Weyes Blood strives to find hope in the darkness
When Natalie Mering, who performs under the moniker Weyes Blood, set out to follow up her critically acclaimed album Titanic Rising, she wanted to make something that was "really upbeat and hopeful; not so doomsday." The 2019 record delved into the perils of climate change, the disillusionment with how technology rules over romance and the struggle to find hope during challenging times.
But the arrival of the pandemic changed Mering's focus.
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While Titanic Rising felt like a warning of what could be ahead, Mering's new album, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow (out now on Sub Pop), tackles what happens when our world crumbles and society has to rebuild itself.
"Everything I felt like I talked about and observed on Titanic Rising came true and we were in the thick of it," says Mering, sitting on the desk in her New York City hotel room, speaking a few hours before having to fly back to Los Angeles. "I was like, 'Oh, I can't be trite and pretend that this is a happy time for humanity. I have to go deep in the internal and access a subterranean river of deeper feelings.'"
With the massive success of Titanic Rising, which turned Mering into one of indie rock's biggest singer-songwriters, she wanted to make sure that this follow-up would meet the very high expectations of fans. "I felt like I couldn't deliver a record that was half-assed, so I spent a lot of time refining it. I worked really hard to make sure that it was something I was really proud of, and it took a little while," Mering says.
She began recording And In The Darkness in 2021. But Mering didn't want it to be an "in-a-vacuum, pandemic album," deciding to regroup after experiencing the first two months of Los Angeles opening up, and penning new songs that also captured her complex emotions as she adjusted to life post-lockdown.
For this LP, Mering reunited with producer Jonathan Rado, who also worked on Titanic Rising, and enlisted an all-star roster of musicians, including Mary Lattimore on harp, Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) on synths and Meg Duffy (who performs under the name Hand Habits) on guitar. She wanted this LP to be easier to perform than Titanic Rising, with "deeper sounds and less dense, but more lush."
And In The Darkness sets a wistful tone immediately, opening with soaring strings in "It's Not Just Me, It's Everybody," where Mering questions if anyone truly knows who she is — and if she even knows herself.
"[On the LP], there are a lot of themes about intimacy on the micro and the macro level. I do think the pandemic probably brought that up for a lot of people, especially people around my age who aren't married yet, who just work a lot and have a lot of friends. And then all of a sudden when you're like, 'OK, you can only see one friend or one family member,' when you're really forced to reckon with who your pod is, I think that's when a lot of questions come up. You're like, 'Who am I?'" explains Maring.
When the pandemic hit, Mering found herself isolated at home after touring in support of Titanic Rising. Used to her life on the road, her apartment wasn't a cozy sanctuary. She recalls that before lockdown, her home barely had decor. "I got to get homier and dig into that, cook a lot of food like everybody else did — but I did feel like it was a reckoning," she reflects.
It was a challenging time for Mering, who contracted "OG COVID" and suffered from the long-term effects of the virus for three months. She notes that though the record's lyrics were written in 2020, they still ring true, as people, including herself, are "pretty cracked from the experience because it exposed this idea that the issues we're facing, [such as] the uncertainty of climate change and the way our health system is structured is really unsustainable."
[Photo by Neelam Khan Vela]
On a personal level, Mering also experienced the dissolution of a relationship during the height of the pandemic. That breakup inspired "Grapevine," which she describes as an "existential love song" where she processes letting go of a toxic dynamic that no longer serves her.
"He was somebody who was pretty damaged and had a lot of wounds that he would project onto me and vice versa," says Mering, reflecting on the relationship. The song's title references California's Interstate 5, a drive that the musician and her former partner would often take together. "I thought that was kind of cool: We were driving on the grapevine freeway, and then the concept of the grapevine being this vine to your wound map of every past relationship tends to come up in a new one, or you just tend to repeat the same pattern over and over again," she notes.
The central theme of And In The Darkness is disillusionment. Not just in relationships, but in facing the unknown, more lost than ever. Mering notes that while writing the record, she was processing her emotions, while in panic mode as her world drastically changed.
She recalls that while talking to friends, they would also express how difficult the lockdown period was for them, making her realize that this feeling of hopelessness was universal. "I felt like we needed to talk about what was causing that existential dread — if it was isolation, if it was climate uncertainty, if it was just the structure of our society becoming really tedious and exhausting," she says.
Even still, after diving into those questions and coming out of the toughest times, Mering is keeping an optimistic outlook. "This record was working out the nuances," she says. "The next one [will] hopefully be more about solutions and a futuristic form of hope and transcendence from the gridlocked modernity struggle of being on this technological frontier and having no choice." Much like the title of the LP, Mering is striving to find the glowing hope in the darkness.