Before everyone became millennials, teenagerdom was much less exciting. In fact, it was a cycle of endless mundanity. I know this, because I have a collection of nauseatingly saccharine fluffy padlocked journals that won’t ever let me forget it. The things I ended up doing, just out of desperation to be doing anything; like drinking three litres of White Strike and shitting my pants in a play park, or getting bum-fingered by my best friend’s straight Irish cousin behind the primary school, replacing lube for vodka to get me blasted quicker – and then telling everyone about it.
This was a time period when your mates (or ‘bezzaz’), your relationships, and whoever was cruising down at McDonald’s car park formed the absolute furthest reaches of your universe. A disloyal SMS message, a breakup, a conversation with the wrong person, and your whole world could be dominoed into irrevocable chaos. The delicate balance between everyday tedium and high-end drama was the thrilling line on which you survived, and there was one person out there soundtracking it all.
At the zenith of her career, Kate Nash went from Nando’s waitress to global pop success in a matter of months – there is no-one alive in the English-speaking world who doesn’t know the riposte to “You said I must eat so many lemons, coz I am so bitter.” Her 2007 debut album, Made of Bricks, was, and still remains, the apogee of a certain era of confessional British pop: a trilling piano and guitar work that details the absolute ordinary, from the most absolutely ordinary position. The number of times either boy troubles or inordinately off-piste drunk behaviour could be summed up perfectly by a track from that album was uncanny. The album became a platinum selling UK number one.
And now, nine years on, I find myself on a crackly FaceTime call from Norfolk to LA with the woman who chronicled every heartbeat of my teens. It’s actually too awkward to admit to her just how well I know her back-catalogue, just how many times I clutched that CD case in my arms while crying single tears. But it’s on this level at which we talk for nearly two hours. I tell her about the time I lost my full-blown anal virginity in the toilets at one of her 2008 gigs in Preston: she screams a bit and then says, “You’re welcome.”
“I think growing up in the UK was where Made of Bricks came from. I went out in London on my own every night, walked on the streets, and got the night bus – and there was so much then that just came out of my fingertips. I was just writing the stories of what was happening to me during that time, because there wasn’t much going on in my life. There was nothing amazing, and fucked up things weren’t happening, it was just brutal everyday stuff.”
Nash seems less aware of her cultural significance during the mid 00s than you would expect. For a start, she could well be credited with being an early, much-needed injection of real feminism during a particular pop culture dearth of it. Her lyrics were always about an honesty regarding the female experience: recounting being dicked-on by dickheads, or finding power in being that weird chick at the party. But she was also singing at a time when the music industry was dominated by Proper Music lad bands like Hard-Fi, The Enemy and The View. It took a unique voice to make decorative owls and mustard cardigans an actual thing, as well as be a female musician and writer whose music could crack through the male-dominated mainstream and resonate with a wider audience.
“I was trying to be normal – I mean, not normal, I’m weird – but I’m an ordinary girl and I’m not trying to be this perfect shaped, prim pop star,” explains Nash. “I couldn't be that anyway, even if I wanted to be. I hate the idea of fame, or a pedestal, or celebrity culture, and I really ran away from it. I felt not just a responsibility to talk about feminism, but like I was trying to carve out my own niche in space too. Because it wasn’t really there back then. I experienced a lot of sexism from the industry. I’m not telling other women to be like me, I’m telling them to be your fucking self, because there is space for that. For all of us.”
Since those early days, Nash has released two albums – My Best Friend is You (2010), and Girl Talk (2013) – neither matching the commercial success of her debut. There are often two trajectories for pop stars: a sudden fall away from the limelight, or a monumental catapult onto the global stage. For Nash it was the former, and – although she still harbours a group of exceptionally loyal fans, and her music is still as catchy, awkward and confessional as it ever was – she is quite far from hitting the cultural apotheosis that she did back in the days of "Mouthwash". I ask her where she thinks it all changed?
“We had the tail ends of an era that hasn’t existed like that since then – since the internet – and things will never be like that again either," she explains. "We were the last lot of people who didn’t grow up in the age of the internet. I remember getting my first crappy mobile and sending texts and playing snake and that was it – that was teenage life. The internet changes how you grow up, and what you get up to. There were a few of us doing a similar thing back then, like Lily Allen and Jamie T – but where is the space for that now? Everything is so radio driven, and there are songwriter camps of people writing for other people; just trying to fit everything into a pop song sandwich that makes sense in a package.”
It’s easy for any artist whose music isn't quite getting the attention they want anymore to simply blame it on vague wider problems regarding pop music as a whole. But it's fair to say that the internet has changed youth sociabilities beyond recognition in under a decade – post-internet teenage life isn’t really about exploring the drama and charm of everyday mundanity that Nash built her voice on back in 2007. In 2016, nobody wants to see a Snapchat story of you in a Jack Wills hoodie mainlining Caribbean Twist in a bush. On Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Vine, the aspirational position is the one with social currency: being global, being rich, being hot, being talented, being incredible at makeup, hair, memes, or gifs. Nash’s entire USP was about not being in the aspirational position; about admitting that she was a loser, just like you. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the #mood for a very long time.
“Before my third album, I got dropped by my record label by text,” she admits readily. “I kept getting told that they just hadn’t sorted the paper work yet. And I was like: look, I need to make this record emotionally or I’m gonna go insane. They came out to see me in LA – although I paid for it all – and they said they would reimburse when we sign the deal. I came back from LA with an album, four music videos, loads of visuals, and even more ideas – but they asked me for something else. I could feel this weirdness. I said I’d do more, I’d write more, I’d make more videos, I was ready to go. The day they were supposedly finalising the deal I get a text from someone that says: ‘We didn’t pick up your option and you’ve been dropped’. I was on my sofa in Bethnal Green, just… shocked.”
Nash eventually scooped herself back up to self-release her third studio album Girl Talk, but it’s clear the music industry’s maltreatment of young, especially female, artists has left its scars. “I look back at being 20 years old,” she begins, “and surrounded by these men that made a shit ton of money from me. I sold over a million records and they made a lot of money out of this young girl. And nobody nurtured me, nobody gave a fuck about this young girl. I worked like a donkey.”
These days, Nash tours with a radically supportive all-female band. Back in 2011 she started a series of after school clubs to encourage girls to get up and play some music – which inspired the charity Girls Rock London, now headed by her guitarist. Nash even founded Girl Gang TV, described as “a group of feminist girls/boys/women/men/and non binary ppl, all kinds of combinations! that want to learn, share ideas, inspire and challenge you! Searching for the truth and spreading love, joy, skills and self confidence where we can!”
She's going to release her fourth album soon, she’s just not quite sure how yet. She admits to finding the present day music industry and the rules record labels often impose suffocating, or lacking in any true concern for the artist at the centre. “But at the same time I do wanna play music, I do wanna sign a deal again, because there’s no money in it otherwise. It’s really expensive touring, and it’s really expensive making art and I’ve been self funding for four years now.”
"Good Summer", the lead track from her next record, is a little less specific than some of her previous work. It’s a tangy, summery melody about taking care of your own interests and yourself, about being honest about the hard times, and about finally being able to come through all that and enjoy yourself again. I guess in a world of filtered fantasy, it's hard to see where Kate Nash's brand of charming mundanity could slip back into the mainstream pop world. But she doesn't seem in anyway disheartened.
“The position I’m in is more powerful for me than any I have been in before," she tells me. "I’ve learned so much. I have a team, my girls, and more stability. I now know that I have the ability to work all the time, because I have people around me protecting me. I know I have a dream scenario of how I want to put out a record, and even if it doesn't happen right away, I’ll figure it out and I’ll find another way.”
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