Who hasn’t dreamed of driving a Jeep on the beach late on a hot summer night, kicking up sand, creating big sand clouds that look cool illuminated by the nearby bonfire that is surrounded by bikini clad girls holding beers and smoking weed? You know, just like in the movies. Chances are, if you were a child of the eighties, this imagined scene came with a soundtrack of some sort with synthy rock blasting out of all four speakers, complete with a muscled sax solo.
Add vampires a la The Lost Boys, and you got yourself a full-fledged teen horror flick. If this film took place in 2020, however, and not in some Corey Haim/Corey Feldman universe, that soundtrack could easily be dominated by Bat For Lashes’ new album Lost Girls—the quintessential soundtrack for a vampire romp flick that doesn’t quite exist… at least not yet.
Like so many eighties horror films such as Humanoids from the Deep, Blood Beach, and—of course, The Lost Boys—the story of Lost Girls (the album) follows the struggle of a teen girl being chased by a gang of vampire girls while trying to navigate love. Like so many vampire films and flicks of this ilk, it’s a bildungsroman of sorts—a coming of age film–because while she’s trying to fight against the dark side (adulthood), she knows she will eventually have to embrace it in some fashion. Will she become a full-fledged bloodsucking freak or will she retain her virginal purity?
But, first, let’s rewind a bit.
Bat for Lashes, a.k.a. Natasha Khan, wrote pretty much a perfect eighties horror-inspired album. It’s got all the teen horror film archetypes in it: A damsel in distress (the protagonist of “Nikki Pink,” the budding young woman who is fighting her inner urges to tap a vein), a gaggle of antagonists (the fanged gang of teenage girl vampires), a love interest (an unnamed boy), and a setting whose geography that sets the stage, like a bitchin’ beach environment of sun, sand, and beautiful people in Los Angeles. Or, should it be the gothic and grimy wet streets of London?
“Those are exactly the two choices that I have,” Natasha laughs, trying to discern the setting of her story. “On one hand, I envision it happening in the dark of Los Angeles or on the California coast… a Lost Boys-y kind of feeling and story.”
Natasha’s love affair with Los Angeles started not too long ago. A new transplant to the City of Angels, Natasha moved to the temperate and sunny climate “three years this past winter” from the cold, damp, and dark world of London. “There is a sunny sexiness to LA that I was attracted to when I first moved here,” she opines. “Driving around at night through the streets with someone you are in love with… You know, the city lights, the stars… there’s a dark, sexy atmosphere here.”
And of her other choice of setting of London? “I have a very strong relationship to England, of course,” she counters. “Since I lived there most of my life, I have a sort of familiarity to it… And it’s perfect for this kind of story of misty moors, dark alleys. I want to put it in place where I have the most authority and understanding and that would be London.”
Or what about merging the two locations?
“That would be really funny,” she laughs. “If you think about An American Werewolf in London, it was really funny because it took place in pubs and out in the country, but it centered around an American. I think it’s a really interesting idea when you take something so American like this kind of vampire story and plant it in some place very wilderness-y and dark like England. I’m making that decision right now but I need to set it where I know the history of that place and the feel. But that is left to be determined.”
So if this “Nikki Pink” character is a girl approaching adulthood, she should be undergoing transformations in her emotions as well as her body, yes?
“When you read about the history of horror films, there’s a lot of sexual tension that is explored through that symbolism,” she replies, mining her knowledge of horror film tropes. “In most coming of age horror films, there’s a lot happening. You’re confused. Your body’s changing and being taken over. You haven’t gotten any control of your desires to, like, I dunno, bite people. [laughs].”
It’s common vampire trope knowledge that the act of a vampire feeding is symbolic of that sexual act. The fangs penetrating the flesh. The life-giving fluids (gross). The drunken euphoria that comes after imbibing gallons of hemoglobin. The “afterglow,” if you will. It’s all quite intense and tactile, and sensual—but also deadly.
Nikki however, wants to fight that carnal, sanguine thirst and instead, find love. This battle of the visceral versus the emotional plays out in the track “So Good.” Natasha sings, “He plays the hunter and I play his kill/And if I ever try to turn away/He gets excited and it makes me stay/But it’s a drug that never numbs the pain/And I know I’m the only one to blame.”
“Demons and instincts,” she says matter-of-factly. “Nikki is lying in the dark and there’s this thing, this infection, that’s going to take her over. She wonders if she can integrate that dark side so that she can grow and ultimately learn to love. This girl is really struggling to be part of demon society to not be fighting against it all the time, not be protecting herself all the time… She has to learn how to soften and tolerate the darkness to gain the intimacy that comes with love. It’s definitely an underlying struggle.”
So, if this is a soundtrack, will there actually be a film?
“Not yet. Even though this is a soundtrack, it has yet to be worked into a film,” she explains.
After the release of her last album The Bride (also a rather cinematic album about a bride whose fiancé dies and her struggle to learn to love herself), she left her label home of EMI and decided to move from London to Los Angeles. Instead of taking an extended break and relaxing in the Hollywood Hills, Natasha enrolled in film school to learn scriptwriting.
“I like writing a story with a soundtrack playing in my mind,” she explains of her creative process. “I’ve been taking this course for relationship-driven screenwriting. Once I completed [the course], I started writing, and now I’ve got my outline for the story. It’s really coming together and I really hope to direct it.”
So premise of the film: where does the girl gore gang of vampires come into play?
“I love the symbolism of vampires,” she says. “So, for example, when [the girl gang] comes into the city, they’d pose as vampires to protect themselves. But as soon as they get out into the desert, like [new single] ‘The Hunger’ video, they’re not really vampires anymore. They transform into, like, the witch side. They become empowered, beautiful, powerful. It’s my little hybrid, but I just love these female archetypes.”
Lost Girls is a fresh start for Natasha. Aside from being a new album, it also marks the beginning of her independent life away from the sometimes constricting demands of a major label. The album feels like a liberation. It’s a new direction for her musically. Instead of dark minor chord washes that was almost trademark Bat for Lashes, Lost Girls busts open the doors and bumps and grinds to an eighties-styled new wave score. If you let it simmer, you’ll hear glimpses of Pet Shop Boys, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and The Goonies. It’ll feel like you were transported to the Stranger Things universe of Steven Spielberg moonlights, first dances in a powder blue prom dress, wood paneling, and Huffy bikes. The opening track “Kids in the Dark” (which she wrote originally for Stephen King’s Castle Rock series) is a feathered-hair synth wash swoon, while the dark, percolating single “The Hunger” embraces cold German synthpop like Camouflage. There are hints of Depeche Mode-ian dark pop in the “So Good”, as well as the videogame-theme-song-as-reimagined-by-Giorgio-Moroder bop of “Feel For You,” which almost sounds like a lost track by Swedish electroclash artist Jenny Wilson.
There are even threads of Middle Eastern rhythms in “Peach Sky,” something that harkens her Pakistani background. “It wasn’t a conscious thing,” she says of the influence, something that really hasn’t shown itself in her music before. “When I moved to LA, the boiling hot nights reminded me of the time I spent in Pakistan as a kid. All my cousins had snakes and monkeys as pets. They all drank Coca Cola because it was the cool American thing to do. They had leather jackets. They really loved Michael Jackson. When I moved to LA, the hot country, dusty, desert-y, hyper-American culture thing really reminded me of them, and it brought back all these memories of being in Pakistan. I think that’s what came out in my music this time around.”
When listened to straight through, the album feels like a linear narrative: a scene-setting atmospheric intro in “Kids in the Dark,” the middle arching conflict of “Feel for You” and “Vampires,” the pastoral denouement of “Mountain.” So, if throughout the storyline, we’re following the trials and tribulations of our protagonist Nikki Pink, what happens to her in the end? Does she go full vampire and become one of the children of the night? Or does she fight the impulse to dive into the carnal world of flesh and penetration and remain virginal and pure? What happens to Nikki, Natasha?
“I’m not sure I’m going to tell you that,” she laughs. “I hope in the end, she manages to wield her power in both the Top World and the Underworld. That’s the dream of anyone… to integrate the light and dark and find that balance. That’s the mission I’m always on. You have to wait and find out when I make this film what happens to Nikki. Watch this space.”
BE SURE TO CATCH BAT FOR LASHES AT THE TOWN HALL IN NYC ON FEBRUARY 19!