The growth Natalie Mering has exhibited over the past two years, while writing songs as Weyes Blood, is the type of breakthrough that music lovers dream about, yet rarely see. While her pleasant 2014 album The Innocents showed plenty of promise, highlighting her haunting vocals and interest in early polyphonic choral music, it felt like somewhat of a niche record limited by its historical nods. No such barriers hold back her new release, Front Row Seat to Earth. The nine-song collection is exponentially more modern and features a sonic richness practically unmatched in contemporary music outside of Beach House.
The recent Los Angeles transplant returns to The Mothlight on Saturday, Nov. 5. She often has complex textures in mind when first writing songs, but typically begins in a simple fashion. “A lot of the songs do start out with piano and guitar and kind of more basic elements, sometimes even just the vocal line,” Mering says. “But when I’m demoing or getting ready to record, in my mind I kind of already am experimenting with what kind of sound effects or what kind of elements that normally might not fit to be tossed in there.”
She adds, “I like bringing in things that don’t seem to work and making it work.”
Acoustic, “Beatle-esque” demos provided Mering and her studio band with a foundation from which to work on most of Front Row Seat to Earth’s songs. However, album standouts “Do You Need My Love” and “Seven Words,” as well as “Used to Be,” were recorded from scratch — an approach that clearly paid off, but came with its share of challenges.
“It was really difficult explaining to the band how [‘Do You Need My Love’] went,” she says. “I think everybody was generally confused because I played with a bassist on that, and my producer [Chris Cohen] was playing drums, and we’re all kind of sitting there, and I was like, ‘And then this part’s like this,’ and they were kind of like, ‘But how is that different than this part?’ It took a long time for them to see the big picture.”
The ensemble got on the same page through trial and error, following the ideas that resonated most and producing plenty of what Mering calls “happy accidents” in the process. Though careful to prevent the songs from becoming too busy, she went big more often than not, leaving album mixer Kenneth Gilmore to clean things up in post-production.
“There’s a fine line. I think it’s important to keep mixing in mind because mixing can make everything possible,” Mering says. “Mixing can make an overloaded track sound fine, and mixing can make an under[loaded] track sound full. So it’s really depending on how good the mixer is and how you sculpt that. I think at a certain point, things can get crowded harmonically, but for the most part, I think that’s more of a mixing thing than a tracking thing.”
Adapting Front Row Seat to Earth for the stage with Ben Babbitt (bass), Booker Stardrum (drums) and Walt McClements (keys) has likewise proved difficult but rewarding. “We’re still kind of working out all the kinks because there’s so much going on on the record. There’s two keyboards, one that’s the basic piano/organ keyboard and one that’s this flashy synth keyboard; a bass sampler; drums; and a little tiny keyboard,” Mering says. “Overall, it’s kind of like an orchestra. There’s also slide guitar and acoustic guitar on some songs, so we kind of have a pretty big setup, but we’re all multi-instrumentalists, so we switch off, and that’s how we make it all work.”
As was the case on The Innocents, Mering does her own vocal harmonies on the new record. Loops and vocal effects allow her to simulate those layers live, but ideally she’d have a second female singer accompanying her. A desire to keep the band small would necessitate that person also knowing her way around other instruments, and so far a candidate fitting that bill has yet to materialize.
“I feel like they must exist somewhere. I’m trying to get the guys in the band to sing. They do sing, but it’s sketchy. It’s not as beautiful as when a lady sings,” Mering says. “Women are very special, and a lot of the girls who are really good enough to do that have their own thing going on, but I’m still putting the feelers out there.”
WHO: Weyes Blood with Truly and Noel Thrasher
WHERE: The Mothlight, 701 Haywood Road, themothlight.com
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 5, 9:30 p.m. $8 advance/$10 day of show