On 'Lost Girls,' Bat For Lashes Spins A Vampire Fairy Tale With Synth-Pop | WAMC

On 'Lost Girls,' Bat For Lashes Spins A Vampire Fairy Tale With Synth-Pop

Feb 16, 2020
Originally published on February 18, 2020 8:25 am

Singer, writer and producer Natasha Khan moved to LA to write scripts and music for film after her 2016 release, The Bride. The release marked the end of her recording contract with EMI and she wasn't sure she'd write another album as Bat for Lashes.

But what happened instead was, while working on a script for a '80s-inspired sci-fi vampire film titled The Lost Girls, the stories and ideas evolved into the backbone of a concept album. Heavy with synth-pop influence, Bat for Lashes' latest release, Lost Girls, transports listeners into a fantasy LA and introduces us to the gang of woman vampires who inhabit it.

NPR's Leila Fadel spoke to Natasha Khan about the influence of the Mexican culture in her LA neighborhood on her alter ego, the freedom of post-major label life and the Iranian vampire film, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Listen to the conversation in the player above and read on for a transcript of the interview.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Leila Fadel: So I read this album started as a movie idea. What was the movie about, and how did it turn into this album?

Natasha Khan: It started with my move from England to Los Angeles. I had just finished a 10-year record deal on a major label and decided that I wanted to spend some time making movies and writing scripts and looking at the more visual side of things. So I came out to LA, fell in love, spent lots of nights driving around with the windows down smelling jasmine, looking at the sea. It was a very heady, intoxicating, summer-loving kind of romantic feeling that I had. And we went up to Santa Cruz — and I'm a big fan of the film The Lost Boys — and I just started forming this script around the themes of falling in love, but also what it would be to be a girl vampire living in LA and traveling around the city at night.

You were also influenced by an Iranian vampire movie?

Bat for Lashes
Logan White / Courtesy of the artist

There's a great film called A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, which is an Iranian black-and-white vampire film. It's got a real rockabilly, '50s, sort of sexy element to it. It just reminded me a lot of going to Pakistan as a small child. I was born in London to an English mom, but my dad's family lived in Pakistan. And coming to LA, all the deserts, the dusty roads, the heat — and there's a sort of mysticism that is underlying, especially in the landscapes here, which reminded me a lot of Pakistan and the Middle East. Which sounds weird, but I think for me, it was resonating just on a memory level. So also seeing that Iranian vampire film gave [me] a very exotic, new take on vampires. I'm always interested in subverting themes and ideas, and sort of changing them and throwing them around and seeing what comes out.

You created an alter ego on this album, and this isn't the first one you've created. This latest alter ego is called Nikki Pink. Tell me how she came to you? Who is she?

I think with all the alter egos, they're always aspects of me, like little sub-personalities that I use to explore certain themes or feelings that perhaps, just as Natasha, I might not go so deeply into. I've always loved artists like David Bowie and Kate Bush — wild, imaginative people that take on roles and use theater and costume and film to explore sub-personalities. So Nikki was my LA girl, the vampire version of me that did all the daring wonderful things and met up with this gang of bike-riding lost girls that have great earrings and great leather jackets. I was living in Highland Park and very inspired by all of the Mexican families there. The culture, again, reminded me of Pakistan: all of the families, all the kids eating together, and the music and the fashion. I felt immersed in all that, too. So Nikki came out of all of those things.

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On the song "Jasmine" you sing "A body bag, on Eucalyptus Hills/ And the Hollywood Forever/ And the endless sleeping pills/ No girl will ever kill your nighttime ills/ Like Jasmine does/ 'Cause when she blooms, she kills." What were you thinking about when you wrote this song?

It sounds pretty dark, doesn't it? Part of that makes me think of the film Nightcrawler, with Jake Gyllenhaal in it. There's definitely this sort of dark underbelly to LA, especially when you drive around at night and it's empty and you see homeless people sleeping in the hills and bits of rubbish blowing around. There's definitely some sinister aspects to LA. So the lyrics of this song, "Jasmine," were about a girl — much like the heady scent of jasmine that you get in LA in the summertime that perfumes the night — but she's a serial killer that stalks LA and kills people and buries them in iconic places, like the Hollywood Forever cemetery. So she's one of the vampire gang, but it's kind of a microcosmic narrative story within that idea. And she's actually the main protagonist in the script that I'm working on at the moment. I just finished a script writing course at UCLA to work on her story.

Your last album, The Bride, focused a lot on grief, but this album seems more hopeful, kid-like. Did something change in your life that brought this about?

I think being liberated from being in a very long-term contract. I know it sounds sort of cliche, but it's true that when you take off all the shackles and expectations: I moved [to another] country, I didn't have anyone expecting anything of me and I could just be in this playground of my own making without any pressure. It definitely gave me a huge sense of freedom and joy and happiness. I think also the romance aspect of coming to LA and falling in love, and the headiness of that combined with the freedom, definitely felt like a whole new beginning. It was quite childlike, in a way.

It was quite brave too, to make all those changes at the same time.

Being in my late 30s at the time, I felt the end of the decade approaching and was just like "Do I want to keep doing the same thing? What do I want to do now? How do I feel after doing this for 12, 13, 14 years?" It was a time to do something really for me, and not to think about what anybody else wants, but "Who am I now and how would I express that musically?" Having given up those shackles of insecurities or self doubts that you might have when you're younger, I think approaching 40 has actually been great for me because I feel much more confident: I've been doing this a long time, I know what my skills are, I know how to execute what I want. I just felt very empowered by making those changes.

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NPR's Gemma Watters and Tinbete Ermyas produced and edited the audio of this interview. Cyrena Touros and editorial intern Jon Lewis adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

And finally today, Los Angeles, 1980s sci-fi cinema and vampires - they all play a role in the latest album from the critically acclaimed musician Bat For Lashes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE HUNGER")

BAT FOR LASHES: (Singing) Take a trip, trip up to the sun while our bodies are one and we play in our minds 'cause (ph) it's our blood...

FADEL: That's "The Hunger." That song is from her latest album, "Lost Girls," which is the fifth by Bat For Lashes - a pseudonym for singer, producer and artist Natasha Khan. And joining me now to tell us more about "Lost Girls" is Natasha Khan.

Thanks for being with us.

NATASHA KHAN: Thanks for having me. Hello.

FADEL: So I read that this album started as a movie idea. What was the movie about? And how did it turn into this album?

KHAN: Yeah. Well, it started with my move from England to Los Angeles. I just finished a 10-year record deal on a major label and decided that I wanted to spend some time making movies and writing scripts and sort of looking at the more visual side of things. So I came out to LA, fell in love, spent lots of nights driving around (laughter) with the windows down...

FADEL: Yeah.

KHAN: ...Smelling jasmine, looking at the sea. And it was a very sort of heady, intoxicating summer loving kind of romantic feeling that I had. And we went up to Santa Cruz. And I'm a big fan of the film "The Lost Boys." And I just started forming this script around the themes of sort of falling in love, but also what it would be to be a girl vampire and (laughter) living in LA and traveling around the city at night and things like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE HUNGER")

BAT FOR LASHES: (Singing) I want to fly. You know how I like it. I want to feel like I'm still alive. I want to bleed and feed us forever. I want to feed the hunger inside.

FADEL: You were also influenced by an Iranian vampire movie.

KHAN: Yeah. Well, there's a great film called "A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night," which is - yes, it's an Iranian black-and-white vampire film. It's sort of got a real rockabilly '50s sort of sexy element to it. And it just reminded me a lot of going to Pakistan as a small child because I was born in London to an English man, but my dad's family lived in Pakistan. And coming to LA, all the sort of - like, the desert, the dusty roads, the heat - there's a sort of a mysticism that is sort of underlying, especially in the landscapes here, and which reminded me a lot of Pakistan and the Middle East - which sounds weird, but I think it was just for me. It was resonating...

FADEL: Yeah.

KHAN: ...Just on a memory level. And so also, seeing that Iranian vampire film gave a very sort of exotic new take on vampires. And I'm always interested in subverting themes and ideas and sort of changing them and throwing them around and seeing what comes out. So...

FADEL: Yeah.

KHAN: Yeah.

FADEL: It's funny - when I first came to Los Angeles, I had that same feeling about the Middle East...

KHAN: Yeah.

FADEL: ...The landscape and the smells and the - yeah. So let's listen to another song from "Lost Girls." This is "Kids In The Dark."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KIDS IN THE DARK")

BAT FOR LASHES: (Singing) Lying next to you, we could be on the moon. Tell me you're not leaving 'cause you're always on my mind. It's been such a dark night. Yeah, I know you've been grieving.

FADEL: You created an alter ego on this album - and this isn't the first one you created. I'm thinking of Pearl from your album "Two Suns." And this latest alter ego's called Nikki Pink. Tell me how she came to you. Who is she?

KHAN: I think with all the alter egos, I - they're always aspects of me, like little sub-personalities that I use to explore certain themes or feelings that perhaps just as Natasha I might not go so deeply into. And I've always loved artists like David Bowie and Kate Bush and, you know, sort of wild, imaginative people that take on roles and use theater and costume and film to explore sub-personalities.

So Nikki was my LA girl, my (laughter) - like, the vampire version of me that did all the daring, wonderful things and met up with this gang of bike-riding, you know, lost girls. And they have great earrings and great leather jackets...

FADEL: Yeah.

KHAN: ...And stuff. And I was living in Highland Park and very inspired by all the Mexican families there. It's such a Mexican neighborhood. The culture was, again, reminding me of Pakistan and, you know, all the families, all the kids eating together and the music and the fashion. I felt very immersed in that, too. And so Nikki kind of came out of all of those things.

FADEL: So let's hear another song. I really love this song, "Jasmine."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JASMINE")

BAT FOR LASHES: (Singing) She drives hard through the June gloom haze, legs for days and bones of pearl, her love hurtling down death's highways, the hands of a killer, the heart of a little girl.

FADEL: So the lyrics go on to say, a body bag on eucalyptus hills and the Hollywood Forever and the endless sleeping pills. No girl will ever cure your nighttime ills like Jasmine does because when she blooms, she kills. Natasha, what were you thinking about when you wrote this song?

KHAN: (Laughter) It sounds pretty dark (laughter). And I think I - part of that makes me think of the film "Nightcrawler" with Jake Gyllenhaal in it.

FADEL: Oh, yeah.

KHAN: There's definitely this sort of dark underbelly to LA, especially when you drive around at night, and it's empty. And...

FADEL: Yeah.

KHAN: You see, you know, homeless people sleeping on the hills and, like, bits of rubbish blowing around. And it's just kind of - there's definitely some sinister aspects to LA. And so the lyrics of this song, "Jasmine," were about a girl kind of much like the heady scent of jasmine that you get in LA in the summertime that sort of perfumes the night. But she's kind of a serial killer that stalks LA...

FADEL: (Laughter).

KHAN: ...And kills people and buries them in iconic places like Hollywood Forever Cemetery. And so yeah, she's one of the vampire gang. But it's kind of a microcosmic narrative story within that idea. And...

BAT FOR LASHES: Wow.

KHAN: And she's actually the main protagonist in this script that I'm working on at the moment. I just finished a scriptwriting course at UCLA...

FADEL: OK.

KHAN: ...To kind of work on her story.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JASMINE")

BAT FOR LASHES: (Singing) Don't be seduced by those baby blues. That secret smile is catching you. 'Cause little girl cracks your heart in two and sucks the juice until she turns you loose. Jasmine, you come along...

FADEL: Your last album, "The Bride," focused a lot on grief, told the story of a bride whose husband to be dies on the way to the wedding. But this album, it feels more hopeful, kid-like. Did something change in your life that brought this about?

KHAN: (Laughter) Yeah, I think - probably just not being in, like, rainy, gray old England.

(LAUGHTER)

FADEL: A little sunshine.

KHAN: Yeah, it's basically sunshine. That's all you need. No, I think being liberated from being in a very long term contract. And I know sort of it sounds sort of cliche, but it's true, that I think when you take off all the shackles and expectations, it's like I moved country, I didn't have anyone expecting anything of me, and I could just be in this sort of playground of my own making without any pressure. And it definitely gave me a huge sense of freedom and joy and happiness. And it was quite childlike in a way.

FADEL: It's quite brave too to make all of those changes at the same time.

KHAN: Yeah. And being in my late 30s at the time, I felt like the end of the decade of writing and just like, do I want to keep doing the same thing? Do I - you know, what do I want to do now? And how do I feel after doing this for 12, 13, 14 years, however long I've been doing it? It was a time to do something really for me and not to think about what anybody else wants, but just, how do - who am I now, and how would I express that musically?

And sort of also having lost, you know, sort of given up those shackles of insecurities or self-doubts that you might have when you're younger, I think approaching 40 has actually been great for me because I feel much more confident. I've been doing this a long time. I know what my skills are. I know how to execute what I want. And I just felt very empowered by making those changes, so I think it worked well.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAFE TONIGHT")

BAT FOR LASHES: (Singing) I thought that I was broken. I thought that I had lost my mind.

FADEL: That's Natasha Khan aka Bat For Lashes. Her latest album is "Lost Girls." Natasha, thanks so much.

KHAN: Thank you for having me, really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.