Injecting F-Words Into Music with Kate Nash

A proud feminist who views her music as an art form that can change young people’s lives, British singer/songwriter Kate Nash prides herself on redefining sexy. “Real sexiness is about confidence, intelligence, mystery, art and passion,” she recently wrote for The Independent.

Nash, who toured with the Lilith Fair this summer, is best-known in the U.S. for her hit single Foundations from her 2007 album, Made of Bricks. She’s also famous for her frank, astute (and often profane) lyrics. At her show last month in Philadelphia, she fended off wedding proposals from concertgoers, demurring, “Well, that’s just silly. We don’t know each other.”

“Speak for yourself!” an audience member yelled back.

Indeed, listening to Kate Nash’s music is like having a conversation with your best friend. She’s relatable, honest and unafraid to be herself. And that’s just what she was like when she sat down to talk with Ms. about relationships, self-esteem and feminism.

In a lot of your songs you talk about relationships. The entire hook up culture, especially on college campuses, has really denied young women agency in that it becomes bold and risky for women to make demands for something as rudimentary as monogamous relationships. Do you have any advice for these women?

It’s important to be happy independently. I’ve spent a lot of time without a boyfriend. It helped me to be self-assured, confident and comfortable with being alone. Don’t be afraid of being by yourself. It gives you time to figure out who you are and what you actually like. I’ve also never been a fan of being in a relationship just for the sake of it. I have a boyfriend now and I’m totally in love with him. He’s my best friend and we hang out all the time. I don’t like those couples that don’t really see each other as friends. You want to be with someone who really likes you.

On both this album, My Best Friend is You, and your previous album, Made of Bricks, you talk openly about your insecurities. I believe that there is often this idea amongst women that admitting vulnerability is a sign of weakness but you seem to push back against this. What gives you the strength to speak so candidly about your innermost fears?

I can confidently go on stage and sing to thousands of people but I can also feel really shit about myself, totally uninspired, stay home for a week watching daytime television and can’t be bothered to get in the shower. It’s actually really brave to admit what you are going through and it becomes easier to relate to people. I’ve always been a person that lives with my heart on my sleeve. If you are in denial or you’re not brave enough to be honest about how you feel, you won’t be experiencing much in life because you will be constantly scared. I’m not always good about admitting how I feel but I believe it’s always better when it’s all out in the open.

Was there a woman in your life who you saw was unafraid to put herself first?

Probably my mom. She’s a strong character and really clever. As a nurse, she often deals with situations that are really intense and really sad. She’s always taught me and my sisters to be smart, work hard and have empathy. Nothing is hidden in our family. Her and my dad are not afraid to publicly argue with each other. I’ve actually been taught that arguing is really important. It shows that just because you have a fight with someone, it’s not the end of the world.

You are very adamant about the message, “You don’t have to suck dick to succeed.” Do you see a lot of this in your industry? You seem to talk about these unequal gendered power dynamics in Mansion Song.

I wrote that song after I went to an awards ceremony and had a horrible experience. I felt so uncomfortable there. Sometimes I get depressed and sometimes I think, you actually do have to suck dick to succeed but in the long run, things are going to be so much better if artists stick to their purpose and ideals and you take care of them and you don’t sell-out for instant gratification. I also see a lot of girls at festivals that are seen as dumb-asses and seen as slags. They are probably really interesting people but everyone is looking at them in a way that would never reflect that because they can be picked up on a bus in one town and dumped miles and miles away from home.

I saw the feminist postcard that you designed for an auction at the Aubin Gallery. Can you tell me more about the project and why you selected the logos of different corporate institutions to surround your face?

It was a response to art becoming cheaper. Artists in adverts don’t mind using their music to sell anything. There’s not really a lot of dignity about that. Women are forced to dummy themselves down to be less offensive to the media and the male dominated music industry. I think a lot of people have a problem with me because I’m opinionated and if you have opinions you become a threat to some people. Someone in the record industry actually told me if I had less opinions, I would sell more records but I believe having convictions and opinions is the point of music. It’s why it changes kid’s lives. It makes them feel something. Disposable artists are not going to be written about in history. True art will always be remembered.

For more about Kate, you can check out a great article she wrote for The Independent. Her single Later On is out now.

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Eva McKend is a graduate student at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University where she is pursuing her degree in Broadcast and Digital Journalism. A multimedia storyteller, she enjoys using her skills of writing, videography and film editing to tell stories that would otherwise go untold. In 2011, she graduated from Swarthmore College, where she founded A Campaign for Me to address black female representation in the media. Eva is a former Ms. intern.