Anatomy of an album

Bat For Lashes

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Natasha Khan, the musician known as Bat For Lashes, is back with a new album, the baroque and poppy The Haunted Man. But what influences was she tuning into? Esquire sat down in a London pub with her for the low-down.

1. My sketchbooks

I start every album making drawings and lists of things I’m interested in. I was thinking about certain video artists, the concept of sacred spaces, ancestry, Frida Kahlo and family trees. I don’t know if all that necessarily comes across in the record.

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2. Onions

I worked in the garden at Charleston [in Sussex], which was Virginia Woolf’s sister’s place. I did gardening there once a week, pruning hydrangeas and planting onions. They were used in the café. It was totally refreshing. The music industry’s not a very soulful place.

3. Autoharp

Every time I approach an album it’s dread, it’s horror. You think you’re never going to write another song again. Then one day I sat on my couch with my autoharp and [first track] “Lilies” came out. It’s about a woman who’s really bored and falls in love with a soldier.

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4. Goodnight Mister Tom

I did a course on illustrating children’s books and re-read loads of them. Goodnight Mister Tom I absolutely love. It’s about a little boy who gets evacuated from London during the war. It’s beautiful, but quite heavy going.

5. Drag queens

There’s a drag queen in my video for “Laura” [watch it here]. She’s called Lavinia. I was referencing John Cassavetes’ Opening Night [1977 film featuring Gena Rowlands as an aging, alcoholic actress]. She had been a dancer, lived in New York for 20 years and survived the Aids crisis. I just loved her face.

6. Make-up remover

I’m stripping the visuals right back for this album. It was quite an innocent thing last time, dressing up with all the headdresses. Then suddenly Topshop had gold bandanas. When everybody starts to do glitter, it becomes a bit passé.

7. Men

I had to carry the naked man [for the album cover, below] around for six hours to get that photo. It was very intimate and enjoyable. It’s much harder to be a man than a woman these days, I think. They feel emasculated by all these strong ‘independent women’. So this is me feeling that burden.

8. Beck’s homemade bread

Beck plays on this album. I stayed with his family for three weeks in LA. I really like him. It was “Let’s go feed the chickens, go for a walk on the beach, play with the kids, then do some more music.” It’s my ideal life. We ate very healthy delicious food. He makes his own bread.

9. The Drive soundtrack

I’d been hearing Chromatics, Glass Candy and all those slow disco bands for a while, but it all came to fruition on that album. Do I fancy Ryan Gosling? Who doesn’t? But I was into him for his music [indie band Dead Man’s Bones] before I got into his acting.

10. The countryside

“Winter Fields” is the most direct, sentimental song on the album. It harks back to my childhood in the Sussex Downs. It’s about dreams and fears and nightmares. It’s where The Snowman was filmed – well, drawn. It’s my dream to have a studio looking over those fields.

The Haunted Man by Bat For Lashes is out on 15 October (Parlophone)