I move around a lot and my living space is small enough that I have to keep some things in storage. But there are a couple of things I always keep with me in my home. For example, have you ever heard of a kris? A kris is an asymmetrical dagger with a distinctive blade that makes it look kind of wavy.
I’ve had my kris now for about five years. It once belonged to my grandparents, who had a vibrant, bohemian family. They had five kids, including my mom, who was born when they were both in their forties. They used to live out in Silver Lake before it became trendy. We spent time with them when I was growing up, but since they were very old most of my connections to them came through family stories.
After they died, our family gathered together to deal with their estate. I first discovered the kris in a storage locker that my grandparents had out in Beverly Hills—there it was in a box that had been scattered among lots of antiques, postcards, magazines, etc. My grandma had been a hoarder and she collected a lot of crazy stuff. The storage locker was filled to the brim with all kinds of ephemera, but it was the kris that caught my attention.
At first, I’d been walking around with it thinking it was just this funny Renaissance object, maybe a handmade sword. But then my mom did a DNA test and found out she had Southeast Asian relatives who might be from Malaysia or possibly Thailand. When my grandmother was alive, we thought she had some Asian ancestry, but she was always really secretive about it, and wouldn’t talk about where she was from.
I feel like my mother’s brothers and sisters have sort of accepted not knowing their specific heritage, but I’ve encouraged my mom to get a more detailed kind of DNA test that would provide some answers about our family history, a link to somewhere where we may have ancestry.
Why does she resist? That’s a very good question. It could be that she prefers the mystery… or filling in the answers for herself. I’ve heard relatives speculate that the family is from Korea. I don’t know where they got this, but my mom is extremely into Korean stuff—she loves Korean food and cooks a lot of it herself. She also loves to watch tons of Korean dramas. I sometimes wonder if in her mind she would just like to be Korean, and would like the kris to be Korean, too.
Whether it’s a family heirloom or not, I find myself now making my own use of the kris. Recently it’s appeared in a lot of music videos and press photos. It also appears on the cover of my new EP. It’s become a bit of a prop, harkening back to a kind of Game of Thrones-style fantasy realm, which I’ve been associated with a lot, and which I’ve also participated in a lot within my own imagination.
I’ve heard before that when some krises are forged they are infused with mystical powers. They can be bad luck or good luck, and the only way to find out is to put it under your pillow and see what kinds of dreams it brings. There have been moments where I’ve looked at my kris, and been like, “huh?”—but I’ve always been too scared to find out. At the same time, even if it were unlucky for me, it might not be unlucky for someone else. Javanese belief is that it’s all about the relationship between the object and the specific person, not about something that’s inherent in the object itself.
In that way maybe it’s like musical meaning. When I’m writing songs I tend to create the musical elements first and the lyrics come later. But there are definitely themes I like to come back to and rework, and I like to think of the creative work I do as involving layers, like making a painting that changes and evolves over time. For me the most exciting time is when a song exists in a special place between your original concept and what you hear in the final track, when the possibilities are still infinite. But maybe when you listen to the song, you find your own relationship, make your own meaning.
To this day no one really knows where my kris came from or whether or not it’s a significant part of my family history, if it’s a random object or an heirloom with an untold story. Maybe some mysteries are better left unsolved, or at least better left open to our own interpretations, solidifying into something more specific, different for each person.
Wanted/Needed/Loved: Musicians and the Stuff They Can’t Live Without is an illustrated column where musicians share the stories behind meaningful objects. As told to Allyson McCabe and illustrated by Esme Blegvad.
Natalie Mering performs and records as Weyes Blood. Her 2016 breakout release Front Row Seat to Earth earned critical praise from those including NPR and Pitchfork, which gushed, “The songs overflow with tender harmonies worthy of a Roches record and ornate instrumentation (from Mering and a strong cast of contributors) that blends ’70s AM radio, the psychier end of late ’60s folk, and touches of Celtic and Renaissance music. But listen closer and there’s often a slightly alien (and typically electronic) undercurrent that keeps you intrigued.” Weyes Blood’s most recent release is Myths 002, an artistic collaboration with Ariel Pink that was spawn during a weeklong residency under the stars in Marfa, Texas. She is currently on tour.