Bat For Lashes Was Done With Music, Then The Lost Girls Found Her

Jazmin Kopotsha

There was a real chance we’d never hear new music from Bat For Lashes again. After releasing her fourth album The Bride back in 2016, singer-songwriter Natasha Khan had finished her 10-year deal with Parlophone. "I thought I was going to give up music and so I went to LA to pursue writing scripts, painting and photography and getting more into the visual side, and then this album sort of crept up on me," she tells me.

We’re sharing a sofa in the studio where we’ve just wrapped on her photoshoot for Refinery29. The vampy glamour of Gucci diamond tassels and puff-sleeve Batsheva dresses has now been swapped for Natasha's casual jeans and T-shirt. With a cup of tea to hand – Natasha laughs heartily as she apologises for the fart noises erupting from the near-empty squeezy bottle of honey – and '80s pop-rock banger "Love Is A Battlefield" playing in the background, there’s a fun, Friday afternoon feeling in the room as we settle down to talk about her new album, Lost Girls.

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I start by asking Natasha what this moment in her career, and what working on this new record, has felt like. Heavily influenced by her childhood in the '80s, the intersection between horror movie soundtracks, electronic synth and the warm naivety of nostalgia, Lost Girls is an exciting departure from the melancholy of The Bride. Natasha giggles. "It feels like a Pat Benatar (singer of the aforementioned "Love Is A Battlefield") song!" The soundtrack to our interview aside, she describes her fifth album release as "a real document of a time [where] I feel quite liberated creatively, and free."

She describes working on the album as "falling in love in Los Angeles and heady nights driving along the sea with the warm air and the smell of jasmine. [It was soaking up] all the cool music that was coming out and going to see new bands." She recalls driving out to the deserts and forests; to hear her talk about it sounds like an edgy dream sequence. "I felt like I was in a Steven Spielberg or a Dave Lynch film, it was very cinematic," Natasha says. Of the music that came out of it: "I guess it was a whole fresh start... but such a big part of me loves dancing and pop music and having a laugh. Me and my brother and sister and mum, we love '80s music."

There’s a sincerity to Natasha, and her enthusiasm is given away by her hands when she gesticulates. But there’s also a considered knowingness, a gravity perhaps, that resonates when she speaks. It’s a combination that you’ll notice on the new record and within the Lost Girls concept as a whole, which Natasha also envisages as a film. "When I started, it was sort of a nod to The Lost Boys the film, but actually, when I started writing the script I realised that the main girl, Nikki, is obsessed with phenomena and alien sightings and goes on these forums where people go and find out if these phenomenal things really exist," Natasha explains.

You might’ve already met Nikki Pink in the music video for "The Hunger", one of the singles from the album. Natasha both directed and starred in the video. "I think she’s [Nikki] just a more technicolour version of me moving to LA," Natasha says. "Because I love alien films and I love phenomenal things, I love ET, I love crop circles, I love vampires! Moving to LA heightened that part of me – that childlike wonder of all those '80s films and having Halloween parties as a kid because my birthday is near Halloween. I think Nikki is excitable, sweet. She’s curious and she loves believing things that you can’t see and finding magic in everyday life."

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It’s to this spirit and Nikki’s happiness that Natasha attributes the album’s romantic tone. "I think that to be a successful human being, you really have to delve into your subconscious every now and again. You can’t just live in the real world and you can’t just live in the world of magic, music and art all the time. For me, it’s a dive into the two worlds and creating a balance that's important."

In the last three years, a whole lot more has changed for Natasha than just relocating from the UK to California. But the biggest shift in her life since 2016? "This sounds so corny but it’s true... I rescued my dog from Mexico. My puppy, she was found on the street outside my friend’s house, starving to death with a broken leg. She was dying and he took her in. She’s called Janice and she has basically changed my life. Everyone is like, 'Oh my god I love my pets' and I was never a dog person, but she is a special old soul." They’re inseparable, she says. "Basically, it’s been this unconditional love thing that I never really experienced before. I guess if you had children it would be that, but I feel like I got Janice and then I met my partner, who is the best one yet. I think that Janice taught me how to love properly."

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Back in the world of Lost Girls, Natasha tells me about Nikki meeting a guy called Michael – a relationship that was teased in the early promo video for the album. "He picks her up from the airport and they decided to do this X-Files duo thing of trying to find out about the lost girls, a gang of girls who have these strange, mystical elements to them." Natasha teased video clips of this part of the storyline on Instagram, which is the only social media platform she really interacts with. "I have really enjoyed using it for this album. You can use it for selfies and all that sort of stuff but, for me, it’s just a really good tool for leaking out a narrative."

Teasing the album out, piece by piece, must’ve been fun, too, I prompt. "Yeah, I don’t think people really have used it that much in that way, where it’s fragmented. To me all these snippets of like, treasure trailing an idea or a relationship or something developing like that, was really fun, and it was free. We went out, me and my boyfriend, and we would drive around LA acting, pretending we were other people."

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It’s that playful Lost Girl energy again. I tell her that the joy for joy’s sake that she found in creating this mystical world is something we don’t see online very often, particularly from celebrities, and Natasha agrees. "I feel like there’s a lot of confusion around social media because it’s so new and exploitative and it’s so personal and all these boundaries and sacred spaces are kind of just crumbling, I think there will be a turnaround."

The aesthetic that we are familiar with seeing on social media – filtered, curated, polished – was far from what Natasha wanted from the Lost Girls project. She says no one had loads of makeup on for the videos, nor did she want to have her face touched up in post-production: "I’m turning 40 and I don’t want to look 15!" As for where the idea for Nikki and these characters – the young, wild and free women roaming LA at dusk – came from, despite the echoes of her own personality, Natasha says they weren't so much inspired by real people in her life but rather they just materialised.

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"They just sort of grew up out of a mist. They just appeared and, in my mind, because I was writing the script, the head girl (the lost girls' ringleader) looked like Mary Stuart Masterson, you know, or some short blonde hair and a tough girl. There were Mexican Cholas and it was this amalgamation – kind of amazing tough boyish women. When I first ever wrote about them, they all came down the mountain on their motorbikes. You just see lights and they turn up in this gang. They all had shaved heads but then Eleven came out in Stranger Things and I was like shit, I can’t do that now …" she laughs. "So yeah, if I made the film I don’t know who they would be, but I think about Patricia Arquette from True Romance and then like just hot, amazing, eclectic girls."

"I think that all of us are lost girls like Peter Pan's lost boys, and we're all searching for those true magical elements that connect us back to our original selves," Natasha adds. I wonder whether this was something she had been experiencing personally. "I can’t not filter it through my own personal experience," she says. "I love using storytelling and archetypes. It’s like a modern day myth or fable but everything was coming through my heart, through an experiential place and a sort of honest place, because otherwise, I guess I wouldn’t feel like I have any authority to talk about those emotional landscapes." She grins. "I just like to dress it up in storytelling."

Lost Girls is available from 6th September

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