SPEAKS WITH KARA MANNING
KATE Nash’s decidedly British
brand of verbose, unfi ltered, heart-onher-
tatty-sleeve song writing is the antithesis of the sexed-up and slick
American-style posturing of Beyoncé or Fergie. In fact, the lanky,
musician defi es most comparisons with her pop peers, even her
fellow Londoners, though the media has scrambled to explain her style
and maverick success. Nash is neither a piano bench-straddling Tori Amos
nor a shy, anti-folk Kimya Dawson. Onstage, with her long auburn locks
and wispy bangs framing her face, Nash cuts a determined fi gure as she
pounds the keyboards – a little nervous, yet a bit cheeky too. Her songs,
while not quite anthems for misfi t London girls as Morrissey’s were for
lonely boys, are still eccentric and ferocious confessions about unreliable
lovers, self-doubt, uneasy maturation and isolation. Tracks like her UK
hit ‘Foundations’, which wryly details an atrocious night out with a crap
boyfriend, and the forgiving self-portrait of ‘Mouthwash’ percolate with
Nash’s poignant and defi ant lyricism. She is a rebel with a cause – one of
unabashed, awkward honesty. Nash, who played her very fi rst public gig
just two years ago, nearly to the day of her Coachella Festival debut this
past April, admits she’s been astonished at her rapid climb as a singer and
songwriter; she recently wrapped up her fi rst lengthy tour of the States
scoring a number one UK album with her 2007 release ‘Made of Bricks’.
Raised in the west London suburb of Harrow, where she still lives
with her parents and sisters (‘I’m going to get a house soon ‘cause I need
the space,’ she says), Nash, 20, never intended to be a musician. She
studied drama at the Brit School, a renowned, state-funded vocational
arts institution, sponsored by the British Record Industry Trust. Lately,
UK charts have been overrun with precocious Brit School grads: Amy
Winehouse, Lily Allen, Leona Lewis, Katie Melua, Luke Pritchard of The
Kooks and Adele are among the Croydon college’s illustrious alumni.
Though Nash played piano and dabbled in song writing, she was
determined to be an actress following graduation. When she was rejected
from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School on the very day she tumbled down
the stairs at home and broke her foot, a recuperating and contemplative
Nash returned to songs she had begun writing when she was 15 and
recording them on her Mac. After posting her songs to a Myspace page
and then getting a life-changing internet boost after Allen posted Nash
as one of her ‘Top Friends’ on her own heavily-traffi cked Myspace site,
the Harrow teen nabbed both a Universal Records publishing deal and a
Fiction label recording contract. Nash’s ascendance took an even more
thrilling turn when she won the Brit Award in February as Best British
Contemporary Interviews caught up with an exhausted and frequently
yawning Nash, halfway through her American tour, on the phone from
New York, where she was backstage for a taping of ABC-TV’s chat show
The View (‘it’s kind of hectic and there’s loads of models’).
KARA MANNING: You’ve been playing the tracks of “Made of Bricks”
on tour for nearly two years. Do the songs need to change for you on the
Yeah, they defi nitely do, and that’s really important,
otherwise you won’t be interested in what you’re doing anymore. It’s got to
be refreshing. You can’t just do the same, you wouldn’t be progressing as
KM: Which track has evolved the most for you?
Pumpkin Soup has really changed – it’s rawer, a bit funkier.
KM: I’ve read that you’re especially fond of the song Mariella.
I really like her character because she’s an oddball. I like her passion
and belief and determination.
KM: The song was inspired by a Tim Burton movie?
Yeah, a fi lm called Vincent – it’s really good. I love Tim Burton. His
autobiography is great as well, and I like his poems and short stories.
I really liked reading about when he worked at Disney, because he felt
weird being in that world, and I feel weird being in this kind of major
industry. I relate to that. It was nice to read about someone who had
survived – because they are fucked-up industries. He survived it, he
has creative freedom and he works how he wants to. He does his own
projects, has his own imagination. He’s created something himself, a little
network around him. And that’s what I’m trying to build.
KM: Is there any musician whose career trajectory you particularly
I really love Kathleen Hanna, I think she’s my favourite – such a big
inspiration. She’s been in ‘Bikini Kill’, ‘Le Tigre’ and then her own solo
projects. She’s outspoken and an activist. She’s done a lot of writing and
that’s what I aspire to.
KM: In that spirit, is it true that the early demos for your next
album have a
certain punk or rrriot girl edge?
I’m playing around with different stuff. I never wanted to be a specifi c
genre, I just want to experiment, express myself as an artist. I don’t know
where I’m going to end up or what direction the demos are going to go.
I’d probably like to do some with a sound engineer and then try with
different producers. I don’t want to dedicate myself to one person just yet.
KM: Is song writing for the second album more of a challenge because
there are so many expectations?
No, I like writing songs. There is that pressure, obviously, because
everyone’s like, ‘Oh my god, second album, it’s going to be rubbish.’ But
I’m not going to think like that because that would do my head in. It would
be pointless because you’ll just be afraid and insecure, and I don’t want to
be like that.
KM: As a songwriter, do you tend to labour over a song?
No, it’s kind of spat out in one session. I write with guitar or piano
and a notebook, and it all comes out. I’m not really a second-draft kind
of person, I don’t really edit. I think that happens naturally through live
KM: Merry, Happy has become a new, albeit twisted, Christmas classic.
What was its genesis?
That was about independence and being alone. I took something like
sunset – it’s quite romantic and clichéd that you watch sunset together with
someone, but being able to do that by yourself is really important. I hung
out a lot by myself – I never had a boyfriend. I watched fi lms by myself,
went to theatre by myself. I think you need to be comfortable with who you
are. I hate it when people have boyfriends from when they’re 14 years old,
and when they’re finally by themselves they don’t know what they’re doing
KM: And Foundations really has a life of its own now.
Yeah, I didn’t know if it would be internationally successful. It shocks
you when something becomes big like that. It’s not something that you
necessarily want either – You’re not in control of it.
KM: When you consider that your very fi rst gig was in April 2006,
you really able to take in your meteoric success?
Yeah, that was April 13, 2006. This past January I was swimming at
a beach in New Zealand and I was like: How in the hell did this happen?
How am I playing festivals in New Zealand and Australia with Billy Bragg?
And winning the Brit Award? Totally insane.
KM: Your Myspace site has played a critical role in your career,
after Lily Allen supported you on her page. You have close to nine million
hits, which is astonishing. Do you think you would have succeeded without
I don’t know – I doubt it, to be honest. That grew out of my control
really quickly. It’s kind of scary, actually. This is my fi rst ever
and it’s selling out, and that’s because of Myspace and the internet. Some
people have known who I am for a year and half even though I’d never
gone to the States.
KM: And since we’re on the topic of Lily, are you weary of the press
constantly comparing the two of you, though your music and personas are
It’s so sexist. I’ve experienced more sexism than ever in the past year,
which has shocked me. It’s a male industry, run by men, full of men trying
to make money and push girls into corners. The media’s been telling us for
years that to be happy, we need to be thinner and prettier and tanned, and
we can’t drink and we can’t go out and fall over and be fat and be normal
human beings, cry without being scrutinized and penalized. They love
putting a girl on a pedestal and chucking her right off. I think it’s
you have to stand against and ignore by being yourself and being proud of
You can inspire other women to be the same, and other girls to
look up to someone who is like them. I think everyone has the right to
feel beautiful and good about themselves. And so many girls are fucking
anorexic and bulimic, and have eating disorders and feel bad because
the media is telling them they need to lose weight and appeal to a man. It
KM: You are inspirational to your young female fans.
I do go out and speak to a lot of the girls because they inspire me.
They save me as well, they give me confi dence in what I’m doing and I
feel better about it.
KM: How are you keeping your own head together with all this success?
I don’t know. I think it’s about keeping your friends around you. Like I
said about Tim Burton, trying to build something yourself that’s unique and
not based on anything shallow.
KM: You sound tired.
I’m so tired, my voice is running out. It’s been two years full-on gigging
all the time. You’re not supposed to use your voice like that – it’s not
You do loads of press and you’re always using it – it does your head in.
August is going to be the last festival date, and then come September, I
want time off.
KM: Are you being pressured to head back into the studio for the next
I’m just going to take it as it comes. I don’t want to go into another
album campaign, to be honest. I think I’d kill myself.
KARA MANNING IS A NEW
YORK-BASED FREELANCE MUSIC/ARTS WRITER AND PLAYWRIGHT WHO HAS WRITTEN FOR
ROLLING STONE, MTV NEWS, JAZZIZ AND CONTEMPORARY.