On her latest, due March 9, the London-bred singer-songwriter swaps pop for punk and doesn't look back
It began with a dress in a window. "I walked by this shop in my neighborhood and I saw it," Kate Nash remembers aloud. "I thought: That's it. That's my album. It was bright red, bright pink, and short. Knitted, with an angular pattern. I don't know what it was, but it was a statement. I wanted that attitude, and I wanted it on my next record." This was two years ago, maybe more. Nash started writing feverishly, like she hadn't before. And when a fangs-bared, bass-driven punk number named "Sister'" came pouring out of her, she knew to keep a guitar in her hands. "I've always gone by a different instinct," the once piano-bound songstress says now, atop a stool at a Manhattan oyster bar. "Lyrically-led, more thoughtful. But this was just felt like, 'I wanted to get these songs out of me.'"
And from August of 2011 to February of last year, she continued writing what would become Girl Talk, the London-born 25-year-old's third full-length. Bristling with white-knuckle rock romps and hot-blooded confessionals, it's Nash at her bravest and a change in creative direction so sharp, early samplings left both fans and her label, Universal, slow to support it. So Nash decided to release it on her own label, have 10p. "I felt like I absolutely needed to do this album, and if I didn't, I would have needed to go to a mental institute," she says. "I just had this sense of urgency."
Urgency is exactly what can be heard reverberating through each of Girl Talk's 15 tracks, its opener, "Part Heart," more visceral a recording than any she's yet put to tape. "I knew when I wrote it, that it should be the opener," she says of the song, a crescendo-paired surrender to a broken heart. "It's about not being able to get better. It's about being pained. One thing that loads of people said to me last year, and I wanted to punch them in the face every time, was, 'It'll just get better with time. It'll heal in time.' And all you want to say is, 'Fuck off. No it won't.' Now, I feel like I would never say that to someone if they just went through a breakup, but, in a way, it's something you have to say, because it's true. But when you're in that space, you don't want it to be, because if you had something like that, something that you believed in, you don't want it to just disappear."
But the writing and recording of Girl Talk, Nash says, became her sanctuary and salve. After "purging" the lion's share of its track list in a manner that ran counter to her "conscious" style of writing, Nash decamped to a (supposedly haunted) hilltop mansion in L.A.'s Silverlake neighborhood last spring to track alongside her newly hired all-girl band. "[Producer] Tom [Biller] had worked there with Fiona Apple," says Nash, of the former convent where Girl Talk was captured. "Now it's owned by an antique designer and interior designer. I went back to visit her the last time I was in town and she was like, 'Oh, you gotta come in and see the new thing we've got in the ballroom.' And there, in this giant ballroom, is a taxidermy giraffe. So surreal and amazing."
Spending more time in L.A., a city she had previously found lonesome, Nash has also developed a new network of friends, many of whom, including local punks FIDLAR, can be heard singing along in the background of acoustic pseudo-closer, "Freaky." "This was the first time that I truly found solace in music," she says of Girl Talk. "People always say, 'Music saved me, man.' I feel like I actually get what people are saying when they say that now. When you're going through a dark time, music is the healthiest vice you can have. It's a safe place, whether you're writing it or just listening to it. When you feel bad and you get fucked up, you're obviously going to feel worse."
But Nash, a vocal feminist and humanitarian, doesn't want you think this is a breakup record. "It's just vey raw and very honest," she adds. "There are a lot of feelings in there, but it's a lot of fun, too. I don't know what it is. It's just me being angry and kind of fucked up, but still having fun writing music and speaking my mind."