WHILE trying to write her third album, Natasha Khan, better known as Bat for Lashes, suffered from crippling writer's block. ''I'd experienced it before and it was horrible and upsetting, but this time I think it was that much harder,'' Khan says on the phone from London. ''I was trying to do as well as last time, I suppose - each time you want to better yourself, you want to progress, and I have quite high standards, I think.''
Khan, 33, took the advice of friend and lead singer of Radiohead, Thom Yorke, enrolling in children's illustration and life drawing classes to help free herself creatively. The drawing, among other tactics, worked, and The Haunted Man is both Khan's best-received album to date, and the one of which she is most proud.
''I do feel proud because I didn't sell out and I didn't dilute what I was trying to do, or compromise, but it makes it that much harder because I wanted to make a creative album that was also somehow popular,'' she says.
The album, a mix of synth-driven dancey tracks and sparse piano ballads, was written and recorded with various talents including Beck, TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, and producer Dan Carey (Hot Chip, M.I.A.).
The infamous cover art, depicting a naked Khan with a naked man draped over her shoulders, was shot by noted photographer Ryan McGinley in New York. It's a far cry from the busy, tribal-inspired covers of past albums, which Khan says is in keeping with the stripped-back style and themes of intimacy and relationships that are explored on The Haunted Man. She also didn't want to repeat herself. ''I'd done the mystical stuff, and I wanted to push forward and explore some different approaches,'' she says.
Her pose on the cover is strong and defiant rather than sexual. She wears no make-up and claims not to have plucked her eyebrows or shaved her legs before the shoot. ''I think striving for physical perfection or to be sexual, it's an aspect of being a woman, but it's a very small aspect that's become so huge in the media and I just wanted to redress the balance a tiny bit,'' Khan says.
''I wanted to remind people that there used to be women like Janis Joplin, with no make-up and grey hair, and she was a bloody force of nature, and Patti Smith … that was a long time ago that those women were in the media, and I want to know where they are again.''
She says the ''communal aspect'' of playing live is something she particularly values.
''It's a lovely thing to do, and I think especially in this day and age everyone is on the internet all the time and isolated, and I think being in a room full of people with all that energy flying around and experiencing that together, it's almost religious, isn't it?'' she says.
Bat for Lashes plays at Laneway Festival on Sunday and at the Palais Theatre on Tuesday.