Q+A: The UK’s Beloved Kate Nash On Her Album, “My Best Friend Is You”

Kate Nash, courtesy of www.katenash.co.uk

One of the most successful European indie-pop stars to make their way across the pond in recent years is Kate Nash, and she has no intention of stopping here. Nash was Britain’s breakout star of 2007, with her bubbly hit “Foundations” reaching the #2 spot on UK charts and her platinum-selling debut album “Made of Bricks” earning her the coveted title of Best Female Artist at the 2008 BRIT Awards. While Nash arrived in the US with far less of a “bang” than her contemporaries (namely, the troubled and tabloid-prone likes of Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse), her music has managed to find a solid fan base in the States, and her private life, quite refreshingly, has managed to slip silently under the radar.

Known for her biting lyrics, chirpy voice and an almost comically in-your-face British accent, Nash released her second record this past April, titled “My Best Friend Is You.” The album features more of a rock influence this time around, harkening back to the styles of Bikini Kill and the Riot Grrrl genre that emerged in the early 1990s. Nash’s trademark angst remains, however, in its purest and most beloved form: often resentful, but colored with such perkiness that one can’t help but smile when she quips “You said I must eat so many lemons ’cause I am so bitter, I said I’d rather be with your friends mate, ’cause they are much fitter,” as she does in her famed single.

Nash recently took some time out of her busy tour schedule to chat with the Quad about the new album, as well the ongoing tour behind it. Hear her live at The Paradise Rock Club on November 18 at 8PM. For more information, check out Nash’s website and official tour schedule.

So nearly everyone in Britain knows your name now… you seemed to have achieved a lot for someone so young. With your first album being such a success, do you feel like there was pressure to live up to your first album?

Absolutely. And it’s hard to get rid of that pressure, but you just have to if you’re going to make a good record. Like, you really can’t let it get to you. The worst thing you could do is write a record because you feel like you needed to write one, or write a record that you think other people want you to write. Creatively, I never want to regret anything, so I just kind of try to forget about everybody else and have fun.

In terms of just basic sound, it seems like you went in a different direction this time. It sounds a bit more alternative… less straight pop. What was the departure from the first album, if there was one?

Oh, there was. I experimented musically with things, and I knew I wanted to write about more serious subjects. I tried out spoken word on “Mansion Song,” and wrote “I’ve Got A Secret,” which addresses homophobia… Sonically, it’s just more about the music. More layers, different textures, with a punkier, edgier side.

The cover art for "My Best Friend Is You," Nash's most recent release, courtesy of www.katenash.co.uk

Did this shift come naturally, or did you decide you were going to write a record that sounded like that?

It came naturally, I think, because I was listening to a lot of different types of music at the time [I was writing the record], which is probably where it all came from. I wanted to change and grow as a musician… you never want to create the same thing, you know? It’s something new.

Right. What was the writing process like for you?

Well, I tend to find a small melody, you know… like, a bit of guitar or a little riff. I find something repetitive that sounds good, and play it until the lyrics come out. It’s pretty simple.

Going back to your history as a musician, how did you get started with all of this?

It kind of just happened. I played the piano for a long time as a kid, and I wrote songs as a teenager. To be honest, I was bored… I was a bored teenager. I wasn’t getting into schools and colleges, and I decided that I wanted to do something interesting. So, that’s why I started playing gigs.

What was it like having a career that took off so fast?

It was crazy [laughs]. It was really, truly crazy. Absolutely mad. I don’t know how else to describe it. I didn’t even understand a lot of what was going on at the time.

What were the beginning stages of your career like at that time? In terms of getting into the music business, I mean.

Well I didn’t really seek out the music business… it kind of found me. Its not something that I can easily say, like, “this is how it works” or “this is how you get into the business.” It’s the industry’s job to find out what’s going on out there and what’s good. So that’s why people started coming to my shows… there was a buzz around what I was doing.

Was there ever a time when you were planning on doing something else besides music?

I wanted to act… yeah, if I wasn’t a musician now I would probably be trying to act. If not that, though, I’d probably be a waitress and still writing songs [laughs].

Was there ever a moment when you realized you made it?

Well, I think a BRIT Award was that moment for me. It’s a big deal. You can’t not appreciate that because it’s such a big honor. I think having a second record and being able to really follow up on your debut is probably the most important thing, though. You feel like, you’re actually genuinely cut out to do this, and that all that buzz before wasn’t some kind of fluke. Making that second record is like, this confirmation that you can do this and that, when it comes down to it, this is your job.

Right. So in terms of touring, what is it like playing shows in the UK versus the US? Do Americans receive your music differently?

Definitely! I think that everyone in every town across the world has a different culture, so it’s different everywhere you go, you know what I mean? But the US has been really accepting and supportive of me and my music.

What’s the touring process like for you now? I read that it got pretty agonizing for you the last time around.

It really did. You just can’t help how it affects you. It’s really a full time schedule, and you do so much work all the time and there’s so much pressure on you coming from the outside… you’re life is just drastically changed. You’re doing gigs, gigs and more gigs all the time and not sleeping, living at night… and then you get to the end of it, and you’re like “what the fuck? I’m living out of a suitcase,” you know? You question why you’re doing this anymore… I was left a bit confused. And then I ended up just wanting to take a break from it really.

Is there a place you enjoy playing the most?

I really like playing in New York, and I really like playing nearly anywhere in the UK. I like going to places I’ve never been before… Boston was really fun when I went there. Going to places that you wouldn’t go to otherwise,experiencing towns that you probably wouldn’t experience if you weren’t touring. I always find that really cool.

Kate Nash performing live in 2010 at El Rey in Los Angeles. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What’s the most interesting place where you discovered you had fans?

That’s difficult… nothing too crazy, I don’t think. I found it weird when I went to France and I played in these small towns there. You know, everyone goes to Paris, and nobody really plays elsewhere in France. Like, when I went to Bordeaux I found that there were actually fans there who came to my shows… I thought it was really cool.

I know you get a lot of comparisons, especially in the States, by singers like Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse. Do you think Americans too easily lump you all together? What do you think differentiates you from the others?

I just think that’s the media in general. It’s easy to do that. I think that if you listen to the records, it really shows the differences between us. I don’t think it really requires and explanation, because all the records really do sound completely different. The difference is really in the music… the media just kind of pays more attention to the genre.

If your listeners only got to hear one song off of the new record, which one would you recommend?

Probably the ones I talked about before, like “Mansion Song” or “I’ve Got A Secret.” One of the ones that are completely different from the pop-style stuff that people have heard me do before.

Great. One more question – where do you see yourself in five years? In ten years? Is playing music something you see yourself doing for a long time to come?

Yeah, definitely. I mean, I want to keep making albums and writing. I want to different creative things, as well. I want to get more involved in using songwriting to help people too, if that makes sense. If you’ve got some sort of talent, it’s good to use it to benefit others, in some way.

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