Published Mar 30, 2019Even now, just weeks ahead the release of Titanic Rising (out April 5), her fourth album under the name Weyes Blood, Natalie Mering still remembers the day she fell out with God. The L.A.-based songwriter tells her story like so: in her early adolescence, she attended a Jesus camp where everybody around her experienced a form of religious ecstasy, commonly referred to as being "slain in the Spirit." As the campgoers around her screamed and cried, Mering waited to feel the power of the divine. It never happened.
"This had been a theme for me as a child," she recalls over the phone with Exclaim!. "My genes were sceptical. Not my opinions; I believed in God, but I couldn't let go during prayers and have a personal experience."
In the past, her parents — themselves musicians and born-again Christians — had assured her that they had been touched by the Holy Spirit, that it happened all the time. Frustrated and impatient, Mering ran out of the room and into the surrounding woods.
"I was like, 'Fuck you, Jesus.' It was very much like a spoiled kid," she says casually. "And it's funny: the day after, I started my menstruation. So it was like this weird biological moment where I was like, 'I guess I became a woman and I didn't bring Jesus.'"
Much has changed for Mering since that night in the forest when she lost her faith. She went from singing in choirs to collaborating with weirdo rock acts like Jackie-O Motherfucker and Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. But true success came when she stepped out on her own. Under the new moniker Weyes Blood, she recorded two well-regarded full-lengths before breaking through in 2016 with the rapturously received Front Row Seat to Earth.
Yet hints of Mering's religious past still have an influence on her new album, Titanic Rising. Behind soothing melodies and slide guitar-inflected folk-rock arrangements lurk lyrics loaded with scepticism about everything from modern romance to humanity's future on the planet. The idea of falling recurs frequently, from the plummeting trees on opener "A Lot's Gonna Change" to a Garden of Eden reference on "Mirror Forever." For Mering, the Biblical significance of a fall from grace resonated long after she left the church.
"I mean, technically I'm fallen — no longer being a Christian," she says. "It's a little difficult to undo all that stuff. You still live with a void, wanting a sense of purpose and salvation and destiny and predestination."
While these concepts inform Titanic Rising, the album is as political as it is personal. Yes, Mering calls herself fallen, but it's also a label she assigns to an America beset by income inequality and climate change. Even as the topics seem timely, Mering argues they're foundational to Western civilization.
"It's easy to feel disenchanted and divorced from what we've done, but I think there's something sadly natural about it," she says. "Western culture is founded upon dominion of nature, so of course we're at war with nature now."
With the present in crisis and the future in jeopardy, it's tempting to escape into past. But despite its retro trappings — Mering cites Hoagy Carmichael, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra as influences on Titanic Rising — the album doesn't simply rehash history. "A Lot's Gonna Change" opens the album with a verse about retreating into memories, an urge that Mering resists while stressing the need for resilience in trying times.
"Nostalgia has become so much more popular because technology and climate change are visibly present," she says. "It's easy to idolize the past, before those things were prevalent."
The critique carries over into "Movies," which dreams about the cultural impact of Hollywood film atop a pillow of soft synthesizer arpeggios. Acknowledging the formative impacts of Hollywood films, the track is no celebration of Tinseltown glamour; it's "a radically inadequate industry to take the throne as the myth supplier of our times," explains Mering.
"It's hard to think that for the entire history of film up until a couple of years ago, [Hollywood] was extremely white and wholeheartedly sexist and racist," she says. "I think it's just heavy how movies have failed us."
For all its heavy themes, Titanic Rising is noticeably buoyant, candidly addressing modern struggles without succumbing to despair. Mering may tend toward scepticism, but despite leaving Christianity behind long ago, she still sees the value in faith.
"We all need a little something to believe in. Which is the name of a song on my record," she adds, laughing. "But if you just believe that everything is chaos and there's no benevolence in the universe, I don't think it's ultimately going to help you out that much."
Titanic Rising is out April 5 on Sub Pop.