Natalie Mering attempts to lift the veil on life with Weyes Blood

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Natalie Mering charts a more direct course on The Innocents, the second album the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter has released under the Weyes Blood moniker.

It’s an approach reflected in everything from the tightened musical backdrop — Mering’s noise-rock tendencies are significantly muted here, and her vocals take center stage on the album’s ten, avant-folk-leaning cuts — to the lyrics, which confront subjects like romantic disillusionment with disarming frankness. “I am as broken as a woman can be,” she sings on “Some Winters,” a haunting piano ballad that moves with the solemn grace of a funeral procession.

While matters of the heart still feature prominently, Mering refuses to cocoon herself in grief, and there are numerous moments where she lifts her gaze to cast a jaundiced eye on the outside world. On “Land of Broken Dreams,” for one, she wrestles with the concept of American exceptionalism, while the eco-conscious “Bound to Earth” finds the musician taking stock of man’s fractured connection to the globe.

“It’s about the death of positive environmentalism, and how I feel there was a time people thought they could really save the planet and now most people are apathetic,” Mering, 26, said in an early January phone interview. “In the ’90s, Nickelodeon had ‘The Big Help,’ which was basically a program to teach kids how to clean up pollution. Now they just have programs about kids pretending they’re teenagers.”

Mering attributed her shifting worldview in large part to the maturation process, noting her interests have started to focus externally with age.

“As you get older, you can’t just keep writing songs about having crushes on people and about being frustrated you can’t do what you want because you’re living at your parents’ house,” she said. “There’s a huge learning curve, and my material has become more complex as a result.”

Though thematically knottier, many of the arrangements on The Innocents are comparatively simple, stripped of some of the noise-rock hallmarks that shaped Mering’s earliest work. The musician credited at least some of this barnacle-scraping to outside forces, saying the increased clarity resulted from her decision to take a hands-off approach in the mixing process.

“This is the first record I worked on with other people, and they influenced me to go another direction,” she said. “There are still sound effects; they’re just mixed quieter.”

Some of these effects were purposeful — the magnetic distortion temporarily warping “Some Winters,” the pinging electronics dotting “Land of Broken Dreams” — and others less so. The distant car horn that interrupts the close of “Bad Magic” turned out to be a byproduct of recording in Mering’s Brooklyn apartment “amidst the soup of humanity,” as the singer termed it.

“I like [recording in] alternative locations because in the studio you’re so isolated that it’s hard to create the same raw feel and environment that make performances really great,” she said.

The Innocents, in turn, was cobbled together Frankenstein’s monster-like, with sessions taking place everywhere from a cramped Brooklyn flat to an old, unheated Pennsylvania farmhouse — a locale that forced the participants to don parkas and gloves during the chilly winter months.

Fittingly, Mering is no stranger to travel. She lived everywhere from California to Pennsylvania as a child, and has continued this nomadic existence well into early adulthood. In recent years she’s logged time on a farmstead in rural Kentucky and in the wilds of New Mexico, where she spent months camping in a tent while wildcrafting herbs for a pharmaceutical company.

“I like to live in a lot of different places because I like to collect information about different cultures,” she said. “I’m fascinated by America because you can go from one place to the next and get these radically different experiences. It’s been a joy getting to live all around the country.”

Throughout all these relocations, music has remained a grounding force — a stabilizing element she first uncovered when she heard Nirvana as a child.

“It was so angst-y and dark. I remember asking my dad, ‘Why does this music make me feel this way?’ and he was trying to explain it via music theory, like, ‘Oh, because it’s a diminished chord,’” Mering said. “But I remember thinking there was something else about this music. It was like having a vice around your head, but a blissful vice.”

A similar sensation bleeds into The Innocents, which feels warm and enveloping even in those troubled moments when Mering struggles with adult realities encroaching on childhood ideals.

“That’s what the record is about, being an adult in America and going through your first big break up and realizing how much things change and discovering what the country is really about,” she said. “[Writer] Hermann Hesse put it best when he said something like, there are these brief moments in life where you feel the veil is lifted and you can kind of understand more of the meaning of humanity. That’s what I’m after [in my music]. I’m trying to lift that veil.”

[Photo: Music_Feature_WeyesBlood_CreditWeyesBlood_0115, Music_Feature_WeyesBlood2_CreditWeyesBlood_0115]

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