Kate Nash has spent her time in self-isolation reflecting on her career, social media, and the state of the world today. She wrote the below essay in quarantine, where she is also putting on live shows on Patreon. The next event will take place Friday, May 1st, with future shows every other Sunday at 4 p.m. EDT.
I just celebrated the 10-year anniversary of my second album, My Best Friend Is You, with a livestream show on Patreon at the weekend.
My boyfriend, Thomas Silverman, is a fashion hairstylist; he did my hair like an 18th-century lord (I mean, why not?). I really want to say “we,” but he created a DIY home set and stage out of plants and trinkets; he also did sound and lights. My bandmates overseas made tracks and videos to play alongside me during the livestream, and I had some of my favorite musicians open up for me: Kelli Mayo from Skating Polly, Jordan Stephens, Kelsey Reckling, and Brigitte Aphrodite. Friends, family, and fans were all in the virtual gig room together, and it surprised me how connected and close we were actually able to feel. I felt the usual high I get post-gig. My bandmates and I FaceTimed each other after the show, excited and connected, but also frustrated and hyper-aware of how not together we are. I miss my friends.
Quarantine has made me very reflective. When people say, “Jesus, was that album really 10 years ago? Doesn’t feel like it,” I have to disagree. It feels like it. It’s an uncomfortable time to look back on; I was in a terrible relationship I was about to get out of, I had bandmates that were about to change, I had a management company I was about to leave, and a record label that was about to drop me. I was never a media darling; my mum’s a nurse and my dad’s a systems analyst, and the amount of attention I was getting was distressing, even though my dreams were simultaneously coming true.
The British press has always written about me with a certain condescending tone, and from 2007 to 2011 they were certainly their most unkind. I look back at pictures: My eye makeup was getting heavier, I was angry. I wore a leather jacket and smudged black eyeshadow right up to my eyebrows for early-morning TV shows. A makeup artist once told me she didn’t like it because it looked bad, and I felt pleased with myself. I started a punk band and pushed the boundaries at my major record label.
Teenage years are easier to look back on. I remember buying WKD at the news agents, the lunch buffet at Pizza Hut, riding the Lazy River at Aqua Splash in Hemel Hempstead, and, most frequently, “hanging around” in shopping centers. Nothing overly stimulating. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I loved the Lazy River, but I was mostly a daydreaming teenager. I was bored a lot.
I remember the first time I wrote a song and the feeling it gave me, sitting at the piano in my family’s living room and playing it to my sister. I kept playing music at home. My parents bought me a keyboard and I messed around with beats. I wrote songs about love and experiences I had never had. I wrote a lot because there wasn’t much else going on in my life. I read an article recently about boredom and how it’s a great motivator for creativity, and I’ve been thinking a lot about this while being quarantined. Life as we know it has paused for a lot of us, and the life that hasn’t seems somewhat surreal from a distance. It makes me nostalgic, anxious, curious.
At 16, I applied and got accepted into the BRIT School. I left the house every day at 7 a.m. and returned home at around 10 or 11 p.m. I lapped up every after-school activity and extra project I could. I started wearing vintage clothing and kissing boys and writing scripts. I wrote my first play and performed monologues to silent rooms with black walls. My little brain was sliced open and filled with storytelling, and papier-mâché’d back up, little cracks forever left open to keep an open, creative mind flowing.
Once I left school, my teenage plans for the future went awry. I got rejected from all universities and drama schools I’d applied to. I broke my foot and had major heart surgery. I got a job at Nando’s and then River Island, and all my friends went off to do more-exciting things. I spent my lunch breaks at HMV buying every CD that magazines told me were pivotal. The Buzzcocks and the Adverts soundtracked my train journeys. There was a lot of sighing and staring out of the windows. Getting home and looking forward to finishing a packet of rich tea biscuits. Again boredom became a great motivator. I started writing songs again; I posted them on MySpace, and very quickly and unexpectedly became a pop star with a Number One record. Paparazzi chased me in the streets of London. The Daily Mail made fun of my acne, and I toured the world twice over.
At the end of my first touring cycle, I was exhausted. I remember my last gig and barely being able to sing; my body had never felt as tired, my throat was shredded, and my mental health was a mess. I watched record execs in their forties deliver drugs to teenagers and 20-year-olds in venues. I sprayed champagne over my bandmates when we got free bottles for selling out venues, because we were brats that were bored of drinking it.
We had experienced the most intense highs and surreal experiences. Tom Morello bought us dinner in Australia. I watched Arcade Fire from the side of a stage, high on edibles. Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas wanted to “meet up.” I got invited to sing to Madonna personally one Christmas, after being told she had sung my song “Dickhead” around the house during her divorce and the song meant a lot to her. Paul McCartney told me “Mouthwash” was a “great tune”.
It was a lot to take in, and there was never time to rest or process how my life had changed. I worked my arse off until I collapsed. This was all very unexpected for a girl from North Harrow. After my last show, the head of my label called to ask what I wanted to do next, and I vividly remember sitting on a bench at Harrow on the Hill train station and saying, “Nothing. I want to do nothing.”
Time to be bored was written into my schedule. I wondered if I even liked music. I had talked about the same things so much in interviews that the words didn’t feel like mine anymore. “Who even am I?” I remember thinking. Your creative resources are all dried up after 18 months of output, touring and a promotion cycle. I imagined I was a dried-up sponge and I must be dunked in a bucket of creative water if I was ever expected to be useful again. Watch, read, listen to, learn, sit, think, and let the great motivator that is boredom take over until a small itch starts to tickle and requires a good scratch. I remember in week one of quarantine thinking, “This time is not unfamiliar to me.” (Obviously, there’s never been the added stress of a global respiratory pandemic going on in the background, but here we are.)
These days, however, output is expected of us on a daily basis. That’s a lot of pressure. Instagram is the toilet of the internet and everyone constantly has the shits. You don’t come home from tour and rest and think and stew. You come home from tour and document being home from tour, you keep up appearances, you livestream, you hire a photographer and a videographer to shoot behind the scenes. It’s constant. Nonstop performance, curation, and comparing ourselves to others.
I’m always wondering how genuine the pressure is, but there’s no way to measure it. I’ll never know how important a role it’s playing. Am I booking jobs because of it? I can’t be sure. Would my ticket sales be lower without it? I couldn’t tell you. But it certainly feels as though my music career leans heavily on a relationship with social media. I’m not on a record label and not played by radio. I’m not exactly sure how different my career would look if I didn’t use social media, but it feels like too big of a risk to take to not use it.
On top of that, the companies making these apps hire neuroscientists to make their apps as addictive as possible. They have been purposely designed to prey on our weaknesses and addictive tendencies, so it’s hard to measure how much “real work” I’m doing on these apps.
During quarantine, I’ve watched people start TikToks, livestream TV shows, become motivational speakers, share their at-home workouts, their babies’ every move, what they’re eating, every single thing they’re doing or not doing, and it’s overwhelming. I’ve yearned for the days we didn’t participate in this kind of behavior, and I’ve secretly muted a lot of my friends. At the same time, I’m grateful for it — I mean, it’s given me my career, it’s the reason Captain Tom Moore has raised an unbelievable $27 million-plus for the NHS, and it’s where I get my “train guy” kicks.
All this reflection has had me wondering what the role of an artist is during something like this. What’s the value of being creative right now? We’ve all seen the celebrity fails, out-of-touch posting, the ego that needs to be constantly stroked. Social media markets itself as a great connector, but it leaves a lot of us feeling lonely and unworthy. That’s not what I want to contribute to during a global pandemic. But there are tools to build genuine connection online.
I started a Patreon because you don’t end up on someone’s Patreon accidentally on some mindless zombie scroll, you go there intentionally. It’s about building an online community, and working on it is reminding me that creativity can have pure intentions. I’m making something out of nothing with friends. I’m trying to spread a little joy; it’s giving me focus, there’s no bigger picture, no real ladder to climb.
Quite simply, we’re providing comfort and entertainment. One hundred percent of the proceeds are going to charity. My bandmate Linda Buratto, from Bologna, Italy, has chosen the first organization we’re raising money for: Il Grande Colibri, who works with the LGBTQIA community in Italy. Linda says she is “proud to be Italian, proud to be queer, and proud to be a citizen of the world,” and that “more vulnerable groups are likely to be hit harder by the consequences of this pandemic, so it’s important to acknowledge and support them where we can.”