We Went to Karaoke with Weyes Blood's Natalie Mering
Natalie Mering at Karaoke
All photos courtesy of Chris Chafin
A few years ago, Natalie Mering was living in a tent in New Mexico with her boyfriend, harvesting wild herbs that she'd then send overnight to a company that turned them into "pharmaceutical-grade tinctures," as she put it. One day, the two of them went to a lithium hot spring ("lots of lithium gas," she offered as an aside), and they ran into a man sitting in a pickup truck with a small poodle. He was very high on an unspecified hallucinogen. The dog belonged to the man's mother, as it turned out, and he was feeling guilty about taking it, and that guilt had somehow roped in guilty feelings having to do with Jesus, and generally left the guy a fucking wreck. Mering and her boyfriend took it upon themselves to help.
"I remember when I saw him, I was like, that guy's eyes are crazy. I don't know if we should trust him," she told me recently over drinks. "But, you know, we just tried to spread the good word. We were like you're gonna be fine, don't worry. There's a place you can park your truck over there, and you're just gonna wait this out. I would have been more nurturing, but my boyfriend at the time was really weird." She then explains Christian cults to me for a few minutes, before listing off a half dozen wild plants in New York you could pull from a vacant lot to eat, smoke, or rub on your wounds. She actually used the phrase "rub on your wounds," which I found endlessly charming and strange.
Perhaps the most unusual thing about all of this is how not-unusual it is in the life of Natalie Mering, who's recently started making music under the name Weyes Blood, releasing its new album through Mexican Summer on October 21st. Her band name is a reference to a Flannery O'Connor book, which is itself supposed to be a play on words: Weyes/wise. "I know it's supposed to be about, like, the characters have wisdom in their history, in their blood," she said, "but I really just like picturing that there's a bucket of blood somewhere that's wise."
Mering has lived in sort-of-an-artists'-residence in Baltimore, a house a 20 minute drive from the nearest anything in Kentucky, and she is currently subletting a Lower East Side room in which her friend stores camera equipment. "I always go to places where I have a situation," she says, laughing. Her father was a 1970s LA-scene rock star who became a Christian congregation leader. She prefers screamo to whiny emo, and thinks Kevin McDonald is the cutest person from Kids In the Hall (which is just CRAZY).
I'd been intrigued by Weyes Blood since the first time I heard the band. Mering's voice, deep and moaning, pairs with tinkling mandolins or ghostly synths to make haunting tracks that somehow also manage to be bouncy. This is especially true on "Hang On," the first single, which has starts and stops in a pleasantly shambling way, building to a funny sort of anti-climax. Mering writes all the songs, plays all the instruments, and sings every word. In one way, it reminds you of Feist, or a grown-up Vashti Bunyan, or a less dramatic Kate Bush. In another, it's unlike anything you've heard. Everything in her less-than-ordinary life has fed into an extraordinary piece of music.
After having a few drinks, Mering and I wandered over the Baby Grand, the fantastic and tiny SoHo karaoke bar. As soon as she finished singing David Bowie's "Starman," a groan went up from everyone in the bar. We knew we were all fucked. She was so perfect, and doing Bowie, someone whose songs depend on his own weird impossibly high voice. I've had it stuck in my head for days. How could we top it?
"You've been singing shit all night!" one guy at the bar said to the person next to him. "Now let's sing something that won't embarrass us." They did not succeed, and left very shortly afterwards. Not for the first time, I questioned the wisdom of inviting a professional singer to do karaoke with me.
We stayed for a quite a while. Her "Unchained Melody" was masterful. Her "Take My Breath Away" was Top Gun-worthy. She was so obviously talented that she was drafted into singing "Love Way You Lie" with a stranger who very much wanted to rap Eminem and very much wanted her to stand next to him while he did it. Before jumping in a cab, she sang Jefferson Airplane's "Just Ask Alice," a natural match for her deep voice and something of an easy call. At this point, it was 1 a.m., and we had had a couple of drinks. At that point, you've earned a gimme.
Weyes Blood plays Baby's All Right on Friday, 8/22 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $15.
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