When Natalie Mering was 12 years old, she stopped watching movies. The singer-songwriter, who performs under the name Weyes Blood (pronounced “wise blood”), didn’t watch a single film for three years. “I was like, ‘This is full of shit,'” the 31-year-old admits. “‘This is just setting everybody up for disappointment. There’s no real value. It’s just something to be consumed, created by sexist pigs.'”
Mering is sitting outside a swanky hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, discussing her love-hate relationship with cinema and how it’s reflected on her spectacular new album, Titanic Rising. “I think it comes from being a storyteller,” Mering explains. On the ethereal “Movies,” the nearly six-minute ethereal centerpiece of the album, Mering further explores this trajectory. “The movies I watched when I was a kid/The hopes and the dreams/Don’t give credit to the real things,” she sings.
Titanic Rising also tackles climate change and the devastating toll it’s taken on the earth. This extends to even the album cover, which features a striking image of Mering in an underwater bedroom, hovering between a brass bed and a white wicker desk. “I’d say the bedroom is almost like a subconscious realm of nostalgia,” she explains. “And the water submerging it is like the emotional trauma of adulthood, climate change for real — actual rising sea levels. There’s a lot of different, layered meanings.”
This is your fourth album. How do you think you’ve grown as a songwriter?
I’ve gotten a little bit stronger at painting pictures using more complex harmonies and lyrics. Before, my songs were a little folkier, and maybe a little bit more open for interpretation. And now I think the words are very literal, and the chord changes paint that picture of what the words are supposed to mean.
Popular on Rolling Stone
How would you describe the themes of Titanic Rising?
It’s about the issues that we all face on a microcosmic level personally, with the paradigm shift of the way that human beings interact and the isolation of technology. And the macro experience of climate change and this sense of impending doom for a lot millennials, being raised and initiated into this culture with a bullshit initiation — especially in America, where nobody really was prepared for how much things really have changed. So I think a lot of people are living in a state of millennial burnout, trying to keep up with something that nobody really fully understands yet.
The freelance economy and the way people make money versus the way people used to make a living has changed completely, from one generation to the other. So I think there are a lot of things people are dealing with, and I try to write about it in a way that’s both personal and universal.
There’s a constant motif of the Titanic on the record, from its title to the instrumental “Nearer to Thee,” after “Nearer My God to Thee,” which the Titanic’s orchestra allegedly played as the ship went down.
It’s one of the more iconic hubris of man disasters. Our lack of dominion over nature. The people that get the most screwed are the third class at the expense of the rich people. Which is basically the theme of industrialization, and the Titanic to me represents a peak in industrialization, where we’re like, “We built this unsinkable ship!” I think it’s really interesting that the Titanic crashed into an iceberg and sank. We’re a sinking civilization, and the people that are going to get hit again are the third class of the world, the third world countries who don’t have the infrastructure to really deal with these kinds of natural disasters.
Did your inspiration come from James Cameron’s film or the disaster itself?
It’s based off the disaster, but the movie is definitely a part of it. There’s a song on the album called “Movies,” and I think for me, that was another point of my millennial disappointment, when a movie that was so big and such a big moment for me as a little girl…it was engineered for white girls. I took all that stuff to heart, and I really thought that it being such a popular film would translate culturally, but it didn’t. It was just kind of like, a blockbuster.
So I think in the end, that also plays into being the most cinematically saturated generation. Growing up in the Nineties with tons and tons of blockbusters and big movies, you start to feel slightly emotionally manipulated by them. These aren’t our modern day myths, but they have replaced myths in a way, and belief systems. It’s kind of like a love-hate relationship. I love movies, and simultaneously see their limitations.
Have you seen any recent films that you like?
I do all the Marvel movies. The Aquaman movie could’ve taken some of their profits and donated to the ocean after espousing so much oceanic beauty bullshit. I kind of cool it on new movies, because I generally am disappointed. I watch a lot more old movies.
Are you familiar with any of the older Titanic films?
Yeah. A Night to Remember, The Unsinkable Molly Brown. I actually read recently that Hitchcock wanted to make a Titanic movie, and they wouldn’t let him because the White Star Line was still cooking, and they were like, “We can’t have such bad PR.” Can you imagine if Hitchcock directed the first Titanic movie? It would’ve been mind-blowing. His idea for the first shot was to zoom out of a bolt on the ship in real-time, and show the full ship.
What’s “Andromeda” about?
It’s very loosely based on the Greek myth and the galaxy. But it’s mostly based on this idea as a woman, accumulating wounds and having to go out there, and be tough, and also wanting to be won over, and how all these things kind of come into a confusing state in today’s times. Because there’s such a definite masculinity crisis, that it’s really hard to ask anybody to save you, or to convince you of their trustworthiness. And it’s really hard to take risks, because I think that kind of disappointment can be so distracting, and we chosen to focus so much more on our careers and these other things, that it’s hard to make love — true love — a priority, and be vulnerable like that. So I think the lyrics play with my own isolation and avoiding it.
“Everyday” is also about the pitfalls of love.
“Everyday” is about Tinder and online dating, and the idea of going through people really fast, like a slasher film or something. It’s modern love, we need love everyday. So I think that people constantly are settling for something that doesn’t fit their absolute ideal, and, luckily for them, their ideal is so blown out of proportion they can just keep on like that forever. I find a lot of people are stuck in that zone.
I love the sequencing of “Picture Me Better” into “Nearer to Thee.” What made you decide that?
“Picture Me Better” is the cherry on the cake, because it’s very old school. It’s about a friend of mine who committed suicide while I was making the album. “Nearer To Thee” is the string arrangement from “A Lot’s Gonna Change.” So, I was just trying to wrap it all back to the beginning of this idea that, “Yeah, a lot’s going to change.” It’s a very melancholy experience, especially for humans, because I think biologically there’s a part of us that is resistant to that kind of change. But we’re also incredibly elastic and capable of being resilient, so I would hope that the idea of a string quartet playing to the last moments before a ship sinks…that’s very brave. To hang on to hope and hang on to something optimistic and positive to the very last moment. That’s what I hope people do.
The album cover was shot underwater. How did that come about?
It was wild. It took us a while to build that set, and get it to stay underwater. It took some trial and error. I designed the room, and I wanted it to be an idyllic childhood bedroom. Which draws back with what I was saying before, this bullshit initiation into culture. For most young people in the westernized world, it’s their bedroom. They hang up posters of their favorite celebrities and their favorite movies, and they formulate these ideas about life and what life should be like, and what they want. And it’s all an incubation of capitalist bullshit. But it’s still very sacred, and I grew so much in my bedroom. That’s where I started writing songs and becoming who I am, so I find it to be this very sacred place.
What is your relationship to the ocean?
I’ve just always been very attracted to the sea, and find that it’s kind of like our mother. I think it also represents our subconscious. This primordial place that we don’t fully understand and we can’t survive, yet it’s such an integral part of who we are.
You’re compared to Karen Carpenter a lot. How does that make you feel?
I’ll be real, I don’t care about the Carpenters. I think they have some great songs. I think she kills at the drums, but never in my life have I chosen to emulate Karen Carpenter. I just don’t know if there’s that many women that have low voices.
I tend to think more of Harry Nilsson.
I love Harry! I think I’ve always emulated men more than I emulate women, because my voice is low, and because I just resonate with that masculine expression of music. Joni and I have a relationship. My mom was obsessed with Joni Mitchell; I grew up listening to so much of her music. But it was never a prerogative to emulate her. I feel like women are so specific and special, that there’s no point as a woman to emulate somebody. If you shoot for a masculine direction but be yourself, you’re going to get something completely new, because your femininity will show up.
How did you first get into music?
My parents are musicians. I was listening to the radio and recording songs off the radio on cassette tapes and playing guitars and pianos. Just emotionally responding to music from a very young age.
What made you take your stage name from the Flannery O’Connor novel?
I read that when I was 15: I’ve been Weyes Blood since I was 15! I was so enamored with the content of the book. Having been raised really Christian, Hazel Motes starts a religion without Jesus Christ in the book, and I just thought that was so fascinating — a church without Jesus Christ — which has basically been like the intentions of my adulthood, coming out of Christianity with that void, wanting to fill it with some sense of salvation.
How do you think Christianity affected your songwriting?
It made me more sensitive and more interested in sacred forms of music. A lot of church music really inspired me. A lot of ancient music that’s made for God. If you get really into the history of music, inevitably you’re going to have to get into sacred religious music. It kind of left me in a state of sensitivity that I might not have had if I was raised atheist.
What do you hope Titanic Rising achieves?
I hope it gives people hope, and inspires a sense of motivation for somebody to kind of crawl out of whatever millennial burnout, depression state that they may be in, and maybe do something either to change the world or the quality of the lives for the people around them.
Because, I think the message ultimately, is that we can make conceptual art of this pain and have it be meaningful. It’s hard for people to conceive of art in this day and age having any kind of sway or being meaningful, because everything has become so processed, especially in popular music. But I think people got to keep the faith in abstract expression as a vent to let all this steam out, and the frustration of the state the world has been left in by the boomers.
What do you think people can do to stop climate change?
There are a lot of things. I think the people that are doing the most is Greta Thunberg and young students that are doing the protests. There’s a gigantic protest September 20th that everybody should show up for, no matter how depressed, tired, or whatever far up your own ass you are, you’ve got to show up.
There are a lot of different programs you can sign up for to erase your carbon footprint. You can put money back into sustainable energy, and really, it’s just matter of distributing time and money into these organizations. But I would say start extremely basic. Just doing one thing is better than doing nothing at all.