Weyes Blood is currently in the midst of a career spanning two full-length records and one EP which explore the frontiers of sound, combining ambient/industrial noises with haunting melodies to create the best kind of music—the kind that isn’t easily categorized.
A recent performance was my introduction to her and I was caught completely by surprise. It was a performance that’s best described as exothermic. Weyes Blood performs by herself. She’s shy and unassuming as she takes the stage. There’s very little to prepare the audience for the explosion of power that follows.
We were lucky enough to get to speak with Weyes Blood about her music and her thoughts on artistry and performance.
Bitter Empire: What’s your philosophy of songwriting?
Weyes Blood: If I had a philosophy it would have to be that I’m honest in a conversational way, where you can understand the sentiment. Not too abstract, not too hidden, not too wordy. It’s a fine balance between all these things. It’s alchemy: finding the right melody for the right word for the right meaning. There are a lot of coinciding elements that make a song good.
BE: It’s funny that you say that, because one of the things I noticed about your music is that there are a ton of things going on. On the surface you might think it’s just guitar and vocal, but underneath that you have voice leading, counterpoint, a lot of really sound structural elements that contribute to those ideas you mentioned.
One of the things I wanted to talk about is related to one of those aspects. Something I noticed almost right away is the way that you use time, or the absence of time in your songs. For example, if there’s a synth as the basis for a track, it’s all sustained chords, and the vocal stretches out on top of that, where it feels almost improvisational. Everything’s moving, but there’s no time being marked. Or if you’re playing guitar, it’s a very steady rhythm, it has the effect of, it kind of negates the time. It’s very minimalist in the way that it moves. I just wanted to get your thoughts on that, how you approach that.
WB: There are definitely times when I use sound effects that could fit anywhere. Especially with loops, they’re not fixed in place, you can place them wherever you want.
When I would play live around the time that I made The Outside Room, which I think has the most of that ambiguous time feel going on, I was making tapes where it didn’t matter if I was a little off when I started the song. It wasn’t to a click. It was just a suggestion of a melody so it could fit anywhere. It straddled the line between dissonance and harmony. It made the outcome a little more interesting.
BE: How do you approach these soundscapes in terms of building them? Is it a visceral process? Is it structured?
WB: It’s all based around listening. I jam a lot, so what I’ll do is record myself jamming on instruments or playing with a certain sound. Then I’ll listen back and take the most exciting parts, or the parts that sound like they would match with one of my songs. It’s very improvisational.
BE: Talking about art in general, a large part of it involves having an audience. What kind of obligations to their audience, if any, should an artist have politically, socially, personally?
WB: I think artists are allowed to do whatever they want. But when it comes time for me to critique art, to try and relate to it, I usually critique it based on whether it’s a believable personal experience the artist may have had. How universal is it? Is this really something that needs to be talked about? And all of these things factor in to how I judge myself. But I don’t hold it against artists who decide to be politically ambiguous. I try to look at it on a case by case basis. In my experience, I’m so affected by the rest of the world—it weighs down on my shoulders to the point where I can’t help but talk about political and global issues in a personal way, in a poetic way, without assumptions or overgeneralizing.
BE: Part of it is trying to find your own way to express yourself, and another part is interpreting what others are doing. It’s difficult.
BE: There’s quite a contrast between what you do on record, which is very intimate, and your live show—your set is very powerful, it’s the same music but you’re really belting the songs out and it works very well.
WB: When I play live, I’m trying to create a moment, something that will get people’s attention. I’m not thinking about that as much when I’m recording. That could account for the difference. Live, it’s about filling the space. That venue [Exit/In] is pretty big, so I have to fill that space. It’s hard to capture that on a recording. You can only do so much with reverb. But if you blasted one of my records, it would feel like the live show.
BE: In terms of your music, from when you started to where you are now, and to where you think you might be going, how do you see your progression and what haven’t you done that you want to do?
WB: I still have a lot that I want to do. I want to continue refining and balancing more intense sonic elements with beautiful ones—finding the marriage between the subliminal and the violent. Something that’s personal but also universal. I like taking opposites and making them work together.
I’m looking forward to my next record. I’ll be playing a little more piano and doing some other things I haven’t done as much on my previous records. I have a greater understanding of the kinds of songs I want to write, and they’re becoming more complex in terms of subject matter. Just getting older and growing up, things naturally evolve in that way. I still feel like my best work is ahead of me.