“Don’t let the bastards get you down.” These fighting words, passed from mother to daughter, were surely echoing in Kate Nash’s head the day she decided to quit her job at a Portuguese chicken fast food restaurant and pursue music full-time. After being rejected from university and suffering a fall which left her with a broken foot and bedridden, Nash made the decision to quit her job devote herself completely to music. “Even if I weren’t a successful musician, I would still be making music,” she says. “I’d probably be a waitress, as well.” Armed with this tough mentality, the career of this London-based singer, songwriter, musician and self-described feminist has continued to soar. She admits, somewhat brazenly, that she never had a back-up plan. In fact, she doesn’t believe in them.
“I never wanted a back-up plan, and I don’t agree with having one. I think if you give yourself a back-up plan, that’s where you’re gonna be headed. You either choose to pursue your dream, or you choose to pursue your back-up plan,” she told us in her interview. She describes herself as “tough but feminine” and is inspired by other female musicians who have paved the way, such as Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth. “She really kept her shit together.”
Nash is much more than a pretty voice; she has campaigned for a variety of causes across the world such as Plan USA, a women’s advocacy group focusing on Africa, as well as projects in the UK directed at young female musicians. “For me, it’s just common sense – if you care about life and equality, then you are a feminist. If you don’t, then you’re not a feminist. It doesn’t really matter if you’ve read about it, if you’ve read feminist books or watched Third Wave feminism movies, it’s like, if you give a fuck about having rights as a woman or about women having rights, then you are a feminist.”
For Nash, who is currently playing in an all-girl band, music and empowerment go hand and hand. “I really understand now what it means when people say that music makes them feel safe. It’s really the only haven that you have got. It’s always there and can really help you through crappy situations. It’s really the backbone of my life. I think it’s really empowering.”
After bursting onto the scene during the British Invasion 2.0 of the mid-’00s, which saw the likes of Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse and Adele crossing over with huge success in the US, her first album, Made of Bricks, went to No. 1 in the UK. She was named Best Female Artist at the 2008 Brit Awards when she was only 20. Nash had what she described as a “proper breakdown” due to her hectic touring schedule and catapult to sudden fame. “It’s been a very interesting journey,” she said, speaking on the subject of the added expectation brought by a quick rise to the top. “I was exhausted. I toured like crazy. I didn’t get any time off, so I just needed out, I needed to get away. Then you know, there was pressure with the second record. You’re kinda freaking out!”
Her second studio album, My Best Friend Is You, followed in 2010 and spawned what is still her biggest chart hit to date, the single “Do-Wah-Doo”. In November of 2012, Nash released an EP, Death Proof, with the titular single inspired by the Quentin Tarantino film of the same name. “Now I feel more confident than I’ve ever felt. I think before, I was like, ‘Oh my God. It’s a fluke.’ Now I feel like this is my craft, and this is what I do: I’m a musician, I’m a songwriter, and I don’t have that fear that I’ll never be able to write ever again, whereas before I used to worry about that… Right now I’m feeling good!”
Her third full-length album, Girl Talk, was released March 2013, her holiday EP, Have Faith with Kate Nash This Christmas, released in December and she also expanded into acting with her performance in the Brit film Powder Room, released December 6th in the UK. With so much happening for Kate Nash, she has clearly been following her own words of wisdom: No bastard will be getting her down anytime soon.
Read the full-length, exclusive interview with Kate Nash for The Music Issue of The Untitled Magazine:
Indira Cesarine: How did you get started with music?
Kate Nash: I studied it in school. I got rejected from all universities and I was working in a fast food restaurant. I had a MySpace account, I set it up and quit my job and focused on my music. Won a Brit award when I was 20 – it was crazy, I was so freaked out – but today I feel more confident than I ever have before because I know it’s not a fluke, this is who I am!
IC: What inspires your songwriting?
KN: I feel like anything that’s going on in my life really, how I’m feeling and what I’m going through. Whatever I’m going through in my personal life… [Something that] you can get a bit lost in and it’s not gonna bite you on the ass, you know?
IC: Which instruments do you play?
KN: I play piano, guitar and bass, but bass has now become the main thing that I play.
IC: Do you play all of those instruments on the albums?
KN: I switch between bass and guitar but predominantly bass.
IC: I heard you have an all girl band? Can you tell me a little bit about that and how you formed the group?
KN: [I met] musicians through the media college and I just sort of connected with those. They’re mates. We play together and I’m really loving them. I think there is something really different about performing with an all-female group.
IC: Do you consider yourself a little bit of a feminist?
KN: Oh, not a little bit, a complete feminist! It’s weird that a lot of people don’t think it’s cool. For me, it’s just common sense and it’s like, if you care about life and equality, then you are a feminist. If you don’t, then you’re not a feminist. It doesn’t really matter if you’ve read about it, if you’ve read feminist books or watched third wave feminism movies, it’s like, if you give a fuck about having rights as a woman or about women having rights, then you are a feminist. People are so naïve and say ignorant things like, “Oh, you’ve come a long way,” and “Sexism doesn’t really exist,” which is bullshit, really, even more. As well as things that we deal with, third world problems that we come across, sexism in developing countries, there’s a hell of a lot of serious issues for girls… Like girls getting their clitorises removed when they’re babies, or seven-year-olds having to be prostitutes. I’m actually teaming up with Plan USA I’m a Girl Initiative and I’m going to front that for campaign for them. I went to Africa in February to see that all first hand.
IC: It must have been such a rush to get so many awards at such a young age. 2008, you got the Brit award? What came next? Was it harder to keep the level up or deal with the pressure to keep making hits?
KN: It’s been a very interesting journey. I was exhausted. I toured like crazy. I didn’t get any time off, so I was just exhausted and I needed out, I needed to get away. Then you know, there was pressure with the second record, you’re kinda freaking out and then getting through that. Now I feel more confident than I’ve ever felt. I think before I was like, “Oh my god, it’s a fluke.” Now I feel like this is my craft and this is what I do, I’m a musician, I’m a songwriter, and I don’t have that fear that I’ll never be able to write ever again, where as before I used to worry about that. Like, I’m sure that it will come again. But right now I’m feeling good.
IC: Do you have a favorite band or musician who inspires you?
KN: Yeah, loads, obviously. I guess new people… there’s a band called Syron, Fidlar, a band from LA, Suga, and you know, older bands like The Runaways, Hole, The Misshapes, The Beatles – I had a lot of music around me as a kid, then I went through other bands as a teenager.
IC: Well, the biggies! Who doesn’t like the Beatles?
KN: Mental people.
IC: Who do you consider the most inspirational person in the music industry?
KN: Kim Gordon – Sonic Youth – She did so much! She just really kept her shit together. Marianne Faithful, she has done so many amazing things. Nina Simone, who was just a really incredible woman.
IC: Do you have a mentor?
KN: Not really a mentor. I have had a lot of support and encouragement from my family, you know, my parents and two sisters. There were a lot of women in the house, I had a good home life.
IC: If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
KN: Oh my gosh, that’s pretty hard! There’s some people who I would want to play with and there’s so many people who I almost don’t want to collaborate with because they’re like on a pedestal in my mind…
IC: In an ideal world?
KN: I’d really love to collaborate with David Bowie and Karen O!
IC: If you weren’t in music what would you do?
KN: I think that even if I weren’t a successful musician, I would still be making music. I’d probably be a waitress, as well. Yeah, I worked in a fast food restaurant. It was a Portuguese chicken fast food restaurant.
IC: That’s so cute! I can’t imagine you serving Portuguese fast food chicken!
KN: Oh, I was good, I was really good.
IC: So you think, you would still be there, if music hadn’t happened?
KN: Oh no, I wouldn’t be in fast food anymore, I would definitely have upgraded to a fancy hotel or something. It’s just, I mean, I’ve never had a backup plan, I’ve never wanted to and I don’t agree with having one – I think either you have to pursue your dreams, or you pursue your back-up plan. I think if you give yourself a back-up plan, that’s where you’re gonna be headed.
IC: It’s like, do or die.
KN: Yeah, exactly.
IC: What was the most difficult performance in your career?
KN: Probably when I was somewhere in Europe – billed on the wrong festival! With some crazy, old school, horrible bands and there were all these screaming fans there to see another band… and I got given loads of shit. They all screamed at me and were a really aggressive group of boys, but it was a really good gig to do and to get through it and to be like, fuck you! I’m not really afraid of stuff like that now because that happened. It was a good learning experience.
IC: How do you decide what to wear on stage or as a performer? Do you have a “look” you prefer?
KN: I like to look tough! But also girlie… Very feminine but also a bit aggressive or really fun depending in my mood.
IC: Do you have a favorite designer?
KN: Bora Aksu, PPQ and Felder Felder.
IC: Do you have a motto or words of wisdom you live by?
KN: Don’t let the bastards get you down! It’s what my mom used to always tell us growing up.
IC: What is it about music in particular that you love?
KN: I really understand now what it means when people say that music makes them feel safe – it’s really the only haven that you have got – it’s always there and can really help you through crappy situations, it’s really the back bone of my life. I think it’s really empowering.
IC: What is your favorite song you have ever produced?
KN: “Oh” – A lot of the record was just instinctual and I didn’t think about it much. This was more of a statement, I really thought about what I was saying… I wrote it to myself and also for my friend who sang backup vocals on this song and died last year… So it has a lot of meaning to me…
IC: Was she a musician you worked with a lot or…?
KN: She was a really close friend and she meant a lot to me. She was just a very creative person, did a lot of crafts and was very, very productive and inspiring.
IC: Any projects from 2013 that stand out?
KN: My album Girl Talk came out on March 5th in the US. Plus a movie that I was in called Powder Room is coming out in December. It’s a proper role, not a cameo, Jaime Winstone and Sheridan Smith are starring, and they’re so good! I went to Africa with the charity Plan USA which is centered around female empowerment in Africa. I do a lot of this kind of work in the UK as well. I’ve worked with six different schools in the UK over the past 18 months and given workshops on how to write songs. That’s also a project I want to continue with this, as well as tying in with Daisy Rock, which is a guitar company aimed at girls. I’m going to be able to give out scholarships to girls… as well as give out free guitars.
Photography by Indira Cesarine
Shot on location at Norwood Club