Music

Bat For Lashes: 'Make meditation compulsory in every school'

Each week, we ask one artist a set of quick-fire questions that all start with ‘the first’, from their first shows and paycheques to the first time they got drunk and fell in love. Up next is Bat For Lashes, the critically acclaimed electro-pop artist with two Ivor Novellos and three Mercury Prize nominations under her belt, who's just released her fifth album

Indie-pop maven Bat For Lashes is back with a fifth album, her first independent release since finishing a ten-year deal with Polydor. Inspired by her new adopted home of LA, where she moved after finishing said contract, Lost Girls is a stellar return to the ethereal, Eighties-inspired sound that marked her out as one of the most critically acclaimed artists of her generation. Beyond putting out five well-received albums, London-born Bat For Lashes (real name Natasha Khan) has collaborated with Damon Albarn, toured with Radiohead and supported Coldplay, all while becoming renowned for her live shows and working on projects as varied as fashion and score writing.

The three-time Mercury Prize nominee (and two-time Ivor Novello winner) is a is a true creative powerhouse. As well as being a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, she’s also a filmmaker, and a good one at that, as the video for her latest single, “Kids In The Dark”, proves. Pairing delicate vocals and synth-heavy production, like the video this track is Khan at her very best. Here, she speaks to GQ about her formative firsts, from seminal childhood moments to how she made her way in music via love and politics.

The first time you realised you wanted to be a musician...

I was watching Bjork MTV unplugged and she had rearranged her whole Debut album with Middle Eastern instruments and strings. It was so unusual to my young ears, so magical and inspiring, I saw her in bare feet jumping around the stage, expressing herself like a feral animal and I thought, "I want me some of that!"

The first time you played in front of a live audience...

I was probably 17 or 18 and I sang a cover of Spiritualised's "Oh Happy Day" with my boyfriend's band. I was so incredibly nervous that I smoked a cigarette the whole way through and hid behind my hair. But it sounded pretty and people liked it. It took me years to get over crippling stage fright. I still get it now if I haven't done a show for a while. It's always much worse just beforehand, but then once I'm out there something wild and feminine and badass takes over me and I feel ten feet taller, like a witch holding a ceremony.

The first time you made money out of being a musician...

When I first got my publishing deal. I was 26 and they gave me a chunk of money to make my first record. I remember holding this cheque in my hand in utter disbelief! I didn't have to work as a nursery school teacher any more. I could afford to quit my job and be a musician full time. I sat on the end of my bed and cried. It was so outstanding to me that all my dreams were coming true.

The first time you blew your paycheque frivolously...

I have always been pretty good with money. I guess that comes from being raised in a single parent family, where Mum always told us to work and budget and be sensible with our money. So it was a while before I did anything really outrageous. Maybe buying a bunch of gorgeous clothes and furniture for my first house, but I wouldn't say that was frivolous! Maybe I need to be more rock'n'roll and hire a helicopter to take me to Hawaii or something.

The first time you got properly drunk...

I was really young, probably ten. Me and my older cousins stole a bunch of bottles of Babysham at my nan's party and drank them behind the tacky Sixties wood-panelled bar in her house. We were all giggling and hiccuping when they found us! It was fun, but we got into trouble.

The first time you fell properly in love...

I fell in love with my best friend in high school. He ended up being my boyfriend for seven years. I think I knew I was in love one Christmas Eve we shared together, when he gave me a hand-written novella he had written for me and I gave him a painting I made for him. We were too shy to get together for months and then the minute we left school, it happened.

The first record you ever bought...

True Blue by Madonna. I was obsessed with her as a girl. Her style, sass, songs, sexuality, everything was so girlie for me. So much of my adolescent feelings and experiences were soundtracked by Madonna songs... She was inspirational and provocative and strong and pulled ideas from underground dance and gay culture. I learnt a lot from her. I watched her. I aspired to be as cool as she was in the Eighties and Nineties.

The first time a politician made you mad...

When Bush and Blair wanted to go into Iraq and Afghanistan. The whole thing smelt of bullshit and I remember going on this huge march with my mum and seeing two million people on the streets protesting for peace. It made me very fired up and emotional to feel this surge of "power to the people". But then it changed nothing. They went ahead and started a war anyway. That was the first time I questioned democracy and whether it had any power in the face of decisions made by people with different interests from me. It made me want to get more involved with my local politicians and community, to try to effect change – because I felt so removed from the big guys in parliament. I teach meditation to prisoners and kids. I care about the planet. These are ways I feel I can make a positive contribution.

The first time you won at anything...

I won a regional poetry competition when I was about nine. The guy that judged it got me up on stage right at the start to read some of my poem out and then he kept me up there as he called on more kids to come and read aloud. He used all our work to illustrate form, structure, symbolism and all these things that flew over my head, because I felt so awkward and shy sitting up there. Why wasn't he letting me go back down to sit with my mum? Well, turns out at the very end he announced me as the winner all along. I was astounded. Mum cried. It was really sweet and gave me confidence in my creativity that I hadn't had before. I could write poems and do it well.

The first thing you'd do if you became prime minister...

Make meditation compulsory in every school. Ten minutes a day of connecting with the divine energy that you are can only help awaken us to our potential to end wars, end the destruction of our planet, connect us to the beauty in every individual, animal and plant, make us work as a global community with respect and gratitude for all that we have and try to preserve that.

The first time you threw punch and meant it...

I didn't throw a punch, but I bit my best friend Lorraine's arm one day when we had a huge fight playing together. I knew the minute it happened that it was bad. She cried in a way I hadn't seen before. I had really hurt her. In my fit of rage I had gone too far. I knew I was in such deep trouble with the adults and I was terrified of the punishment I would face. But more than that I was worried I may have lost my best friend's trust. We had to work on building things back up after that, but we came back stronger.

The first time you realised you were actually any good...

Maybe when I first saw people crying in the audience. I knew I had affected them, their emotions, that they resonated and were touched by things I was touched by. It gave me a sense of connection and compassion and I thought, "Maybe I'm not so bad at this!"

The first time you were given any really excellent advice...

My neighbour and godfather is Danny Thompson, an incredibly successful and brilliant bass player. He didn't necessarily give me advice growing up, except to keep trying, do it better, play harder, don't think you'll get anywhere unless you've got something to say. I guess it was reverse psychology, he was hard on me and unimpressed mostly, but deep down he was pushing me to mine the deeper parts of myself, to take the road of a true creator and not mess around.

Your first diva moment...

Probably when I lost my voice before a live performance on TV and broke down in tears. I hate to perform when I'm under par. I'm a perfectionist and I felt like a wild animal trapped and being made to do my circus tricks, although I knew it would sound terrible. But I went ahead and it was the worst experience ever. I said, "You wouldn't bash a surgeon's hands with a hammer and then expect him to perform surgery! If I can't even talk, how am I going to sing?" They probably thought that was diva behaviour. And I still did it...

The first time you met a fan...

I remember meeting a fan who had been living with acute pain and told me that she had only survived by listening to my music. I hugged her and we had a chat for a while. She had made it to my show even though it was so hard for her to move. I was touched. It is always amazing to meet fans, but when they have a story in which my music has helped in some way, it's really beautiful.

Head to our Vero channel to find out what Bat For Lashes has been watching, listening to and reading, plus her place recommendation and unseen quotes from this interview. Join GQ on Vero now for exclusive music content and commentary, all the latest music lifestyle news and insider access into the GQ world, from behind-the-scenes insight to recommendations from our Editors and high-profile talent.

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