Nadine Shah: 'I’m sick of celebrities in their huge gardens telling us to breathe'

The musician talks about missing Glastonbury, being inspired by Abigail’s Party and turning the tables on music critics

Nadine Shah, 34, was born in South Tyneside to a British-Norwegian mother and British-Pakistani father. Since her 2013 debut, Love Your Dum and Mad, her albums have explored mental health, Islamophobia, the refugee crisis and feminism through post-punk, gothic pop, and her blackly comic personality. Holiday Destination (2018) was nominated for the Mercury prize, and her fourth album, Kitchen Sink, is out 26 June.

What’s it like releasing an album in the time of Covid-19?
It’s strange, and I’m sad, obviously, as I was really looking forward to playing live to support it. I had a great slot at Glastonbury, this massive dream, on a great stage at a great time, and the idea of all those people who could have come to see me, or chanced upon me, not happening… I don’t want to think about, really. But being stuck at home means I’ve got social media at my fingertips, and I’ve been seeing who’s reacting to my songs. Lots of people have been tweeting about my singles. That’s been great.

How are you finding lockdown?
I’m glad I’m in Ramsgate by the sea, where I live with my boyfriend, but I miss my band. We’ve all been on WhatsApp giving each other advice about emergency grants and musicians’ funds. I’m also sick of celebrities tweeting at us from their huge gardens reminding us to breathe, going [dreamy American accent] “this is the time to learn Italian, to do your sabbatical”. For most people, managing to maintain relationships and friendships and not bursting into tears all the time is enough, love.

You tweeted recently that you got 20,000 copies of Kitchen Sink sent to your flat to sign for your fans, instead of 200. What happened?
It was hilarious, not that my boyfriend thought so at 6.30am when there was a lorry driver at our door. I was pretending to be asleep [laughs]. There were actually only 8,000 when I counted them, but looking at all those records was interesting, thinking: “I’ve made this, I’m really proud of it, but how much money that people pay for it will actually come back to me?” Hardly anything. It made me want to sell them off the balcony! They’ve gone back to Germany now, though. We can get into our living room again.

Listen to Kitchen Sink by Nadine Shah.

Kitchen Sink’s cover art is of 70s party food, shot in Technicolor. What was its inspiration?
Abigail’s Party. I loved the idea of the bored housewife, all manic and vibrant, stuck at home while her husband was at work, going mad on the Blue Nun, feeding her frustrations into this outpouring of creativity. Women still feel those feelings. There’s this idea that the sexual revolution and 70s feminism changed everything for women, but it didn’t, especially in places outside trendy London. Oh, I must mention the 70s dinner party Twitter feed that influenced me too. It’s full of food in the shape of other food. Look! A salmon quiche in the shape of a pineapple!

The new album has lots of lyrics about being a woman, and getting older. Why make a pop album about that?
Because it’s something women have to think about all the time, but you never hear songs about it. You say your age to some people, and they’re already raising their eyebrows, going “tick-tock”. Don’t you think that’s already on my mind? Don’t you realise some people might not want kids? Or can’t? Or might have tried? Or might have lost babies already? I did a lot of research for this album last year, which was basically talking to female friends in pubs. It’s amazing how much shit we all put up with.

There are also songs about gaslighting, catcalling, and women being infantilised by men. The female protagonists often take back power. Was that important to you?
Yes. I really wanted to take back power in a celebratory way, and I wanted its sound to be joyous too, not dour or mournful, and good to dance to. I worried early on about alienating men with some of the songs, to be honest, then I realised all the men I knew were brilliant, and never would. If anyone takes offence to anything on Kitchen Sink, they’re the one with the problem, not me.

You’ve been tweeting a lot in recent weeks in support of the Black Lives Matter protests. What is like for you, living in this moment?
It’s made me think of the Asian community I grew up in, and some of the things people I knew said about black people, and the hierarchy of racism that exists. I’ve had some brilliant conversations with my father, who’s starting to realise the real weight of some of things he might have casually said about the black community. When I’ve spent the last week watching people I usually agree with calling others scumbags on Twitter – which is hypocritical, and perpetuates the hatred – these conversations [like the ones she had with her father] give me hope. They’re long overdue. I hope they don’t stop.

You presented the Q awards in 2019 to much fanfare, and you’ve also been doing a series of Instagram live interviews, Payback, in which you interview music critics. Was this purely out of devilment?
Yes! Not really. I’ve just always found it weird to be asked a lot of questions in an interview, and not be expected to ask any back. Quite often, I’ve had a drink with a journalist afterwards, and I’ve been so nosy: “Ooh, who’s the worst person you’ve interviewed, then?” That’s always great to hear. This isn’t going to be a new direction for me, though, unless something happens organically, or I get really skint. Actually, I probably will be after all this, so call me up, BBC Breakfast!

Kitchen Sink is out on Infectious on 26 June. Payback airs on Instagram Live every Tuesday and Thursday, 9pm


Jude Rogers

The GuardianTramp

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