Published Sep 04, 2019On the cusp of the release of her new album Lost Girls, Bat for Lashes mastermind Natasha Khan finds herself in perhaps her brightest headspace yet.
"It's like I've almost broken through into this other aspect of my music," she says in an interview with Exclaim!, "which is the more positive, released, free, uplifting, joyous, fun, dance-y side."
Having concluded a ten-year deal with EMI upon the release of her 2016 concept record, The Bride, Khan is an independent artist for the first time since the beginning of her career. The intervening years found Khan exploring other art forms, as she often does between releasing albums, but this time her biggest move yet was in order; she headed to Los Angeles, which led her to make a record she didn't exactly intend to create.
Lost Girls is the result of Khan's first ever full-length collaboration. She worked with producer Charles Scott IV, who serves as music supervisor for J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot production company; the two met when she was asked to work with Scott on a series written by Stephen King. They were assigned to write music recalling the sounds of one of Khan's favourite decades: the 1980s.
Upon meeting, Scott and Khan wrote "Kids in the Dark," the soft, dreamy lead single from Lost Girls that explores the vulnerability and innocence of new love.
"We carried on kind of meeting up pretending that we were doing it for this Stephen King thing, but we were actually just making my album," Khan laughs. They invited only a few collaborators to join them, including Alex White of Fat White Family, whose saxophone playing anchors the instrumental track "Vampires," a sonic descent into the album's world.
"Living in L.A. almost feels like I'm periodically stepping into the different sets of all my favourite films from childhood and throughout history, so just constantly taking me on this sort of imaginative journey and giving me goose bumps," says Khan. Upon her arrival in the city, she began travelling to the desert, painting landscapes, writing and capturing her new surroundings using Polaroid photography, documenting inspiration that informed the album.
"This whole Lost Girls story and narrative was already pretty strong in my mind when I went in to write with Charles, which is why I think it came out so quickly and the way it was, because I had done all this groundwork without even realizing."
Lost Girls is, at once, the culmination of the work Khan has done throughout her career and an evolution; she has created pop songs that are affecting and impactful. "The Hunger," a grand, bombastic track where Khan expresses a need for connection, feels to her "like a real piece," due to its key change and a lightness that pierces through its dramatism.
"There's this release, whereas before maybe everything that sounded like that was quite dark and heavy. I guess that after doing it for twelve years or something, you wonder if there are new places you can go to, and I think I've really enjoyed in the past using a lot of storytelling and metaphor, and shrouding things in symbolism and archetypes," she reflects.
"You don't always have to be dressing everything up in poetry and art — which I love — but I think you have to get to a place where you feel quite confident in order to strip it back and be so open and direct. People might think that's easier, but I actually think it's taken me all this time to be brave enough to really tell it like it is in a very sort of universal way."
The album's duality is found in the underlying fear and anxieties within its love story, captured in the synth and beats of "Safe Tonight," a song where Khan questions whether she is "so in love you'd leave me behind." Elsewhere, she draws inspiration from the lyrical simplicity of early Madonna and Prince, as "So Good" explores power dynamics in relationships, complete with playfulness in its synth solo.
The music on Lost Girls may be vulnerable in its honesty and straightforward approach, yet Khan's love for storytelling and narrative are ever present in the record's deep connection to film and a script she was writing at the time of its creation. Lost Girls (the film) follows protagonists Nikki and Michael, whose shared obsession with supernatural phenomena leads them to investigate a group of women (the lost girls) terrorizing their city. The two fall in love while the women are simultaneously summoning Nikki to join them.
"They think they're chasing the girls, but the girls are actually fully aware and they want to integrate her to be their head witch."
Khan views the lost girls as a metaphor for the different aspects of herself, which can "come up to haunt me or take me away" when falling in love, as well as the parts of herself she feels a need to reconnect with. It is, she says, "the whole idea of being hunted or hunting, or looking for something, or finding your opposite, and then going into the subconscious realms. Often we just try and live on the topside in the normal world for too long without slipping down into the subconscious or diving into personal, sort of darker territory. I think in order to love and to survive in the world, for me, I have to constantly connect with an array of aspects of myself that take time to get to know."
Khan looks forward to reimagining the world of Lost Girls through both stripped back live sets and a plan to assemble an expansive live band that'll perform at festivals next year. Her upcoming goal is to bring one of her feature film scripts to life, realizing a long sought after dream that she's slowly been realizing with directorial work (Khan's begun to direct music videos in the last while) as both Bat for Lashes and under her own name for short films.
"This is me now," says Khan. "I'm creating this fun story that actually doesn't feel heavy and is just very sort of celebratory and effortless, really. I think the alchemy of storytelling is that you receive a story and then, depending on your life experience, it can resonate with different parts of you," she muses.
"If it's useful or gets you somewhere you might not have been before, then I've done my job well."
Lost Girls comes out September 6 via AWAL Recordings.