Sitting in the basement of Maxwell’s on the first night of Bat For Lashes’s first US tour, I knew I was in the presence of something – or, rather, someone – special. Natasha Khan, the voice and soul behind the Brighton-based phenomenon, was her name. As I sat listening to Khan perform, I went through the array of emotions one feels when exposed to one of her songs: intense joy, beauty, and sadness, all coming and going like a whirlwind, one after another. If you’re already a fan of Bat For Lashes you probably understand or have the feeling that Ms. Khan is someone – and something – very extraordinary living among us.
Born by the cool seas of the United Kingdom, Khan relocated to the arid Middle East deserts of Pakistan at the age of eight, where she lived with her mother and father (the latter of whom she describes as “a great story-teller”) for some years, Natasha Khan grew up in a strict religious environment. She heard stories and religious excerpts, taught not merely by reading out of a book, but through elaborate ancient medieval ceremonies, things she believes taught her young self to believe in “invisible and beautiful things, and have faith in the unknown.” It was these experiences that would set in motion a unique creativity within her, and they would prove to shape her in ways she was not yet aware of.
As I sat there waiting to formally interview Khan, a “good friend of a good friend”, I realized that it would be the first time I’d be truly getting to know the real Natasha Khan. Apart from being someone I’d seen in the same social settings on a mere few occasions, this always polite and charming woman has also been creating some of the most magical and moving music I’ve heard in a very long time.
About six months ago, my good friend Jay called me to tell me to search YouTube for a live performance of the song “Moon and Moon” by his friend Natasha, our buddy Will’s girlfriend overseas. I thought this was a nice gesture on her part since the two friends of mine were in a band of the same name. So I watched and listened. Minutes later, I found myself captivated by the stunning voice and energy coming to me from my computer screen. After replaying the video an obscene number of times and sending links to friends through the inter-world, I had to call Jay back to tell him what I had just experienced. It was strange and special and something that I felt rarely exists in music anymore. I was floored and needed to hear more. Jay assured me that Natasha would be “the next big thing,” and I thanked the powers that be.
During the interview, Khan handed me a lyric book for her album, Fur and Gold (Caroline), a tool that I’d been feverishly hunting the internet for as research for our talk. Upon listening to Bat For Lashes, it is immediately apparent that it’s the lyrics that are the driving force behind the band. You don’t necessarily need the lyrics to understand what Khan is saying, but I wanted to know exactly what every word to these songs was. Respectively, the wide range of beautiful instrumentation is a huge part of the beauty Bat For Lashes embraces.
Khan’s lyrics, though, are something to truly be admired. Woeful songs like “What’s a Girl To Do” beg to answer questions of what to do when you fall out of love with the one you’ve loved for so long, and “Sad Eyes,” a song so personal that Khan declines to discuss its origins, is heart-wrenchingly and devastatingly beautiful. The song has Khan’s character trying – no, begging – to see someone she loves dearly experience anything other than pain and depression. “I can see you’re lonely but it seems now / there’s nothing you want me to do / so I won’t try to take the sadness from those eyes that I love / leave it open for someone else to.”
My personal favorite, though, comes in the song “Seal Jubilee” which reads like a warning of what’s to come if humanity chooses not to cherish the earth they live upon. In the opening of the song, Khan tells of her love for the beautiful oceans and poetically describes how our existence has slowly deteriorated this beautiful environmental habitat. “Teachers and travelers made their mark / they dined and feasted on whale and shark. And to the oceans lost their depths / and boredom rained as the ocean wept.” And there’s more: “Birds they raised their young for dead / and ladies used feathery pillows for bed. And black snow came and black snow stayed / and froze the oceans out of love.”
As beautiful as this song is, it's meaningful and important because it is a truth expressed to us in a way that can hopefully open our eyes, in a way we can understand. It is truth through art and story-telling rather than through politics, a lesson Khan undoubtedly learned from her father.