Natasha Khan has been on a voyage and come back with an album. Unlike the journey that produced her Mercury Prize-nominated debut Fur & Gold, this one happened outside her own head, away from the comfort of her bed. Two Suns sees Bat For Lashes move away from the imaginary world of wizards and dreams of horses, headdresses and being the chosen one, but it’s every bit as magical.
Gently psychedelic pop music, her sophomore LP trades the dark folk elements for a smoother sound that brings fellow white witches Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks twirling into 2009. Right from the soft explosion of melancholy of the first single Daniel – about her first love – it’s a widescreen affair, the lush golden light of the Californian desert bathing the parts the moon doesn’t reach.
“The first album was navigating those internal landscapes,” she says in her delicate voice, “all inside my imagination and my mind. I was kind of creating my own mythology. Although I think this album is a journey and has a storytelling element too – me being away and experiencing living in different places and different landscapes.”
One of the two suns that rose on Natasha while she was away from Brighton peeked in past the skyscrapers of New York, a city she moved to be with her then-boyfriend, Will Lemon, an artist and lead singer of Moon & Moon. Natasha and producer David ‘Faultline’ Kosten, after exploring the Brooklyn scene with, amongst others Yeasayer, then upped sticks for the desert, to get in touch with big landscapes.
“It’s definitely more ‘in the world’ this one,” she says softly, “and I think it’s more human. It feels more visceral, doesn’t it?”
It does indeed. And while Two Suns has all the emotional caverns and imaginative sparks brought from the melodies, a new attention to electronic beats gives the high points of the album more drive. Pearl’s Dream shares understated skippy toms with Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill, and with a bassline and beats courtesy of Yeasayer, moves along with the same intensity as the melodies. The song also introduces a new character to Bat For Lashes songs. The titular Pearl isn’t so much an alter ego, as a part of Natasha, born from a mix of New York party-based fun and a new form of armour to help her survive a time in a new home city.
“Pearl came about from me having a fascination with split personalities or schizophrenic elements in everybody,” Natasha explains. “I’ve always loved David Lynch’s films – the blondes in, say, Lost Highway – and Cindy Sherman and Diane Arbus’ photography. I’m very into documentaries about drag queens in New York in the 80s, and the enforced image of femininity that they use.”
Pearl appeared when Natasha bought a blonde wig, fake eyelashes and made her face up really heavily “just to see what it felt like.” She took pictures, kept them, and then Pearl started to filter into songs like Good Love and Sleep Alone.
“The idea of Pearl driving down lost highways, searching for something,” says Natasha. “She’s quite dark, and a bit lost, an escapist. She’s just a little bit messed up and, perhaps, I felt a little bit like that when I was away.”
Pearl might still be falling out of Lower East Side parties, being snapped by Nan Goldin, but Bat For Lashes is safely back in Brighton after her travels. Two years later, how does she feel being home?
“It’s made me settle into Brighton a bit more,” she thinks. “It’s like an old dog, an old friend. I was getting bored of it, thinking I wanted to move away but in the whirlwind of travelling all over the world, meeting so many people and doing so many things, Brighton revealed that quiet seaside chill out feeling which I think is really good for me. I’m quite happy to be here, especially now that spring is on its way. It renews your love for it, doesn’t it?”
Before she made it back to curling up on her sofa with a book she had to psyche herself into touring mode. But not just any old run around of venues and hotel rooms – this jaunt involved standing in front of 50,000 people, with Radiohead waiting in the wings.
“But it was actually brilliant,” she says of the support slot Thom Yorke personally invited her on, “I really loved it. It’s really fun watching Radiohead play every night. When you’re supporting it’s a little bit scary but the pressure is not completely on you so once you’re done you can have a drink and a dance, enjoy it.”
While Natasha and the Bat For Lashes band – that this time includes Ben Christophers and Charlotte Hatherley – have always been perfect for the intimate spaces of Brighton, like the Komedia (where she had the crowd howling like wolves), we’ve also seem her charm whole fields at festivals.
“It went really well, mixing to two albums,” Natasha says excitedly. “Big venues are easier with this new record. It’s quite bombastic and lush and big. It’s a big beast. It’s nice, because on the last record there were very small sounds that we amplified quite loudly to make it quite big. But this time the songs that are big, they just are.”
The songs are big, the venues are vast (with the move up to the Corn Exchange for this tour’s home leg), and the weight of expectation, post narrowly missing out on the Mercury Prize, is massive. But Natasha isn’t batting an eyelid.
“For me it’s always just wanting to put my heart and soul into something,” she says.