Kate Nash interview: I’ve been called 'too fat' and 'too ugly' to be a popstar

The singer-turned-actor discusses her turbulent journey from chart-topper to Netflix star

Jack Shepherd@JackJShepherd
Friday 23 June 2017 16:09
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Kate Nash
Kate Nash

There are few artists who encapsulate the indie Myspace generation like Kate Nash.

Having started performing at 17, the singer uploaded home recordings to the social-media website, hoping someone, somewhere would hear them. One single release later, through Moshi Moshi Records, and Fiction – home to Kaiser Chiefs, The Maccabees and White Lies – were knocking on the door. Soon after, they released radio hit “Foundations”, the song hitting number two and leading to appearances at almost ever major festival, catapulting her debut album, Made of Bricks, to number one. All before turning 20.

While continuing to create music in the years since – releasing two more albums, but failing to reach those same immediate heights – Nash began dabbling in acting, taking some smaller roles in such projects as the failed drama Syrup (starring Amber Heard), comedy Powder Room (with Sheridan Smith), and the small budget Greetings from Tim Buckley.

Having gone to acting school, and kept up with acting lessons over the years, Nash may have finally found her break: playing Rhonda in comedy-drama Glow – aka Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling – the latest Netflix series from Orange is the New Black’s Jenji Kohan.

“The tagline was ‘glitter, spandex, hairspray, female wrestling’,” Nash excitedly says, the singer-turned-actor sitting up from a red hotel sofa. “I was like, that’s f***ing amazing. It took five words to sell me on the show.”

So, how come Kohan went to the singer for the show? Turns out Nash had actually starred in one of Kohan’s previous projects – an unaired US pilot for The Devil You Know, starring Eddie Izzard and concerning Salem Witch Trails. “She basically liked my work and asked me to audition for this. Then I got the part in August and flew out immediately.”

By that, Nash genuinely means she left immediately to work on the show. Despite having just released the single “Good Summer” and lining up tour dates, the singer pushed back everything, heading to Los Angeles for filming and training.

“Technically, yes, it was putting everything on hold, but I’m very flexible as an independent artist,” she says. “Also It’s such a good problem, to have a Netflix Kohen series to work on. It’s going to be a completely different platform that will elevate my music as well.”

Moving from music to acting has been a relatively natural progression for Nash, who says performing on stage and doing press for other albums boosted her confidence. There’s also the huge differences between being the singular creator of an album and being one member of a ensemble cast.

“Now someone else is taking care of the stressful part and I just get to talk about it. I describe it as, when I’m making music I’m the baker of the pie,” she explains. “When I’m acting, I’m a slice, or an ingredient, of the pie. I get to be part of somebody else’s creative vision. There’s something really satisfying about helping someone else create something and just being a player in it, being part of a team, and such a huge team. It satisfies a different side of me.”

Of course, there are benefits from being centre-stage – somewhere she normally presides – but there are also huge downsides, particularly for women. Having shot to fame so young, the world has seen Nash grow from teenager to 29-year-old, glossy magazines to national tabloids having captured her every phase, constantly commenting on her changing body.

“When you’re a woman, you have such a strange relationship with your body because — especially when you’re in the public eye — you’re constantly being judged,” she says. “People comment on my body all the time in a really inappropriate way, in a way I find completely offensive saw it in serious newspapers where I’ve been called ‘too fat’ and ‘too ugly’ to be a popstar. It’s so weird, but people feel like they can say that to you.”

Thanks to Glow, though, Nash has a new understanding about her body, a new physical relationship that’s miles apart from those former days. “On the show, we have a purpose that isn’t just to look good, it’s to learn to wrestle and run the ropes. On set, I was pushing myself physically, doing things I never expected I could do. It empowered me, and I feel very confident and assertive.”

The world has seen Nash grow from teenager to 29-year-old, glossy magazines to national tabloids having captured her every phase

One thing Nash feels passionate about is how young girls see themselves, the singer hoping they, too, will watch the show and feel empowered, particularly because of the way she was treated.

“Everything’s slightly different now because feminism is now front and centre. It’s mainstream. There are still sh*t magazines that will look at women’s bodies. But I’ve seen reactions from influencers, and if someone talks about a women and the way she looks, women jump in like ‘no, you can’t f***ing say that. What’s it to do with you?’ Women are being more accepted and there’s more awareness of people’s sexuality, gender, race and other issues in the world.”

Another change Nash has witnessed comes from within the music industry. Despite music being more readily available than ever before thanks to the internet, it’s becoming even harder to discover independent artists. “I miss Myspace,” she says. “There’s nothing that’s replaced it for me for discovering independent music. Myspace was literally just kids deciding what was cool and putting things in the top eight. No sponsored people. No record labels in charge. No interaction from companies. There’s nothing like that anymore. But I do think the internet is the future.”

Indeed, Nash continues to use the internet to prolong her career (and not just through Netflix, itself an online streaming service). Her upcoming album, for instance, has been funded through Kickstarter. And thanks to being an independent artist, that means she can make the album she wants to make, rather than something manufactured by think-groups.

Nash performs at the Village Underground in London (Getty/Robin Little/Redferns)

“I’ve written for other artists and you literally meet these labels with all these names, and they’ll point to one and tell you what song they want it to sound like. It’s always the song that was number one in the last few weeks. Really, this is the music industry now? It’s not very f***ing inspiring.”

The battle to be independent after being dropped by Fiction hasn’t been straightforward, though. Girl Talk, the singer’s third album, only managed to reach 85 in the UK album charts, the garage-punk tone not connecting with the mass audience “Foundations” perhaps did all those years ago.

“I had to fight really f***ing hard as an independent artist after I got dropped,” she says. “There’s been many times I thought I should stop because this sucks. But always for me the music was worth it. I live for that, and now I’ve managed to break through into the next stage of my music career.”

But now – with TV prospects and a 10th-anniversary tour for Made of Bricks looming – moving forward feels like the next step step in her career, an “exciting new cycle”. Despite this, Nash has no reservations about still being best known for “Foundations”. “It’s really cool to have a song that was a hit in the summer. It has this nostalgia that is empowering and I’m really proud of that, proud of what I’ve done. Made of Bricks is so special, because it’s the reason I’m here and have done Glow.”

Having started in television and built a successful music career, would she rather now have chart success or a hit show?

“For me, music is not about chart success, so definitely the TV show thing,” she says. “Because I want to have success with my music, but I don’t measure success like that. It’s so important to have freedom of expression and creativity. That’s why I haven’t signed to a label. Really, after 10 years of doing this, I’m not all of a sudden going to be moulded into the pop star that they want me to be. If someone’s a fan of me, they want me to be myself.”

‘Glow’ reaches Netflix on 23 June

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