Natasha Khan is in her house by the sea in sunny Brighton when she gets on the phone with me. It’s been two years since her last release as Bat For Lashes, but that’s not to say she’s been kicking back lazily since 2009’s Two Suns.
“I’ve been doing lots of stuff I suppose,” she muses. “I’m recording at the moment, writing and recording the new album. I tried to keep myself occupied by doing a whole bunch of stuff just straight after Two Suns, because I think after you’ve just finished a record, you can’t start straight away on something else.
I got busy working on some art projects and drawings and installation ideas and I worked with some contemporary ballet dancers doing dance stuff and improvisation and I’ve been doing a bit of gardening and working at the local school with some of the kids, reading with them, and all the meanwhile writing songs which are gradually building up, and actually just in the last few weeks and months started to come together in some sort of shape so now it feels like I’m out of the woods and holding onto something tangible.”
This all seems like a lot of work outside of being a recording artist, and Khan is the first to admit it.
“I’m definitely a do-er, and if I’m not doing I find that really difficult,” she says. “If I sit around too much the whole weight of making an album can really get on top of you so, I haven’t been busy the whole time but I try to give myself projects aside from music because otherwise it just becomes a big frightening thing. If you’re not feeling inspired then you can’t write and it feels like the end of the world, so sometimes I have to turn my attention to other things to just keep me sane, really.”
She can certainly turn her attention to the Vivid Festival, where she will be performing two shows at the Sydney Opera House, and the significance of playing her first Australian shows ever at such a prominent venue isn’t lost on her when I bring up the subject.
“Don’t scare me or anything!” she laughs. “I’m quite nervous about it because I haven’t played in a while and to come for the first time at Sydney Opera House is quite intense for me. I feel there’ll be some goodwill because I like the Australians and I’ve heard that they’re a good audience, and they’ve been waiting for us to come for ages so I hope it’s going to be a good one, because it’s such a prestigious venue.”
“What I’ll be doing is kind of a mixture of the last tour and I’m bringing a string quartet with me so we’ll do some beautiful string stuff. I think you’re going to get a pretty good cross-section of the Bat For Lashes experience and I might drop in a couple of new ones but I probably wont be changing dramatically the instruments to fit the new album because that’s a premature sort of thing to do. But regardless of that the set up is pretty eclectic, unusual and beautiful anyway so I think you’ll enjoy that.”
Though it will be her first time performingAustralia, it won’t be her first trip to our shores.
“I went when I was 18 to visit… I drove up the west coast fromCairns… and then flew toSydney. I was there for three weeks so I got a pretty good grasp of it and I loved it,” she remembers. “It was the first trip I’d ever done away from home and I remember it well. Last time I came as an 18 year old tourist and this time I’m coming to play the Sydney Opera House, it’s pretty surreal. It’s a good reason to come back.”
Bat For Lashes are one of the most talked about names on this year’s Vivid lineup, but Khan is surprised that anyone is even speaking about her, given she’s been immersed in her own world for the last year and more.
“I didn’t really know about the Vivid Festival and then I heard about the people who had played it and curated it and I think it sounds really amazing,” she admits. “I’m quite detached because I’ve been in my own world for the last year and a half, living a pretty normal life, really normal, I just get up and have cups of tea! I have a kitten I bought, I work at the school and hang out with my friends and try and write music and then it’s like people in Australia are really excited for me to come and… that’s just weird, but coming out of my little hibernation will be good for me. I feel quite flattered and I hope we don’t disappoint.”
The hibernation has been fruitful for Khan, with her feeling confident about the creative direction of her third album which she says is “closer to where I was with the first record.” Though she keeps her cards close to her chest on what sounds fans can expect on her next record, it seems the quiet life has been quite the inspiration.
“I realise the more grounded and simple my real life is, the richer my imagination becomes which sounds like a funny dichotomy and it’s true for me,” she discusses. “I feel like I was frightened that if I didn’t have this crazy, chaotic lifestyle I wouldn’t be able to write as interesting things or if you don’t have chaotic relationships you’re just going to be boring, but actually it’s been really interesting to discover my imagination is there anyway and it’s not going to go away due to external circumstances.
It’s more about being in an environment where I can hear the things that want to be born through my imagination and sometimes silence, routine and quietness really pulls back the layers and allows you to channel all the things you need to hear and put down and so I’m really excited about this record, I think it’s really strong, it has aspects of all the things I’ve done before but in a much more confident, grounded way.”
“There’s a lot of joy and euphoria in it because of that so I feel really in a really good place creatively although actually, a couple of months ago I felt like dying, just when it gets really bad and you think you’re never going to write another album, it happens. So you have to get to the worst place creatively and then suddenly something clicks and you realise that it’s actually all coming together fine. So that’s what’s happened recently, everything’s come together and I’m so grateful that it did.”