tip of that moment right now.”



[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 69 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, our 20th Anniversary Issue, which is out now. It was one of 11 cover stories in the issue. This is its debut online.]

L to R: Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, Kamasi Washington, Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood, Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes, and Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES photographed for Under the Radar‘s 20th Anniversary Issue

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