Is Kate Nash a pop star? A celebrity? I suppose so, but to me she’s also a feminist, a worthy inheritor of riot grrrl’s legacy and a very clever, funny, brave woman. I say brave because it is her fearlessness in the face of the tabloids, the male-dominated music industry and anonymous internet trolls that has made her a heroine to thousands of girls and young women around the world.
Kate is not the same teenager who rose to fame with the bittersweet anti-love song Foundations in 2007 – she stepped out from behind her piano a long time ago and it’s been fascinating and exciting to watch her evolve into one of the most intriguing, honest female voices in music. Watching her perform live with her all-girl band is an exhilarating experience and the devotion she inspires in her fans is clear. Free association poetry, grunge, punk, rap and du-wop are all skillfully whipped into songs that are catchy, moving and balls-to-the-wall rock.
There’s no edit button on Kate – she talks fast, ideas and theories spilling out, always witty, whip-smart and focussed. She also puts her money where her mouth is and set up her after-school rock club for girls in 2011 after being inspired by Kathleen Hanna’s US rock camp for girls. So here’s where Kate is right now….
I wanted to make fashion the main focus of this interview because I think you have a really interesting relationship with the fashion industry and I’m interested in how it’s evolved since you started working with Rebekah Roy...
Working with Rebekah is amazing because it's opened up the fashion industry for me - I never really got my head around it before that. I think Rebekah totally gets me and my ever-evolving style and what I enjoy wearing at different times for different reasons. She makes it fun. She has an amazing attitude and is extremely supportive.
One of my favourite things that she always says to me whenever I rip a pair of tights, which I do ALL the time and feel bad about is, "It's only tights". And it just puts the whole thing into perspective. It's like, this isn't about pressure. This is about fun. It's kind of silly and we like to play dress up.
At the same time fashion is extremely important to me because it helps me express myself. It gives me a sense of identity and freedom and confidence. Rebekah educates me about the industry, about up-and-coming designers, which I love because I enjoy supporting new talent and artists, and she has an incredible work ethic. She's definitely changed that world for me and invited me in.
You did LFW in February with Rebekah – how was that different to the first time you did the shows?
Rebekah made London Fashion Week fun for me. I think before that I was always intimidated by it. I felt like I wouldn't really fit in, as I always feel like an outsider. What I realised is that Fashion Week is about celebrating being an outsider. Everyone is trying to look as unique as possible and be an individual. The freaks and geeks and weirdos and outsiders are embraced within the fashion world. I've realised that more and more. People really go to town on their looks and it makes the whole thing kind of like a performance and a show.
There are a lot of fun things to see visually, even just walking around. I was also able to go backstage and see how hard people were working and meet some emerging designers. These things make it more relatable to me as someone that supports the arts. It made it about real people being creative, and then a fun visually exciting performance. I can relate to those things and feel comfortable within that world and in turn enjoy the experience.
Which designers are you excited about wearing at the moment and do you wear them ‘in real life’ as well as on stage?
I love Dagda. They are crazy and fun and make you feel like you're in your own wild world. I love how they embrace colour and texture and don't seem to be constricted by any rules. You feel liberated and fun wearing their creations. I also LOVE Lazy Oaf so much! Their colours and sense of fun - I like.
You wear a lot of vintage too – where are your favourite vintage stores?
Paper Dress in Shoreditch, Beyond Retro in Shoreditch, Beacons Closet in Brooklyn, NY and American Rag in LA.
As you get older do you feel you’re refining your personal style or do you like to play around and switch it up, playing dress up and trying out different looks?
I don't know really. I think my style and tastes change all of the time. Sometimes I feel like I've nailed it, but most of the time I'm confused and still figuring it out. When I'm happy fashion is the most fun because it seems easier when I feel confident and secure. Although, being defensive and pissed off can be great wardrobe inspiration too. I like to mess around.
I have too much of a sense of honour to stick to one thing, I sometimes buy clothes that I think are funny, which doesn't always equal cool, ya know? Like for example my Millenium to-the-floor, covered in silver sparkly 2000s dress that my sister hates, but I just think is hilarious. I still feel like a kid going into a fancy dress shop when I go shopping. I also definitely change my look depending on my mood.
And what kind of things inspire you to experiment?
Books like Valley of the Dolls. I'm really into characters and sci-fi thrillers. I'll fall in love with a character from a movie and want to dress like that character: Matilda, Ghost World, Welcome to the Dollhouse, any old 50s movies where the women look hard and soft at the same time. The TCM channel is great for that. I love Joan Jett, Blondie, Polystyrene, Abba, Kathleen Hanna, It's easier to dress if you have a character or person in mind, and any Hitchcock movie.
How's your after school rock club for girls going?
I've been on a little bit of a break from it over the summer, making my next record and touring. But as of September, I will be back in the schools and should be finishing off the project at the end of the year in a really unique way that gives the girls a chance to showcase what they have achieved and how doing this made them feel. It’s something I am really excited about. More news on that sooooon!...
We love the ‘new’ sound (not really new to anyone who knows your music!) – how do you feel about the responses, both positive and negative?
I think it's been really important, this reaction. It's been both funny and shocking to me. In many ways I'm happy it has highlighted the abuse that people get away with on the internet. Some of the sexist comments have been really eye opening. I think it's ridiculous that a woman is not allowed to change and grow and develop her sound and style, yet it is acceptable for a man to beat a woman and come back having "changed" and is welcomed back into the industry with open arms, interesting observation.
I also think the negative stuff goes perfectly with the whole point of the song. It's like yeah, ok, you are afraid, you are conservative, you have no idea what this means and it scares you. There's been a lot more talk of the negative reaction because I guess it is more exciting for press to report on that, but there has been so much positive too from my fans and they're the most important people in all of this. As long as I am still empowering them and inspiring them to be themselves, then that's all that matters.
I don't give a shit about the sort of losers that write hateful messages on the internet. I mean who are these people? Have you ever met anyone that does that? Would you befriend someone who does that? It's really bizarre. I mean I hate some stuff too but I would never publicly fuck with them or try or write someone death threats because I didn't like a song. It's ridiculous.
It's great though because it helps highlight my causes and issues with a lot of British celebrity culture that sees society celebrating and encouraging bullying. I think we're setting terrible standards for young people. How can an adult that supports and buys into a culture of crappy gossip magazines, slagging women off for being fat/skinny/old/ugly or watch the final episode of the X-Factor and laugh at people with possible mental health problems or the elderly and then turn around to their kids and say, "Don't bully each other". It's a double standard.
I've been reading The Beauty Myth, which is depressing because the issues that were being talked about in the 90s are still present, if not worse today in 2012. Images of beauty are used against women like never before. I think things seriously need to be challenged and I'm willing to stick my neck on the line and get attacked for doing that, just because someone has to fucking do it, and I'm sick of talking to young people about how much they hate themselves because of the pressure put on them by media. It's disgusting.
You work with some very strong, inspiring women, has that helped shaped your own personal definition of feminism?
I think that ever since I entered the music industry 6 years ago, feminism became extremely important to me. It gave me a sense of hope, and helped me deal with a lot of the sexism that I came across and continue to come across. I love working with strong, inspiring women and they all help to give me confidence in what I do. Getting the opinions of different types of women keeps me open-minded and challenges my own ideas, which is extremely important for self-growth.
What are the best and worst things about being on the road?
The worst things are definitely getting sick of eating out every night and trying really hard to be healthy, hangovers and when you stay in crappy hotels that have mysterious stains.
What’s next… a holiday?!
No holiday for me! I am currently in LA finalising a few projects. I came here primarily to finish working on a song with Willow Smith, then I am releasing an EP, so I will be releasing and touring that and I’ll be doing some fun things during London Fashion Week and working hard to promote my new material.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Shuga, FIDLAR, Supercute!, Grimes, Mariah Carey, Willow Smith
And finally, the same five questions we ask everyone:
The best thing about being a woman?
Being emotionally expressive, overly analytical, thoughtful and women's fashion.
And the worst?
Being oppressed by society still and held back and the judgment about the way we look.
What’s the most selfish thing you’ve ever done?
I remember being really young and understanding that I was being selfish a couple of times and it really stuck with me. Once when I was in a shopping centre, I was with my mum and little sister and we were tired as we had been out all day and I was cranky and bored. My mum was paying for parking and my younger sister told my mum that she really wanted the receipt - it was one of those kid moments where for some reason the receipt is a fun thing to keep for no reason at all. Serious boredom.
Well I was bored too and for some reason I got really angry and jealous that my sister had found some fun in this moment of boredom and tiredness so as soon as the receipt popped out of the machine I grabbed it and instantly scrunched it up in my hands and dropped it on the floor. It was a real ‘fuck you’; 5-year old style and I remember the look of shock on my mum's face at how mean I had been for no reason. I also felt quite shocked at myself for having done it. I only did it because I was jealous and I didn't want her to get what she wanted or have any fun.
Another moment I remember was probably the last time I had a tantrum (Red head = LOTS of tantrums as a kid). My parents would always struggle with me kicking and screaming and crying and I would get told off A LOT. I'd got past the age of tantrums really being acceptable and I was screaming and kicking and my mum was putting me to bed and I accidentally kicked my mum right in the face. Instead of telling me off she just held her face and then walked away because I had actually hurt and upset her.
It was one of my first memories of self-awareness. I knew what I was doing was wrong, I wasn't really upset about anything, I was just being a brat and because of that I ended up accidentally hurting my mum.
What would you tell your 16-year-old self?
I would probably tell myself about cooler bands, not to hate myself as much and not to be so afraid.
Who’s your heroine?
I think my mum is probably the woman that inspires me most. She is a huge influence on me and has shaped me as a woman. She always challenges my opinions and even when I argue with her about it she makes me think outside of my own head. She and my dad taught my sisters and me to be political and open-minded.
My mum is basically the strongest person that I know. She is a tough woman, an amazing nurse and carries a lot on her shoulders, but is still a very loving and caring mum. I know she would do anything for my sisters and me.
Picture Credit: Christopher Dadey