Kate Tempest is well-known as a poet, writer and performer, and she is about to release her debut solo album. Kate cites music as her first love and has in fact featured on numerous recordings and worked alongside other musicians.
Everybody Down is her album though. Working in collaboration with the eclectic producer Dan Carey, Kate has crafted a soulful, bittersweet record that displays her usual sense of empathy, while still spitting hard truths in an inventive and lyrical way.
Kate explains that over the last four years of writing, touring and performing, her approach to the craft of telling stories has developed and changed. “I’m increasingly excited by plot, and know that I’ve learnt so much more about writing it’s great to be back in the studio playing with rhymes again – it’s still my favourite thing to do.”
Kate says she first became interested in music, chiefly hip-hop, from the age of 13, began rapping at 16 but that she has been writing “Ever since [she] could. Pieces of poetry, ideas, lyrics.” Looking at musical influences, both past and present, Kate explains it’s hard to delineate between early listening to the Fugees and the back catalogue of Bob Dylan in terms of direct reference. “Having done so much of my own work now, I’ve become more aware of other people’s whole output, how a body of work represents the changes they were going through at the time, I feel more attuned to that.”
I ask Kate about the recording process of Everybody Down, working alongside Dan a.k.a. Mr Dan, and what she feels the album is trying to say. She is clearly passionate and interested in the music as much as the words, citing Dan’s use of old synths and analog drum machines as great common ground. “The sessions were very quickfire, we first met-up to try out some tracks and from the one-and-a-half hour session the majority of the record’s stories and sounds were laid down. It was bonkers really but we push each other.”
We talk more about lyrical content, Kate refers to the album’s evolution from the initial demo session and not trying to tackle several major themes but a series of intertwined vignettes that hang together. The album will also be re-written as a novel, The Bricks That Built The Houses, to be published by Bloomsbury in 2015, with the same tales expanded and redrafted. “It’s not a politically overt album. Obviously things that are happening in this country, happening to everyone, come into it but it’s about the characters Pete and Becky, not issues. I want them to speak for themselves.”
“I’ve already got 5-6 chapters written but it’s interesting, having reduced those stories down to three minute tracks, then taking them back onto the page.” Kate emphasises the editorial challenge that music brings, compared to the standard novel: “with music, you have to say more, with less, to be concise, I like authors like Dan De Lillo, there’s no fucking around. The album and the novel have informed each other so it’s a perfect way to grow as an artist.”
Kate sees herself first and foremost as a rapper, and her excitement at living with her songs shines through when she talks about preparations for playing the album live at summer festivals, then touring around the UK in Autumn/Winter. I ask Kate about audience demographic, whether she thinks the ability to genre-hop so effectively has brought new readers and listeners into poetry as her album might encourage more literary types to explore hip-hop: “ I’ve been all over the UK with Brand New Ancients (a book of Kate’s poems set to music and performed onstage) last year and most of those gigs were to full houses. Hopefully there will be some cross-over; it’s a magical moment when an audience comes together and once it’s out there, I think the work really belongs to the people who are there to experience it.”
Everybody Down is an album of seeming contradiction, difficult experiences, told with both tenderness and aggression as Pete and Becky are joined in a non-cliched spiral of both ups and downs. Like any relationship their lives are filled with good times and bad, though often tending towards the bittersweet. Mr Dan’s production provides atmospheric backing to Kate’s words, but more importantly it works alongside them, raising tension by turns but also giving the narrative room to breathe. In some respects the album is reminiscent of Gil Scott Heron, but relying less on clever wordplay, and more on a strong storyline – it’s a different kind of hip-hop, undeniably British, but aware of changing times and modern dangers that are so often the theme of more thoughtful classic rap albums. The tracks on Everybody Down has as much beat as it does heart, and both demand to be heard.