"An artist should be someone who's sticking it to the man," Kate Nash explains emphatically. "It's about rebellion. It's about your mom being like 'turn that down' and you slamming the door and being like 'whatever, I need this music to help me get through my emotions!'" The 22-year-old singer has always had strong opinions but in the months since the 2008 release of her smash debut Made of Bricks, she's found a new kind of fierceness in expressing them. After a whirlwind rise-to-fame that involved multiple world tours and more than a million albums sold, Nash is back with her sophomore effort, My Best Friend Is You. "I went from being really young and naive and positive, like 'oh my god I love life, everything is so fun, to being like 'I hate the world, everyone's shit, I want to die,'" Nash says of her ride to the top. "My Best Friend Is You is about trying to find a happy middle."
Born and raised in London, Nash started playing music as a kid, but her creative interests didn't stop there. She studied theater at the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology. Nash was contemplating a future as an actor when, after a freak fall down a flight of stairs, she found herself temporarily housebound with a broken leg. To ease her boredom during recovery, the singer's mom bought her an electric guitar and songwriting became her obsession. After playing a few local gigs, Nash started uploading her music to MySpace. The response was immediate and overwhelming. By spring of 2007 the singer and songwriter had a record deal, and by the summer her debut album Made of Bricks was wreaking havoc on the UK charts. She played the entire UK festival circuit, including Reading and Leeds, and made her TV debut on Later with Jools Holland.
Not content with dominating the British marketplace, Nash then made her way stateside where Made of Bricks came out in January of 2008. Nash supported the release with a string of highly publicized shows that helped sell 175,000 copies of the album. Back home, she was being heralded as the new face of British music. She won the Brit Award for British Female Solo Artist, the NME Award for Best Solo Artist, and the Q Award for Breakthrough Artist. And after two years that took her from unknown teenage girl writing songs in her bedroom to arena-filling international pop star, Nash decided to take a long break.
"Everything was just a whirlwind," she remembers. "I'd do things that were crazy and just be so blase about them. Like, oh you're going to perform for this many people and like oh you're going to the Brit awards and I'm like, 'ok cool, sure.' They're like, 'your album went to number one' and I'm like, 'ok.'" After playing the summer festivals in 2008, Nash went back to London and retrenched. "It was scary because at first you're like, 'ok so the next album's coming out in this month and I'm gonna get it done and I want to go here and I'm going to go there and do that. But when you actually start to relax you're like, 'oh god this is so much better and I actually need it! I'm going to hang out with my friends and go to the cinema and pass my driving test and watch the news and see what's going on in the world.'"
And that she did. In addition to spending time with family and catching up on the real-life-of-a-teenager stuff she'd missed while becoming a rock star, Nash took time to pursue interest outside of music, like doing charity work. With a friend, she organized an event for the Wish Center in London, which is a group for kids that self-harm. "We did a big Halloween fundraiser for them that was really fun." And she also took time to remember why she started making music in the first place. "I booked a rehearsal room for a couple of months so that I did have somewhere to go everyday and didn't just watch daytime TV, which I also did plenty of," the singer admits, laughing. "I wanted to make sure that was writing even if it wasn't good, that I was doing something productive. And I took the break to make sure I had something interesting to write about. I'm not going to write an album about how I've been on tour for two years and am sick of it. I'm not going to write the you-can't-relate-to-me-album. That would be rubbish!"
Locked in that rehearsal room with no deadline, Nash rediscovered her love for music. She played around with new instruments, learning drums, bass and improving her guitar skills, and she also started a punk band, The Receeders with Jon Jackson and Brett Alaimo the bassist and guitarist from her band. "When we were on tour they were in the back of the bus one night talking about how they were going to be in a punk band called the Receeders," Nash remembers. "I was like, 'can I join?' and they're like 'yes, okay, if you want.' It was kind of a joke, but then I was off the road and in my rehearsal room I just rang them up and was like, 'come over! We're actually going to do this!'"
Taking a few months off, learning new instruments, and writing songs for a loud rock and roll band really expanded the scope and sophistication of Nash's songwriting. "Don't You Want to Share the Guilt" with its confessional, narrative-rich lyrics and orchestral pop sound is a good blend of old and new Kate Nash. "I have played it live so people would know it," Nash explains, "but it's more ambiguous than my older songs. In lots of songs I was like 'here's my heart,' but not as much now. I still like to live with my heart on my sleeve but i'm pleased that some of my songs aren't as obvious now." "Do-Wah-Doo" is all bouncy girl-group-inspired vocals layered over a serrated guitar riff. And "Kiss that Grrrl" is a classic anti-other-woman sonic rant layered over intricately orchestrated horns, strings and drums. "I got much more involved in the music, writing parts for strings and horns this time," Nash explains. "Before I wanted it to be as simple as possible. I think I was trying to have as much control in my life as possible. And that lo-fi sound is my background, it's who I am but I can also enjoy writing music rather than just being a writer. It used to be all about the stories and that's still really important but so is the music."
Nash's unwavering confidence in her new direction is based in large part on her faith in her connection to her fans. "It's like you grow up together," she says of the people who buy her records. "You might never meet but you have this unusual, deep communication. I love that. I don't want the people who are going to be standing in the back of the gig talking. Go stand in the back of someone else's gig! I want the people who are there to be nerdy. I want the people who are there to be real."