For her third album ‘The Haunted Man’ Natasha Khan has stripped back her sound and her look to expose more of herself than ever. But it’s not been an easy process. Writer’s block took her to the edge of walking away from music, but courses at Brighton University and gardening at Charleston House gave her a new headspace to be creative again. It’s a more mature album from an artist who is ready to settle down.
You’ve said that it’s quite an English album. How so?
It was mainly about me deciding to stay put and live in England for most of the process of making it. It was borne out of wanting to put down my roots; walking around the Sussex Downs, going to the sea and really immersing myself in being in England. I started to do quite a lot of research on my English family and the history of England, looked at things that happened in our history that are affecting us still, like the war. I just really enjoyed not being in America! Coming home and falling back in love with England.
It feels like you’ve opened yourself up a lot more for this album. Is that accurate?
Yeah, I think so. The vocal is much more present, I’ve stripped away a lot of the reverb and layers and denseness. I’ve returned to the sparseness of the first album in a way, but it’s bolder. The woman has reappeared from behind the little girl that started off my career. I feel like I’ve matured and in that maturing process I feel more confident about being more intimate with my listeners, just being more direct and honest and up front. It’s definitely more stripped back and more raw, and real, in a way. I’m not hiding so much.
And that seems to carry over to your image. The make up is much less bold, much less of a costume. More you.
I think that too. I just got bored. I don’t want to repeat myself and after years of exploring that theatricality, the visual symbols and totems and colours and glitter and feathers and beautiful adornments – which I have really enjoyed – I felt like I can’t keep doing that because it doesn’t feel right. What feels true at the moment is to be stripped back and natural. I think there’ll still be theatricality to the live show because I enjoy that aspect and I think live shows should have that. But it’s more Natasha now, rather than a visual representation of a character.
From what you’ve said about it the album sounds like it was tough to make. Did you enjoy it in the end or was it hard all the way through?
I think it was an ongoing, difficult process with some moments of clarity and happiness punctuating it. But, because it took two and a half years to make, obviously I went through lots of different types of feelings. I think it was more of a marathon – I was in it for the long haul.
What were the points that gave you the energy to push through it?
Probably writing ‘Lilies’ on my sofa at home with my autoharp on my lap. That was a good moment. It came out really quickly and I felt like the sentiment was really interesting, and the theme of the song started to help define what the album was going to be about. There are lots of moments like that – recording with a male choir for ‘The Haunted Man’, when I went to visit Beck and he played crazy guitars on ‘Marilyn’. There’s moments where you feel there’s something really beautiful happening and the rest of it is being stuck in this mire trying to make sense of the confusion.
What is it that you love about working with Beck?
He wasn’t someone that I’d have specifically chosen, but because he approached me for the Twilight song and it ended up being so much fun, I thought that he’d be a fantastic person to bounce ideas off and jam with and try out different instruments. I really like his openness. He’s very eclectic in his tastes and he’s got a fantastic knowledge of music and a great art background, which is something that’s important to me as well. I liked his set up where he had his studio at home with his family and it’s a very balanced existence. It was a home away from home and quite grounding and good for me when I was in the midst of making this record.
You’ve collaborated in your songwriting for the first time on ‘Laura’. Was that a difficult decision to make?
It was quite hard. I think I’ve always been quite snobbish about it in the past but I wanted to see what it was like to work with someone that would push me a little bit in a direction, and teach me something that I didn’t know already. I feel that it was really nice to be collaborating with Justin [Parker, who has also worked with Lana Del Rey]. I had a brief. I wanted to write a piano song that was harkening back to those old 70s ballads, with a middle eight and traditional structure. But I always like to put my own angle on it, so the dark subject matter or whatever came through. And together we navigated it and came up with something that still sounded very much like me. I think it turned out really well. I’m happy with that song.
Do you think you’ll collaborate on songwriting again? It sounds like a positive experience.
It was, but the whole emotional situation around that was quite challenging. There was a bit of a wrangle with the record company wanting me to write singles. I’m not sure how I’d feel about doing it again. I wouldn’t say it was the most comfortable situation I’ve been in but I think I made the best of something that was quite challenging. It turned out fine and it was lucky that it did. I’d have to wait and see what my reasons were for doing it again.
Do you feel that you’ve made a path through the writer’s block that you suffered on this album for the future, or does that still worry you?
I think that every time you get through an album, it’s almost like when women go through childbirth. The pain of it is so intense but once you have your beautiful baby nature makes you forget. Now that it’s done the memory of how difficult it was is fading and I’ve just got this beautiful thing that I’ve made. I think each time you start again it’s as intense. I think I’ve matured enough to realise that travelling all over the world and having tumultuous relationships and being sad doesn’t really help.
ALBUM: ‘The Haunted Man’ out now
LIVE: Dome, Sun 4th