Music Interviews

Interview: Kate Nash

Kate Nash If anyone knows about the ups and downs of the music industry, it’s Kate Nash. Back in 2007, at the age of 19, her single Foundations turned her into an overnight household name – its tongue in cheek lyrics and her brattish delivery gave her appeal beyond the teen pop market her then-label Fiction were eyeing up.

Six years on and Nash is about to release her third album, the riot grrrl influenced Girl Talk, on her own label, having been ‘released’ from Fiction. She’s preparing for a nationwide tour – packing in 26 dates in a month – and she’s taking the all female band she’s assembled in the van with her.

We meet in a pub in Camden the night after Nash played in the sweaty basement of trendy East End venue the Sebright Arms. Better known as a place to catch hotly tipped new bands rather than those who’ve long graced the pages of Heat magazine, it’s a world away from when we last saw her, headlining at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

“I loved it last night!” she enthuses. “I was so nervous though. I’ve started getting all nervous again – it’s good though; it’s not debilitating, where you can’t do anything… It’s excitement. I’m so happy to be out there.

“I approach everything in a completely different way now; I have more awareness of what I’m doing. When I first started doing this I was thrust into so many things. When I played Hammersmith Apollo I felt nothing. It was all numb.”

She certainly seemed to revel in playing at a smaller venue, frequently waving at her mum, wishing friends happy birthday – and rather than the expansive, Disney-ish sets that were assembled for her previous tours, a cluster of vintage TVs screened Instagram-influenced DIY videos. Kate herself adorned a superhero outfit and a bucket load of glitter. But it was the new songs – shouty, political statements that recall grrrl punk staples Heavens To Betsy, Bratmobile and Bikini Kill; and played with a venom she’d previously kept hidden – that made the biggest impact.

“I’m a bit older now and I’ve taken control of my own life. This is the best work I’ve ever done; I’m so happy with it… it feels like a rebirth,” she says before going off on a tangent – which Kate, chatty, excitable and as enthusiastic as someone doing their first ever round of interviews, often does – “I’ve been cleaning up my laptop, putting things onto a hard disc. I’ve got 20,000 photos on it so it doesn’t work anymore. I’ve had a blast from the past, looking at photos from 2006, 2007, and it really does feel like a lifetime ago. Now I think I’m conscious about what I’m doing, rather than it just happening.”

Her new found self-awareness has its downside though, as illustrated when she unveiled her new sound, with single Under-Estimate The Girl, on the internet last year, the reaction from some quarters was less than glowing. “I think putting out Under-Estimate The Girl like that was a good move; it shocked people so much. There was a poll about whether people preferred the old me and I wrote a post on Tumblr in response that got shared hundreds of times. I think people respected that I had an opinion on it. I don’t know anyone who would sound and look the same as they did seven years ago. To me, anyone who thinks that way isn’t really a very smart person.”

The change in Nash coincided with her being dumped by Fiction. “Things didn’t work out with my label,” she says, picking her words carefully. “It was a shock at first. I panicked for about three to five days; I was sad. But then I realised it’s kind of blessing; like a divorce – yeah, it’s really hard but sometimes you’re doing it for the best reasons. Being able to put this record out on my own record label feels amazing. Would they have put it out? No…they didn’t! But it’s the best work I’ve ever done so they were silly to pass on it. The whole album is very strong and in your face and to be the boss of that feels really fucking cool.”

But is it a bit scary too, departing a major for the DIY life? “Of course it’s scary, doing it by myself, but sometimes the scary stuff is the best stuff. Deals with labels are so old fashioned now, it’s not artist friendly. So many do 360s where they give up the rights to everything – merch, everything. I own the masters to my album, I’m not tied down to something for a really long time and everyone I’m working with is really creative. With record labels, I think everyone’s scared of losing their job – they can’t relax or enjoy it – they’re too busy playing it safe,” she says.

“The industry’s changed loads since I started. I feel like it’s like how the government are about global warming,” she says, tangenting some more. “Everyone’s being saying for years ‘the world’s changing, this is serious’ and the government’s been saying ‘yeah, we know’ but not actually doing anything about it. So now it’s got to the stage where the temperature of the Earth’s changed, we’re feeling the effects and there’s nothing we can do to change it. We have to figure out how survive as a species. The music industry has known that the digital age is coming but didn’t do anything about it. They should have prepared.”

So what’s the change meant for her in practical terms? “It’s drastically changed the way people do deals. It’s great for artists but it means they have to make some difficult decisions too. I heard about a band who got offered more from a Dominos pizza advert than they did from a publishing company. The pizza advert might not be cool but bands need to figure out how they’re going to survive because people aren’t buying records these days. If you’re having to think about whether you want it to be a day job or a hobby, you’re going to think really hard about some of the offers you’re made.”

Her independence has given birth to a political edge; while she’s long trumpeted feminism, Nash V 2.0 takes a harder line. At her Sebright Arms show, Kate played a tongue-in-cheek ode to Russian girl punk band Pussy Riot – Free My Pussy – and she speaks with pride about her youth project, Rock n Roll for Girls After School Club. “It’s been a really emotional journey. We did a show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in December and it was amazing. Seeing the journey that some of them went on; they had no confidence, they’d be bright red and angry and weird about being on stage… but once they got up there…” She tails off. “They wrote really great songs as well. It wasn’t just cute… it was really good.”

She thinks the Club has produced some tangible benefits for the girls involved. “Girls go to so many shows where it’s all guys masturbating on guitars, and you might think it looks cool, but you can’t really relate to it. So I love that [with my show] there are four chicks on bass and girls can think ‘oh, I can do that’. It’s all about entitlement; the work I’ve done in schools has made me aware that it’s intimidating getting up and playing on stage. The first time I played guitar I felt like I was stupid, I felt embarrassed, like I wasn’t really allowed. Once you’ve broken through that it’s really empowering and the more examples of that, the better.”

As our interview wraps up, Kate talks about feminism, admires my bag and belt and discusses the new bands she loves (The Tuts, Shuga, Super Cute and Fidlar). As I leave, she shows off the cape she’s wearing before switching on her laptop to answer some email Q&As ahead of the album listening party she’s holding for fans. These five minutes pretty much sum her up; an enthusiastic whirlwind of contradictions and fun. After a glittering pop career, you get the feeling that as far as Kate’s concerned, it’s all just beginning.

Kate Nash’s new album Girl Talk is released on 4 March 2013, through Have 10p Records/Fontana.

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Interview: Kate Nash