Bat for Lashes
Retreat to Progress
Before the release of her new album, The Haunted Man, Khan nearly went back to the classroom. "When you have a proper job," she asserts, "you have something to push against creatively. When you're not allowed to write music when you're at work, it gives you a desire, you know? You miss it."
Khan needed that desire back. She'd just wrapped up a gruelling promotional trail for her second album, Two Suns, and the pressure of the third album ― conventionally perceived as the one on which an artist branches out, and makes a statement as a fully-formed artist ― was nearly unbearable. "Coming out of the second record, you take stock of everything that's happened, and I think I realized in advance that the third album might be kind of hard for me to make. It stifled me initially, gave me artist's block."
Which isn't to say she didn't try. "When I finished touring Two Suns, I quickly had 11 or 12 songs that I took to Beck, and we worked through some of them, but it was very early for me, and while I didn't necessarily trash them, I kind of grew out of them over the new few years. I'm always writing, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's any good. It just wasn't quite there."
When new songs wouldn't come, Khan says, "I just had a big panic. I felt unable to say anything new, or didn't know what I wanted to say or do. I was just trying to find something to fill my day so that it wasn't just the big weight of this album that was waiting to be made. I think it would've taken the pressure off if I'd found a job, but that didn't work out, so I went out and gardened, and went on some trips away to take the pressure off a bit."
The time spent on the English countryside gave Khan the inspiration she needed, and provided a blueprint for her third album, The Haunted Man. "It fell into place when I started writing 'Lilies' and 'The Haunted Man.' When I had those two songs, I kind of felt like there was something thematic going on. Before that, I'd written the music for songs like 'Oh Yeah' and 'A Wall,' more dance-y tracks, but lyrically, they hadn't really found themselves yet."
After failing in Los Angeles, the songs found themselves back in her home country. "I was living in England throughout all of the writing of it, but I was also doing a lot of research: English landscapes, Romantic literature and poetry from England, rereading a lot of my childhood books by Roald Dahl, looking into my family tree on the English side, the war, the witch-burnings. All the modern history of England, and how that's affected my family. I think the album's ultimately about love and relationships, memories of childhood and becoming a woman, but it's all set against backdrops like the English coast and countryside."
Hence, the album boasts a more mature, refined sound than anything she's yet released. "All Your Gold" is a spare, danceable track propelled by a funky bass line; "Marilyn," like opener "Lilies," is a grand, string-laden affair with a swooping chorus; gorgeous centrepiece "Laura" is a conspicuously bare track, just piano and Khan's haunting voice.
That she's a little older, and a better producer than ever, also contributed to The Haunted Man's sound. "It really was a delicate, detailed process. I feel almost like a sculptor who's done her third body of work."
It's odd, given its background, but The Haunted Man exudes the confidence of an established artist, signified at least in part by the fact that she literally bares herself on the album's cover. "Once the album was actually underway," she states, "I got quite fiercely dedicated to the vision of it and didn't particularly think about what other people would think. It was more my high standards that had to be met.
"In the moment, I felt more up for putting my vocals up louder, and experimenting vocally. There's a lot more swooping kinds of notes, and hard melodies to sing. I did definitely want to push myself, in terms of vocals, into a bolder sound. I regularly felt quite out of my comfort zone while producing it, because I wasn't satisfied; I wanted to push things further."
Now that The Haunted Man is out, Khan's anxieties have set in again. "It's being released today and suddenly, I feel very small. The place that you're in when you're writing an album is a place of natural love, where you're not judging what you make. It's a very childlike state, where whatever resonates with you and makes you feel good, you go with that, instinctively. But then, when you play it for someone, or when you release an album, it's like an out-of-body experience."
But, she says, "I'm happy with this one. I can only follow my impulses, and I can feel already that there's some kind of knowing voice inside saying 'Keep it fresh, keep your life moving forward.' I'll always follow that voice. I need to make sure I'm not just part of a machine that keeps going around, because that's what I've been avoiding all my life: getting caught up in the machine of things."
FeaturesAug 10, 2015
Steam Whistle Unsigned presents Exclaim!'s Time Festival Preview
Steam Whistle Unsigned — the Canada-wide concert series promoting up-and-coming artists from across our nation — will return lat...
FeaturesJul 29, 2015
Titus AndronicusAmbition In Five Acts
Since Patrick Stickles rose up with fists held high in July 2005 as frontman for Titus Andronicus, he and the band have done nothing half-as...
FeaturesJul 06, 2015
BullyYouth and the Old School
Ask any musician who grew up listening to Nirvana, the Breeders or PJ Harvey what studio they'd love to record their debut album in, and cha...
FeaturesJul 06, 2015
Where I PlayWill Currie and the Country French
"Our band isn't what it was," Will Currie says, seated behind a Korg SV-1 keyboard in his cozy living room in Waterloo, ON. One of his bandm...
FeaturesJul 03, 2015
Leon BridgesInstant Vintage
She was like, "Is this secular music?" I told her "yes ma'am," Leon Bridges recalls. The playing of or listening to secular music was ve...
FeaturesJul 02, 2015
The Exclaim! QuestionnaireFlorence Welch (of the Machine)
Florence Welch has been on top of the charts ever since her band Florence + the Machine burst onto the scene in 2009 with the breakthrough a...
FeaturesJun 05, 2015
Where I PlayKathryn Calder
"To be honest, I don't know what half this stuff does, but that's okay." Kathryn Calder laughs, sitting in front of the sprawling console in...
FeaturesJun 04, 2015
Brandon FlowersIs A Retro Killer
"For the first eight or nine years of my life all I heard was '80s music, so it's a part of me, I guess." Brandon Flowers is known as th...