As a journalist, you have to stay focused and professional even when you’re talking with an artist whose new single you’ve listened to (iTunes doesn’t lie) two dozen times in the last week. In fact, I make a point of ending phone interviews a couple minutes under the allotted time, both to respect the artists and to avoid the awkwardness of a publicity agent cutting in and saying we have to wrap it up. After I ended my conversation with Kate Nash, though, I immediately wished I’d let myself geek out just a little bit more—I wished I’d taken just a few seconds to tell the singer-songwriter that her bracing, buoyant new album My Best Friend is You is the kind of thing that makes me glad to live in a world where such things are created.
Nash is currently on a U.S. tour in support of the album, her sophomore release following her 2007 debut Made of Bricks—an album that did well in the U.S. but did even better in Nash’s home country, topping the U.K. charts and producing hit singles including “Foundations” and “Pumpkin Soup.” Nash’s current tour partners are Supercute!, the new teen-girl trio fronted by Rachel Trachtenburg of the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. (Read my interview with Rachel Trachtenburg here.) The tour stops at First Avenue—the tour’s largest venue—for a sold-out show on Wednesday night.
You’re doing a lot of publicity for this tour, and doing lots of interviews—but everyone, including me, still has more and more questions for you. Do you ever feel like, the more you reveal, the more everyone wants to know?
Revealing so much can be very difficult. What can be upsetting is that it seems the more you reveal something, the more you talk about it, the less you feel like you own it. If something inspired you, and you talk about it over and over again, you don’t feel like it’s yours any more. It’s almost like you made it up. I’m trying to let that happen less. It’s hard, because you need to [reveal some things], and I want to—but I also want to control it, and I don’t entirely know how to.
The new album sounds rich and cohesive. How did you achieve that sound?
From the time I recorded the demos in December 2008, I knew what sound I wanted, [with elements of] riot grrl, 1960s style, and spoken word. It was just about working with the right person. [Producer] Bernard [Butler] instantly knew what I was looking for, and where I wanted it to be. To be honest, though, I had a lot figured out by the time we went into the studio.
A recurring theme in your lyrics is a gap between where you are and where you want to be, what you want people to be and what they are—a frustration, but an empathetic frustration.
I think in general I do feel like that a lot. I do have sympathy for human beings, but I’m sensitive. When people do mean things, I do get hurt by that and I have to express that in my music. There are things I think are wrong or bad, like cheating on somebody or the whole groupie culture—but there’s more lighthearted storytelling [in my music] too. I like theater and fiction and making things funny sometimes. My music is a mixture of those things.
You’ve said that you dislike it when people who stand in the back at shows and talk, and when you last played Minneapolis, you asked the crowd to please quiet down for you to play “Birds.” Now that you have millions of people listening to your music and thousands of people coming to your shows, what do you think it’s reasonable to expect of your fans—at live shows in particular, and in general?
That comment was about one particular show, a small show where I was introducing a lot of new material. I think my crowd can be very respectful, but some people just come for one particular song. I didn’t play “Foundations,” and people were like, “Why aren’t you playing that?” If you only know and want to hear one song, you’re not going to enjoy a show like that. My fans, though, tend to be flexible in terms of being silent for quiet songs and then going crazy for upbeat songs. They understand me, they’re supportive. The American audiences have been very welcoming, shouting things out that are really nice. They’ve been really cool and friendly, almost like they’re trying to make me feel welcome because they know I’m British.
Tell me about your invitation for Supercute! to tour with you—how’s it been going?
I love Supercute! I know the Trachtenburgs because they toured with me previously, and they’re the most awesome people in the world. They’re so kind, and really interesting—wonderful, friendly people. I love their music and their show. Rachel’s a little genius, and we’ve been in touch about her new band for ages. I saw them in New York, and I thought, they’re so smart, these young women who are funny and intelligent—and they are cute. I couldn’t tour without them. They’re just good for your spirit.
You’ve talked about how your second album represents a new maturity; looking at the years ahead, is there an established artist who’s had the kind of career you’d like to have?
My favorite bands are bands like Bikini Kill, who feel free to express themselves and make the records they want to make. They don’t worry about what happens, what everyone else is thinking. That’s difficult when you’re [successful] in the pop music world, but that happened to me almost accidentally. It felt strange to have [such success] early on—I knew I wanted to play music, but I didn’t realize it was going to be on this scale. I want to be able to have the career I want, to play the music I choose, the music that makes me happy. Sleater-Kinney did that. Kate Bush. Joan Jett—she’s had big hits, but she’s just been doing her own thing the whole time, hasn’t she?
This will be your second Minneapolis show, and you’ll be playing the same venue—First Avenue—you played in 2008. Do you have any particular memories of your last Minneapolis show, and is there anything you’re looking forward to this time?
I love that venue. I remember people being great in the crowd. We’re big Prince fans, so we’re going to warm up by watching Purple Rain—we’ll have to get that in tonight. I like the shape of the venue, and the stage and the size of it. I’m looking forward to playing there again.