By Tom Pinnock
Bat For Lashes is back, and she's getting inspiration from New York drag make-up and the 80s on her ambitious second album.
Bat For Lashes' Natasha Khan used to be a nursery school teacher
Not everyone gets advice from Thom Yorke on how they should approach their next album, but then Natasha Khan, aka Bat For Lashes, isn't your usual musician.
"He sort of encouraged me not to give two hoots about what anyone says about my music, and just to remain faithful to my own vision."
Radiohead, Bjork and MIA have sung her praises, and reclusive dark star Scott Walker and Brooklyn ethno-hipsters Yeasayer both feature on her new album.
The Brightonian's record in question, Two Suns, is an ambitious one - a concept album starring a wild blonde personification of part of Khan's personality, named Pearl.
The singer even adopted the character while she was staying in New York.
"I love Cindy Sherman and Diane Arbus and David Lynch and these strange kind of documentaries about transvestites and drag queens and New York," she explains, nestled in a lounge at EMI's west London headquarters.
"I really just did it as an experiment of dressing up myself with quite garish extreme feminine make-up.
"I wanted to photograph myself in that situation and just see what it made me feel.
"On the last album [2006's Fur And Gold] it was Sarah that was my blonde counterpart, and on this one it's Pearl, so obviously I have this strange innate sickness where I have to be blonde as much as possible!
"Probably just 'cause my hair's so jet black."
Two Suns sees Khan expand the creaky instrumentation and 'spooky ghost voices' (as aptly described by Thom Yorke) of Fur And Gold to embrace more electronic instrumentation and tribal, pulsing beats.
It's eclectic too - Siren Song turns from a torch ballad to a percussion-heavy explosion, while Two Planets sounds like Peter Gabriel at his most global and abstract.
Certainly a progression, Two Suns is in no way an easier record than its predecessor, though.
"There's a few things I wanted to do [on the album]," Khan explains.
Natasha Khan is well known for her outlandish clothes onstage
"I wanted to showcase my vocal range and [show] just how my voice has developed, I wanted to do a lot more production in terms of electronic instruments and drum programming, and I played a lot more instruments."
So many more, in fact, that Khan can't even remember all of them.
"On Daniel I played lead vocal, backing vocal, synths, string machine, drums, percussion, guitar, drum programming and bass, haha!" she laughs, reading the credits off the flipside of the Daniel single.
"So that's some of them. I was like, 'Bloody hell, that sounds like a lot!'"
As for the album's electronic side, most prominent on Sleep Alone and Pearl's Dream, there's a definite - and surprising - 1980s feel.
"Well, I've always been an 80s girl," she says, "and I think [on] the first record I was quite shy really and I wanted to just keep it how I'd been playing it in my bedroom.
"I grew up listening to The Cure and I loved early Madonna and Prince and all of that stuff, so I think what prompted me was just probably having more confidence to kind of reach out and reveal even more of myself and what I love and not be too shy about it.
"It was a lot of dancing around the studio really going for it, and drum patterns and pressing buttons and samples...," she says of working with electro wizards Yeasayer on a couple of the most 80s-esque tracks.
'Epic and beat-driven'
With all this talk of 'blonde counterparts' and New York artists, you'd think Khan's running the risk of being called pretentious, but she's not bothered.
"I don't care if people call me pretentious," she says, "some of the greatest artists of all time are called pretentious, purely because it's about being creative and not really caring what people think."
Once Two Suns is released on 6 April Khan's heading around the world to perform it live, starting on 7 April in Manchester.
Joined by ex-Ash guitarist Charlotte Hatherley - "so amazing and such a great woman," she gushes - multi-instrumentalist Ben Christophers and New Young Pony Club drummer Sarah Jones, the songwriter reckons the set will be "more epic and beat-driven" than we're used to.
"We've got some really nice set design stuff happening with strange old props like bear rugs and old Marys and Jesus' and sort of fairy lights and it's quite Day Of The Dead Mexican-looking," she says.
When Bat For Lashes first appeared in 2006 rocking her glittery, sparkling look, there were few artists who looked like her.
Today, though, there's a host of British female pop stars, like Little Boots and La Roux, rivalling her in the glammed-up stakes - even if they may not rival her for musical ambition.
"I will outsparkle them all!" she laughs, leaning into the microphone and cackling.
"Obviously, other people like to be glittery and sparkly too, we should all be allowed to be glittery and sparkly together.
"England's always had that slight veer towards the theatrical, visual side of music, with Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel and David Bowie and all of those, and I think that to carry on that tradition is cool."