From its sinewy opener “Part Heart,” through the Link Wray-ish homage to Quentin Tarantino “Death Proof,” and sneering proto-punk anthems like “All Talk,” to a metallic sendup of macho hip-hop conventions “Rap For Rejection” and some prickly power-pop—“Conventional Girl”—there’s one unifying force rippling through Kate Nash’s new third outing, Girl Talk, tying all 15 tracks together: The brainy Brit’s bombastic bass.
She’s no longer the sundress-sporting, Strawberry Shortcake-ish folkie from her quaint 2007 debut Made of Bricks. At 25, she’s a grown, fashion-conscious woman with several film roles to her credit; designer pals like Germany’s Felder Felder sisters; and an imposing new tiger-striped mane that gives her a stylish Rogue-from-X-Men look.
And plus: she’s angry—hence her aggro new instrument. “I wrote everything on bass, basically, apart from two songs I wrote on guitar,” says the singer, who started thundering away on four strings in 2009 with her spinoff combo the Receders. “And it’s just like a weapon, you know what I mean? In a difficult time, taking on something that heavy is literally like putting on a weapon—you could probably kill someone with it. And I needed to feel powerful, when I couldn’t in other ways, and music can make you feel loads of things that you can’t feel in your personal life.” She cackles wickedly. “Hey. You go into your house and strap on a bass? You can do anything.
PV: So many changes since your last record three years ago, My Best Friend is You. You’ve started acting now?
Kate Nash: Yes! I studied theater when I was 16 to 18 [at London’s posh BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology], and I always like to talk about it in interviews, when I’m telling my story and stuff. And I’d say ‘Oh, I’d be interested in getting back into it if the right thing came along or whatever.’
And I got contacted by this acting manager in LA, and she said ‘Would you like to meet up when you’re in LA?’ Because I was going to be working out there with [producer] Tom Biller. So I met with her, and she was awesome, a really cool lady, and her husband happened to be from my hometown (Harrow) in London, as well, which was pretty random. And he was really into music.
But she found out about me because her daughter got into my music, and then she looked me up to try and bond with her daughter. She found out that I’d said I wanted to act, maybe, so then she contacted me. So I went over to LA and stayed with her, and now they’re like my family. I stay out there in their big family home, so it’s really changed for me as a town, for sure. So I just did some auditions and got some parts . . . basically, that’s how it happened.
PV: And you got to star alongside Penn Badgely, who played Jeff Buckley in Greetings From Tim Buckley.
Actually, the first movie I did was Syrup, with a young director, Aram Rappaport. That was in New York, and I played a receptionist with Amber Heard, and she’s awesome.
So that was where I went ‘Wow! I can’t believe I’m actually doing this now!’ And then working with Penn Badgley? Penn was just great—he’s a really down-to-Earth guy who takes his work very seriously and really loves musicals. So it was the perfect role for him, and he did such an amazing job as Jeff Buckley – he changed his voice and everything.
PV: Then you played Michelle in The Powder Room?
KN: That was really cool, a really cool project. Because I wanted to do a British film, as well, you know? And M.J. Delaney, the director, it was her first feature, and it was produced by Damian Jones, who produced Iron Lady with Meryl Streep. And it's based on a play that did really well at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival called When Women Wee. It’s a comedy about girls in their late 20s, figuring out their lives, and they’re all out in a nightclub in the toilets, and they all kind of unravel and fall apart in a hilarious manner. So it’s about friendship, and it stars Jaime Winstone, Sheridan Smith and Oona Chaplin—it was an amazing experience and my biggest part yet. And it just felt really cool to be filming it back in England, with some amazing actresses that I’ve admired growing up, as a peer. Just watching them and admiring their work.
PV: Any new parts lined up?
KN: Well, right now I’m just totally focused on the record, and I’ve been insanely busy. And I’ve got a huge tour coming up, of course. So right now, I haven’t got anything in the pipeline. But I’m gonna be spending some time auditioning for stuff halfway through the year, so I should be getting some new roles around then, hopefully.
PV: Okay, a quick heads-up—now we arrive at the difficult part of the interview. When last we spoke, you had just moved into a London flat with . . .
KN: I know exactly what you’re going to say. And we’re not talking about it.
PV: Do you have a pat statement you’re offering on your break-up with [The Cribs’] Ryan Jarman?
KN: [Sighs] No. I just don’t want to talk about it, you know what I mean? It was a difficult time in my life, so I literally just don’t talk about it. I mean, I’ll talk about the record and the things I did, but I just don’t talk about my personal life in that manner. I find it a bit . . . a bit trashy, you know what I mean?
PV: Okay, let’s put it this way: Whatever you went through, you seem to have risen phoenix-like from the ashes. A whole new mature woman.
KN: I’m a survivor. I’m a fighter. And when something bad happens to me, or I feel like there’s shit in front of me, I just like to deal with my problems. I dunno. I just learned that I really have to put myself first and take care of myself. And you can’t like . . . you can’t like . . . I mean, you can’t . . . I dunno. I should be careful how I word things, I guess. But you’ve just got to look after yourself. And that’s what I did.
And I threw myself into my work, and that’s one thing that saved me. I’ve got amazing friends, I’ve got an amazing all-girl band, so I went straight to LA to make this record. Because I knew that that’s what I had to do.
My record label was really unsure, but I said ‘Look. Either I go make this record or I go to a mental health clinic. So it’s really not your choice: This is what I’m going to do, for my own personal mental health. This is what I have to do, because music is my therapy.’
So I went and worked with Tom Biller, who’s one of the greatest humans on the planet, one of my favorite people I’ve ever met. So it was him, my engineer Jeff Ellis and my girl band in this giant California mansion, and I just threw myself into that experience, really, and all the highs and lows. Like I said, I don’t avoid my problems—I like to face them, full-on. And then I write songs that help me deal with the stuff. And I went on tour and threw some of that energy into shows. So I’ve definitely had difficult times. But I just keep that to myself, really, and discuss it with my friends and family behind closed doors. Because I think that they’re the people that truly love you and look after you.
And when I went through that shitty time, every single day I would watch that Fabulous Stains movie, and I would watch that clip where she goes out and screams at the audience. And I was like ‘I wanna be her!’
So I would just pick female role models who I thought were really strong and powerful, and look to them for how I should be and how I should deal with things. Because you’ve got to stand up for yourself. You can’t let someone break you down.
PV: But Girl Talk is an aesthetic success. And—thanks to that galloping bass—you’ve struck a perfect balance between punk powerchords and Spector girl-group glossiness. And if you listened carefully to your last album, you could hear this one coming.
KN: Yeah, I feel like that too. And I feel like it’s a new musical chapter.
But now it’s just about getting people to understand that, because some people are actually shocked. Sometimes people don’t get it, and they fight against it, and they want you to be the same exact thing. So it’s ridiculous, really. It’d be a very strange time warp if I was still doing the same stuff I was doing when I was 17, you know?