Weyes Blood Finds Solace By the Water

(Photo by Maggie Shannon)

On Saturday Weyes Blood, aka Natalie Mering, and her band looped back to New York City for a show at Baby’s All Right, their last before Mering embarks on a West coast tour with the help of only a harpist. But something about her return must have been bittersweet– she’s not exactly the biggest fan of New York City, a place she only recently started calling home.

Mering’s career making ethereal and sometimes haunting folk music has been an unstoppable, transient sort of thing. She grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, just under an hour northwest of Philadelphia. “Philly’s great because it’s kind of a small town, and there’s a lot of trans-genre mixing,” she explained.

Though Mering’s not about simply dabbling in a variety of different sounds. “I don’t like the idea of genre-hopping, of being unfocused,” she said. “It’s just trying to find the sweet spot, whatever you do best.” But as a musician she’s undeniably moved through different scenes.

When she was living in Philly, Mering was involved in the “freak-folk” scene. “But we also loved noise and drone music,” she recalled. “When I started I had folky elements but also used experimental tape manipulation, different elements that separated us from the older generation like Espers.”

At one point, Mering says she became “obsessed” with noise and drone music. In 2006, when she moved to Portland, Oregon, to go to college, she met up with Jameson Sweiger of the Ohio psych-punk band, Puffy Areolas. At the time he was playing in Maths Balance Volumes. “We did a bunch of tours together,” she said. “We bonded over music and collaborated but were never technically in a band together.”

Around this time Mering dropped out of school to focus more of her attention on music. “[It] was kind of a smart and stupid decision,” she said. “At the time I thought I could make a living doing [noise and drone] tapes, and it took five years for me to realize that scene was basically on its way out, and you can’t survive that way.”

But she doesn’t look back on this time with regret. “It was cool, it was dreamy,” she said.

Mering has fans from all sorts of musical backgrounds–some of the nastiest punk fans I know are huge fans of Weyes Blood, she also has psych-freaks and folk fans on her side, and even counts inoffensive pop listeners amongst her following. In short, she’s got mass appeal.

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She’s also a musician’s musician. Ariel Pink saw something in Mering’s powerful yet dreamy voice and recruited her to be on some tracks from his 2012 album, Mature Themes.

During the recording process, Mering got to know Ariel Pink and considers him a friend. “He’s crazy, which everyone knows by now. But it’s kind of endearing,” she said. “I do think sometimes he says stuff just to get a rise out of people and he actually really is a very sweet, caring person with a lot of compassion and emotion. And that’s why his music sounds the way it does, because he’s this very emotional, freaked-out, little person. But working with him was so fun, he was just over the top.”

She’s clearly more than a little conflicted about their relationship. “He’s a misogynist on a lot of levels, but I’ve also seen him treat women really well,” she said. “It’s hard to explain. I’m a feminist, so I don’t want to condone any of his behavior. But he loves women so much, he loves them so much that it kills him.”

Natalie’s next collaboration is with someone she is much less conflicted about, her brother Zak Mering. “[He] used to play as Raw Thrills, and in this band called Greatest Hits– a chill wave band that was popular like three or four years ago,” she explained. “We have a band called Band Substance. [Zak] was very inspired by Ariel Pink, so he brings this chill wave vibe and I bring the melodies. I’m hoping to make it more funky, because Weyes Blood’s not that funky.”

The Mering siblings come from a very musical family, which might explain Natalie’s rock solid confidence as a musician at 26. “My dad played music in the ‘80s, my mom plays music too. They aren’t your music-school type musicians, just kind of song-writer, rock n’ roll types,” she said.

But despite the collaborative efforts, the experience of having moved through several scenes, and Weyes Blood’s intense touring schedule over the past several years, I was surprised to find that Mering is somewhat of a loner. Her resistance toward what can sometimes seem a zombie-like collective mind of upwardly mobile, 20-something residents of the city, seemed daunting when she first moved to New York City from Baltimore back in 2012.

“I was dating somebody here, that was the biggest reason, and I visited on and off for seven years, so I thought I should just make the leap and do it, it’s pretty romantic and enchanting,” she said. “But when I moved here I kind of hated it for a really long time. It took a while to get into the groove and really like the vibe.”

Mering admitted that the sheer number of people living in the city was overwhelming. “It makes close relationships and scenes kind of difficult,” she said. “It’s like a buffet of humanity at every level.” But eventually she learned to embrace this. “I’m a peripheral person, I’m kind of a loner. [And I found that] sometimes the city is a perfect place to be a loner,” she said.

This tendency to isolate herself was a huge factor in her decision to move out to Rockaway Beach. “It’s like a deserted beach town right now, like Venice Beach in the ‘70s– it’s all blown out, it’s basically like weird Yankee surfers who surf in the winter time, and lots of Russians. ” she said. That, and Mering’s fascination with what she calls the “nautical aspects” of New York City are what drew her to the area. “Red Hook is my favorite neighborhood in Brooklyn for that reason,” she said. “But Brooklyn is actually my least favorite [borough], just the homogenized hipster culture, the vibe just isn’t that inspiring sometimes. Well, Greenpoint, [I like] because it’s by the water, and anything by the water is always inspiring.”

Though despite living a relatively remote location now, Mering has experienced life right in the thick of it. “I lived on the Lower East Side during summer time, and that was actually my favorite,” she recalled. “There were young people and really old people, and foreign people, and some hip people, and people that were just Nu-Metal– just all different kinds of people, without this oppressive Williamsburg skinny-fashion vibe, which is a little bit much.”

Mering has little patience for the repackaged, commodified, and accepted standards of hip that can admittedly seem overwhelming in parts of Brooklyn. “I do like the parts of New York that do have normal people,” she explained. “And that’s kind of weird, because I am a gentrifier and an artist. And I’m not technically normal, but I like the anonymity.”

I thought maybe Mering would be aligned with Brooklynites who are mourning the loss of several beloved DIY venues over the last year. But I was definitely wrong, and Mering responded with her characteristic realness. “285 Kent sucked, it was the most oppressive environment. It was all freezing in the winter time. Like, I love punk shit, but that stuff’s not gonna last,” instead Mering recalled a couple of venues in Philly, including a DIY space called Fort Thunder. “The whole experience was like an art installation,” she said. “I feel like Body Actualized got on that tip a lot, and that’s one venue I will miss.”

“There was a lot of love, they were trying to make it cool as opposed to ‘Let’s see how many kids we can jam in to this little fucked up, cold zone.’”

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There is at least one Brooklyn-based art space she’s enthusiastic about: Pioneer Works. “Any time they have a music show, it’s over the top and wild and fun. And it’s just like this gigantic playground,” she said, then lamented. “Nobody can afford to have a cool, curated awesome space. So it’s either going to be the clubby Manhattan vibe or like a metal bar. There are no cool crappy dive bars having rock shows right now.”

It might sound like Mering is fed up with New York, but she admitted she’s grown to enjoy it, and is used to talking smack about the city amongst her crew. “I could imagine myself moving on again, I’m not super attached,” she said. “But I’ve met cool people and I feel like I have stuff to do. I want to make another album here. And I really want to be here in the summertime because I live two blocks away from the ocean.”

Natalie’s fluidity also shows in her approach to music. “I am a little over the folk thing,” she said. “I love folk music, but it’s not the biggest thing that I like to do now.”

But for now, Mering said she will continue to work hard at balancing her current projects and the managerial side of her career. “I try to do music every day,” she said. “But the volume of emails, especially in the music industry, is just oppressive.”

She admitted that the internet and social media “do not come naturally to me,” she said. “[For a long time] I was completely unaware of the way the modern world works, I had successfully avoided being an internet person for years. I didn’t act my age for so long, instead I idolized Gen X’ers, and fell desperately behind my peers.”

“It’s against my nature, and sometimes I can’t even tell if it’s worth shit.” Rather, Natalie speaks fondly of her time spent in-between Kentucky and New Mexico when she was studying herbal medicine.

“I was an apprentice to an herbalist and I did some foraging and farming, things like that. That was all a Baltimore influence, my friends there got me on the poison path— plant medicine,” she said. “I had more time for it then because nobody knew about my music and I could kind of just hide. I felt like I still had time to waste, but now as a 26 year old living in a city that’s insanely expensive, most of my energy goes in to my music. But I dream of having more time for the plants, hopefully soon.” 

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