Kate Nash: ‘I didn’t think it would be controversial’

The Handsome Family. Picture by Brandon Soder

Life Through The Trees is looking handsome at 20

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Kate Nash is feeling drained, and who could blame her. Just back from a gruelling US tour, she’s only had a few hours’ sleep before our interview and clearly has plenty more to catch up on.

Happy that the tour sold out – no mean feat considering she hadn’t performed there for more than two years, the singer from Harrow is completely exhausted after sharing the bulk of the driving with her manager.

Kate Nash

Kate Nash

She’s no longer signed to major label Polydor, with whom she released her first two albums, Made Of Bricks (which spawned No.2 hit Foundations) and My Best Friend Is You, so luxuries such as tour buses and fancy hotels have disappeared.

‘It probably goes without saying, but America is such a big country,’ she says, yawning. ‘And there were a lot of really cheap motels along the way. But there were loads of highlights. Mr Smalls Theatre in Pittsburgh was about the best show we did.

‘There had been some really grotty little venues, but that place is a recording studio with a theatre stage, and it really rejuvenated me and everyone in the band.

‘It’s really nice to go there and realise that the support is still there. Especially now I’m on my own. Leaving Polydor, things feel very different now. I’m still figuring things out, who to work with, the right things to do. But I’ve got seven years’ experience now, I feel like I’m able to hand-pick the right team.’

Kate’s third album, Girl Talk, was recorded a year ago in a deserted mansion in the hipster area of Los Angeles, Echo Park.

‘It was a really Gothic-looking place that used to be a convent,’ she says. ‘The lady who owns it now has loads of taxidermy on the walls. She had guard dogs too, so you always felt really safe, but it was a spooky place to be.

‘There was a lot of angst in my writing before, a lot of aggression, but going there, and walking down to the orchard every day to get fresh fruit, or sitting somewhere beautiful to write my diary... I think I found a lot of acceptance. Just us there, me and my band, it was like being in a girl gang.’

The resulting album is Kate’s best yet. A mixture of influences, ranging from the 1960s girl groups she loves, to Bikini Kill-style feminist punk, all topped with her proven ear for a melody.

It’s the album she has always threatened to make but, for whatever reasons – fear from the label mainly – has fallen short of.

‘I was more inspired by films than anything, writing this album,’ she explains. ‘Quentin Tarantino, mainly. There’s a track called Death Proof which is named after one of his films. Plus Russ Meyer, who made Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

‘Both wrote really strong women who were sexy, but it wasn’t to please anyone.’

When it comes to being ‘dropped’ by her record label, Kate has no hard feelings and, while she doesn’t know the exact reasons, is happy to accept it was ‘just business’.

‘You can’t take these decisions personally. The record industry is in such a messy place, it’s not a surprise they’re scared of taking risks, and I think I definitely took a risk with this new album, in the sense that it doesn’t sound anything like what’s getting played on mainstream radio.

‘This makes me sound so old, but I listened to the radio the other day and it all sounds the same. I shouldn’t be saying “Kids music these days...” at 25, but I don’t know anything about that culture any more.’

After Kate finished the album, she spent the rest of the year going back and forth between London and LA. I loved being there, and I had loads of really intense stuff going on,’ she says.

‘A close friend of mine died, and I just needed to get away. Working on the record and dealing with personal things took up most of last year. It felt like a transitional year, like a time that actually makes you a different person.

‘I have a different head on my shoulders now, particularly from when I made my first album. It’s being more sure of who I am.’

Many of the reviews for Girl Talk praised her lyrics, which detail her own take on feminism and often have female empowerment at their core.

She’s long held these views, famously saying during her acceptance speech after winning Best Female at the BRITs in 2008 that she wanted to banish the misconception that ‘female is a genre’.

She says: ‘I guess I didn’t realise how much people would pick up the lyrics, but it’s just how I feel. I didn’t think it’d be seen as controversial. There’s a massive way to go, and getting people talking about these issues is a big deal.

‘I recently saw a documentary about young girls in parts of Africa being married off at 12, and it makes me realise just how far there is to go with feminism.

‘On the other hand, I’ve been working with this charity called Because I Am A Girl. They create programmes for girls to work on in developing areas.

‘I went to Ghana with them, and I saw this young boy who had joined the group, the only male to do so, because he didn’t think girls belonged in the kitchen even though his parents had told him that’s how things were. He was defying them by being there, but hoping he could educate them. That makes me hopeful.’

This isn’t the end of Kate’s activism. She manned stalls after the London riots, collecting donations for the newly homeless, and drove the gifts around town to the people who needed them.

She was also involved in The Featured Artists Coalition, with members of Radiohead, which aimed to protect the rights of artists and fans.

She says: ‘If I’ve been given a platform because I’ve had a couple of successful albums and people are looking at me, then I’m going to use that. Everyone has to do what they can.’

Kate comes to the Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea, on Tuesday, April 30, with support from The Tuts from 8pm. The venue has sold out of tickets, but a few remain at seetickets.com and cost £12.50.