Kate, How are you?
I’m very well. How are you?
I’m very well thanks, where are you this morning?
I’m in a, kinda, radio, down the line studio in the centre of London.
Not too far a commute for you this morning?
No it was nice I had a nice long walk to get here through town, I mean, it’s school holidays and I forgot that, so it’s kind of mental out there. I like walking through the centre of town.
Yeah I like doing that too. Since I stopped living there, whenever I go up to London now, I find myself using the tube less and walking around, it feels like a good thing to do…
I’m aware was only got 15 minutes so let’s get cracking
Lets do it…
So I’m really enjoying the new album, I saw you at Glastonbury and you’ll be pleased to know that, like every time I’ve seen you, I’ve been in pieces by the end of the set
Thanks for being there.
It’s a pleasure, When everything else is on I’m always definitely coming to see you because it feels like an important thing to do…
So, the new album is quite a bit different from the old album, It felt like in the last album you created this set of dioramas to, kind of, speak about how the world is or to highlight situations within the world and this album feels like it’s more you speaking, rather than characters, is that a fair appraisal?
I would agree with you that is that’s how it would appear, but it’s not necessarily the case for me that it feels like the last album was less about my experience and this album is more about my experience. The main difference is that this is in a first person and even though Let Them Eat Chaos was in the first person there were these little qualifying third person, kind of, stage directions at the start of each track that position these moments in a time and a place… you know the story.
The songs themselves… It’s funny, you give someone a character name and you say all this stuff, and obviously it feels like you’re engaging in the story, so it’s a different part of your mind that listens to that in a different way, but if you begin, as the new album begins: “I came to” automatically you’re involved in the first person address in a way that makes you feel that you’re intimately listening to a persons’ story. I mean, all of my work is extremely personal in many ways and this is no different. But at the same time, when I’ve been giving interviews, I’ve been talking about it as the speaker of the poems says this, or the speaker of poems realises that, because it’s a bit easier for me to be objective about it if I’m imagining it as a poetic device rather than ‘here’s my life for the last eighteen months’
Is that, to kind of, hold some of yourself back from your art, so if someone was to critique the album it isn’t necessarily coming to you it is, kind of, hitting a barrier in front of you?
It’s not so much for that, it’s just that when I’m talking about it, it enables me to talk a bit more clearly and coherently if I think about it as a piece of work, as it is it goes from being something that comes out of you in a moment, to being crafted into a piece of work that stands outside of your own experience. It’s already much more than me saying these things, it’s an album, it’s so… it’s so interesting what happens once you have been through this process of demoing stuff, rejecting stuff, crafting stuff, by the time it’s finished you’ve been working on this album for ages. By the time it’s finished it doesn’t feel personal, in terms of, if someone criticises it hurts me, it just feels like… obviously I’m extremely close to it, it’s my work, it came out of me, but at the same time once it’s completed you’ve been on such a journey with it, you’ve chiseled it away, you’ve scrapped so much, you can be objective about it, I think that’s what I’m trying to say…
I did an interview for a podcast I do with Jean Claude who owns If Music in London and does radio shows and stuff like that. He was talking about where things are right now, and how, through hardship and struggle comes great art. He mentioned your name and we were talking about your last album and how it appears to come through hardship and struggle, the things you see around you.
If you lived in a utopia would you still be commentating on society or do you feel like you need to comment on society because of what is going on right in the world right now?
Sorry, that is a really longwinded question!
Great question, I’m trying to think… if I lived in a Utopia… I mean I’d like to think the role of the poet exists everywhere. You know, the role of the musician is a social role, it’s something that I feel intimately involved with, it’s part of my identity, everything I’ve ever known about my life has been bound up with that expression really, so I can’t imagine… if things were less disastrous I would have less to write about, I think that, eternally, there is so much the poet would grapple with.
But I mean, It’s interesting to use the word utopia, I read this book recently by a guy called Rutger Bergman, called Utopia for Realists. And he was talking about the problem now is that we have lost our vision of Utopia, because everybody knows that the system is wrong, the system we live under is corrupt, and it’s killing the planet. The issue is, we have allowed ourselves to get into the position where the greatest thinkers of our generation are unable to propose an alternative. So he is kind of reclaiming this important idea of a Utopia as something to aim for, I think we have become jaded because we see how often that these ideas don’t work, so it’s kind of limiting our hopes for finding a better society, because that hope has led to an obsession that becomes even more damaging. But what he proposes… these three simple things that I’ve been really blown away by… universal basic income… what’s the other one? He proposes open borders and, and a 15 hour work week and with these three things we can afford to eradicate poverty, we can afford to equip ourselves with time. I don’t know… it’s really blown my mind.
That’s quite interesting isn’t it? That feels like the three things that the system is absolutely, desperately, not trying to give us
Universal basic income, 15 hour work week, open borders. I mean, it’s so nice to have something positive in my mind to aim for, rather than only having the negatives of “this is what’s wrong”
Well, that’s what I was going to ask you next, because, I mean, I suffer from this quite badly, you open your phone or you look at the news, you put Radio 4 on, everything seems to be consumed by everything that’s bad
Yeah, but don’t forget, it’s in the interest of all the broadcasters, in the interests of the algorithm that promote your feed to give you more and more of that doom, because you’re listening to it, because of that car crash mentality: “oh my gosh look at that wreck”, you stop and look at it
But how do you keep yourself, how do you manage to look at it and comment on it and use it to drive your work, yet retain a sense of hope and positivity?
I think that just… (pauses) people… people are great, people are beautiful, people are really cool.I really like people, I think that’s the bottom line. Like for me, maybe that’s an extremely privileged way of responding to that question
Is that people on a one to one basis or people on a general populous basis?
Just people, literally anyone… obviously, like, I am more fond of the people that I know very well than people that I have never met, but it always retunes the frequency, it recalibrates me a little bit if I’m feeling particularly fearful, or despairing about where we’re heading collectively. To snap out of my own brain for a minute and zone into someone else’s body language, face, just strangers, how people talk to each other, just observing very small moments. I live in a city so, someone else who lives by the coast might feel that recalibration walking by the sea, or faced by some huge natural expanse. I have that awe inspiring moment of reconnection by looking at people, I think it’s from living in a city with so many people for all my life.
Yeah, I get that, coming from a city, coming here and going in the sea most days to try and find that connection…
Ok, do you ever feel the pressure to use your voice, obviously you speak a lot through your art, do you feel any pressure to use your voice in the public realm, you know, to go on news programs, or become an MP or anything like that to try and create some meaningful change?
No. I don’t think, I don’t think I would be that useful there, I’m invited onto those news programmes all the time, but I feel like it’s just exploitative, it doesn’t feel like the kind of environment for useful discussion to be had, because I don’t trust the TV show. Of course not, why would you? What are the motivations for creating an environment where people argue? It’s not useful for me. I think that, in terms of what it takes to be driven to become an MP, it is a huge, huge task and I absolutely commend and applaud the people that are trying to make changes in that arena like, wow, but I’m a poet, I’m an artist, I live and breathe for creativity and art, and it is the case that my artwork is influenced by people, and when you’re writing about people, you’re writing about what they’re going through, and what they’re going through is the political climate, the social structure, the inequality that exist so heavily here in Britain. But I’m not an academic, I’m nothing like that, I’m a poet. I think that if you are an artist, you have to take care of that space, that’s where I’m useful, that’s where I can be of assistance, that’s how I can serve. I can’t be of assistance in the same way by going on the TV show talking about something I believe to be true.
Fair enough… You worked with Rick Rubin on this record how did that come about?
He saw me on a TV show actually, performing an extract of my poetry, in the States, doing Brand New Ancients in 2014 and it was going really well. I got invited onto this talk show to perform a small extract and it just so happens that Rick Rubin saw that performance and was excited by the idea of making a record. So he got my phone number and called me up, this was years ago, it’s taken years to make this thing happen for one reason and another. I think if it was the other way around, if I had the audacity to think, to imagine, I could approach Rick Rubin, I would never have had any access, or could afford… it’s not the sort of thing you can do the other way around unless you’re a hugely successful sensation, which I wasn’t and I’m not, so, for me, what’s beautiful about this relationship is that it’s completely built on a musical understanding and it feels like everybody involved like me, Dan Carey and Rick Rubin who guided us in the process, there’s so much integrity…
Did that give you confidence to try things you may not have tried before?
Absolutely… If you’ve got someone of that calibre, if you’ve got Rick Rubin… Don’t forget, I’m fully aware of his back catalogue, I know what he’s done for vocalists, he’s definitely a vocalists producer, I know about the performances he’s managed to nurture from Johnny Cash for one, let alone Kendrick and Eminem. If someone of that calibre is listening to you, then yeah, you step up, and you push further and you go harder at it. If something is challenging, you embrace that challenge and keep going. If it wasn’t Rick Rubin, if it have been a different producer, I don’t know if I’d have been able to continually reassess and trust so fully the idea that he had, that I couldn’t see it the time, which was to not lock in with the music, but to have the lyric going at it’s own pace alongside the music and… mad situation, I’m so, so grateful that it happened
So, Rick Rubin phones you up “Hi, it’s Rick Rubin” on the phone and you’re like “Hi, alright?” “this is my life now”
Yeah it was mad, it’s been mad. Luckily, it is a situation that took its time, when he called I hadn’t even put Everybody Down out, and I knew that once you made an album with Rick Rubin there is no going back from that, so I wanted to make sure that my foundations were secure, that I’ve made enough work on my own merit, my own steam, to secure a position from which I can build. I didn’t want to go straight in and make a record with Rick and have people think that that’s why they’re hearing my music. You know, definitely, I’m thinking about this and I have done from the beginning in a very considered way, how to build this…
There’s some integrity in that isn’t there?
I would hope so… I just bumped into my friend on the way here called Yusef Days, a drummer, I’ve known him since I was a kid, his brothers were friends of mine from the same area, it’s really amazing, because he’s similarly doing so so well and I’m so proud of him, from afar, so proud of what he’s doing and I think that when somebody decides that they have to, you know, approach this quite terrifying environment of the music industry, but they’re doing it with all their senses engaged, to sustain an integrity that, in so many ways, the industry doesn’t respect, or need, or validate, it’s like, it’s quite a journey from going from somebody with a passion that plays open mics, or spots, or whatever, to somebody that’s doing it out there. I was really comforted to see him, maybe that’s why I’m talking like this to you, because you know, I just seen this guy, it made me think about longevity, integrity, and perseverance.
I think you’re doing it right. I’m aware that our time is up and there’s probably somebody else waiting, but yeah, we’re going to see you in Brighton in October right?
Yeah I can’t wait, I love Brighton, had so many good experiences there, especially with the festival. It’s such an amazing place to be.
I think that festival, certainly from my point of view, was one of the best ones I’ve been around
It was amazing, I felt so lucky to be there doing that.
I look forward to welcoming you back and if you’d like to come into the radio and do something with us you would be very, very welcome, but I’m aware that, yeah, there’s somebody else waiting, so, as I said, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure speaking to you
And you Chris, have a nice afternoon.
Kate Tempest – The Book Of Traps and Lessons. Out Now.