INTERVIEW: Nadine Shah | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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If anybody doubts the pitfalls facing professional musicians in the age of COVID-19, one need simply highlight the plight of Nadine Shah. With new album Kitchen Sink imminent, the Whitburn native ought to be enjoying a golden summer; a further rise of her star following the huge acclaim and Mercury nomination afforded to its predecessor, 2017’s superb Holiday Destination. Instead, the campaign thus far has been limited to phone interviews and Zoom calls from her boyfriend’s home in Ramsgate. With her entire touring schedule wiped out, the realities of a global pandemic have already bitten. “Playing live is my bread and butter, but because I’ve lost all my shows I’ve had to leave London – I couldn’t afford it any more!” she reveals.

“It’s really upsetting,” she continues, choosing to focus on the record. “I’ve worked really hard on this album, and I took my time with it as well. After the Mercury nomination there was a lot of pressure to put something out soon afterwards, but I didn’t want to do that. To date this has been my favourite album to make. Albums are like babies; you’re not allowed to like one more than the others, but everybody does secretly. So many things were going to happen off the back of this album – a great slot at Glastonbury, some really fun festivals in Europe… it’s so frustrating.”

Fortunately – and despite a series of delays – Kitchen Sink itself is still due for release this month. Indeed, besides proving a more than worthy successor to Holiday Destination, the new LP represents another vital, forthright artistic triumph – albeit one of a markedly different nature: “I was getting pretty tired of being labelled a political musician – I’m still just a little daft lass!” Nadine admits. “I’m so glad I made Holiday Destination. I’d always wanted to make a political record, and I was really happy to talk about the refugee crisis, the Syrian civil war and the importance of immigrants to our tiny island. I think the time was right, and that that’s why it resonated with so many people. But everything I said was being very heavily scrutinised. I welcomed it, but there came a point where I just wanted to go back to being a musician having fun, and not a political voice.”

Even so, the themes explored on Kitchen Sink are by her own admission far from trivial. Dealing equally in personal vignettes and devilish humour, its 11 numbers highlight the pressures and expectations placed upon women in their 30s and 40s, with particular focus offered to their standing and perception within western societies. “I wanted to do it in a way which wasn’t dour or down in the dumps. I wanted it to be empowering, and to take the power back by laughing at these subjects,” she explains. “I’ve got a really lovely fanbase. That’s allowed me to feel confident going forward and to reveal more of myself. There’s much more of my personality in this album.” Along with her own experiences, the record also shares stories from an assortment of friends and cohorts, from new mothers and rock stars to those suffering from self-doubt and physical illness. “My five closest friends have all had babies in the past year – I’m the only one who hasn’t – but a lot of my other friends are going through emotional turmoil, as are so many women my age and older.” It’s been a really humbling process.

besides proving a more than worthy successor to Holiday Destination, the new LP represents another vital, forthright artistic triumph – albeit one of a markedly different nature

“We’re conditioned from a really young age – playing mammies and daddies; playing brides – it’s what we’re expected to do,” she continues. “I used to think: ‘when I’m 20 I’ll get married; when I’m 22 I’ll have a baby.’ Then when you reach 22 you think: ‘when I’m 25 I’ll get married; when I’m 27 I’ll have a baby.’ Now I’m 34 and I’m still not married and I still don’t have a child, but the narrative has changed in my head. Instead I’m beginning to think: ‘I might not have a baby; I might not get married,’ and that’s okay! I can still have a full and great and happy life without either of those things. I can have a great career as a musician… I can travel the world… I can have an endless number of lovers! I wasn’t presented with any of these options as a kid, but a conversation has started and it’s a really exciting time.

“It’s not one size fits all,” she emphasises. “Just because I talk about tradition and not having to adhere to it, that doesn’t mean I’m telling a woman who has chosen to get married or have a child that she’s wrong. I’m not poking fun at her. I love her. I celebrate her. But I also celebrate women who choose not to have children. I celebrate women who can’t have children. I really wanted everybody to feel like it’s alright.

“As a feminist, I do find myself feeling conflicted, because I do still want to get married,” she confesses. “Sometimes I ask myself why – marriage was originally to do with ownership of land and having a relationship with the church. I still like the idea of having a partner in crime, but really I think it’s just because I want to have a big party!”

For all the confidence she exudes as both an interviewee and a performer, Nadine is equally bold in divulging insecurity – not least her fear of alienating an ever-expanding audience. “A lot of my fans are men!” she acknowledges. “I would guess that 100% of them are feminists, but I didn’t want anybody to thing that I was berating men. My producer Ben Hillier is another of my closest friends, and he’s always been there egging me on, pushing me to be bolder, braver and louder. One day in the studio I asked him about the lyric ‘ladies for babies and goats for love.’ I said it in a way so that I could reply with ‘just kidding!’ if he didn’t like it, but he thought it was brilliant. I said, ‘are you sure?!’ I’m so lucky to be surrounded by men like that – my father, who always says that the worst thing that could happen is that I could get hit by a bus; my two amazing older brothers, who champion me because of who I am and not what I’ve achieved; the musicians in my band…”

Despite the personal and professional limbo brought about by the current crisis, Nadine’s innate optimism is reflected in her outlook going forward: “Hopefully something positive will come off the back of this. People are being so sympathetic towards musicians right now, and I’m hoping that compels them to actually go out and buy our records. It’s awful having such a jammy job and having to go to people cap in hand, but it’s still a job – we’re providing a service, and it’s how we make our money. A discussion has started about making streaming fairer for artists, and it seems like people are dying to go to gigs. I think we’ll see a real appreciation for artists more so than we have in the past.”

Nadine Shah releases Kitchen Sink on 26th June via Infectious Records


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