Kate Nash talks a lot. It’s a fact she recognizes and seems to have made peace with. On the phone from her home in London, the singer occasionally apologizes for rambling about her new album and what went into it. But Nash shrugs it off as just who she is, both as a person and as an artist.
“It’s kind of why the record's called ‘Girl Talk,’” says Nash, “because whatever it is I’m going through, I just need to talk about it a thousand times. In interviews, sometimes people have to cut me off and be like, ‘We’re running out of time, can you just answer the next question really short?’ because I have so much to say, and I don’t know why. I’m my mother’s daughter, really. My mum is like that as well. I just have loads to say, and sometimes you just really need to spit it out. Sometimes that’s a good thing, and other times it gets you in trouble.”
It’s not just that Nash (who plays the Paradise on March 12, a show moved from the Brighton Music Hall after that venue sold out) is a chatterbox with a lot on her mind. She’s smart, but anybody can be smart. What sets her apart is that she’s curious, using words as a sort of extra sense, a way to glean information about the world around her.
It’s trouble-seeking by design, not out of malice but as a form of discovery. When she sings “I change my mind, I change my face, I change it all the time, so give me space” on the new “Girl Talk,” it sounds like a mission statement for an artist for whom the process of becoming is one of her defining themes.
“I feel like if I hadn’t have called this record ‘Girl Talk,’ I probably would’ve called it ‘Being a Grown-Up’s Hard,’” Nash says. “Sometimes for a while, you still feel like a teenager, even when you’re not. Like, when I was 21, 22, 23, 24, I still really felt in the mentality of a teenager. And I don’t anymore.”
It's an important shift for Nash, who made her first album while still a teenager and quickly became a fixture of the British pop charts while also winning a BRIT and several music-magazine awards. But it still took some time for her to become confident in her abilities.
“With your first record, it feels like, ‘Oh, this could just be a fluke. I don’t know if I can actually do this or I just happened to write an album,’” she says. “Then you try and ignore that pressure, and you think, ‘OK, hopefully I can write a second album.’ And by your third one, because you’ve made the second one, you’ve proved that you can. I feel like, oh, this my craft. This isn’t just an accidental thing. I am a songwriter, and I feel like one.”
Nash’s confidence informs not just what she has to say on “Girl Talk” but how she says it. The music can barely sit still: “Conventional Girl” is a girl-group pastiche that descends into a screaming tantrum; “OMYGOD!” shifts tempos with her mood; and “Lullaby for an Insomniac” is half hastily recorded a cappella vocal, half grandly orchestrated coda envisioned as the end of “Gone With the Wind.” In describing it, Nash returns more than once to the word “raw.”
A mutual desire to work quickly led Nash to producer Tom Biller. “I think that the closer you can record something to the day it was written, the better it is, the more emotional, the more direct it’s going to be,” he says. But he also notes that the material lent itself to such fierce immediacy: “I find that’s a hard thing sometimes for singers and songwriters to really be direct and not try to mask any of their thoughts with songwriting trickery or being a little too clever with the lyrics and things like that. Kate just kind of says it like it is.”
Nash admits that there's a therapeutic aspect to what she does – “It was either I make a record or go to a mental health clinic,” she says – and not just for her. Nash designed an afterschool program to encourage teenaged girls to get into songwriting. She witnessed one combative girl who transformed when the time came to perform in front of her school.
“I wrote the song for her, but it’s all her own lyrics,” says Nash. “She’s got a red tutu. She’s facing the crowd. She’s so confident. It’s like she just found where to put that aggression. It was through music, and suddenly, instead of it being uncomfortable, it gave her power.”
“That’s the beauty of writing songs,” she says. “It does make you feel strong and powerful.”Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @spacecitymarc.