Helena Deland is a Montreal-based singer-songwriter. Her album, Goodnight Summerland, is out now on Chivi Chivi.
(Photo Credit: Sabrina Jolicoeur)
Helena Deland is a Montreal-based singer-songwriter; Natalie Mering is Weyes Blood, and released her fourth album under the name, Titanic Rising, in 2019 via Sub Pop. To celebrate Helena’s new album Someone New — out now via Luminelle Recordings — the friends and former tourmates hopped on the phone to talk about finally having the time and space to reflect on your art in quarantine, and much more.
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor
Natalie Mering: Helena, how’ve you been?
Helena Deland: Yo, Natalie, I’m good. How are you?
Natalie: I’m doing really good, considering everything. Feeling pretty grateful.
Natalie: Are you in Montreal?
Helena: I sure am. I’m at home with my two roommates. In Montreal for god knows how long! I feel like physical space has just become… everyone’s just in their stable little purgatory.
Natalie: I know, it is pretty interesting.
Helena: Where are you?
Natalie: I’m in LA, in my apartment with my dog.
Helena: Is your dog the beautiful puppy that was on the cards to get in backstage on tour?
Natalie: [Laughs.] Yeah, Luigi!
Helena: Is Luigi named after anyone?
Natalie: You know, Mario and Luigi. I’m Mario.
Helena: [Laughs.] Oh, god, that’s so cute.
Natalie: He’s my little man, my sidekick. It’s been really great to have… you know, because I live alone, so I had to pod up and create a little crew of people that I saw to avoid quarantining completely alone — which is just really hard, I feel for people who are doing that right now.
Helena: Yeah, it’s a new level of lonely.
Natalie: I know, and it doesn’t help with the technology, and the fact that we were already kind of trending in that direction anyway.
Helena: I know, it’s crazy. Cultural isolation.
Natalie: So, Someone New — I really love that song, that opening song. I read a little bit in the bio about some of the stuff you’re talking about with it. Like, you’re talking about feeling like you’re past your prime?
Helena: Yeah, or [feeling] afraid to be right in it, and not feeling like it’s so exciting after all.
Natalie: Yeah, yeah! Elaborate more on that.
Helena: Well, I guess that song is interested in the position that I’ve found myself in more and more, trying to quote-unquote “make it” in the music industry, where I guess some dynamics of what’s expected of women in general in and outside of the music industry are kind of heightened. One of those is youth, and relevance. Depending on that, sometimes it’s definitely a fear that I had. But I think more generally, music industry put aside, this is the moment in my life that is the most free of responsibility, and [the most] healthy, and just this convergence of different privileges like that, [so] there’s so much pressure to feel good and on top of things, I guess.
Natalie: Yeah. Do you feel like in some ways there is a heightened sense of youth mattering because of the visibility a musician has to have now, in terms of just, like, lots of pictures and visual content?
Helena: I think so. I don’t know what you think about that — on the one hand, the rate of visibility is kind of wild, and definitely such big part of a career, and probably especially a woman’s career. But I do also think that the standards are definitely not new, and maybe can be softened a little bit by women kind of positioning themselves with regards to it.
Natalie: How old are you?
Helena: 28, about to turn 29.
Natalie: So in some ways, you just kind of were mourning not having the musical situation sync up with your early 20s.
Helena: I think so, yeah. [Laughs.] Which is far more of a blessing than a curse, because I was just so confused in my early 20s anyway. And above that, it’s also just being afraid that the things that I feel like are very valued in the capitalist patriarchal society are constantly fleeing, one of which is youth, and we have no control over that. But I feel much better about it now.
Natalie: What are some of the things that helped you feel better about it?
Helena: I guess thinking about it and talking about it and experiencing time. I think naming it was the first step maybe — like, Well, I’m really worried about this, and people relate. There’s comfort in that for sure. How do you feel about it? I mean, I’ve read a lot of things that you’ve said in interviews and stuff that resonate, with women’s position in the music industry.
Natalie: I guess I kind of feel like I’ve watched the music scene become more female. When I first entered into it, it was a little bit more noticeably, predominantly male or 10 or 15 years ago. And now it’s kind of predominantly female — in a subtle way. I mean, there’s still tons of men involved, don’t get me wrong. But I do sense that more than ever before, I have friends that are songwriters like me going through all the same things as I am, and I didn’t have that when I was 19. I was the only person like me I knew at that time.
Helena: Wow, that’s wild.
Natalie: Yeah. Women are so much more pervasive at this point. And also, I’ve always been into older women musicians.
Helena: Me too, and that’s the thing: There are many more people like us.
Natalie: But you’re, like, really young.
Helena: Yeah, I know.
Natalie: That’s what’s weird, you’re in your 20s. But something about being in your 20, I definitely think you have a tendency to assume that you’re getting way older than you are. Once you hit your 30s, then you’re like, Oh, 28 is baby. Once you hit your 40s, you’re like, Oh, 30 is baby. It’s just not really linear. I’ve never had issues with, like, youth stuff. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to be young for is to tour without getting so physically exhausted from it. [Laughs.]
Helena: Yeah, totally.
Natalie: Like it would be cool to just have a teenage body and you don’t need sleep or food.
Helena: [Laughs.] You can just eat a bag of chips and you’re totally fine.
Natalie: That would be rad.But then my buddies that did start touring as teens, they got slammed. They got totally slammed from being a teen on tour making all these raunchy decisions for their bod. So it just really is completely non-linear. There’s no actual right answer. I just feel like all the older musicians I know who started later — it couldn’t have been any other way. That’s their story, and I think it’s a good story ultimately.
Helena: It’s very motivating.
Natalie: The people who get hit up too young with success can get really, really messed up.
Helena: I can only imagine. It must be, in the development process, something that is hard to…
Natalie: I think the one thing I notice a lot is kind of in mainstream music, they’ll dump a bunch of money into, like, a 15 year old and need to make it back over the course of five years or something. That in itself is not the best for the artist.
Helena: It’s definitely cruel to some extent.
Natalie: Yeah. I think ultimately, the youth myth is mixed in there, and of course it’s kind of shiny and everybody wants a piece, but I don’t actually think it’s having as big of an impact on music, in terms of good music. The Boomers will not let go, which is another thing. It’s so normalized to have, like, blues dad, and a 70 year old dude. And Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams — these are women who just kept getting better into their 50s. So there’s kind of just no quantifying. Maybe that might be for me an American thing, because I see in America these older women really killing it. It kind of washed away any fears about that.
Helena: I definitely hear you. And that leads me to want to ask you two questions: The first question is, having put out four records and many EPs, do you feel like you’re going towards your prime as an artist, in terms of quality of work?
Natalie: I feel like I keep on steadily going along this path. But I will say that the pandemic, and everything that’s happening in the world, was like a bit like ripping the foundation out of the tower and letting everything topple over. So much has changed internally that I feel like my art is gonna really change. It might not necessarily sonically feel that different, but just from the place at which I’m making it.
I think a lot of people are kind of re-evaluating everything they do, and I think they should — like, this is our chance. We’re not blinded by constantly touring, which is one thing in the music industry that not a lot of people really talk about. These days, not selling physical copies of music as much, you do tour a lot to make a living, and that kind of lifestyle is not the best for writing or getting better at your instrument or honing in on some creativity. Unless your band is making space for improvisation and randomness, you’re playing the same songs every night. So I do feel like getting this opportunity to not tour has definitely made me want to blow up the whole structure, decimate everything I once thought was true and start from scratch!
Helena: [Laughs.] About more than music too?
Natalie: I can’t disconnect music from everything. My whole situation is like an overgrown terrarium where everything’s all tangled up. So for me, my art, my music is like my soul and my prayer and my whatever. So I do feel like these are some pretty life changing times, and it’s really important to step back and be like, OK, why was I making that? What is this for? What do I want to make now? We have a chance to literally look back and acknowledge the choices we made that we might have not had enough time to really engage with and think deeply about it.
Helena: Absolutely. Just time to sit with the whole process is… it’s weird to say, but new. Usually it’s such a rolling order of events.
Natalie: Totally. I tell people it’s kind of like surfing — you’re just surfing a huge wave, then you kind of get plummeted, and then you get back up and you can be on that board just not thinking about anything.
Natalie: Writing is such a different process. When you’re making an album, that’s when it’s like you’re not just surfing. You’re literally just kind of building something from the ground up. The music industry doesn’t necessarily cater to those cycles being that long. I think the longer that cycle can be, the deeper you can get.
It’s like two sides of the coin, you know. Because, I mean, I love the shows. One thing I realized is that I was living off the shows — that was my gasoline. So that’s another discovery.
Helena: You had to go home mid-tour, is that right?
Natalie: Well, I had a couple shows in Japan that got canceled, but I was really lucky I got to finish this tour of New Zealand. We played the last show the night before they banned gatherings. But I kind of realized through this whole COVID thing that if there’s anything in your life you start living off of — maybe for the best, make it something you could give yourself.
Helena: It’s good to have the space to create something over a longer period of time .
Natalie: Yeah. And also, it may be like, you like painting. or maybe you like trains — you just gotta have your thing, and I realized that in so many ways, I’d become so music obsessed that it was everything. And all of a sudden not playing shows, I was kind of like, Whoooah! Who am I!? Did you feel like that?
Helena: Well, I mean, yes and no. I feel like I have been asking myself that question for a while. The music thing has never felt very secure for me. It’s feeling more secure right now than ever.
Natalie: Oh, good! I know, you’re in a completely different zone.
Helena: Exactly. Which I guess is kind of a weird one, but I’m definitely used to approaching my music career with a quizzical state of mind.
Natalie: I feel like I’m coming at you with this, like, long-zone perspective. I’m like, [gruff voice] “I’ve been tourin’, man!”
Helena: [Laughs.] That totally makes sense. And the same way that you’re describing, there has been a lot of, obviously, expecting to play more shows, and that hasn’t been the case. Appreciating the time is another really nice thing. I feel like I can kind of think about the next thing already, which wouldn’t be the case if I was touring. I’m kind of excited about that, for sure. But also, I’ve barely headlined — and by the way, opening for you was definitely my favorite tour ever.
Natalie: [Laughs.] Aw, we had fun, right?
Helena: So much fun. It was a very enriching experience. And it was my last tour! Which is weird. I don’t know how you conceive of tours in the future, but it’s definitely not immediate, that’s for sure..
Natalie: Oh, yeah, I think we’re looking at another year of no shows. I mean, there’s going to be socially distanced drive-in shows, and I think that maybe they’ll get a little better at doing that. But it’s still going to be pretty small scale. Just knowing how everybody feels about it, it looks like the socially distanced show thing is still not as pervasive as I thought it would be. I think it’s because nobody wants to get caught making a shitty decision and risking lives.
Helena: Yeah, that’s fair enough.
Natalie: I mean, the drive-in shows I think are really cool.
Helena: That must be another American concept, I haven’t heard of this.
Natalie: Yeah, I think in more rural parts of America, they’re doing the drive-in shows.
Natalie: I think that’s really cool that you haven’t done extensive touring yet. Because I think when touring comes back, it’s going to be a little bottlenecked but people are going to be so hungry and so ready to participate and support the arts, even if we’re looking at some global economy crash. I think that art and these things that really fill people’s soul will survive a recession like that. And I really believe that when it’s time to play shows, you’ll be playing some glorious headlined shows before you know it.
Helena: That’s so sweet of you. But I do agree about that. You learn the lesson — isn’t it fun to travel, to be together, to listen to music, and you know, just take our bodies and bring them into a space? That was so taken for granted. As you say, it might be even more appreciated whenever it comes back.
Natalie: Yeah, I realize all the shit I’ve taken for granted.
Helena: Yeah. Do you wanna get into it?
Natalie: Do you want me to list it? [Laughs.] I think that I liked knowing there were parties going on and not going to them.
Helena: Oh, that’s amazing.
Natalie: And just chillin home, writing, doing whatever I wanted, knowing that I was choosing not to go somewhere as opposed to not having a choice. I don’t have a choice to say no to a bar or party or a gathering. I actually strangely found a lot of inspiration in my life from leaving a party early — really dipping in and out of a chaotic world of people kind of hanging and doing their thing.
Helena: That is so interesting.
Natalie: Yeah. Kind of having my hermetic seal fortified by the fact that there were things going on.
Helena: And that this was a choice on your part, and you were already present for it. That’s really interesting.
Natalie: Now that I don’t have a choice, I’m actually like, Oh, it’s not as inspiring. I write songs at parties sometimes because I feel so physically uncomfortable, and that discomfort is such a big part of my thing — kind of like gently tapping into the world, a crowd. Kind of weaving in and out, getting what I need and getting out. Now that I can’t really participate in a world like that, I realized how much I enjoyed observing it, and enjoyed dipping in and out, or leaving randomly and showing up randomly, and just being able to kind of get into a stream of stuff that wasn’t just my thoughts. I just feel like I ultimately took stimulation for granted — this idea that you could run into people or go see a movie or a show or a museum. These things were really valuable for imagination and creativity.
Helena: I agree. I find that point of view to be really refreshing. I tend to feel like the imposed hermetic situation is kind of a blessing for me, just because I had a hard time pulling myself away from it before the world shut down, or slowed down. But that’s really interesting that that position of creating a space amidst a world of bustling parties and events was inspiring to you. It makes sense. You’re choosing to be alone over anything else.
Natalie: It’s like staying home on Christmas. That day is all charged up, and you’re like, I chose to be alone, ahhh!
Helena: [Laughs.] That must be scary.
Natalie: Alone on Christmas? Aw, it’s not so bad.
Helena: It’s an admirable choice.
Natalie: Christmas is just loaded. We we spring-load Christmas with all this crazy shit. It’s just a bunch of red paint.
Helena: Totally. And I’ve been alone on Christmas, too, don’t get me wrong. It’s just the choice must be kind of difficult. I’m just thinking of my family — they’d be like, “Oh my gosh.”
Natalie: My family was like, “What are you doing?” But I was like, “I’ve only been able to come home from tour for, like, two weeks.”
Helena: That’s totally fair.
Natalie: I went on a date on Christmas.
Helena: Wow, that’s wild.
Natalie: That was pretty cool.
Helena: I’m just curious, where did you meet up? Was everything closed?
Natalie: No, we got Chinese food!
Helena: [Laughs.] Oh, cool, that makes sense. Was it, like, ceremonially Christmassy, or…?
Natalie: Well, my mom’s Jewish, and that was kind of a Jewish tradition, getting Chinese food on Christmas. So it felt holiday-esque. It was kind of fun to do something completely different on Christmas. My circumstances were pretty extreme, you know, where I definitely was just like, I don’t feel like flying or traveling the world anymore. And this was when nothing was canceled yet, so I still had a whole year of traveling, and I was just kind of like, It’s time to do Christmas like a full grown.
Helena: Just do my thing!
Natalie: Do my thang! But now that all this stuff has happened, I’m just taking advantage of any opportunity to see my folks. That was definitely another thing I kind of took for granted — like, Oh, next Christmas! I’ll just skip this Christmas. But now I’m definitely trying to see my family as much as possible.
Helena: Yeah, I definitely feel you on that. Have you been having quarantine dreams?
Natalie: I have. I have a lot of dreams, yeah.
Helena: [Laughs.] That’s cool. I was reading in an interview of yours in The Believer where you mentioned having a whole, like, parallel United States of America in dreams, which I find so interesting. I envy people who dream that conceptually. But I’m wondering what has become of your dreams in the pandemic?
Natalie: Well, [I have] a lot of political unrest dreams, protest dreams, and weird stuff with that. But also a close family friend of mine died last year, and he appeared in a dream of mine the night of his birthday.
Helena: Oh, my god, wow.
Natalie: I didn’t even know it was his birthday. My mom just hit me up and was like, “Ah, yesterday was his birthday.” And I was like, “I had a dream!” In the dream, he was guiding me through this swamp and showing that this place where I used to swim was now teaming with alligators. And some were huge, and like ancestral, dead old dinosaur ones, and other ones were little zippy ones that were just freshly born.
Helena: [Laughs.] That’s so cute, but also really kind of symbolic.
Natalie: Yeah. I equate it to that as my shadow — like he came to me as a guide and was like, “I’m about to show you some nasty stuff that’s about to get dug up over the next couple years, because you got a lot more time on your hands and it’s time to do this work.” And I believe that in the shadow realm, we do have stuff from our family that’s more ancestral, and then we have these kind of fresh, newly born complexes out of our experiences. So that was my favorite quar dream. What about you?
Helena: A lot of enclosed spaces. I can’t pull one up right now, but I definitely like to make the effort of writing my dreams down every morning. I just never reread them. [Laughs.] But, yeah, some really scary dreams for sure. But there’s a healthy balance of fright and hope, I guess.
(Photo Credit: left, Eli Sheiner Oda; right, Kathryn Vetter-Miller)