Brick by brick
Kate Nash talks to Tony Clayton-Lea about fighting sexism, rebuilding her album ‘Made of Bricks’, and getting to grips with the world of ‘Glow’
Kate Nash is one of the more glaring examples of how the music industry giveth and then taketh away.
In 2007, aged 19, Nash was one of the more celebrated female UK-based solo acts. The daughter of a Dublin-born nurse, she grew up in a small but fervent Irish community in Harrow, went to Irish dancing every weekend, played the tin whistle, and listened to Christy Moore, The Dubliners and The Pogues. From her teens, however, she laced her storytelling style of songwriting with a noticeably British twist.
Although she initially trained as an actor (more about which anon), she opted to learn the guitar when she was laid up in bed with a broken leg. Cue a stint recording Art Brut tunes on to her laptop, the results of which is why we are talking. Nash’s 2007 debut album,
Made of Bricks, will shortly be on the receiving end of a 10th anniversary edition, and while there are, perhaps, other albums more deserving of such trumpeting, there are surely none as beautifully naive or one that mixed chav vernacular with folk/pop sensibilities.
The album’s songs, recall Nash, were all written when she was 16. “I was just starting to feel as if I was creating my own identity, and I was at the age when I finally felt that I was speaking in my own voice. That was essentially what I was engaging with back then – elements of struggling to figure out where you fit in, who you are, and expressing that as a teenager.
“At that age, it’s especially hard because you’re still not sure of anything, really. It’s intense, that period of time, particularly what you go through at that age.”
According to Nash, her world was changing. Her debut single,
Caroline’s a Victim, was a barbed taster for Made of Bricks, which was a turning point for confessional Brit-centric pop music, particularly so for female teenagers who found in Nash’s songs all they wanted to hear but couldn’t articulate. Ten years later, the songs still ring true.
“The search for truth is what I’m all about in my life, as a person as well as an artist,” states Nash. “Naive? I’m sure there’s something of that in every artist’s first work. That’s why people love their debuts so much, because you’re not jaded in any way. A lot of what I wanted to do, also, was to tell stories. I came from a theatre background, and I think you can hear that from the songs, that sense of creativity.”
Nash stood apart at the time. There was nothing then that sounded like Birds, Foundations, Mouthwash, Pumpkin Song, and Nicest Thing. And yet she was lumped in with the likes of Lily Allen, Duffy, Adele, Amy Winehouse.
“I guess you’re fighting to find your own identity because you get lumped in with these other women, which for some reason is actually considered a genre. We all know that ‘female’ is not a genre, yet walk into record shops and you still find a section labeled ‘female/women’, and that just isn’t right.
“We have to do what we can to break down those walls, and break down sexism; it’s a slow journey, but everyone to fight for their own identity is important. And also not to turn against each other, to support other women, and not to be manipulated by the industry to pitch against each other.”
At the time, Nash began to distance herself somewhat. She didn’t stop writing music. Two further albums were issued: 2010’s major label release, My
Best Friend is You, and 2013’s self-released Girl Talk.
“When you’re young, you don’t want to be compared with anyone else – you want your sense of individuality. It bothers me less now because I am that individual person, unique in my own way, and so on, but back in the day it was hard not to feel a level of oppression. Now, I have more confidence and I’ve worked hard to carve out that.”
Her stance played against her prospects as a major label pop star, and fairly quickly she was shoved on to the back burner. For several years now, she has successfully grafted away as an independent artist, fusing songwriting and singing with acting.
“I’m simply doing what I feel like doing to be an independent artist and to therefore hold on to my creative freedom. Independence for musicians, for creative people, is crucial because the industry is so used to being in charge of us, and telling us that we’re failing.
When you’re young, you don’t want to be compared with anyone else. It bothers me less now because I am that individual person, unique in my own way, and so on, but back in the day it was hard not to feel a level of oppression
“Most artists I know don’t think they’re succeeding, because the industry is always telling them they’re not good enough, or that they’re not selling enough records, or aren’t on radio enough.”
Nash says there are plenty of well-known artists who are commercially successful “yet are made to feel the opposite because they’re not ticking all of the boxes. You just need to smash the boxes, don’t you, and just do your own thing. Otherwise, you’re never going to be happy. You have to figure out how to measure success and what it actually means to you.”
Alongside her music, Nash has returned to acting. She has a supporting role in the new Netflix show Glow (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), which premiered on June 23rd. Co-executive produced by Jenji Kohan and Tara Herrmann ( Orange is the New
Black) and co-created by Liz Flahive ( Nurse Jackie, Homeland) and Carly Mensch ( Orange is the
New Black), the 10-episode 1980s-set comedy came her way via a previous connection with Kohan.
“I did a pilot for Jenji a few years ago,” says Nash, “but the show didn’t get picked up. She liked my work in it, though, and she asked me to do Glow. I got the part last August, did wrestling training for six months. It’s all about women, friendship and empowerment; misfits finding their way through the world of wrestling. It’s the coolest, biggest thing I’ve done so far, and it turned out to be the dream job I never thought I’d be interested in.”
Nash agrees, a bit ruefully, that it’s been a strange career. “I feel like I’ve been able to overcome some of the battles I’ve had – getting through them, surviving them. To me, that’s success – I still have a career, and I’m still working towards something. That’s success, too.”
Glow is available to stream on Netflix. Made of Bricks 10th Anniversary edition is released in July
Kate Nash “Most artists I know don’t think they’re succeeding.” Below: with Alison Brie in the Netflix series Glow