“I think it’s very important for people to still have hope and not be scared,” Natalie Mering says to me on a cold and drizzly afternoon in late March. We’re standing in the middle of Williamsburg thrift store Stella Dallas, deep in racks of coats and jeans as country music plays loudly over the speakers. Dressed in an impeccably matching jean vest and pants set, Mering flips through the hangers while explaining her mission and how it’s reflected on her new record as Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising. “I'm trying to definitely shed light on matters, comfort people, and make sure everyone has each other's backs.”
Ambitious and beautiful, Titanic Rising is a marination on the things that ail our lives on this planet — climate change, society’s relentless adoption of technology. These concerns inform the record, but they’re never dwelled on; instead, the album lingers on the gaping void of genuine connection that they've have brought about. Over ten sweeping, richly-textured songs, Mering hovers above the world observing everything that’s happening and how it’s affected us. The music sounds just as big as the task — opulent and lush, at times unbelievably suffocating in the depth of the sound. “Movies” feels dense and huge like the ocean, Mering’s rich vocals matched equally by swelling synths; on the hook, she sings grandly about loving movies and feeling chained to an industry reproducing a romance that doesn’t exist.
But Mering still loves the movies. Titanic Rising is named after the infamous shipwreck as well the Hollywood blockbuster, its tone hovering hopefully, comfortingly, and curiously. After telling the listener to accept that everything is changing in the opener, “A Lot’s Gonna Change," Mering pivots and adopts a gentler tone: “Let me change my words, show me where it hurts.” It might all be going to hell, but for the moment we’re all still here.
How did the Titanic influence the album?
The event itself is an iconic tragedy of mankind. I was fascinated by it as a kid, and then they made a movie about it and I flipped out. It's about man's lack of dominion over nature — the hubris of man — it was a hit. To think that something that big with an actor so notoriously environmentalist, like Leo, could still not change the tides of humanity? What have movies done besides help us escape?
That seems like a critique of whether art with a message can ever move beyond the medium.
I really like Adam Curtis' Century of Self. It's about how artists have failed the general public by being so exclusive, like being in an echo chamber. I was definitely more like that in my early twenties — my music was completely inaccessible The more accessible I get, the more i'm trying to do my part — but I'm still in a very small part of the pie. I think every humanist artist or musician will try to expand their agenda to include political activism.
Do you feel activism through art can create meaningful change?
I'm seeing more and more artists make their art about climate change. I think everybody's on that tip, and as art continues to move in that direction, inevitably it will become the soundtrack of those protests.
What purpose does your music serve for you now?
It's an exercise in mythologizing and comprehending what's happening to us, while still providing a semblance of hope and meaning. When it's all chaos and no meaning, that's where people get depressed and turn to opiods and compulsive behaviors. It gives me a little bit of hope to make it into something that can be understood in a symbolic way.
Do you find it cathartic?
It's definitely a big relief, but I don't know. Every time I finish [a record] I just want to do it again, differently. Maybe I won't feel that catharsis until I retire.
Two weeks prior to Titanic Rising’s release date, Mering’s already thinking about her next record. “I move really fast — maybe a little faster than the music industry would allow,” she says. She’s excited to tour, which gives her a sense of purpose and provides a space to creatively incubate. But her demanding schedule has also taken her away from parts of her life; a friend organized a river clean-up back in L.A. that she wasn’t able to attend because of work on the new album. “I long to find a way to do both,” she says. “It's such a hustle. The way our society is set up, I don't do the activism thing. I wish I had the time for it.”
She considers this delicate balancing act a particular affliction of the current generation — which is affected by systemic anxieties ranging from job insecurity and rising expenses to a precarious work-life balance. “We’re like the guinea pigs of this really big project,” she says. “If things do devolve into eco-fascism, I'm a nonviolent person, so inevitably I will have to find a way to extract meaning out of whatever subsistence that could end up being.”
I ask her what she’d be if she weren’t a musician. Her answer: probably a marine biologist.
Do you shop vintage a lot?
Not as much as I used to. I used to be a total thrifter rat, but I spend so much of my time trying to work on music that I find it difficult to feed myself and do basic stuff. This is the first time I've shopped in a long time for myself. That's something I had a lot of time to do in my twenties when I had no success — trying to appease my hunger for feeling important. I have a lot of respect for people who really work on their life — they’ve got this great apartment and a good personality, they write the thank-you cards and bake birthday cakes. That's who I wish I was. When I see people cultivate their own life like that, I admire it.
Do you feel like you don't have a kind personality?
I do! It's just all-consuming and difficult to be there for people if you're out of town and your friend's sick. You're not going to make them chicken soup. It's like a marriage [to my job], but I wouldn't have it any other way.
What do you feel you get out of that marriage?
A greater sense of purpose and extreme gratitude that I get to do what I do — warmth from other people that makes me feel of use to the universe. It comes down to putting whatever you have to use.
We take a break for Mering to try on the armful of clothes she’s pulled from the racks, all coincidentally varying shades of pleasing greens and creams. “Looks like I got my summer look,” she says. When she exists the dressing room ten minutes later, she decides to purchase a dress — her first personal buy in a long time.
It’s lightly raining when we exit the store, so Mering leads us to a nearby spot that she used to frequent when she lived in New York City while working on her 2015 EP Cardamom Times. As we arrive, she realizes with shock that it’s been closed, admonishing how the city's changed since she moved away. We end up at the Instagram-friendly The Butcher’s Daughter, a ha-ha nod to their vegetarian menu, and a favorite of Gwyneth Paltrow. Mering orders a pink-hued juice called “Water Flower,” I the Hot Golden Elixir, as our conversation turns back to the state of the world.
You've been making music professionally for a while now. Do you ever get tired?
There are definitely moments where I get a little discouraged, but it's just part of the course. It's cool that I never feel like I'm not doing the right thing. I'm following a crumb trail, and usually I find bigger crumbs. I feel like I was born to make music.
Do you feel moments of hopelessness regarding your politics?
I used to, big time. Lately, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Greta Thunberg give me a lot of hope to instill the changes that need to be instilled. I've already prepared myself mentally for some kind of apocalypse or terrible thing — it doesn't scare me anymore. When you grow up, you realize that through the history of mankind, there's always been something extremely threatening or chaotic beyond our understanding — like the plague. Imagine if a third of the population died of necrotic black wounds. That must've been the darkest time, so we've been there.
In your head, what does the end of the world look like?
I think if things got so crazy out here, we [would go] Logan’s Run style and [have] a select part of the population live underground. Maybe when we emerge from our bunkers, we'll be gray and have huge eyes and no genitals, like aliens. Maybe that's just us in the future coming back in time, being like, "Why did you do this?"
Your music also touches on technology, and trying to cultivate meaningful connection through it. What are some things you do to cultivate meaningful connection?
I don't exclusively talk to people on social media; I don't meet people through Tinder. I try to keep it face-to-face, and to be aware if my phone is sucking me away from the rest of the world. I lost [my phone] for three and a half weeks in 2014, and my creativity came back full-force, like I was a child again. My imagination was more complete and less fragmented. Every time we break our concentration or break our boredom, we're just cracking away at that mirror and making it more fragmented.