Kate Nash, mumble some publications, is a mockney chancer, a poor man’s Lily Allen. An Eliza Doolittle for our times.
But stick on her debut album Made Of Bricks and listen to the strings-laden melancholia of Nicest Thing, the rock-solid plinky-plonky songwriting of Merry Happy or the sit-up-and-notice crescendo of Skeleton Song and you’ll have to conclude that Nash is absolutely not a flash in any pan.
Scarcely an article about Nash concludes without fellow Londoner Lily being mentioned. Both sing in their own London accents, both are strong personalities who don’t suffer fools gladly and both have undeniably enjoyed a leg up from MySpace. Lily put Kate in her MySpace top friends list, boosting the latter’s profile further as Lily’s star went galactic. But does their music actually sound similar?
Female solo artists singing in London accents are, it seems by press default, fakes. Critics, almost always male, neglect to consistently level such charges at, for instance, Jamie T or Jack Peñate. But they’re boys, of course.
Schlepp along to one of Kate’s gigs, where you might be served cake by her family, and you’ll find a girl who until this year was a teenager from a north London suburb who is still getting used to her life changing. Since booking a gig at Harrow’s Trinity for herself just a year ago, Kate has seen her audiences grow and grow.
“I want to be a musician, an artist and a writer. I don’t want to be falling out of west London clubs like Lindsay Lohan.”– Kate Nash on her ambitions
On the morning of our interview at her manager’s central London offices, Kate is late. When she does finally appear, she’s a little vague, without make-up, though still head-turningly pretty. Seemingly she’s unaware that she’s doing interviews today. A plate of pastries appears between us, but she’s still recovering from her Astoria gig of the previous night, where she supported The Coral. Then she notices this interview is being recorded using Garageband and suddenly, visibly wakes up. Grabbing the Mac, she starts to play around with voice effects, clicking buttons on screen. In seconds she has us in a huge hall sounding like a pair of demented munchkins.
Before Kate Nash the pop star came Kate Nash the wannabe actress, rejected by the Bristol Old Vic. In dealing with ever-growing audiences and a polarised press, did she find herself falling back on her BRITs School actor training? Were the skills transferable?
“I did an acting course and they do teach you how to deal with an audience, and you have to put yourself on the line a lot,” she confides, breathlessly, as I rescue the Mac from her clutches. There are lots of “like”s and half-finished sentences, several restarts. She does not sound posh – the voice you hear on record is what she speaks with. “You’re pushed into things, like doing monologues and speeches, being really close up to people and working with an audience, communicating with them.”
So is she a mock chav or a bit posh? “I’ve never been so aware of the way I speak because the press have made me really paranoid about it. You just speak, don’t you? Sometimes I’ll say to my mum, ‘pass the buh-ah,’ and she’ll say ‘butter’. I did Shakespeare at school and changed my voice for that. Sometimes I put on a character. But maybe I’ll have to concentrate on my diction.” She doesn’t think her accent will cause her music any overseas problems. “I did a couple of gigs in Iceland when I was recording there last year. It worked – people understood. And I did one in Paris and that worked as well.”
In part because of the accent, before her major label debut single Foundations, which would go on to top the download chart, a send-up of Kate and her fellow London scenesters had appeared on MySpace. It was called LDN Is A Victim, melding Lily Allen’s LDN with Kate’s first single Caroline’s A Victim. It was not particularly flattering. “When I first heard it I thought it was funny, it made me laugh. I got loads of messages from the guy who did it, and they were like, Oh my God come and DJ on our night,” she recalls. “And I was like, ‘Stop taking the piss out of me!’ and I didn’t reply. I just think it was funny but it went a bit too far, with the podcast… It would have been more interesting for me if it was just this one mysterious track, and there it is, listen to it and make what you will of it. But they were like, ‘Buy our single, buy our single!’. And I was like, oh come on, no-one really actually cares. It’s not even that cool. It was a laugh, but you’re getting a bit big for your boots.”
“I’m always getting myself into trouble coz I’m so loud and clumsy and scatty and annoying…”– Kate Nash paints a curious self-portrait
LDN Is A Victim led to other, less throwaway feedback. “I didn’t really like what it started off. It’s really easy for people to be really nasty on the internet. Just give them any excuse. I went to their page and read some of the comments and it really upset…” She rethinks. “Not upset, it made me really angry. Things they were saying about me, or not even about me, about Jack (Peate) or Lily Allen, and saying they’re fat or ugly or haven’t done anything with their lives. Well who the fuck are you to judge? What have you done? It really annoyed me. People on the internet, some of them, are really cowardly and really get away with it. I don’t really appreciate it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with London as a scene. It’s natural. It’s a bunch of up-and-coming artists. It’s cool because we’ve all played the same venues and you’ve all got to start from somewhere. If you live in London it’s likely you’ll be playing the same nights and clubs as there’s only likely to be a few good ones. That’s what happens.”
While London is permitted a scene, Kate’s native Zone 5 burg of Harrow doesn’t quite cut it at that level, she thinks. Kate still lives there, but she’s not sure for how long. “I really want to get my own place because I still live at home. I want to make a recording studio. At the moment I don’t know if I’ve got time, with touring…” She pauses. “There was a time when I was really keen to get out, but now I really like being at home when I can be. I’m still a Harrow cat, (but it’s) a funny place. It’s zone 5 of London, you’re not central and it takes an effort to get places. Some people get totally caught up just staying there, living there, some people never go into London. There’s only, like, a few rubbish bars, except there’s a good bar I like, the Trinity, where my mate Piers puts on nights. And there’s stuff happening that’s much more exciting than it used to be.” Such as? “It used to be Tuesday pound-a-pint night at Trinity, and they turned it into an indie disco on Thursday nights. There’s live music on every week. The Heights, The Natives… there’s just a bunch of people from there. I don’t really think Harrow is big enough to have a scene but it’s nice to have a local place to go to to see live music.”
And Kate Nash is an avid fan of live music. Various musicOMH writers have found themselves stood next to her in fields, gig venues or hotel foyers watching everything from indie bands to Sami yoikers Adjagas. Who’s she liking just now? “I love The Cribs. They’re my favourite band of the moment. I really like The Maccabees,” she ponders. They’re labelmates now. “I know – how good’s that?” There’s more to her list… “Peggy Sue And The Pirates, Florence And The Machine, Kid Harpoon And The Powers That Be, Emmy The Great… I really like psychedelic, ’60s stuff, blues…”
What she will have no truck with is “people who are pretentious about music, who are superior about it, who think they know. I don’t know. I try and learn. I’m realising what an album means – I want to educate myself. This is the field I have to study to work in. I hate people who make you feel stupid because you don’t know something about music. It’s supposed to be enjoyed.” And she does enjoy it – not least playing it. Lest it be forgotten, Kate plays instruments as well as sing. “I’m getting good (at piano), I’m getting better – but I want to get more lessons.”
Some of her reviews might suggest not everyone’s enjoying her efforts. “Sometimes I do read reviews. I read one really nasty one by this guy…” (She gives a name of an NME freelancer.) “But generally my reviews have been really good – I’ve been really lucky. I’ve got loads of wicked press so soon, which is why the album has to come out now.”
“It’s really easy for people to be really nasty on the internet.”– Kate Nash knows who you are…
Made Of Bricks’ release was brought forward after Foundations exploded into the singles chart. Does she think that it will see her emerge from Lily’s shadow? Will people accept her on her own terms? “Some people don’t want to like me. At live gigs I can just kind of tell that they’ve thought, ah, Lily Allen but not as good, blah blah blah. But then they come out and say, actually she’s different. You can see they think: ‘We didn’t think this was gonna be good and we still don’t know if the album’s gonna be good, you’ve still not proved yourself…'”
Well, she will provoke. Caroline’s A Victim, her debut single for Moshi Moshi, was neither indicative of the rest of her output nor particularly inclusive, as she readily admits. “Caroline was an in-joke. If I do a gig in Harrow we still do the electro version. It’s not a seriously intense song. It’s just a bit of fun.” The electronic version came first, she says. She makes a lunge for the Mac again. “I could recreate it right now on here…”
She’s switched to the biggest record company in the world, Universal. Through their Polydor division’s Fiction imprint, she feels she’s ready to take on whatever comes her way, even though she wasn’t always certain that going down the major route was the right thing to do.
“I’m really frightened of big corporate stuff. There was a time when the thought of getting signed made me want to cry. I’m pretty left wing and I’ve always been anti corporate. I try not to buy too much Nike and that. It was a choice between that and an indie label, but it felt safe and it felt like I’d be supported as an artist. I had to make this decision…” As with most life-changing events in her career thus far, her family figured highly. “I spoke to my mum about it, and I do grow quite quickly. There are things that I want to do and there are buttons that need to be pushed, and a label like Fiction can help me do that really easily and well.”
What are the things she wants to do? “I wanna make loads of albums! I wanna…” She pauses. “Do what I’m doing. I’m not trying to be the best. As long as some people like it. Once you start thinking about things too much you forget your original ideas and why you wanted to do music and what you want to get out of it.” She’s pleased she comes from a supportive background. “It’s good that I have a solid family and when I go home I can just eat beans on toast and watch… Only Fools And Horses.” Is she serious? Only Fools And Horses? “I’ve got friends there and real support,” she continues. “I want to be a musician, an artist and a writer. I don’t want to be falling out of west London clubs like Lindsay Lohan!”
That said, she’s not about to pass up opportunities that come her way. “There are bits of it that you can enjoy, like at Hyde Park (for the Wireless Festival) when I had a dressing room and there were famous people and I got free jewellery,” she burbles, remembering. “You’ve got to really enjoy those bits coz, like, I’m 19! And if I didn’t I’d be a fucking boring piece of crap! But I’ve got to protect myself as well.”
“I hate people who are pretentious about music, who are superior about it, who think they know.”– Kate Nash wants music to be fun again
As for the songs that underpin such delights, Foundations, her breakthrough hit, is about the impending end of a relationship. Is it based on personal experience? “I’ve never really had a long term boyfriend but I did have a relationship with someone and it was quite intense… and it got nasty and confusing, saturated and concentrated…” She pauses. “Which one do I mean? They’re opposites, aren’t they?” She giggles, then resumes her thought. “Sometimes it’s just not the right person. As you go through life, hopefully, hopefully, one relationship will click. Sometimes you go through ones that don’t work, but you want them to work because you’re attached to that person. You love them, but you might not like them anymore. And they might love you but might not like you. And you try to stay together. And you end up being really nasty to each other, and stabbing each other, and not knowing when it started or when it ended, and it being really confusing. I’ve seen it happen to my friends.” She gets that. “I could grow attached to an old pair of socks and not want to throw them away.”
Cutting to the chase, Dickhead offers the phrase: “What you being a dickhead for, why you being a dickhead?” It’s not Shakespeare, I suggest. Who’s it about? “It changes regularly, who Dickhead was for, but I did write it in mind for someone – and it wasn’t a guy. But sometimes it’s a guy I sing it to.”
She doesn’t always get her lyrical inspirations from such real world scenarios, but her fertile imagination provides plenty more lyrical subject matter. Mariella, a likely future single, came about because “I really like Tim Burton loads. I watched Vincent ages ago. It’s a short film about a boy and it’s narrated by Vincent Price…” She enthusiastically tells the story and then unexpectedly veers off to this: “I babysit these six kids and they’re so free and imaginative and a lot cleverer than you think. This one little girl really liked pink but also really liked football. She reminded me of Vincent, and I wanted to make a short film about a girl like her who glued her lips together. Memoirs of a Geisha was out and sometimes I wish I could be like that, just elegant and never speak. I’m always getting myself into trouble coz I’m so loud and clumsy and scatty and annoying sometimes, and I want to start all over again and glue my lips together, never speak and everyone would be like, ‘Oh, she’s so mysterious’. This little girl didn’t have any friends but she didn’t care – she was in her own little world…”
In her own little world, what does she think she’ll be doing this time next year? Refreshingly, she has a range of answers. “I’ll be in my new flat hopefully, with my home studio. In Morocco, getting the fuck out… only joking! I really want to live central for once, but I like Willesden Green too. I’ll be getting ready for the festivals again! Hopefully I’ll be working on my second album. No. I’ll be married with six children. No I won’t! God, I won’t be!” And she descends into giggles.
Kate Nash is not yet at her artistic zenith – at age 20 there’d be something wrong if she was, and she’s the first to admit it. But her attitude and what she’s achieved so far have certainly ensured her foundations are solid enough to develop the talent she has, without becoming tabloid fodder in the process. As we part, I’m left feeling that if anyone can tread such a tightrope, Kate Nash can.
Kate Nash’s debut album Made Of Bricks is out now through Fiction. Tour dates and further information can be found at katenash.com