‘I’m in love with­hu­man be­ings’

Poet/rap­per/play­wright/nov­el­istKate Tem­pest is in full flow as she talks with Una Mul­lally about her novel ‘TheBricks that Built the Houses’, her new al­bum ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ and her firm be­lief in love

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

In all the new forms and places that I’ve tried, it’s very un­usual for a woman to be taken se­ri­ously just at first glance. We’re much more used to kind of look­ing at rather than lis­ten­ing to what a woman has to say

“For my whole life, I’ve been con­de­scended to, I’ve been un­der­es­ti­mated, I’ve been dis­missed. And that’s be­cause of how I look, my agenda, the fact that I don’t per­form my agenda in a con­ven­tion­ally suc­cess­ful way.

“It’s been very hard to be taken se­ri­ously un­til you prove that you’re se­ri­ous. This goes back to when I be­gan rap­ping, and be­fore that, as a kid, just as a per­son in life. And now it’s gone through to my po­etry.

“In all the new forms and places that I’ve tried, it’s very un­usual for a woman to be taken se­ri­ously just at first glance. We’re much more used to kind of look­ing at rather than lis­ten­ing to what a woman has to say. I be­lieve that’s prob­a­bly part of the ur­gency that I felt in need­ing to have three plays, three al­bums, two long po­ems, a novel, is to build this foun­da­tion from which my in­tegrity can­notbe chal­lenged, my­se­ri­ous­ness, my drive, my com­mit­ment.

“It can still be chal­lenged, of course, but you can­not fuck with that. That’s mine. I did that. I am a writer. I have writ­ten. These things are fin­ished. And by no means am I sat­is­fied by any of that work. By no means am I ready to stop. By no means this is it. This is the foun­da­tion, the first level.”

It’s com­ing to­wards the end of an in­ter­view with Kate Tem­pest in a Dublin ho­tel and she is in full flow. Is her flow ever any­thing but? There’s a rea­son that in her cho­sen sur­name lurks a storm.

For a decade, Tem­pest – poet, spo­ken-word artist, play­wright, nov­el­ist, mu­si­cian and more – didn’t know how to get be­yond the New Cross Inn in Lewisham, south Lon­don. Cre­ative op­por­tu­nity and suc­cess were closed fortresses to her. “How the f**k do I get out of the New Cross Inn?” she’d think to her­self. How was she go­ing to progress be­yond a com­mu­nity record­ing stu­dio where she could only book in 30-minute seg­ments? She’d hear about this band or that band that had a van. “How?”


Tem­pest ad­mits her prin­ci­pal mo­ti­va­tion at some points as a teenager was prob­a­bly her “fe­ro­cious” ego. It pushed her to want to be on ev­ery stage, in ev­ery­body’s ear. Now, the driv­ing prin­ci­ple is ded­i­ca­tion to a craft she adores, which gives as much to her as it takes from her. She wrote, per­formed and pub­lished Brand New An­cients. In it she wrote: That face on the street you walk past with­out look­ing at, or that face on the street that walks past you with­out look­ing back or the man in the su­per­mar­ket try­ing to keep his kids out of his trol­ley, or the woman by the post­box fight­ing with her brolly, ev­ery sin­gle per­son has a pur­pose in them burn­ing. Look again, and al­low your­self to see them Tem­pest’s ver­sion of al­low­ing one­self to see is in­trin­si­cally linked with al­low­ing one­self to feel. She reawak­ens the heart as a tool of both trans­mis­sion and re­cep­tion, a high­way of em­pa­thy and emo­tional ex­change where traf­fic is free-flow­ing in both di­rec­tions.

A good art­work, Tem­pest says, “rather than teach­ing you some­thing, it re­minds you of some­thing that you al­ready knew. You know when it’s an ex­tremely pro­found mo­ment, or good fun, or what­ever? It re­minds you of some­thing that’s al­ready in­side. I think that this is

more im­por­tant in the times that we’re in, to be con­nect­ing with what joins us, rather than clutch­ing on to what di­vides us.”

Tem­pest be­lieves that we have been fed a par­tic­u­lar mythol­ogy that hu­man­ity is by na­ture com­pet­i­tive, ag­gres­sive and dom­i­nant, and she has turned her back on it. This be­lief in the con­cept of rad­i­cal em­pa­thy leads her to con­clude that if you can love, it will be bet­ter for you.

“I’ve spent my life im­mers­ing my­self in other peo­ple’s sto­ries, other peo­ple’s opin­ions, get­ting close to other peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ences. You are al­lowed into the in­ter­nal ex­pe­ri­ence of a per­son you’ve never met, never lived in the same coun­try as them, in the same time as them, and you’re wel­comed in in a way that opens the world, shows you into the uni­verse, says ‘here you go, here is hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence’ . . . It’s not a de­ci­sion that I made. It’s part of lov­ing mu­sic and lit­er­a­ture. To love peo­ple. That’s the pri­mary push to­wards writing for me, be­cause I’m in love with hu­man be­ings.”


Tem­pest pulls at the thread of so­ci­ety’s hem, the high street, the flat, the pub, the car pas­sen­ger seat. In her 2016 novel The Bricks

that Built the Houses, lives and emo­tions over­lap with in­cred­i­ble dex­ter­ity and with no judg­ment of the scrappy drug deal­ers, hard men and masseuses that pop­u­late its world.

That world is Lon­don, a city of Tem­pest’s that is rapidly chang­ing. When it comes to the fight-or-flight ap­proach to gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, she ref­er­ences the track

Per­fect Cof­fee on her new al­bum Let Them Eat Chaos.

“So I’m mov­ing on, I’ve got it all to play for. And I’ll be the in­vaderin some other neigh­bour­hood. I’ll be sip­ping per­fect cof­fee think­ing this is pretty good, while the lo­cals grit their teeth and hum ‘Another fuck­ing one has come’.”

Cities, she says, are strange, in­cred­i­ble places to live. “The pace that it gives us, the teach­ings, the an­cient­ness of all of these lay­ers of time and life be­ing built on top of the other. Lon­don es­pe­cially, it goes deep, you know? The souls of the city are ev­ery­where, liv­ing and dead. Es­pe­cially if you’re the kind of per­son that’s hun­gry for life, in a city: there it is. So if you have this re­la­tion­ship with a city, it’s close to you. So when you see your love, your fam­ily, your teacher, un­dergo such rapid change from peo­ple who have not have the same ex­pe­ri­ence of the city that you have had, you feel heart­bro­ken.”

The hous­ing cri­sis in Eng­land’s cap­i­tal, Tem­pest says, is “fuck­ing ab­surd”. Tem­pest be­lieves that this mo­ment in the city’s his­tory will be seen as a bar­barous time. “What is hap­pen­ing is that you’re look­ing around at a place that has al­ways been, for one, ex­tremely di­verse, be­com­ing more ho­mogenised.

“This is wor­ry­ing for a res­i­dent of a city that has al­ways had a par­tic­u­lar kind of iden­tity in terms of the peo­ple that live there, the mu­sic that gets made there, the way that it feels to be from there, the way it feels to party there, the way it feels to live and shop and eat.

“Go­ing to the fuck­ing shop to buy gro­ceries or what­ever sud­denly has changed into this per­for­mance of what it once was . . . don’t think it’s a child­ish han­ker­ing of, noth­ing move, no­body move, I want it to be like this for­ever.”


Work­ing across forms must re­quire dis­ci­pline. At a talk in Smock Al­ley in Dublin ear­lier this year, Tem­pest spoke of the ini­tial burst of writing what be­came The Bricks that Built the

Houses in around two weeks. Her writing process gen­er­ally has very in­tense beginnings: short one or two week-long out­pour­ings of every­thing she’s think­ing about a par­tic­u­lar idea that has been ger­mi­nat­ing. The first draft of any­thing is miles too long. Draft zero. She takes time away from it, re­turn­ing to it in per­haps a month. One of the most dif­fi­cult parts of this process is edit­ing.

“But edit­ing is what makes a writer a writer. Ac­tu­ally writing is the fun part, the easy part. Any­one and ev­ery­one can and should be do­ing that, be­cause it’s very help­ful for your men­tal health to just un­leash, let it out. But to sit down when you don’t feel like do­ing that, when you hate your­self and ev­ery word you’ve ever writ­ten, when you doubt every­thing: to deal with that is what makes you a writer.”

For now, there is the lat­est al­bum, which will also be pub­lished as a long poem, slightly reimag­ined for the page. There’s another al­bum be­ing made with her pro­ducer Dan Carey and another pro­ducer from the US who hap­pens to be a big hero of hers (back in March she wrote on Face­book that she had just signed a record deal with Rick Ru­bin).

There’s a new book of po­ems she’s work­ing on “very slowly”, and a trans­la­tion of “an old play”. She was an­nounced as the 2017 guest di­rec­tor of the Brighton Fes­ti­val, and a Euro­pean tour of the bril­liant Let Them Eat Chaos will take her into mid-De­cem­ber.

There is lit­tle doubt that Tem­pest is a prodigy, but bestow­ing that ti­tle on her be­lies the graft that got her to where she is. Her tal­ent across all ar­tic­u­la­tions of it is al­most fright­en­ing. As a live per­former, her out­pour­ings are vis­ceral and tech­ni­cally ex­pert. As a writer, beau­ti­ful turns of phrase and ob­ser­va­tions come pelt­ing down on the pages like hail. I could eas­ily pub­lish the en­tire tran­script of our con­ver­sa­tion unedited, given how well-formed her thoughts and re­sponses are. As she wraps up the con­ver­sa­tion af­ter list­ing off var­i­ous up­com­ing projects, she leans back into the chair,

“There’s lots of ideas that I’m hop­ing to keep go­ing with them.” She shrugs some­what.

“Just try to fin­ish things.” Then there’s a smile.

“Maybe a lit­tle bit of a hol­i­day would be nice as well.” Let Them Eat Chaos is out now on Lex Records

I’ve spent my life im­mers­ing my­self in other peo­ple’s sto­ries, other peo­ple’s opin­ions, get­ting close to other peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ences

Kate Tem­pest “I am a writer. I have writ­ten. These things are fin­ished. And by no means am I sat­is­fied by any of that work”

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