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Natasha Khan: I gave up music
NATASHA Khan, stage name Bat for Lashes, opens up about her upbringing and her time away from music after her last album.
There were happy times in my childhood, but difficult times, too. [Khan was 11 when her Pakistan-born father left the family home in Hertfordshire, north of London.] I coped with a tumultuous home life by delving into books, drawing, playing the piano and being into fantasy worlds and imaginary friends.
I was a rebel at school and was suspended. It was a reaction to repression. I went to a strict school and that combined with being unhappy at home led to troubled behaviour.
School put emphasis on becoming a doctor or scientist, whereas art was seen as silly. But to me it meant everything, so I felt misunderstood and devalued. I calmed down in my senior years, when I could choose the subjects I liked; I was able to start being more creative and I felt more like myself.
I started performing under the name Bat for Lashes because I’m shy. I felt that group of words was evocative and sounded a bit like the world I was in.
Learning to cope with the attention my music career has brought has been difficult. I didn’t go to a performing arts school, so I didn’t have the tools to deal with it in the beginning. And I’m an introvert, so communicating with thousands of people every night on tour is exhausting. Finding ways of dealing with that - and enjoying it - has been a feat for me.
I was shocked when the cover for my new album The Haunted Man was released on the internet. [Khan is pictured nude with a man, also nude, draped around her shoulders.] I thought, oh my God, it isn’t just the little art project I did at home; there’s going to be a reaction to it. That said, I wasn’t expecting people to [view it as controversial].
I wanted it to be raw, so I didn’t shave my legs or wear make-up for the photoshoot. I’m a fan of bad-ass women such as Patti Smith and Janis Joplin, who didn’t give a shit about that stuff. But, unfortunately, I think that ideal is a thing of the past.
Photographer Ryan McGinley and I shot for five hours, so we had a lot of images to choose from. But I knew that was the one for the cover as soon as I saw it. There were others where my body looked more curvy, beautiful or sexy, even, but I liked that one because it’s a powerful, direct image.
I gave up music after my last album, Two Suns. I didn’t know if it was going to be forever. I was completely exhausted and creatively barren, and it took me about a year to get back to normal.
It was a difficult and lonely time. Coming off the back of touring, when I was surrounded by people and travelling all the time, it was a shock. There’s a myth that artists need to have dramatic or difficult lives in which to work. I found it stifled me.
I did a whole bunch of things that had nothing to do with music. I did life drawing, pottery and children’s book illustration classes. I walked by the sea most days and spent time gardening at Charleston, the country retreat of Virginia Woolf’s Bloomsbury group. Eventually, I wrote songs again.
Fame is a double-edged sword. Professionally, I’m ambitious and I have big ideas; personally, I’m private and want to be left alone. If I didn’t feel people were interested then I wouldn’t be fulfilled musically, but when I get too much attention, I start to feel claustrophobic. It’s something I’m always having to adjust to.
I’ve worked hard to get here. There have been some amazing opportunities - such as supporting Coldplay and being nominated twice for the Mercury Prize - but the work I’ve put in is relative to what I’ve got back.
I’ve been compared to Kate Bush and Björk. They’re both phenomenal musicians and I’m flattered to be put in the same category as them, but at the same time I hope there’s a uniqueness to what I do.
I want to have a baby one day. And that would involve me stepping away from music - a baby deserves your full attention and I wouldn’t want to miss out on that. But for now, my music is my baby!