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Kate Nash may have a platinum album in the U.K., a 2008 BRIT Award for Best Female Artist and a smattering of chart toppers under her belt, but don’t go mistaking this fiery spark plug as another manufactured chanteuse toeing the line between singer and stupid celebrity. We already have enough Britneys, Lindsays and Mileys clogging the airwaves and blogosphere for a lifetime.
You see, Nash is a real artist. The kind who writes her own songs, records without fancy equipment correcting each flaw and doesn’t consider success a right. There were no handlers, stylists and songwriters involved in her ascent—she did it on her own.
Music became her life long before it became her living. As a youngster, she killed hours in her bedroom with a guitar and a keyboard, penning songs she never thought anyone outside her circle would ever hear. After playing a few local gigs and eventually pressing 1,000 copies of the 7-inch record Caroline’s a Victim/Birds, things began to shift. She toured for weeks at a time, people bought her records, and major labels came knocking. All the while, she has kept the sense of independence and artistic ethics that got her started.
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“I feel like that there is so much prepackaged stuff out there today that isn’t genuine, and I can’t believe so many people buy it,” Nash says. “I try to stay as true to the DIY ideal as I can to keep from getting mixed up with them.”
Nash, who promoted her early shows by passing out handmade fliers and posting handmade posters anywhere she could, still clings to her workmanlike ethos by cobbling together a new fanzine before each tour. Called My Ignorant Youth, the self-published journal features the Brit’s thoughts, artwork, writings from friends and anything else she feels like getting out there. It’s a great collector’s item for her fans, but more than anything, it’s an ode to where she came from and how she got to where she is now.
“I take a lot of pride in the way I’ve done things to this point,” she says. “I feel like the DIY spirit isn’t as strong out there as it used to be, so I put the zine together to kind of show that it’s still important to me. . . . It’s also a lot of fun.”
Nash’s meteoric career trajectory—especially after just two full-length releases—has taken her to the precarious locale many artists are loath to enter: When writing and playing music for a living, there is ultimately a collision between art and commerce; turning what was once a passion, a road to self-expression and an escape from daily life, into contracts, royalties and nights away from home can be a chore.
Thanks in part to her independent streak, Nash has handled this dilemma with aplomb. “I especially tried to write for my new album only when I felt like it so that it was fun and enjoyable,” she says. “I didn’t want to lock myself in the bathroom and just write for the sake of writing because that doesn’t usually lead me anywhere. Good songs have to come naturally.”
However they came about, the songs on her second full-length, My Best Friend Is You, are packed with a decidedly unpackaged bluster. Somewhere between punk, indie rock and old-school soul, the set is filled with catchy melodies that are just raw enough to appear unplanned. In fact, some of the tracks—the repetitive “I’ve Got a Secret” comes to mind—sound as though they were recorded as they were written. The set was produced by Bernard Butler (the Libertines, the Cribs), who is known for making things sound live and energetic.
“In the studio, we played live and recorded just about everything live because we wanted to capture the atmosphere we create onstage,” she says. “I think—particularly with this album, as compared to my first album—I’ve played live so much more that I’m starting to understand what my records should sound like.”
Nash has been a road warrior for the better part of 2010 and plans to continue, with shows across Europe and North America scheduled into the new year. While the travel calendar can be brutal, rolling from stage to stage in a tour bus certainly beats the beat-up-van route associated with the DIY movement.
“Getting to this point took a lot of effort, and it still takes a lot of effort,” she says, “but I’m not complaining.”
Kate Nash performs at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Thurs., Oct. 28, 7 p.m. $20. All ages.
This article appeared in print as "Brit Pops: Multifaceted Kate Nash plays her pop songs the DIY way."