So, How Was Your 2020? is a series in which our favorite entertainers answer our questionnaire about the music, culture and memorable moments that shaped their year. We’ll be rolling these pieces out throughout December.
With last year’s Titanic Rising, Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering tackled themes of climate change, technology, the economy, and — of course — the ill-fated maiden voyage of the White Star Line ship. “I was feeling very societal,” Mering tells Rolling Stone from her home in Los Angeles. “I could sense this is a catastrophe waiting to happen, and now it’s all just full-blown happening in front of our face. Most people at this point know climate change is real. Even Republicans and alt-right people know it’s real. When I made that record, it was the beginning of everybody starting to really talk about that stuff in a serious, mainstream way.”
Mering is currently working on a follow-up to Titanic Rising, which she confirms will be about “whatever it is everybody’s not talking about.” She plans to have it ready next year, but the pandemic may change that. “It depends on fate, because you can’t just put something out once it’s done,” she says. “You have to wait for the pressing plants and everybody to be able to do it. So probably more like 2022, but I would love to get something up next year.”
2020 was a time of reflection for Mering. “I immediately went for the silver lining,” she explains. “As a musician, our lives are onstage. You get this constant stream of validation when you’re performing and having an audience applaud, and you get really high off of touring and feeling like you’ve completed your duty and mission on the planet. I realized that was my fuel, that was what I was living off of. So when it all disappeared, I had to actually get down to it and find within myself a reason to exist. I had to go look inward and be like, ‘You’re going to have to get that validation from yourself.’ That was a journey.”
Mering caught up with Rolling Stone and looked back on her year, in which she watched vintage horror films (her trademark), made eggs in under 40 seconds and listened to Warren Zevon.
The album I listened to the most in 2020 was:
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. It’s such a crazy good record.
My favorite TV show to stream during quarantine was:
I May Destroy You. That was my favorite show of the year for sure.
The song that will define “2020” for me is:
“My Shit’s Fucked Up” by Warren Zevon. [Laughs] That is the jam.
I’d define my current state of mind as:
Evolved. I feel like I’ve evolved this year, have become a higher version of myself. I know that sounds pretentious, but we’ve all had to do the work this year. That’s what’s so funny about it being the end of the year. Everybody is like, “I made it! I’m still alive! I’m OK!”
The viral video I kept coming back to in quarantine was:
I’m not into viral videos, but I did watch the Jimi Hendrix Woodstock performance of him playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at like five a.m., at least like, four or five times. It just felt really appropriate.
The old-favorite album I returned to for comfort this year was:
Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book. That’s like a childhood favorite of mine and it’s just so perfectly made and mellow and sunny and beautiful. Stevie Wonder’s the best.
The old-favorite movie I returned to for comfort this year was:
Criterion had some horror films for October, so I watched a bunch of [them]. One in particular: Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. [It’s] this spooky Seventies movie with a bunch of weird synths in it. Definitely watched that and showed it to some people. It’s hard to find. I also really like this movie Portrait of Jason by Shirley Clarke. It’s this documentary-style interview with a gay African-American prostitute from the Sixties. It’s totally fascinating, really great watch.
A new hobby I picked up in quarantine was:
Drums. I recently got a practice space that I could play drums in. I got all these music buddies that hoard equipment, and I was like, “I need a kit.” I found a friend who was kind enough to lend me one. I’ve just been banging on the drums when I feel like I need to get some stuff out. It’s the most fun I’ve had in years.
The celebrity I’d most want to quarantine with is:
I would not want to quarantine with a celebrity, because they’re probably deranged at this point. They’re so starved for attention. [Laughs] I saw this meme and it was so funny. The first part of the meme is a guy standing in front of an audience, getting all the adulation. The second part is him crying on the corner of his bed and his girlfriend is like, “Come back to bed.” And he’s like “Honey, am I funny on Twitter?” I don’t want to quar with a celeb at all.
The most interesting thing I learned to cook during quarantine was:
I actually think the most interesting thing I learned how to cook is a meal in under 40 seconds. Toast, egg in the toast, put the greens on it, Sriracha. Really fast, satisfying meals. I made a broth and I just throw things in the broth, hot pot style. I learned how to speed cook and have it still taste good.
The best book I read in quarantine was:
Extracting the Stone of Madness, a collection of poems by Alejandra Pizarnik from 1962 to 1972. She was a really dark, heady poet. My friend accidentally lent it to me. She was kind of like, “This book is really rare and I can’t lend it to you.” And she just left it in my car. So I was like, “Alright!” I really love it. It’s beautiful.
Something positive that happened to me that nobody noticed was:
I really did face my mortality in some ways. In all of us, there’s this rigidity, this moralist who’s like, “You have to be this great, otherwise you don’t deserve to live.” I think a lot of people play by that program and don’t even realize it. I learned that depression — and I hate saying it, because I think that it’s a very painful realization — but it is a form of narcissism, where you become so disappointed in yourself and setting up these expectations that are impossible for you to meet. When you can’t function anymore, like get out of bed or feed yourself, depression gets really bad. It just spirals even deeper.
I know a lot of friends that went through very intense states of depression this year. I had my own season of it and realized that ultimately, you deserve to exist simply because you do. There’s no morality to having to be great — having to accomplish something in order for your existence to be worthwhile — in order for you to earn love. I think that really blew the whole lid off of how hard on myself I’ve always been. I’ve always been, “I didn’t do that right.” Very self-deprecating. I always assumed that was me being humble and doing the right thing. But ultimately, it was, I realized, a form of narcissism, and humility is actually closer to gratitude than self-deprecation. Humility is way more about like, “I’m breathing and I’m so grateful. Whatever I end up doing, I’ll try my best. But if it’s not like the best thing in the world, I still deserve to live.”
The mistake I learned the most from this year was:
I think stress is the ultimate killer. Becoming a perfectionist over the years, in the end, makes your life way less perfect than if you just went with the flow a little more. I feel like the biggest mistake I learned this year was the amount of stress that I put on myself to function normally in these extreme circumstances wasn’t going to make me function any more normally. It’s so hard to concentrate when there’s like a pandemic going on. Now, I realized that that’s a huge mistake. You don’t want to continuously beat yourself up thinking that it’s going to whip you into shape. It doesn’t really work that way.
The biggest hero of 2020 was:
AOC. She’s just kicking so much ass and I think she’s a cool beacon of light for a generation.
A word or phrase I never want to hear again is:
Influencer. Who wants to hear that ever again?
The thing I’m least looking forward to in 2021 is:
If Trump decides to make a shitty mess out of the transference of power. There’s definitely a lot of trepidation about his B.S. We just want everything to run smoothly. My biggest fear is that he fucks up the pandemic response even further.
The thing I’m most looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over is:
Moshing at a concert, rubbing up against strangers in a crowded area. Shit that you cannot do. Going to a movie during the day, like a weird matinee at 12:30. Also shopping and getting to try on clothes. It sucks buying clothes without trying them on, and you get them home and you’re like, “Ah, not gonna work.” Oh, and I’d love to play a show.
My biggest hope for 2021 is:
I hope that people don’t just vote, and I hope that people continue this progressive political movement that blossomed during this whole thing. I hope that people stick with it and I hope that that ultimately makes art better.
I really want people to seriously consider the damaging effects of technology in terms of musicians and streaming or addiction and Twitter. There’s all these things that are coming to light about how this is really compromising the quality of life and the quality of natural political conversations. I don’t know if you saw The Social Dilemma, but they talk about it a lot in that film. I would just hope that people are more like, “Hey, let’s fix this before we get further into a culture of post-truth. Let’s all figure out how to reestablish an institution of facts, so there can’t be any more fake news arguments.” There’s just got to be a cohesion of truth at this time, when so much is going on with the technology that’s manipulating our reality.