On 'Lost Girls,' Bat For Lashes Spins A Vampire Fairy Tale With Synth-Pop
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.