At a Halloween house party in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, last year, I saw Natalie Mering, a.k.a. Weyes Blood, emerge from a dark hallway dressed as an 18th-century French lady-in-waiting. Her face was powdered white with rosy-blushed cheeks, red lipstick accentuating her cupid’s bow. She smiled and entered the kitchen with the artist Jordan Wolfson, a notorious provocateur known for his unsettling animatronic sculptures and video work. Within minutes, Wolfson, whose face was painted as a kind of generic ghoul, was reclining on a window seat talking to another woman dressed as a cheerleader. L.A. cool-guy shit.
Mering moved to stand at the threshold of the French doors overlooking the party, watching people in full costume as they smoked and drank on the crowded patio. I approached her to say I was going to be profiling her for CREEM; her eyes widened with recognition. In her low tomboy California dialect, she said some kind words about the magazine’s legendary status, making apparent her role as an acolyte of ’70s rock ’n’ roll. Then she descended the stairs and disappeared into the crowd.
It was my second party of the evening and the first where everyone was in costume. I wasn’t, so I felt underdressed and a little out of place. The crowd was mostly hungry-eyed “music people” who I didn’t know but looked vaguely familiar, though it was hard to recognize them without their typical rock-revival costume: suede jacket, Cuban heels, flared polyester pants. Ian Svenonius, a legend of D.C. punk, was among them; he didn’t appear to be dressed for Halloween, but who could tell? He’s looked straight out of a photograph of British mods for at least the past three decades.
“It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody,” the first song on Weyes Blood’s fifth record, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, released in November 2022, opens with the lines: “Sitting at this party/Wondering if anyone knows me/Really sees who I am/Oh, it’s been so long since I’ve felt really known.” When I first heard it, I pictured Mering at the party, the loneliness felt most strongly when surrounded by other people. The opening lyric has an exaggerated “woe is me” tone, a solipsism that is abandoned as the song progresses. Its sound is typical of Weyes Blood’s particular style of unfussy, easy indie rock: an affinity for a ’70s sound, maybe Joni Mitchell Court and Spark-era, specifically, with gliding guitar and piano accompanying Mering’s clear vocals.
Weyes Blood’s musical oeuvre oscillates between two existential features: a protective self-confidence and a desire to connect with everyone else. In her songs, she seems to express longing to be a part of something outside herself in order to alleviate feelings of alienation. Perhaps that impulse is common for most musicians constantly negotiating their relationship with an audience, the poets-turned-performers.
But one thing is evident: Mering, who refuses to play the emotive, vulnerable, fairy-tale “chanteuse” role like Lana Del Rey or Angel Olsen, seems intent on exposing the evil of our social reality, whether by being intentionally vague and opaque or by utilizing environmental collapse as fodder for song. Maybe it’s superficial, maybe it isn’t—it doesn’t really matter. It feels detached, cynical, aesthetically nostalgic, and undeniably contemporary. She’s a Karen Carpenter for our times, except darkness is on display along with prettiness.
Though she was born in L.A., Mering moved around a lot. As a child, her parents became born-again Christians and relocated the family to Pennsylvania “I mean, I’m from everywhere,” she tells me, somewhat cryptically. But she’s got Hollywood roots. Her father was the frontperson of an ’80s new-wave band, eponymously called Sumner after his first name. (When I Googled them, I found a glossy on eBay for $5.99. In the image, Mering’s father stands off to the left side, away from the four other members, smizing at the camera with his hand in his hair.) She was first exposed to experimental music in high school, going into Philadelphia to see punk shows. After attending a small college in Portland, Oregon, to study music for a year, she dropped out, performing in noise bands like Jackie-O Motherfucker and Satanized.
Then she moved back east. (Suddenly, the exhaustive “I’m from everywhere” claim makes sense.) By the time she started writing and releasing her own music under the moniker Weyes Blood, abandoning her noise roots, she had already built up a name for herself in a community of musicians. As she started playing bigger shows, expanding her tours, performing at the midsize clubs instead of tiny ones, she saw her demographic evolve: “It really used to be older men,” she recalls. “And now it’s more younger women. It shifts around, but I noticed that it got younger.” Much of that has to do with her 2019 album, Titanic Rising, a climate-change concept record. Its dreamy, ethereal rock sound put her on the map beyond the fan base of indie heads. She moved from the niche confines of the noise music world and became a celebrated rock ’n’ roll goddess, whose poise and talent have captured a wide-ranging listenership.
When I next ran into Mering, in December 2022, she was overlooking a crowd at the Ace, a baroque art deco theater downtown, now owned by the adjoining boutique hotel. This time, instead of disappearing into the masses, she was front and center, backed by a three-piece band. Those of us lingering in the lobby (a hilarious who’s who, Beck included) scurried to our seats. She began with a familiar refrain: “Sitting at this party/Wondering if anyone knows me...” Everyone was listening intently. My plus-one and I drank expensive pours of Kendall Jenner’s tequila while Mering swayed in a white suit on stage, surrounded by a quirky set, what she described to me later as “MGM musical meets the apocalypse.” Street lamps like the one Gene Kelly climbs in Singin’ in the Rain and a faux-sunset scrim, glowing a deep magenta like her most recent album cover, were accompanied by a cartoonish atom bomb hanging from fishing wire above her and the band.
Already we were being cued into the nostalgia, theatricality, and humor of Mering’s style. I’m drawn to her music’s more artificial side. Her stage presence had the jaunty kitsch of Tom Jones on a variety show, who might preface his songs as if they were stories he was sharing with a close friend. “Let me tell you about something that happened to me today...” She swished around in a white suit, holding the mic with a precise awareness of its use as a prop. There was a campy drama that made me think of Barbra Streisand or Judy Garland, but also a soulful depth in her sound that reminded me of Laura Nyro. She tossed her head with performative emotion at the first song’s climax, while remaining poised and completely self-contained. Ultimately, her voice acted like the axis of a centrifugal force; everything else swirled around its static center.
Not inaccurately, Mering’s singing style has often been compared to Laurel Canyon’s folk scene, in particular, Karen Carpenter, an icon of late-’60s, early-’70s soft rock. Both singers share a clarity and depth in their distinctive sound. The Carpenters—Karen and her brother, Richard— maintained an outward appearance of a cheery, clean-cut, all-American family in order to conceal what was going on behind the scenes: Karen, anorexic, succumbing to the pressures of fame. The duo’s subliminal personal darkness was almost symbolic of the period, as the political and social turmoil of the time produced cracks in the American social fabric; the status quo was loosening. More than just her voice, I see a similarity in Mering’s approach to performance: Her songs also have a deceptively bright sound with a loneliness that lingers beneath.
At one point during her set, in between songs, moving from the mic to the piano, Mering asked if the crowd had any questions, suggesting they shout out pressing queries. “What’s your favorite color?” and other similarly inane questions echoed throughout the auditorium. She prodded, “Come on, ask me a juicy question!” An eager audience member came back with: “Are you in love?” She declined to answer, and began the song.
Unlike other female singer-songwriters of her time like Phoebe Bridgers, Taylor Swift, and Gracie Abrams, Mering does not trade in vulnerability. She stands in contrast to those performers, whose songs and public personas are cloyingly impuissant. She avoids sad love songs about people who could be easy to identify by listeners. There’s an impenetrability I sense in her. Her voice rarely breaks or moves into a more urgent belt or whimper; the tone is consistently clear. You can tell she’s worked to maintain control. Part of the appeal in the music of her peers is its relatability, the transparency of a song as a love ballad or a revenge track. She prefers to expand out, to see herself as part of something bigger. “She’s enigmatic,” Meg Duffy, of the folk-rock project Hand Habits, tells me over the phone. Duffy has often collaborated with Mering and played guitar on a couple of songs on the most recent record. “She’s extremely relatable but at the same time very distant, almost untouchable.”
I felt similarly when I met Mering at her home in Altadena, the small mountain town at the foothills of the Angeles National Forest, 20 miles from Hollywood. Her calm demeanor became intimidating; I suddenly felt anxious about intruding. She lives in a modest ranch-style house with a dry backyard where peacocks wander the grounds. There’s a grand piano in the darkened living room, sur- rounded by houseplants. When I entered, she was watching the 1995 cult favorite Welcome to the Dollhouse with her roommate. I confessed that I hadn’t seen it, and they both sighed in unison, “Oh, man...it’s so good.” Mering watches a lot of movies but admits to being only an amateur buff: “I don’t have the same comprehensive knowledge compared to my film friends. I feel like I’m still a dabbler. I would say that I’m a little bit on the outside, looking in.”
We sat in the backyard on some rusting patio furniture while her Pomeranian, Luigi, performed twirls in the dirt. The mountains could be seen from the yard; the city felt far away. During our conversation, she was reserved, withheld, dare I say...boring? Her eyebrows didn’t move very much; she didn’t smile after everything she said. A few times she let out a low-register chuckle. It was the day after the show at the Ace, one of the first shows where she performed her new record live. She was a bit bleary-eyed, wearing a white fleece zip-up, leggings, and sneakers with tie-dyed socks. It’s always surreal to be alone with someone who, less than 24 hours prior, you witnessed commanding the attention of hundreds of people, whose features you could only make out from the back of an auditorium. She asked if we’d met before; I reminded her of the Halloween party. She remembered. We talked about mutual friends and the smallness of the world.
We also discussed how, to the audience at a show, the performer’s position can seem an enviable one. “It can be fun. It can be terrifying. But last night was fun,” she says, bringing up her onstage banter and that Q&A. “There’s something really fun about breaking the fourth wall. Because my songs are so sad, I do like loosening up the energy a little bit, breaking apart those moments. I actually think people are more loose on the happy spectrum, laughing spectrum. And the sad spectrum, you feel more. Maybe I secretly wanted to be a stand-up comedian.”
Which reminds me of her uniform: a three-piece white suit, trousers, a vest, and a jacket, a look evoking the playfulness of, well, a comedian, or a cabaret performer (not too dissimilar from her wardrobe for her CREEM photo shoot, it should be mentioned). On tour, it’s always long wide sleeves: a little Mick Jagger, a little circus ringleader.
“I just started wearing one after the first few records. I wore a weird blue suit. It makes me feel free to do whatever,” she explains. (On the cover of her third record, 2016’s baroque pop Front Row Seat to Earth, she wears a blue silk suit.) “If I put on a poofy dress, I would feel pretty weird. I wore suits when I was in middle school. I really love the uniform of the suit. Especially getting it dirty and running around. To me, it feels like the right outfit to do a show in.” The suit acts as a container for her onstage character, slightly showy but also neutral. The femininity of her elegant voice is coupled with the chic, sharp menswear. It might also function as a shield, or a way to assert herself.
She continues, “It does help me get into character—when I’m separating my personal life from my stage life.” The Canadian singer-songwriter Sean Nicholas Savage, whom she toured with, is an inspiration in this regard. “He would live in this suit and grease his hair with olive oil, and then, like, wipe his hands on his suits. I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, this is the modern-day version of, like, the wandering minstrel.’”
I brought up one of the answers she gave to another audience query from the night before: “What’s your pet peeve?” “Pet peeve...” she had said contemplatively. “I’m peeved with my generation. We could solve so much on a phone call.” People cheered. I found this amusing and unsurprising, as it seemed to align with Mering’s nostalgia. “I find that with my older friends, it’s just a little easier to make plans and keep them and communicate,” she says. “And with my young friends it is just, like, really inconsistent. We’re used to canceling and doing whatever. It’s just a part of the culture. Phones make it more inconvenient than it needs to be.”
This frustration reflects the same tension that comes through Mering’s music: the desire to be alone, coupled with a hunger to connect. Wanting to feel a part of one’s generation and yet aligned with those of the past. The track “Twin Flame,” driven by a synthetic drumbeat, builds upon this failure to connect. “You’re my twin flame and you got me so cold,” she sings, while pointing to the superficial things that might induce that failure. “’Cause we are more than our disguises,” she continues, with a somewhat pained longing. Allusions to environmental destruction reoccur in Weyes Blood songs. The impending apocalyptic destruction becomes a metaphor for her unease in lyrical lines like, “California is my body and your fire runs over me.” I think I detect irony, or maybe self-awareness, in the narcissistic absurdity of such a statement, but I also wonder about the superficiality of these issues appearing in her music. To attach one’s psychological, sexual hang-ups to larger global issues can be a slippery slope, misinterpreted as shallow romanticization. Is this just a convenient way for Mering to at once maintain her relevance and justify her desire for a time when it wasn’t so hot in the winter? When we talked, I realized that these issues are not just mere parables to be used in her work, but an extension of her inner anxieties and values.
She told me about the book she read on the history of farming in the United States, and its economic and environmental effects. “I love this guy Wendell Berry,” she says. “He’s, like, kind of an environmental activist poet from Kentucky, and he wrote this book called The Unsettling of America. It’s about the decline of agrarian farm culture once they switched over to industrialized monoculture farming. That’s fascinating.”
She’s not naive about the shallow world that can surround music. However, she seems optimistic about its ability to express complex ideas and investigate an elusive, mysterious universe. She told me about the inspiration for And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow: “It was a lot of heavy stuff that ended up getting fed into the record, just trying to get down to the bottom of what is really going awry with our social fabric and culture that’s not immediately obvious—what might be causing some of the issues under the surface.” She was referring to the books she considers heavier in subject matter; she mentioned The Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch. I get the sense that Mering seems more comfortable couching her personal anxieties and narrative in broader cultural criticisms or metaphors, maintaining a kind of guardedness.
“God Turn Me Into a Flower,” the record’s fourth track, seems to allude to these perils of vanity. “It’s the curse of losing yourself/When the mirror takes you too far,” she sings. It’s as if Mering, striving to be a part of something bigger than herself, wants to be subsumed by nature. The song trails off into a melodic refrain, Mering’s voice swaying but somehow still. The last 30 seconds of the song sound like the score to something growing out of the snow, of something being born. Then the track ends with birds chirping and fading out.
Mering is aware of her gifts. It’s almost as if she sees music and performance as her fate, as her divine decree. She talked about her comfort being on the road, performing each night, and the way it gives her a feeling of completion. More than writing and recording, she finds this in front of an audience. She tells me, with not an ounce of diva affectation, but rather with a levelheadedness driven by intuition, “I feel like I really have a purpose in the universe.”