Kate's ready for the riot act...
The singer-songwriter has transformed from an indie pop queen into an feminist punk rocker all about girl power, as Edwin Gilson reports
If you haven't been keeping tabs on Kate Nash since her 2007 breakthrough you'll likely be surprised by the drastic changes the singer has undergone, both musically and ideologically. Back then she was making slight, jangly tunes about relationship strife, the trauma of being young and, err, mouthwash. Whilst she always possessed a certain amount of attitude, radiating teenage rebellion through cheeky lines such as "I'd rather be with your friends mate, 'cos they are much fitter," the 2013 Kate Nash is altogether a more fearsome proposition.
The 26 year-old Londoner repeatedly stresses the term "natural growth" to explain how she has gradually transformed from a quirky pop singer to a feminist punk rocker. Her third album Girl Talk, released in March this year, concerns itself largely with female empowerment; Nash screeches over scratchy guitars in a manner that recalls the 'Riot Grrrl' feminist underground rock movement in America.
"There's just something about punk rock I really love," she reflects, as she gears up for a gig at Belfast's Stiff Kitten in just over a month's time. "I've actually loved it since I was 16. Three years ago I played bass in a punk band, which changed my method of songwriting. My new material came out a lot more aggressively."
It was undoubtedly a bold move from Nash, but not everyone was impressed by the reformation. Her record label at the time, Fiction, were suspicious of the fact Nash had written and recorded the record so quickly, in the space of just a few months. Failing to understand her new lo-fi direction and DIY ethos, Fiction wanted to slow down production and edit some of the songs. Nash's determination and stubbornness, though, meant this was never going to happen, so after leaving Fiction she set up her own label, 10p Records, and released Girl Talk herself.
"I wasn't really told why I was dropped. I was just told that my option wasn't picked up, whatever that means. I was really disappointed in them for dropping me, because I have a huge fanbase and I'd made a great record. Just because it isn't Radio One-friendly it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with it," she argues.
"Just because it wasn't generic dance-pop that would appeal to the masses, I was dropped. Whatever, you can't dwell on people that don't believe in what you're doing. It's a lot better now that I've broken out; I'm actually really happy I got dropped."
She pauses for a moment and then, perhaps trying to empathise with her old label.
"It's completely different to how it was when I first started seven years ago. Everyone who works at a label, especially a big label, is under pressure. There's a lot of fear involved I think, everyone is scared to lose their jobs.
It really is Fiction's loss, because Nash is one of the few relatively mainstream artists around today who are eager to use their platform to comment on the pitfalls of modern society and, hopefully, make a change. The singer has come out in support of jailed Russian feminist rock group Pussy Riot, and felt so strongly about the oppression of women in the music industry (and elsewhere) that she started up an after-school rock 'n' roll club for girls lacking in self-esteem.
"The theme of female empowerment has become more and more important to me," she says. "Personally a lot of what I experience in the business frustrates me. There are far less female guitarists around than male ones, still. I've been working with a lot of young girls recently, and I've been shocked by how many have said that they hate themselves, that they feel ugly and awful all the time. A lot of
them said that they'd given up on hopes of becoming a musician at a very early age because they were scared of what the media would say about them. That really disgusted me and made me think: 'hell, we really need to change the bullying culture we celebrate in Britain'. I just look at all these celebrities in magazines and think 'Why?' Why is all that stuff celebrated and why are buying into that? Magazines encourage children not to bully, but then they themselves are bullying children telling them how to look.
A thoroughly commendable stance indeed, but has the new Kate Nash alienated any of her old fans, who pine for the tongue-in-cheek pop of 2007 debut Made of Bricks and perhaps can't relate to the singer's current message?
"Anyone who wants a musician to write the same music over and over isn't really a fan of music or art in my book," she opines. "They're just a fan of meaningless pop. To people that claim they really miss Made of Bricks I'm like: 'Well you don't have to miss it, it still exists!' Maybe a lot of people hold onto that record because it reminds them of a certain time in their lives. People can change though, and that's a good thing.
Having said that, Nash has an extremely close bond with her followers, always interacting with them on Twitter and "recognising their faces at shows." Perhaps she'll spot a few when she calls in to Belfast. "It's a mutual thing," she says, fondly. "I really care about my fans and they really care about me."
Despite a fair amount of professional turbulence Nash has gone about things firmly on her own and concludes: "A lot of young people have told me they've been really inspired and moved by what I'm talking about and what I'm doing. It's just about being strong and not giving a care what anyone else says."
GRRRLS AT THE FRONT OF THE PUNK SCENE...
* Bikini Kill
This Washington four-piece were credited with pioneering the early Nineties 'Riot Grrrl' rock movement. Notorious for their radical feminist lyrics and frenetic live shows, frontwoman Kathleen Hanna frequently encouraged fellow Riot Grrrls to blank the media, as she thought the press were misconstruing the meaning behind the movement.
* X-Ray Spex
The London punk band only released one album in their original three-year lifespan but left a lasting legacy, with single Oh Bondage Up Yours, proving to be one of the most influential songs of British Seventies punk music. Iconic singer Poly Styrene has been described as "the archetype for the modern day feminist punk".
* The Slits
This predominantly female British band (inset), were a huge part of the Seventies punk era, before moving into more experimental avant-garde territory in the early Eighties. The cover of Cut, The Slits 1979 debut album, saw the members in the nude, with only loin clothes covering their bodies. Drummer Palmolive left the band at this time, partly due to her disdain for this image.