By Izzy Cihak
It’s a rainy Tuesday afternoon and I’m sitting on my couch, in H&M yoga pants, talking to my #1 celeb. crush over the phone. “I’m just at my flat, hanging out with my bunny rabbit” she tells me. This is not how I would’ve envisioned my first one-on-one contact with Kate Nash to turn out. However, there’s something endearing about it. Also incredibly endearing: Kate is exactly the girl you would expect her to be.
We were on the phone for about twenty minutes. She’s as shy as her wide-eyed tales of love and loss would lead you to believe. She’s slow to answer and gives thoughtful, yet concise, responses. In the first ten minutes I’ve asked all of my questions and I’m scrambling to think of meaningful things to chat about so that I have enough material to fill a cover story. Yes, this tends to make journalists a bit panicky, but it is also this earnest bashfulness that makes her so alluring in the first place.
The title of this article is derived from something a friend (and former lover) said about Kate. I had never thought of it, but as soon as she said it, I totally knew what she meant.
fter two and a half years Kate is making her way back to the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection with a performance at the TLA on November 17. Since then, she’s had what she described as a “proper breakdown,” become a vegetarian, picked up bass and joined a punk band (The Receeders), and released her sophomore LP, My Best Friend is You, which hit shelves this past April (on the exact two-year anniversary of her last Philadelphia gig, 4/19).
Kate’s last trip to Philadelphia had her playing 3 local shows in less than 48 hours, between a Free at Noon at World Café Live, an in-store in Manyunk, and a full-scale gig at the Trocadero (not to mention a trip back to Towson, MD for a fourth inbetween). For someone who admits to having had a “proper breakdown,” she seems to have had the whole pop star, jet-set lifestyle down from the start: “I hadn’t realized until you put it like that” [in regards to her 3 Philly shows in 2 days].
“We hung out quite a bit, got amazing Philly cheesesteaks,” she says, recounting her adventure at (what I’m pretty sure was, based on her memories) Jim’s Steaks: “We waited outside for an hour for something you eat in five minutes.” She then partially lamented: “I don’t eat meat now.” However, she seemed to perk up once I told her about the veggie cheesesteak option to which many of the city’s hipsters are partial.
A lot of Kate’s initial success came after uploading her music to MySpace and receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from common youth. While this relatively recent method of promotion tends to polarize musicians and critics, it seems to be what you have to do these days: bands used to have to play in dive bars and coffee houses to make it, now they have to make themselves desirable via the web. But I figured I’d get Ms. Nash’s take on it: “People like the internet and social networking sites. Live shows are just a part of it.”
But does she really like this method of promotion or is she just rolling with the punches? “Some of it I enjoy and some of it’s a pain in the ass,” she admits, saying that these social networking sites (at least those that are controlled by the artist themselves) allow fans to hear the news “from the horse’s mouth,” proudly boasting: “There’s no middle-man.”
She does admit that there’s an aspect of it that can be very difficult though. She recounts to me a recent incident when a photo of her from a festival was published and a digital journalist felt the need to rant about her current weight and call her fat. Touchingly, she tells me about how she immediately became frightful that her younger female fans would read this and, in turn, feel like there was something wrong with their bodies: “I’m built like a normal person,” she tells me. This inspired her to take the time to write a blog entry about it to hopefully appease the situation. Fortunately, this was a success and her fans really responded: “It was like a community in that way.”
Kate did express a certain sadness for the current generation of youth (and those to come) who experience music by clicking a button on their keyboard and having 3-minutes of pop noise transported into earbuds: “There’s something really exciting about going to a record store and coming home, opening the packaging, and looking at all of the artwork.” Upon the release of her Do-Wah-Doo single this April, she even pleaded with her fans via her MySpace blog: “I really hope that you buy the physical copies because it means a lot to me.”
he most intriguing and charming aspect of Kate’s songwriting is that she’s always shown a pension for songs about the things in life that are supposed to be considered trivial but, in reality, weigh heaviest on the heart. Much of her debut LP, Made of Brick is comprised of songs about boys who make her happy (“Birds”), boys who make her sad (“We Get On”), and boys who make her happy and then sad (“Merry Happy”) which include adorably earnest sentiments like:
“Well she was wearin’ a skirt and he thought she looked nice and yeah she didn’t really care about anything else ’cause she only wanted him to think that she looked nice. And he did.”
Kate proudly owns up to this: “You don’t have to be this kind of intelligent poet.” She went on to discuss that it is the little details she notices in daily encounters that she finds the most interesting: “I like the mundanity in life.” She also admits “I like writing about relationships… the good and the bad,” which is quite apparent from her bevy of songs documenting her love life. “Everything in life kind of affects the music I write,” she tells me: “It’s always important to use that stuff. It’s like therapy in a way.”
While Made of Bricks and its tales of morning routines, youthful aliens, and battling one’s own eccentricities is ineffably enchanting, her confidently naive aesthetic dominates the entire release. Her latest release, however, is far more dynamic, exploring Kate’s more mature influences and giving it the diversity of a best-of compilation.
My Best Friend is You explodes with Kate’s most epic track to date, “Paris,” fittingly opening with the lines “You’ve come so far. Well done darling!” Early tracks “Kiss That Girl” and “Do-Wah-Doo” are cleverly crass modern takes on 60s girl groups. The twee “Don’t You Want to Share the Guilt?” concludes with a rant that has Kate channeling Isobel Campbell’s performance in “I Could Be Dreaming” (although Kate’s words are her own, not lifted from some 19th century novelist). She sounds like the lovechild of Robert Smith and Bjork in “I Just Love You More,” a track that Mr. Smith easily could’ve penned himself. Surely inspired by her recent musical venture with the Receeders, “Take Me to a Higher Plane” is raucous and anthemic power pop. On “I’ve Got A Secret,” her love of grrrls shines through. The album’s most striking track is “Mansion Song,” a brilliantly vulgar, spoken word critique of groupiedom and the notion of girls being “empowered” by being “fucked and then rolled over.” It sounds a bit like a response to Liz Phair’s “Flower.”
Of course, there are still traces of Kate’s former self that find their way onto her latest. There are still diatribes against girls that are surely inferior to herself, but manage to make her jealous anyway (“Everyone thinks that girl’s a lady. But I don’t, I think that girl’s shady.”) and the men not-worthy-of-her-company that she lets play with her heart anyway (“How could you lie to me right to my face? How could your best friend’s, ex girlfriend’s younger sister’s mate know before I did?”).
By track 9 the former Kate fully emerges. Not that the new Kate isn’t great or anything, but it’s nice to have some reminders of the reasons we all fell for her in the first place. She’s back to putting her cheating ex in his place in the hand-clap-laden “Early Christmas Present.” “Pickpocket” is a piano piece about the pain of being moved-on-from. The album’s last official track (the title track is actually hidden), “I Hate Seagulls” is a delicate and simple song about Kate’s hates (“picking off the scab a little too early,” “when it’s a piss take,” “rude, ignorant bastards,” etc.) and likes (“getting drunk on the dunes by the beach,” “picking strawberries,” “reading ghost stories,” etc.).
When asked about the sounds that inspired her latest release, Kate proved to be a bit of a musical prophet in the form of a pop star: “Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Sonic Youth, 60s girl groups”… pretty much everything that her young fans should be guided toward as they begin to come of age. This admission, combined with the fact that her boyfriend, Ryan Jarman, managed to put together a musical project (The Cribs) capable of luring Johnny Marr into the lead guitar position, proves that this couple may just be that which inspires a generation of fans to sift through all of the worthwhile classics, like a more accessible Thurston and Kim… or a less riotous Carrie and Corin, for that matter.
When asked how she would ultimately characterize her sound (which had to be repeated multiple times, due to a poor phone connection, only adding to the suspense of her answer), she replied with as sincere of a response as I’ve ever heard from a pop star: “Oh my God! I have no idea!”
Upon being asked what current music or musical trends she finds especially intriguing or especially boring she tells me “There’s a lot of pop shit around in the UK. There’s a lot of rubbish on the charts.” She has found a few young artists who suit her fancy: “I like Vivian Girls.”
The last time Kate did a full-scale US tour, she managed to attract somewhat unique audiences to the biggest clubs in America. Her shows were largely filled with pre-pubescent and barely-pubescent girls. For her trip to Towson in 2008 at least half of the audience was filled-out with groups of 4-10 single-digit girls accompanied by a solitary chaperone, who was likely going to take them home for ice cream sundaes and gossip about bitchy social studies teachers and boys who tease them in the schoolyard. While this wouldn’t be out of place at a Jonas Brothers gig in a shed, it seemed a bit out of place for the Recher Theatre and the Trocadero… especially since their heroine was known for songs like “Dickhead” and “Shit Song.”
With her new, more mature sound, I was curious if her concerts had seen a change in audience. “I still have loads of younger girls actually,” she tells me: “I feel like the first few rows are always young girls.” Although she admits “In the UK there are more guys.”
Thinking back to her 2008 performance at the Trocadero, it was quite a surprising night for someone with such a young fanbase, with [what you would assume to be] limited attention spans for work they are unfamiliar with. Instead of just trotting out the songs from her sole album, the 90-minute set was filled with a number of unreleased songs that foresaw Kate’s future musical ambitions, including “Do-Wah-Doo,” “Pickpocket,” and “Paris,” which would all find their way onto My Best Friend is You.
When asked what fans should expect for her upcoming tour (Something similar?), she says “I haven’t written in ages, actually, I’m a bit annoyed with that,” telling me that she’s been too busy touring. “In the UK I’m bringing a more interesting light show,” going on to say that she hopes to have something similar in the states, but is currently unsure of the tour’s bells and whistles. When asked what makes for the best shows, she replies “It’s really hard to explain, but it has to be a mixture between the audience and me… between me, the band, and the audience.”
Admirably, she tells me that the support acts are really important to her, something very refreshing from someone who’s used to hearing from stars of her level that they weren’t familiar with the support band until they showed up on the first night of the tour, yet at the time of the interview she couldn’t confirm any details of just who will be sharing stages with her in her jaunt across America.
Kate seems to have her plate full in 2010. She’s producing a friend’s album, she’s now officially a punk bassist (and already better than Sid Vicious ever was), and she’s spending the better part of the year on the road, in support of her latest album. When asked how she managed to balance all of this she, once again, offers an admirably honest response for a pop heroine: “I like doing things… otherwise I just sit around and get depressed.”