Natalie Mering, better known as the principal force behind indie-folk band Weyes Blood, creates music that would probably sound just as home in the ’60s as it does from a stage in 2014.
Earlier this month, Mering played Glasslands and her ethereal voice transported the crowd (or at least this writer) to a time when most likely had never even been born.
After releasing her excellent second album, The Innocents, a couple months ago, Mering and her accompanying band are gearing up for 2015 tours across the United States and Europe. If you missed the Glasslands show (and shame on you if you did!) Weyes Blood will be kicking off its domestic tour in Philadelphia on January 10 and will return to Brooklyn to play Baby’s All Right on January 23. Check out the full tour schedule here.
We had a chance to catch up with Mering, and she told us about how she came up with her stage name, her feelings about America in the age of the Michael Brown/Eric Garner non-indictments, how she first began playing with Jackie-O Motherfucker and Ariel Pink, and much more.
Punchland: Where did the name “Weyes Blood” come from?
When I was 15 I read the Flannery O’Connor novel Wise Blood. The name really struck me, and the book did too–I felt a kinship to it, and also was searching for a moniker to perform under solo at the time. It all came together then, and I haven’t really thought much about it since, except when I changed the spelling to avoid being mistaken for the other Wise Bloods that exist out there. I haven’t actually ever reread the novel, so it’s crystallized in time as this very specific experience.
Punchland: Were you inspired by a certain period of time? Most of the songs on The Innocents seem like they could be capsules from the past.
No matter how innovative we try to be, ultimately music is just a synthesis of what you already know and where you’re trying to go–I’ve dug deep. I’m inspired by all things past, future, and present. I love the history of music. I have a tendency towards nostalgia, but only because I’m obsessed with dramatic beauty in all its manifestations, and there’s a long history of that manifestation that we all have immediate access to now as modern humans. It’s easy to become nostalgic about music from the past because music played such a large roll in people’s lives then. Public singing was common, people performing for each other and family members. It’s easy to romanticize a time where it wasn’t this ironic embarrassing experience to sing for one another, sincerely. But ultimately I try to keep it timeless. Things were recorded really well in the ’60s and ’70s, so sometimes that definitely creeps into what I’m doing.
Punchland: What do you want people to take away from The Innocents after listening to it?
I want people to ultimately feel encouraged. Maybe that’s too much to ask!
Punchland: “Go on and leave me for the last time, you can’t save me again.” – Who are you referring to in “Some Winters?”
Somebody I dated, duh.
Punchland: Do people need these kinds of relationships in order to grow older? Would we always be “innocent” without the trials and tribulations of heartbreak?
Yes, we would be. You gotta get broken in. That first real big heartbreak is 100% essential for self-awareness, personal growth, and making relationships actually work later on. After all, it’s probably better to go through it in your 20s, than getting divorced from the only person you’ve ever been with in your 40s (and you guys have kids), and I know some people like that.
Punchland: How did you get together with Jackie-O Motherfucker and Ariel Pink?
I met the members of Jackie-O in Portland Oregon, I was super young and anxious to jam. I think they liked having somebody 19 in the band. I met Ariel Pink through some mutual friends–one night we both played a gig in Leipzig, Germany. I ran over to his venue and started speaking fake German at him, and the rest is history.
Punchland: There are a lot of negative, even depressing (but also quite honest) notions of America in “Land of Broken Dreams.” Do you think our country is heading in the wrong direction? Would you rather live in an earlier time or a different country?
Brace yourself… this is a long one:
I sometimes daydream about living in another country, but truthfully in and out I’m an American. That song isn’t so much about where our country is heading, but where our country is at. It came to me after reading what Greil Marcus had to say about the American Dream. The American dream is a strange myth that sets up most people for disappointment. Honest intentions, the pursuit of happiness and survival are one thing, but inflating people’s egos with ideas of grandeur, wealth, cultural validity–these things aren’t grounded in reality, but grounded in a machine to perpetuate consumerism. America is basically lying to minorities, insisting they have equal rights and opportunities while there’s still systemic oppression in place (the prison system, as one example).
There are plenty of opportunities for people that come from money to fulfill the dream constructed for them by consumerism and media, but for others less fortunate it can be a true test of faith and a treacherous learning process. America can be very unforgiving. It will teach kids in public schools about how “special” they are, and how marvelous their country is, but it won’t teach them how to use a credit card. It won’t teach them how to get out of debt. It won’t teach them the truth about money, and our parents most likely didn’t/or won’t either because they’re spending imaginary money also, trying to catch up to the middle class American dream. It’s a whole lot of fluff without any real stuff. America was supposedly built on self-sustaining individualists (for better or for worse), and the whole goal was independence from “the man” (in this case Britain). Not a mass of consumerists who probably couldn’t survive in the woods for four days accumulating masses of plastic products from China (no offense China). That said, there are all kinds of Americans, plenty who could survive in the woods. I guess I speak more for the majority, people from the suburbs, who I feel as a populace have been weakened by consumerism.
And the cherry on top of this existential sundae is the fact that those more fortunate can watch a TV commercial with some wholesome music playing and mixed race actors and think, “Oh yeah, everything’s pretty fine. That commercial made me feel fuzzy and equal.” It’s truly sad. That’s how disconnected everyone is from reality. TV and movies sedate us, emotionally manipulate us away from the true state of our country.
Punchland: How do you feel about the public outcry over the Michael Brown/Eric Garner non-indictments? Do you have hope for America?
I have hope that if the protests and grass roots organization keeps on growing, we can heal our justice system.
For me, it’s the most important issue of social justice in the 21st century thus far. Its waking people up from their sedated slumber, a slumber created by notions of living in a “post-racial” society. If America is a first world country that’s militarizing its police with no checks and balances, the whole democracy boat is basically on its way to the ocean floor, and most likely we’ll be scrolling some social media feeds on our bums assuming everything’s fine. It’s similar to what I said before, about how TV and movies sedate us. People are so used to assuming everything’s fine now that we live in a modern time with black celebrities and Martin Luther King Day. But the oppression runs deep, so deep that there’s still more work that needs to be done, more unraveling.
I personally had to peel the onion on my feelings of race–I discovered within me a layer of ignorance. When I first started seeing all the “Dear White People” articles my first gut reaction was, “Oh, I’m not *that* kind of white person…” There was this disconnection, being referred to as a white person. We are blind to the privilege of not having our race prefaced before our person, but minorities have always had to deal with that, have always had to be a black woman, an Asian man, etc. Because white people are the majority in the US, they get away with anonymity, they don’t have to identify racially with other white people. As soon as I read the article I realized they were totally talking to people like me. It’s easy for white people to get involved with a movement, they enjoy having a cause, but that doesn’t mean they’ll sit down and have a real good long look in the mirror. It doesn’t mean they’ll reach out to their racist white acquaintances and try to inspire change.
I think its about time all white people carried the cultural responsibility of being a white person. Even if we’d like to think we’re not the kind of white person that discriminates–on a certain level we’re responsible for the rehabilitation of our fellow white people who are living in ignorance and racism, leaking their personal beliefs into our justice system. On an individual level, we can’t cloak ourselves in liberal politics and pretend whiteness doesn’t exist. It does. It’s not up to minorities to keep “proving our stereotypes” wrong, it’s up to white people to disband those stereotypes amongst white people.