Natalie Mering has been hypnotizing us under the moniker Weyes Blood since 2011's The Outside Room. Since then, her progression from a haunting minimal experimentalist to a lush '70s Laurel Canyon rocker has been thrilling to watch. Her latest record, April's Titanic Rising, sees Mering's growth continue with her most cohesive record yet. Produced by Foxygen's Jonathan Rado, the record tackles complex topics like climate change, the cosmos, and the conceit of humankind through the theme and lens of cinema.
KEXP spoke to Mering about the film the record's title nods to, 1997's blockbuster hit Titanic, as well as technology and the tempestuous nature of love in the 21st century. Read and watch her recent in-studio below.
KEXP: Titanic Rising has a ton of different reference points within but one of the biggest is cinema and its influence on culture and I'd love to focus on that today. You've had a conflicted relationship to films, initially being obsessed with them as a child and then completely refusing to watch movies for a few years. What were the reasons you stopped watching films?
Natalie Mering: Well, I think at that age I didn't really know the difference between movies and film. You know, sometimes I like to draw the difference. But I was more mad at emotionally manipulative movies that kind of brainwashed people to believe life was a certain way or looked a certain way or kind of whitewashing reality and things like that. Going through puberty I was like, "Whoa this is something that used to emotionally impact me so much and be such a big part of my experience of life." And it is so vapid and empty and just coming from the darkest place because the movie industry is a palace of sin. [laughs]
No, but yeah it's pretty bad. I just had no patience for it anymore. I would start watching and I could see how they were kind of pulling on heartstrings or tapping into people's emotional weaknesses. And I felt like I just wanted the real thing, I wanted reality.
Absolutely. And we can see that in the film Titanic which is referenced repeatedly throughout the record. When I saw the movie I was I think nine-years-old and it was the only movie that I watched multiple times in the theaters over and over. I was obsessed. But all I got out of it was this tragic love story between Jack and Rose. And really it's kind of a complicated film with many other stories and lessons to learn from. I think that's kind of something you wanted to focus on this record and I'd love to hear a little bit about your thoughts of all the different facets of Titanic that we can take away from it and you wanted to focus on.
Well, to me, I really took away...I mean the love story I kind of could tell at that age, which is funny I think I was probably like nine or 10 when it came out, but I could see the love story was just kind of woven into it to keep people watching. I felt like the real take away was the hubris of man and our lack of dominion over nature and how that was a time of the gilded age where men were so confident that they could conquer nature and then just be so heinously wrong in the most embarrassing way. And then, instead of everybody suffering, it's the third class that takes the hit for the rest of the population and I really feel like that, and the reason I kind of wove it into my record this time around was, it's kind of similar to what's going on now.
As opposed to crashing into an iceberg and having a ship sink, it's like we are melting the polar ice caps and then making civilization and the people that are going to take the heaviest hit are definitely the third class of the world and people that don't have the infrastructure to really deal with the damages of climate change. Especially Pacific Islanders and people whose whole country is just going to be underwater.
So I just feel like it was so poignant for me at that age and I found it so interesting that such a massive blockbuster was definitely engineered for little girls. You know it's made to seem like an adult movie but if you rewatch it as an adult you're like, "Oh this movie is made for children." Like this is a really spicey children's movie. You're kind of like, "Wow something so big and such a huge massive hit could not send that message home," you know?
And that was another take away with movies is here are these huge impactful things that massive portions of the population will consume and yet they don't seem to really be making as big of a difference as we'd hoped. They're kind of like neither here nor there. I just found that very interesting. And nowadays I kind of see it with how there's all those movies about bees and there's all these movies that mean really well but it's like they don't seem to really push people.
Absolutely. What's your relationship to films now?
I mean, I now embrace my obsession with them because I see, and this kind of has to do with my album cover too, where growing up in the 90s there's no real initiation into society. In our culture, we haven't really built in a way to really prepare anybody for adulthood. If anything, people are becoming radically more unprepared. I can't really speak as much for Gen Z because I think they just see the world from day one with the Internet. But growing up with the Internet still being kind of a side thing, I felt like my initiation into the world was my bedroom where I would hang up posters of movies and musicians and people that I admired and kind of conjure up my own ideas about what the world was all about and my place in it. And as much as that's a really faulty initiation, it's also something I have a great amount of nostalgia for and take to be sacred because, at that age when you're formulating your ideas about the world, it's like a very meaningful time in your life.
So, for me, it's like movies and all that have now come to play kind of an important role in my creativity because I was so cinematically saturated like we were shown the most movies out of any generation probably because of videos and reruns on TV and things like that. So I think it just became our mythology and a part of the way people experience the world as much as it's also a form of escapism. It is kind of our only public platform for storytelling and myths. So now it's like anything nowadays where certain things have become very processed and very fake. And I think our myths and our stories have become very processed and very fake but they're still our myths and our stories. Just like our cheeseburgers might be processed and fake but there's still like our food. You know it's like you don't really choose the generation you're from.
I took a class in college called Sex, Love, and Romance in the Mass Media that honestly shattered my world when I realized how much film and TV has influenced all the real romantic expectations and everything that comes with romance that isn't real to actual life. And you've always written a lot about love but I think this record focuses on it in the ways that technology has affected our ability (or lack thereof) to create and sustain relationships. You say "I need to love every day" on [the song] "Everyday," which to me definitely speaks for swiping culture. What's your current viewpoint on technology and mass media's influence on romance in 2019?
I think it probably threw a loop for everybody. I mean, I think we're dealing with a lot of factors kind of contributing to people's maybe lack of experience of romantic love? I think maybe more than ever before we're living in kind of a culture of isolation where like individualism has piqued out so much that people maybe don't even need other people in a very technical sense even though they might in a deeper emotional sense. But I think a lot of people are kind of operating on an individualist-focused route where kind of the sky's the limit in terms of like what you can expect from your partner. Expectations have probably become very unrealistic and grounded, yeah, in like movies, TV, and, even for a lot of young men, porn. So I think it's hard.
There was a time where people kind of got together out of necessity and there is a time where you went to college to meet other people. And now it's like you don't necessarily need to go to college to meet other people, it's all kind of at our fingertips at any moment. And I think that kind of leaves people a little spoiled for choice in this weird way or think that they're spoiled for choice and people seem to have less patience for that kind of thing when they're focused on their careers. The message that they've been force-fed from a young age is like "You can be whatever you want," "You can be excellent and all your dreams will come true," and "You don't need anybody else." Does that make sense?
Oh no, it completely makes sense. And I think it's especially conflicting for people of our age where, yeah, we grew up with all these rom-coms and everything and there was a different way that people were meeting and the stories were told differently. And now we have all these options and we're not willing to settle for less than perfect since we can just move on and swipe to the next person easily. So it's kind of a conflicting time.
It is and also I don't think people's security levels are really doing well. You know, I think most people are really fragile especially with all the existential crises. I feel fragile imagining having children with the way the course that things are taking with the climate crisis and things like that. The idea of starting a family now sounds really sketchy and I think for a lot of millennials who are struggling to pay off debts and struggling to even afford the technological lifestyle that we're all kind of growing accustomed to, which is way more expensive than our parents' generation. Yeah, it's tricky to even imagine you know wanting to hunker down.
So, yeah, there are so many different things contributing to kind of the sluggishness of people procreating and marrying in our generation. And it was way different for our folks you know. And I think it wasn't like they didn't have high standards, I think the necessity for it was was a little bit more intense.
Absolutely. I've been reading Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance and it's really interesting, he does a bunch of research with older people and nearly every couple had met that lived on the same block – if not the same building. That's how they met. It was just they were close to each other so it made sense they got married.
Yeah, and they're like [old timey voice] "We didn't think about it!"
[Old timey voice] "He had a job so I married him!"
I mean, those times were very homogenous. Individualism has gotten so much more intricate that people maybe don't fit as well together now because of all the options for who you can be and what you're into. And plus the movies saying you should be with somebody who has the same taste as you, who's wicked hot. Just the chances of it working out, because of everything that's been set up around it, unfortunately kind of made it more complicated.
And yeah it seems like in that generation it was way less complicated. I mean, maybe to a fault. You know, we're talking about people who probably ended up in marriages with kids who never got to experience the Hollywood soulmate situation. The question is like is the Hollywood soulmate situation even better than that kind of committed love of like I grew up with this person and then they were married? It's a hard call to make. It's like what came first – the chicken or the egg, I don't know. I mean, judging by the way things are going it seems like the more complicated, specific, finding your absolute soulmate kind of love is a little bit more selfish. And I don't know how much selfishness plays a role in true love. So that's kind of my opinion that maybe it's a little further away from agape, the ultimate unconditional form of love.
Absolutely. Let's bring it back to the music. Have you been influenced at all by a specific movie scores or soundtracks?
Definitely. I mean the Titanic soundtrack was huge, it's all sad and spooky. I love Wendy Carlos who is a composer who did a lot of stuff for Stanley Kubrick like The Shining soundtrack. She was a trans composer in the 70s and did a lot of synthesizer stuff. I love her work. I think any big movie soundtrack I can get down with. And also some of the classical music that has been used in movies over and over again like "Adagio for Strings" is a very like go-to sad classical piece that's licensed for a lot of films and I kind of resonate with that like kind of top 40's classical that pop in the movies here and there at the most emotional parts. Trying to think of one other great soundtrack. Horror films, I think, use a little bit more experimentation because they have to seem kind of spooky and angular and I really like that.
Right. For horror films the music is very integral.
Yeah like Halloween [mimics the Halloween theme].
[laughs] Oh yeah it's iconic.
You're playing Concerts at the Mural on August 16th. Are you doing anything different for your live sets behind Titanic Rising?
Yeah we've got a new cover song and we're gonna do a couple other oldies that we haven't been doing and, yeah, mostly play the record. That's the plan.
Weyes Blood will play KEXP's Concerts at the Mural on Friday, August 16th with local artists Versing and Whitney Ballen. The event is free and open to the public. Below, watch Weyes Blood's KEXP in-studio performance from 2017.
The song comes from her forthcoming record Titanic Rising
The new record will be her first through Sub Pop