What’s the best metaphor to use for a time in which old white people of privilege try to stay alive at the expense of the lower class, where love is all that makes anyone hopeful? For Natalie Mering, a.k.a. Weyes Blood, the answer is obvious.
“The Titanic has been a big part of my life since I was a child,” the musician says, “being fascinated with the story for years and also seeing the movie. I have just been waiting to draw that parallel ... everything going on right now is just that.”
Mering is no stranger to sinking ships. The metaphor was used on “Generation Why,” a standout track from 2016’s Front Row Seat to Earth, asking for a reason behind her generation’s sense of abandon in the shadow of a tidal wave. Titanic 2 had even been thrown around as a title for that record in the early stages, but it wasn’t until this year’s Titanic Rising that she got the chance to break the concept wide open. In her underwater bedroom on the album’s cover, the musician looks outside those walls for a hope beyond the one that many millennials were sold growing up.
“I think we have a really unique perspective,” Mering says. “We had a real baby boomer paradise. The ’90s were these really wealthy times where our faith in institutions was really high. Our lives would continue and get better from computers and technology. Environmentalism was just about cleaning up our mess. That’s a very positive outlook on reality. We also grew up the most cinematically saturated guinea pigs for rearing children in a way that sets them up for disappointment. We were set up to believe that we’d inherit the world that our parents inherited.”
Beyond politics or the oversaturated news cycle, Mering sees a longer trail of breadcrumbs leading to millennial burnout. For her and her peers, it’s a very tangible feeling of helplessness, the idea that effort toward change is largely inconsequential. With so many promises left in limbo, it could be easy to get cynical and complacent. But this feeling is something to struggle against, and something that even the generation after Mering might be uniquely equipped for.
“It’s no surprise to me that the people doing the heaviest protest for climate change are teenagers,” she says. “They have the energy to have the positivity. Most people my age don’t.”
Titanic Rising is a heavy record, bearing the weight of years of pondering, processing, and evolving toward a brighter future. To bear the load, Mering found a willing partner in Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, who co-produced the record alongside her. While Mering had all the songs written prior to entering the studio, Rado’s input helped take her vision to a new level of grandiosity.
“When I met Rado, we resonated immediately,” Mering says. “With [him], the door is wide open in any direction. He’s a very generous, volcanic music lover. We had a lot of fun tapping into the mythology of the Titanic. We made this mood board of the ship with Brian Ferry on the bow and Brian Eno on the stern … it was about finding this imaginary world to explore.”
Rado wasn’t the only one who saw the importance of Mering’s message. Legendary Seattle indie label Sub Pop Records signed Weyes Blood for the release of Titanic Rising, giving the musician her biggest platform to date.
“I think I always wanted to be on Sub Pop,” Mering says. “To me, it was logical from a nostalgic perspective, reaching a goal I had set for myself at 14. But the only thing that really changed was maybe believing in myself — I was a little less insecure. I’ve been playing as Weyes Blood for like, 15 years. There were a lot of years where there was no traction. So, that really boosted my confidence in what I was doing.”
But even with Sub Pop and a supportive team behind her, this record marks a personal milestone for Weyes Blood. This is the most vulnerable and cathartic release of her career, and Mering feels the weight heavy on her shoulders.
“It took a lot of willpower to make the record that I made,” she says. “I’ve put a lot into something and still feel that I’m barely scratching the surface in what I can do to make things change. I’m still trying to get more involved in action — making changes. I’m not going to sit this one out. It’s just a lot to sift through, to read the news every day. It can take a toll on your emotional health. It’s important to recognize that burnout. We just need to look at the young kids that are out there speaking their minds.”
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.