Originally published in
July 2014
Sugar and spice and all things nice
Natasha Khan is still a little bit emotional from seeing Lou Reed in concert last night. “So many memories came flooding back. I was weeping and dancing and crying,” smiles the singer better known as Bat For Lashes.
Once I had a pet goat that was hung, drawn and quartered for a sacrifice
Photography: Jo Metson Scott

The same could be said of me while watching her perform at Glastonbury festival this summer. An antique feather headdress on her dainty head, a gnarled wooden staff in her hand and the sparkle of a thousand Christmases in her voice, the audience was mesmerised by her rasping, sonic tales of magic and mayhem.

On stage she brings the beauties and beasts contained within her debut album ‘Fur and Gold’ to life. Her own life less ordinary began 28 years ago in a leafy English village but she spent five formative summers with her father’s family in Pakistan. “They were very heavy and intoxicating times in terms of the colours and smells and people singing prayers on the wind. I’d see men with monkeys wearing waistcoats sitting on their shoulders, snake charmers, beggars in the street and once I had a pet goat that was hung, drawn and quartered for a sacrifice.”

Meanwhile back with her mother, she threw herself into the different supernature of the English countryside. “I spent a lot of time walking through lakes and watching bats fly about at night and moon reflect off the water. I also enjoyed the mundane quality of living in suburbia. That whole The Virgin Suicides idea that repression breeds your imagination. I love green landscapes more than desserts but I have both of those sceneries on the album.”

This culturally diverse upbringing drew out her mystical side and love of folklore that’s so evident in her music. “There’s archetypal imagery that runs through both the bible and the Koran – the devil on your back, seas parting and voices in the sky. I think that growing up with a religious parent who had the ability to believe in all that instilled a childlike wonder in me for the beauty of invisible things, for storytelling and mystery.”

Both of her parents were also musical – she’d sing along to Fleetwood Mac and Motown with her mum and listen to her dad’s tabla – and so Natasha took up improvising on the piano at an early age (“I refused to learn how to play other people’s music!”). She went on to study film and music in Brighton where she began to work on her music in earnest, perform live and build up the songs that have become ‘Fur and Gold’. The opener ‘Horse & I’ came to her in slumber. “That sort of shamanistic animal symbolism visited my dreams a lot at that time. In Native American mythology horses represent journey, intuition and power. There’s a lot of that with tigers, seals, sharks, whales and bears. All of those animals inhabit the universe I live in my imagination.”

Other tracks such as they heavenly ‘Trophy’, the teardrop explosion of ‘Sad Eyes’, the free spirited ‘Prescilla’ and the forlorn ‘What’s a Girl to Do’ fuse both Natasha’s love of folklore and otherworldly twinkle with the kitchen sink melodrama of doing the dishes, breaking up with boys and baking bread.

Armed with a keyboard, drums, auto harp, big stick and three multi-instrumentalist gal pals (Ginger Lee, Abi Fry and Lizzie Carey), Bat for Lashes’ visual stage persona is as important as the ethereal sounds coming out of the speakers. For her the audio and the visual are one and the same. “Visually Bat for Lashes is a universe that needs representing on all levels. That consistency makes it more powerful. The headdress thing has developed into a monster. I’ve made so many. I’m also into jewellery - earrings, necklaces and trinkets that people have given me and have special meaning.” Whether swathing herself in a black vintage kimono, artfully smearing her face with glittery make up or doodling the album’s artwork, once you enter Bat for Lashes’ world it is all encompassing.

No wonder she’s cast a spell over so many of her contemporaries, counting CocoRose, Devendra Banhart, Björk and Tom York all as fans. The critics are intoxicated too, comparing her to both Kate Bush and Siouxsie Sue but to get the full picture you’d have to add a pinch of Cyndi Lauper and a splash of Joan of Arc too. Which intensely feminine icons she’ll supersede on album number two is as yet only known by Natasha herself. “I’m fiercely protective like a mother bear at the moment as all the characters and visuals building up in my sketch book - it’s something that I need to keep private. Plus it’s nice to have a secret,” she giggles. “As for what my future holds, I dream that I will have a good man, a good house and a good garden. And a unicorn in the garden. I want to be more steady on my feet. All this is a big schweeeeeeep [she mimes a severely steep slope] at the moment. I but I would like to have pet cats!”