Kate Nash has fallen in love with London again. Sat at home at her mum’s in Harrow in a floral dress and Creepers, a limited edition Kate Nash live poster behind her, she’s infectiously delighted to be back.
“I’m in Zone 5!” she says, gassing, offering up a view of the suburbia outside her window. “I got really fucked-up last night and my mum keeps telling everyone I woke her at 5am because I came home and threw up, like some sort of teenager! HAHAHAHA.” A lot has happened since Nash self-released her third record ‘Girl Talk’ in the spring of 2013 after being dumped by her former major label via text message. You’d be forgiven for thinking she’s been in hiding since that record’s last tour. It’s wonderful then that the singer-songwriter, activist and heroic spirit is here today, possessed of an impervious rebellion and a lightness of being that makes her ‘give-a-fuck?’ honesty even more contagious. Everything seems to be coming full circle…
Allow for a little rewind of the clock. Nash, a BRIT school graduate, first started writing pop music in these very streets aged 15. Those songs went on to inform her #1 record and Brit-Award gleaning debut ‘Made Of Bricks’, produced by Paul Epworth and led by the charge of hit single ‘Foundations’. That was a very, very different time. In 2007, Nash was 20. MySpace was still influential. Lily Allen, Nash’s most famous champion, was the coolest girl in Britain. “There were things I achieved that I felt nothing about so I got quite depressed,” remembers Kate, with a calm perspective now at the age of 28. “I was living my dream but I didn’t feel happy. I sold out Hammersmith Apollo and my reaction was the same it would be if I’d just eaten a slice of toast. I recognised that was wrong and I felt guilt, but I didn’t know what I was doing.”
As any 20-year-old would, she completely rebelled, changing tack on album two, acutely aware of the sexism behind the scenes of the industry. “I was very angry, bitter and insecure,” she recalls. Hiring Suede’s Bernard Butler, she made the Phil Spector-meets-Kathleen Hanna album ‘My Best Friend Is You’ (2010). She was very publicly in a relationship. It didn’t last forever. The media were only too happy to pick it apart. Even before that, though, gossip rags relished taking pot-shots at Nash, and eventually the comments (“too fat for pop” and equally hurtful tripe) took its toll.
“Being famous was something I was never attracted to. I ran away from it because I hated the way I thought about myself. It drove my OCD weirder.” She needed to leave Britain, reconcile the angst, find that ray of sunshine again. Where better than in California where she’d initially travelled to in 2011 to make ‘Girl Talk’? Serendipitous circumstances led her to befriending and living with likeminded new creatives and she found herself hoodwinked by LA’s charms. For the past two years she’s been rekindling her confidence beneath the city’s sunny disposition, finding her way back to her identity. It might surprise people to hear that she also journeyed back to her initial obsession for pure pop. (Note: it’s not ‘bubbly’. Kate hates that word. Bubbly suggests vapid, surface-level, momentary. Kate has never been any of those things but it took a second for her to remember why.)
Out in the wild west of Highland Park, a melting pot neighbourhood of LA, which is DIY, community-driven, self-reliant and highly resourceful, Nash found a new home. After end-of-album ‘Girl Talk’ performances at Coachella and Lollapalooza, she committed to staying there from 2014 to early 2016, initially to be saved by the city (as is the case for so many). Hilariously, Kate got back on her feet faster than expected, becoming the city’s saviour instead. “I rescued my dog within in my first month from a drug addict outside a coffee shop. The next week I dropped my friend off at rehab. Then the next week I saved a bunny rabbit in the street. I was a regular at the animal shelter!” she laughs. Out in LA she realised what was inherent to her and that she had the most vital tools at her fingertips already: her own crew. “I’ve got the best fucking band, the most beautiful girls who are my best friends and family, who injected life into me when I got lost. I fell in love with playing again, with my own story that was my own to tell. Music has become what it used to be for me.”
In terms of finding her current sound though, that was going to take more time. Kate had already signed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell after – again somewhat karmically – a rep saw her Coachella set in 2014. ‘Girl Talk’ was a tough battle, released independently, with self-funded tours. It was worth it, especially following the clincher of a new lease of life via this deal, but it didn’t make it any more clear as to what Nash should do next. Recognising she needed to give herself some credit and a little TLC, she deflected from her own career and began working on sessions with some of the best upcoming songwriters, writing for other people (including Rita Ora who she penned 2015 single ‘Poison’ for). It was at a castle in the South of France where she’d been invited to write, eat cheese and drink wine for a few days, that she finally met a producer she realised she wanted to work with on her own stuff again. “I needed to find the right people for me to make pop with, people who could let me have my personality. It had been a while,” she explains.
Having spotted one new collaborator she then returned to LA, taking a cliched leaf out of Jack Kerouac’s book or Cheryl Strayd in 'Wild', embarking upon road trips to Area 51, Big Sur and San Francisco for songwriting inspiration, furthering this epic road of re-discovery. For the first time since she was a teenager, Nash could write observational pop without any pressure. Nobody was waiting for her to deliver them, other than herself. During that process she unwittingly readied her mind for pop stardom once more.
The result is music that’s brazenly introspective, but weightless as a cloud. The next wave of Nash will kick off with the release of ‘Good Summer’ (produced by Dave Bassett in Malibu) on August 8 via her own imprint Girl Gang Records. ‘Good Summer’ is literally the light at the end of the tunnel, an expression of relief, the type we all feel when the sun comes out and the warmth radiates your skin after 10 months of grey sky, central heating and soggy feet. “I’ve been a referee of my emotions,” sings Nash, over upbeat synths, skittering drums and dance-y guitar lines. It’s about her own return to contentedness in London, where she's since returned. “These are the streets I grew up on,” she says, pointing outside. “I came back from LA for my dad’s 60th, we had this barbecue, it was pissing down, and everyone sat outside with their coats on. I love that about Britain.” The resilience of London is her spirit animal, in a sense. “In Britain, in the summer you let go of the stuff on your shoulders and go, ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna get on this banana boat. Go crazyyyyy!’”
A lot has changed in the industry since Nash was doing straight-up pop. Finally, it’s begun to catch up with a generation of artists who make music as they consume it (The 1975, Wolf Alice, Miley Cyrus, etc). Kate is now joining those leagues with songs inspired by bubblegum, ‘60s psychedelia shot through a modern lens, and on ‘Bad Lieutenant’ UK garage, which contains the self-referencing lyric: “I told you I was made of bricks…”. Kate’s now empowered by the diversity of her sound, where back in the day she’d be hindered by it. “The rules have changed. It didn’t work to be a female pop star like me in the past because I confused people. Now it doesn’t fucking matter. Kids who wear Nirvana t-shirts listen to Drake. I don’t need to fit into a box,” she smiles.
The video for ‘Good Summer’, directed by Lee Jones and shot in her mum’s garden, features all her best girl friends. Feminism has always been pivotal to Nash. She's appeared on BBC News discussing Pussy Riot, she's written punk girl anthems and screamed them from venues throughout the globe. She feels far less alone now though, encouraged by the increased popularisation of feminism during her career’s lifetime. Even if the media circus still exists, she’s not out there on a limb any more when the sexist rhetoric strikes, particularly because the internet gives women volume together. “Now you have Beyonce standing onstage, streaming the word ‘FEMINIST’ behind her. Taylor Swift, love her or hate her, is using that branding as a cool thing. I don’t think I could be attacked the way that I was when I was 19.” Nash has always taken her feminism seriously, progressively, responsibly. Another forthcoming stand-out single ‘Faker’ is about when female friendships go wrong, a unique heartache almost worse than one that comes from the dissolution of a sexual relationship. “You go through so much together. You’re Thelma and Louise, you’re ride or dies. Those break-ups rip you from your core and you never get closure.”
On the subject of nurturing good female relationships, Kate’s starting a local Girl Gang Records night in Harrow in the venue where she performed her first gig. We live in scary times, and Nash is a much-needed voice in local spaces. "There was an era when Twitter made people afraid if they weren’t PC. Fuck being scared of saying the wrong thing. This feels like our generation’s pivotal political moment. Crime and violence all stems from someone’s unhappiness. You have the power in your own community to make space for people whose paths you can change.” In terms of Nash’s path, she’s still ironing some of the big questions out, but she’s doing so while armed with all the materials and songs she needs. There’ll be more music, there’ll be more shows. “I’m not disappearing again,” she says, patient, poised, happy to let fate make the next move.
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