Kate Jackson - The indie-rock firebrand who got in touch with her softer side
As frontwoman of the Long Blondes, Kate Jackson adopted an aggressive alter ego. Now she's gone solo, she can at last be herself, she tells Elisa Bray
My best friend asked me, 'Kate when are you going to stop living out of a suitcase?' I don't have anywhere to unpack to. That is my life. I'm much more at home when I'm packing," says Kate Jackson, with a radiant smile. At the age of 32, some would feel unsettled without a permanent base, but for someone who's spent six years touring with the Long Blondes, it's understandable.
When they burst onto the indie-rock scene in 2005, the Long Blondes, with the charismatic and stylish Jackson as their frontwoman were soon hailed as the best unsigned band in Britain. When their songwriter and drummer, Dorian Cox, had a stroke aged 27, the band split. Three years later, Jackson is back, stylish as ever, but not quite as we know her.
"I had a persona with the Long Blondes, which wasn't necessarily me," says Jackson, when we meet at a French café in London. She's here to discuss her confident double single written alongside former Suede guitarist-turned-producer Bernard Butler.
"A lot of the [Long Blondes] lyrics were written by Dorian, but the character that he created wasn't me, it was Kate Jackson. It was quite a powerful, dominating, sometimes embittered, character – always singing about broken relationships and kitchen-sink dramas."
None of which seems to fit the warm, smiley, self-deprecating woman who sits opposite me. So who is the real Kate Jackson? "I'm really soft. In order to go onstage and sing those words and front that band, I had to sing very aggressively. I don't feel that anymore at all."
Anyone that heard her sing a slow version of Blondie's "Picture This" as a guest singer at London's Roundhouse in October will have witnessed her taking the tone down a level. It was one of the most terrifying performances of her life, she says, because her vocals, backed by just cello and synth, rather than as part of a five-piece rock band, were that much more exposed. But not as terrifying as going to Edwyn Collins' West Heath Studios to play her first self-penned composition to Butler.
"It was the most nerve-wracking thing I'd ever done. Obviously he's an amazing songwriter and one of my heroes." She went into the studio at 2pm and by 4pm was on her way home after recording "Lie to Me", her first demo. "I've never been more excited," she says.
She may be "soft", but Jackson knows what she wants. The Long Blondes broke up in 2008, but Jackson had been contemplating a solo career some time before that. "Certainly towards the end," she confirms. "I think we were all getting a bit tired of it."
Butler featured in the future career she imagined for herself. She recalls: "We were on tour driving through America and I was listening to Suede on the headphones. I was thinking it would be amazing to write a piece with Bernard Butler." When Cox fell ill, Jackson went to Geoff Travis, the boss at their label Rough Trade, and suggested solo work with Butler as her producer. To her delight, he agreed, and Jackson has spent the past three years writing songs. Her debut album is set for release next year.
Jackson credits Cox with her career path: without him and the Long Blondes, she says, she wouldn't be sitting here today, talking about music. It was Cox who called her up one day when she was studying English and history at Sheffield University and said: "Kate you look like a singer, do you want to be in a band?" Up to that point Jackson and Cox were both DJs around Sheffield; being musicians had never been a career option. "Until Dorian asked me to sing in a band I'd never thought about it realistically. I would have been happy playing records."
Cox is so much recovered that he has returned to music. "I think he's got a new band called Former Lover, but I haven't heard any of it," says Jackson so dismissively that it's clear the friendships are no longer. "No," she states, her sunny demeanour suddenly clouding over. "Being in a band is like being in a marriage with five people. We were in that situation for six years – it's horrible how it ended, but I think we were all relieved that it was over."
So it's no surprise that, with the Long Blondes era behind her, the music, too, has a different edge. Gone is the angular guitar sound and the punk edge that made the Long Blondes' music so distinct; in its place is a blast of melodic indie guitar pop partly inspired by the love for David Bowie and Brian Eno that Jackson and Butler share. "What I'm trying to do is a little bit more melodic – my influences are 1970s glam, classic, country rock, pop and warmer guitar sounds to what Dorian was doing."
Going solo has also been an opportunity for Jackson, who quit art school to join the Long Blondes, and did all the artwork for the band, to try her hand at screen printing. The result is an eye-catching six panel, monochrome cover for the limited edition double A sided vinyl, designed and signed by the artist. She pulls her phone from out of her bag excitedly, showing off pictures of the screen prints in the workshop. "There's Martin Creed's and Damien Hirst's! And then there's mine, in the middle of them all."
It's in both the artwork and her lyrics that her love of travel, and feeling most at home, when, perversely, not having one, is apparent. One image on the vinyl panel, a scene from "Wonder Feeling", shows a couple on the motorway, while "The Atlantic" is set on a plane. The songs are inspired by images from films. "When I'm writing lyrics, I write from images," she says, citing Wim Wenders and David Lynch as inspiration. "It's not so much the concept, it's more about the visual and aesthetic aspect, the way they use the camera and the cinematography." But she admits they are just as autobiographical. "The Atlantic" is about a relationship she had with a boyfriend who was living in New York when she was based in Sheffield. "It's about being stuck in the middle of two places. In a literal sense it's a party that happens in an aeroplane, but it's a metaphor for being stuck and trapped between two places and never being able to be in one place, so the upshot of it is it ends up being a big hangover. I'm actually in another long-distance relationship now. Maybe I just can't help myself," she laughs.
But with her love of travel, and a penchant for the travel writing of Alain de Botton, it's not such a disaster. What Jackson is most looking forward to is travelling and being back on the road. That, and stepping forward as a pop star in her own right in a guise that's both true to herself and entirely her creation, and not the creation of another writer. "I didn't think of myself as a songwriter, but I do now," she says, eyes shining with excitement. "I want people to hear the songs that I've written."
Kate Jackson's double A-sided "Wonder Feeling" and "The Atlantic" is out in collaboration with The Vinyl Factory now
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