It is a cold winter's day when I meet Kate Nash, dark and overcast and miserable outside, but she comes breezing into London's Royal Festival Hall bringing with her a riot of colour that would shame a children's TV presenter. The collective gaze of the mid-morning lone coffee drinkers are all drawn to her whether they like it or not. She is kitted out in a polka-dot coat from out of which billows a multi-hued dress that parts at the thigh to reveal leggings comprising more shades than a Dulux colour chart. Her hair is coiffed and teased into kiss curls, jet black with streaks of blonde in it. Carefully applied mascara gives her eyes an unusual slant, and a single twisted paperclip dangles from her left ear.
“Bloody freezing, innit,” she says, as she sits at a small table, and casts aside her headphones, her sticker-strewn laptop and leather satchel. The coat she keeps on. She requests a peppermint tea, then fixes me with an unswerving, and palpably mistrustful, gaze.
Her wariness is perhaps warranted. Now 25 years old, Nash, born and bred in Harrow and a graduate of the Brit School like Adele and Amy Winehouse before her, has been making music for the past seven years. It has brought her success and critical plaudits – her 2007 Lily Allen-esque single Foundations, for example, is frequently hailed as one of the best debuts of recent times – but she has also divided opinion the way Marmite divides opinion. In an era of Twitter trolls, Nash is a veteran.
“Yeah, but not just on Twitter. In the press as well,” she counters, eyes narrowing threateningly. “Over the years the press have called me every terrible thing you can imagine.” I ask for examples. “I've been slated for the way I look, for being too fat, too ugly, too spotty. I've been attacked for my personality, for where I'm from.” Tossing her hair back self-consciously, she adds: “But you know what? I'm older now. I'm more mature. I don't care what anyone thinks, not anymore.”
She says she feels like a completely different person now, the thicker skin she has developed a direct consequence of having endured, last year, the year from hell. She is reluctant to elucidate on this, claiming it personal territory, “and therefore private”, but it includes the end of her relationship with The Cribs' Ryan Jarman, and the death of a close friend to cystic fibrosis.
“2012 really was a weird year,” she reflects. “Big, dramatic things happen to people all the time, but I had about 17 of them. And every one was life changing.”
Much of her inner turmoil can be heard on her forthcoming album, Girl Talk, which marries often bleak, self-reflective lyrics with careening surf-punk melodies that clearly aim to lift not just the listener's, but also her own, spirits. Her voice is trill and archly twee one moment, a furious snarl the next. She leers as she lambasts those she once considered soulmates in songs like “Fri-end?” and “Oh My God”, while the propulsively chaotic “Conventional Girl” (“I'm sick of being the bitch that you think I am/I've never understood that man”) leaves you with the conviction that Nash is never happier than when exorcising her demons, and that her demons are myriad.
“I sing because I have to get things out,” she says. “I need to puke them up, to purge. If I didn't, all my anger would go into very negative areas. If I didn't write songs, I'd be a very fucked-up person, no question.”
In addition to 2012's personal lows, there were professional ones, too. The songs for Girl Talk were written a full 12 months ago now. She was happy with them, and wanted to record them speedily, then release them as soon as possible. Her record label Fiction, however, had other ideas. It wanted to wait, perhaps to hone the songs a little, to remove the more shouty, punky elements and inject a little of the fizzy pop that made her first album, Made of Bricks, such a commercial success.
By the summer, she and her label had parted ways, and so she set up her own Have 10p Records. Life in London then became increasingly claustrophobic, and so she decamped to America's West Coast where, she says, she spent “a lot of time healing.”
“When almost everything in your life has gone wrong, a certain kind of freedom comes with it, you know? It's almost liberating.” She shacked up with new friends in a rambling house in Los Angeles, recording the album, taking midnight flits to Las Vegas, and losing herself in what she calls “the raw power of my music. It was bliss.”
As she says this, she fiddles with her hairclip, a kitsch piece of moulded plastic fashioned into the word Hole, after one of her favourite bands. She tells me she has always been drawn to rock stars of the nihilistic variety, from Courtney Love to Kurt Cobain to the Riot Grrrl movement of the mid-1990s.
“Which is not to say I'm necessarily nihilistic myself,” she stresses. “I think I love my life too much, my friends, and having a good time. You know, I don't want to be miserable, but there are a lot of things in my life that are unstable, and I find I do have to search for that stability a lot. But I'm not seeking destruction. I don't want to self harm. I'm not that narcissistic.”
Towards the end of the promotion of Made of Bricks, and then again after her second album, 2010's My Best Friend Is You, Nash spoke about the increasing probabilities of her going off the rails. She'd been touring too much, drinking too much, not sleeping enough and being on the receiving end of what she considered a rough ride from the media. She felt herself pushed to the brink of breakdown. This time, she hopes to avoid this almost habitual spiral.
“I really don't want to destroy myself in this process. I only seek destruction through music,” she says. “It's cathartic for me, and I love what I do. I'm not trying to be cool. I don't give a shit about any of that. The whole point of being a musician is to be there for the outsider, and to empower young women.”
To this end she has worked on a lot, spending much time recently running after-school workshops for girls, and encouraging them to get into music. She has now become an ambassador for the Plan USA Charity, which aims, she says, “to help them find a voice they may otherwise never find.”
Nash is clearly a woman dictated, and driven, by her moods and impulses, wherever they may lead. She's got thrust, she's open, articulate, opinionated, and refuses to ever edit herself, to rein herself in. This is her, take it or leave it.
'Girl Talk' by Kate Nash is released on Have 10p Records on 4 March