Music

Gift Wrapped in Wit: A Conversation with Kate Nash

What's Nash's gift? Making her diary sound like it could be yours. You're her best friend, after all. This girl's words just speak to you, man, however mundane the details or big the heartbreak.

Kate Nash loves Christmas.

You wouldn't guess it, though, from listening to My Best Friend Is You, the 23 year-old Londoner’s latest album. Released last April, Nash's sophomore effort is a whirlwind tour through long diary passages scrawled with sharp wit and plenty of moodiness. In that way, it's not much different from her debut album Made of Bricks. But the melodies and especially the choruses inside My Best Friend Is You really sparkle this time, even as Nash changes up her sound, from punk ("I Just Love You More") to jazzy R&B ("Kiss That Grrrl") and 60s girl-group pop ("Do-Wah-Doo").

But "Early Christmas Present" reminds us why we fell for Nash in the first place. The song opens much like her 2007 hit "Foundations", with a breezy melody punctuated with handclaps. Nash describes a girl who is the last to know that her boyfriend's been cheating on her. She's pissed to find out that "your best friend's, ex-girlfriend's, younger sister's mate / knew before I did". But the kicker is that this guy left her with a "gift" that "turns out needs a cream to help it go away". Damn. Some Christmas present.

And what's Nash's gift? Making her diary sound like it could be yours. You're her best friend, after all. This girl's words just speak to you, man, however mundane the details or big the heartbreak.

Last fall, PopMatters had a chance to speak with Nash, who was calling from Columbus, Ohio, a day before her performance at the city’s Newport Music Hall. She was relaxing on a rare day off during her 19-stop tour, her second through North America last year in support of My Best Friend Is You. The tour got strong reviews, with Nash's playfulness on full display, from her quirky outfits to a keyboard lavishly decorated with lightbulbs. Fans commented on how approachable she seems, and this girl-next-door connected with some concert-goers by giving them some of her written poetry.

"Basically, I started writing those with the first record. When things got pretty crazy and pretty hectic it was a way of being creative, kind of going back to my roots. I'll get friends to write for it or I’ll get fans to write for it, and they’ll have a statement or a topic. It’s a homemade fanzine, really. Initially I just wanted it to be so that anyone could read it and maybe relate to one of the pieces."

Nash steps into her role as feminist bard on "Mansion Song", one of the album's best tracks. The song first appeared in a collection of poems online in The Guardian UK, in the "Music Takeover" segment sponsored by Brit-rockers The Cribs in September 2009 (Nash is dating Cribs singer/guitarist Ryan Jarman). She spits rhymes that celebrate "the better sex" and female independence. An old, crackly Mozart recording playing in the background -- on a gramophone Nash got a year before for Christmas -- gives "Mansion Song" even more charm. One lyric ("Take a piece of raw vegetable and hold it to your breast") is a reference to the famous scene in Gone With the Wind when Scarlett O'Hara digs up some turnips and proclaims that she'll never depend on others again. Elsewhere, like on the track "I've Got a Secret", Nash rails against homophobia. Through it all, the pop star just sees herself as growing.

"I think it's a reflection of growth and change, and a progression, a natural progression as I experimented with new things. I'm just kind of a simple-minded, opinionated person, and I have very strong feelings. I just think it’s important to express your opinions. And it’s not like I set out to write those things, they just happened naturally."

For Nash, part of growing up has been becoming a vegetarian. (Though you may have been surprised to hear her claim that "barbeque food is good" on track "Don't You Want to Share the Guilt?" But Nash explains that she wrote the song before she became a vegetarian.) She made the switch for pet rabbit, Fluffy, and she's found that it's helped to control her obsessive compulsive disorder.

"I don't know if I’ll be vegetarian forever, but I'm doing it at the moment and I care about animals. It started out in a weird way, really. I had OCD and I was stressed out. I was folding, then I'd leave the house and then I’d come back to the house to pop something back in the drawer. And I thought if I couldn’t do that, something bad would happen. Someone had a conversation with me about being vegetarian, and my bunny rabbit was having this operation. And for some reason, I thought, if I don't eat any animals then she would make it through the operation. And after that, once you stop eating meat and animals you feel a little bit different, you know?"

Nash hasn't yet figured out her plans for a third album. But she hints that her music could take a new turn.

"I absolutely want to do something different and I think it’s important to develop, but I'm just not sure what that’s going to be. There's some music that I’m going to release quite soon that’s kind of electronic-based. It’ll be a collaboration, which I don’t usually do. It's just important to be inspired by stuff. I’ll just need to take a break from touring."

She is, however, intent on getting back to work with the Featured Artists Coalition, a not-for-profit organization she co-founded in 2009. The Featured Artists Coalition, which counts Annie Lennox, KT Tunstall, and members of Blur and Radiohead among its members, lobbies for fair compensation for its members and provides them with services for negotiating relationships and contracts with record companies. Nash believes strongly in the organization's work.

"I think it makes perfect sense, really. I just kind of think that there should be an organization of musicians representing musicians because if you care about your art then you need to know what’s being done with it, what deals are being made, and with the internet and phone companies getting involved and distributing music, which is really annoying. You should be at the forefront of what the hell’s going on with it. I think it needs a lot more members. And I think it needs to get away from the whole illegally downloading debate which we got caught up in for awhile."

As she was close to wrapping up her tour last fall, Nash was just looking forward to enjoying the holidays.

"I'm really excited about Christmas this year. I'm really tired. I've been on tour for ages and I just want to like hang out with my boyfriend and my bunny rabbit and my family and do nothing for awhile."

And maybe she got another gramophone.


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