In the case of Kate Nash, acting’s loss was music’s gain. The 20-year-old singersongwriter — a chart-topping award winner in her native Britain — studied acting for a couple of years at the School For Performing Arts and Technology in London. But after being rejected at an audition for the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, she fell down a flight of stairs and broke her foot.
While convalescing, Nash picked up the guitar she’d learned to play in high school and began focusing on her songwriting — and hasn’t looked back since.
“I’m really excited about this,” Nash says about music. “I think I can go back to acting if I wanted that later, but right now I think I’m doing OK here.”
That she is. Nash’s debut album, “Made of Bricks,” hit No. 1 on the U.K. charts in 2007 (it bowed at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 in the U.S. in January), launching the hits “Foundations,” “Mouthwash” and “Pumpkin Soup.” She won the prestigious BRIT Award for Best Female Solo Artist, as well as the Breakthrough Artist prize from Q magazine and Best Solo Artist at the NME Music Awards.
“Made of Bricks” has also been nominated for the prestigious Ivor Novello Award, and last week Nash won two trophies — Best International Solo Artist and Best New International Solo Artist — at the inaugural NME Awards USA.
It’s a successful start along the lines of fellow singer Lily Allen, who Nash is most often compared to and who was an early supporter via her MySpace page. And it’s all freaked Nash out a little bit.
“It’s exciting and confusing,” Nash says of her run so far. “I never wrote anything to get played anywhere. I wasn’t ever interested in radio play. I never thought about that. I didn’t know anything about labels or managers or the (music) industry in any way. It wasn’t anything that ever crossed my mind ... And now here I am.
“You just have to learn as you go along. I’ve got a lot of creative opportunities and outlets now, which is really cool.”
A “really rubbish piano” in her family’s home in London’s Harrow section gave Nash her first opportunity to make music, and she took lessons from the time she was seven until she was 15. About the same time, she began writing songs, influenced by a combination of classical music, the Beatles, the Buzzcocks, Regina Spektor, Bikini Kill and theater and film scores.
“At school, in music lessons, you have to do some form of songwriting as part of the exams,” says Nash, who attended parochial schools. “I always liked creative writing; I thought I liked writing stories better, but I just carried on writing.
Her first songs, she says, were “about love at 14, and politics.”
“Oh yeah,” notes Nash, who still lives at her parent’s house. “When I went to school, for the first time I was educated in the world and poverty and the Third World and politics. And I have a mum who talks about politics and histories and is a nurse, so she talks about life and death. That really affected me.”
It doesn’t, however, make much of a mark on “Made of Bricks.”
“Not right now, no,” Nash acknowledges. “It could be something I later revisit, ‘cause I am political. I love (political British singer) Billy Bragg and I have opinions, so it wouldn’t surprise me if I write about things like that in the future.”
After her post-rejection fall, Nash began performing in local clubs and then uploading her songs onto her MySpace site. Allen listed Nash as one of her favorite artists, creating a buzz that led first to a deal with independent Moshi Moshi label in early 2007 — which put out the single “Caroline’s a Victim,” which Nash recorded in Iceland — and then with Britain’s influential Fiction Records, “Caroline’s a Victim” made enough of an impact that another young British act recorded an answer/parody song called “LDN is a Victim,” which only fueled Nash’s ascent.
By the time “Foundations” rolled to No. 2 on the British charts, her status as a hot newcomer was fixed.
“It came from a friendship,” Nash says of “Foundations,” which she calls an amalgam of her and others’ experiences. “It’s basically about human beings and how they get addicted to things and have safety blankets, or safety nets that make you feel secure, even if it’s not healthy or really doing you any good.
“So when you feel down on yourself or when you’ve had a fight with someone or things are going really bad, you use that person because they’ve always been there — not because you actually want to see them or talk to them. And it’s hard to get out of that.”
But Nash deflects those who interpret the songs on “Made of Bricks” — whether it’s the boysmashing “Mouthwash” or more romantic “Pumpkin Soup” — as purely autobiographical.
“I’m a storyteller,” she contends. “I like writing stories. Having bits of truth is one thing; all of the songs relate to my life in some way. But the characters are made-up characters. I feel more comfortable doing that.”
Nash’s notoriety allowed her to make the rounds of the important “Now I’m getting more comfortable with my surroundings. I’m learning about the industry British music festivals and TV shows, including “Later with Jools Holland” and the BBC’s “Top of the Pops” Christmas special. She also became an in-demand guest, providing vocals for rappers Kano and Lethal Bizzle.
And as she works to duplicate her success in North America — “It’s nerve wracking,” she says — Nash also is working on her second album and . talks about new songs such as “Doo Wah Doo” and “Paris” and a creative drive that’s been stoked by what’s happened so far.
“There was a bit of time at the start of all this when I wasn’t writing, which really upset me,” recalls Nash, who also started a fanzine as “an outlet for creative stuff” such as short stories.
“I was overwhelmed and so busy and confused. — and learning to ignore it! I’m finding time to just pick up my
guitar and come up with ideas and stuff. It’s too easy to forget to be creative; I don’t want to let that happen to me.”
The NME Awards Tour with Kate Nash and the Trachtenburg Family Sideshow Players, plays at 8 p.m. Wednesday (April 30) at Saint Andrews Hall, 431 E. Congress St., Detroit. Tickets are $17. Call (313) 961-6358 or visit www.livenation.com.
The British are coming again. Only this time it’s not by land or by sea; it’s by Internet. An institution in the U.K. since 1952, the weekly music publication New Musical Express is using NME.com as a portal into the United States.
Besides simply being available online, the NME last week held its first NME Awards USA in Los Angeles, and it’s sponsoring an NME Awards Tour headlined by winner Kate Nash.
“It’s a pull rather than a push,” NME editor Conor McNicholas says of the initiatives. “As NME.com has gotten bigger and bigger, American traffic is the single biggest area of our (growth). You can see American fans reaching out to what we do, wanting more of our unique voice.
“It’s taken a couple years to get things together and bring NME to America, but now we’re doing stuff that clearly our American fans want us to do.”
While publishing NME in the U.S. is unlikely right now, McNicholas says the company hopes to present even more tours and to make the awards show even bigger, although still “an alternative to the Grammys. We’re much more of a rock ’n’ roll party.”
But whatever happens, McNicholas says he feels the NME plays well to American audiences as well as British.
“The American scene has always been part of what we do at the NME, since Elvis (Presley),” he explains.
“For decades we’ve been breaking U.S. bands in the U.K. and quite often taking American bands and re-exporting them back to the U.S., like the Strokes and the (White) Stripes and even the Killers.
“So we’ve always had that American rock ’n’ roll connection, and now that (the Internet) has made everything global it’s that much easier to reach people.”
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