Wise Words from Weyes Blood
Singer-Songwriter Talks Spirituality, the Apocalypse, and Accepting Doom with Grace
Singer-songwriter Weyes Blood, who plays tonight at SohO Restaurant & Music Club with TOPS, sees the world through a glass darkly. Her music is heavy with lament and deep with feeling, but in the gloom, she manages to find hope. I spoke with her on the phone last week during a recent heatwave about climate change, Flannery O’Conner, and how to deal gracefully with oncoming doom.
How are you this morning?The heat is starting, I live in a really tiny apartment in Echo Park… It’s been crazy hot.
How do you deal with the heat?I mean really just leaving the apartment, the apartment gets crazy hot, I try to swim and really just take cold showers…Cold showers are great.
So the name Weyes Blood is based on the Flannery O’Conner book Wise Blood. I did a senior project on that book in high school English, so I’m curious what about the book resonated with you… I read that book in high school. I was getting into female writers and Southern Gothic writers, and what I really love about that is I can relate to the pain of being raised a Christian. The sharp existential pain and striving beyond the goals of the fleshy body, and it kind of resonated with me in that way. This idea that blood is something that is shared throughout generations, and blood is passed from mother to child — the blood in us is older than our skin. You carry this blood from our ancestors, and the idea of wise blood is information symbolically stored in your blood.
Are you still a Christian? I am still spiritual, I am not Christian. I get down with esoteric agnostic stuff, and I like the books excluded from the Bible because of their New Age non-dogmatic vibe. I can get down with some esoteric Christianity and symbolism because for me it’s nice to reconcile with those archetypes. For the most part, I believe in a lot of different things and a lot of different cosmologies of my own, and I’m interested in things from skepticism and psychic activity to astral projection. I see the truth in everything.
Are you into crystals? To me, that stuff got kind of old because of the way people were using it. Like anything else, spirituality is a practice. You can buy some stuff and carry it around, but if you’re flashing it around — when I see kind of typical modern New Age people work with crystals and things, it feels like they’re missing the point. Yeah, you have to charge the crystal and put energy into it and … I think crystals are kind of symbolic carriers for energy but I don’t think in themselves can change anything. They’re not generative. The crystals I carry, I carry around black tourmaline for protection, and I want to be reminded that there could be a force beyond myself that has some say in my protection. My one experience with it that was very real, I was on tour with my band in a van, sitting in a non-seat in between two seats. We got in a crazy car accident and the van flipped over and it was really intense. Centrifugal force kept me in my spot. The black tourmaline flew out, it was almost to me as if it symbolically expelled itself… I don’t think it saved me, there’s things that beyond that and the crystal was a symbolic presence. And people get caught up in the material realm in our culture where they forget the real work is immaterial.
Have you had any recent revelations or self-discoveries lately? I think my most recent favorite discovery is that everybody kind of has their own unique struggle. The unique struggle is definitely like … basically, if you compare yourself to somebody else’s struggle then you’re not doing justice to your struggle. As a woman, I’ve had to try twice as hard. The kind of things I run into in the music industry are twice as complicated. Everything is loaded when you’re an attractive female, and there are other women that feel this way and others that don’t. Mine is pretty loaded and I’m a pretty sensitive person. That is my unique struggle, certain things I’ve had to work twice as hard on, but I would never victimize myself or say that I’m entitled to anything anyone else has. This is my unique struggle. You’ve gotta own it. In our culture, right now there’s so much a culture of entitlement and coming out and being like — especially on college campuses with PC culture of, “I didn’t appreciate you saying that,” and the professor gets fired — all this stuff is fueling the negligence of reality. You’re not gonna get emotionally comfortable, you’re gonna get torn apart. I’m not speaking in terms of things racially — the systemic injustices of the law are totally worth fighting. But on a certain level, nobody’s allowed to say they’re not allowed to be uncomfortable. I mean, I think it’s important , I’m glad there’s a language, and I’m glad there’s a term like safe space and a vocabulary to express keeping people feeling well and not emotionally damaged. But at the same time, the earth is not a fair place. It’s an American thing, because of the American dream, building everybody up to this idea that they deserve the best that there is to get, and kind of a false hope. It’s not a healthy perspective.
There’s an apocalyptic theme running in your music, and there was that recent Pitchfork article ‘Weyes Blood’s Hymns for the Incoming Apocalypse’… What are your thoughts on the apocalypse? People my age my generation, it’s been hard. We haven’t had kids yet. I haven’t had kids yet, and I wonder, should I have kids? How bad is this gonna get? I believe that humans are way more ignorant than we let on. This inflated sense of hubris and pride. If shit really hits the fan, we should be prepared to accept massive cataclysmic change with grace and not with fear and anger and frustration and violence. As someone who remembers all the ’90s and The Big Help, the ‘Hey guys, you’re the Indigo Children,’ and just bawling my eyes out at Al Gore’s documentary, I was emotionally attached to idea that we could still fix it. It’s been a long, ongoing process of no longer becoming as emotionally impacted by this idea that we are a temporal existence. We surfed on the biggest wave of natural resources of all time in the ’60s and kind of brought on this kind of issue.
Was this a gradual change, or was there a single moment where you realized this? It’s been gradual, but definitely traveling to Europe and kind of flying around the world and seeing how it’s affecting other people and other places besides America. Moving back to L.A. it’s twice as hot, the drought is way more insane, the ocean looks different, there no more June bugs. I’ve seen the changes last Christmas in my home in Pennsylvania, I was outside in the t-shirt. That was the biggest moment, there was this big fog hanging over the trees… I had this deep pit in my stomach.
There is some peace in accepting it… And sort of a new sentiment. I agree. There’s a song where I say, “YOLO,” and I think that idea that you only live once is something that is becoming this more realized thing. People are realizing that the food and technology is here to sedate us and keep us down because there are too many of us. It’s common knowledge now, and just enjoy as much of it as you can while it lasts. This has been going on for a long time. There are hits from the ’70s, and all these weird bands were writing songs about apocalyptic stuff. Blue Oyster Cult had “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” about thousands of people being born … that there are too many of us, and it’s okay to die. GONG had a big song from Magick Brother, “Rational Anthem,” the lyrics were, ‘Yes, we are gonna change the world, we haven’t any choice / It’s too easy to change your face, to change your place / … Stop, look out for the radiation.” This is actually modernity, and it’s kind of an old theme, these apocalyptic themes have been stewing about in alternative intellectual music worlds and it’s dipping into the mainstream.
Tell me about your video for “Do You Need My Love,” where you are wearing a mustache. I’ve always been a really big fan of crossdressing. My favorite examples growing up were in Kids In The Hall, the Canadian sketch comedy show, and Monty Python, too. I just felt like playing a man. I feel really comfortable in that role. There’s a very masculine quality of me that I never really get to tap into. I used to be a lot more androgynous as a teenager, and I had those mannerisms, so just tapping into that and into that role reversal for the video… I would say the character in the video is a sensitive hedonist, which I think is the best thing to be — being honest about being a human, but not being a predator. A sensitive androgynous passion seeker is something I can really get down with.
I’ve been wearing dresses more often lately and It feels great. I got a new one yesterday. It has been really wonderful getting in touch with my femininity, though it’s been a long laborious process. I’ve had a lot of male friends… I’m pretty tapped into my femininity, but I’ve always liked the idea of a monogamous relationship with someone where you become unisexual. … I’ve struggled a lot with people’s perceptions of me as a woman in music — especially in America, there’s no matriarchal presence in America. Maybe Marilyn Monroe. People hate Hillary Clinton. There’s not really a strong woman archetype here, it’s really just the Sexpot and the Hot Mess. I really struggle with that.
What’s next for you in the year ahead?Well, I’m touring with a band in the States and I’m really looking forward to that. I’m going to Australia for the first time, and I’m already working on my next record. I’m getting in tune with myself, the next record will be more personal than Front Row to Seat to Earth. I’m getting more honest with my lyrics… I seem to be less insecure and less embarrassed about the details. I would use sweeping archetypes and keep things in this big songwriting territory, and now I’m ready to spill the beans. It is really exciting. As a young person, I had a lot of people that I secretly wanted to please. It comes naturally in your 20’s. You have people in your 20’s whose opinion you hold in high esteem and you take what they say very seriously. I’ve very successfully eradicated that and now I can finally be me. I can just do what I want.
What do you like to do in your free time, besides music? I love nature. I love the Sierra Nevadas. The cabin in the “Do You Need My Love” video that’s one of my favorite places. It’s right near Lake Tahoe. I was just there to make that video, the drought was a little better this year so it was such a blessing to see water, though it has changed a lot. I love the ocean, the southwest, I love New Mexico and New England. I just love America. It’s got so many stunning places. I haven’t really found places in Europe that I love, I guess Sweden is pretty amazing. I’ve definitely been witnessing a lot of changes.
Nature is a reminder that it’s always changing, in cycles… Yeah, and just to realize that it’s always been cataclysm, ever since the beginning of mankind. We might have lucked out and even though there’s still issues — in a strange political sense there’s no slavery and no serious wars where millions of people are dying, and in the ancient times like the Plague, humans have gone through times that are insanely dark and intense and real. We’re going through something that’s almost similar, but it’s always been this way, and I think that it’s important to feel that. It’s always been a battle surviving on this planet in this weird way, and we should enjoy the perception and consciousness that we have while we’re here.