She’s an explosive ball of words ready to strike. Kate Tempest is a longtime Twin favourite and a talent that continues to grow apace. On the eve of the publication of her first poetry book Everything Speaks In Its Own Way at the Old Vic, the show she’s spent her life preparing for, we caught up with the poet and also asked for some of the tracks that are important to her…
When did you first start writing and why?
I’ve been writing a very long time, as far back as I can remember I was making up stories and rhymes and telling them to my little cousin or my sister or whoever would listen. I started seriously trying to write when i was about 14, just for myself though, I didnt want to show anyone what I was doing, but then I started telling my writing out loud at 16, when I started rapping. It’s taken me so long to find my own voice though, and all the stuff i wrote in my teenage years was very teenage, unsurprisingly. So, I dont know when or why I started, but i do know that I carry on doing it because I am completely in love with how it feels when it’s really happening.
What part does music play in your work?
My lyrics are very musical, maybe the rhythm and metre of my poetry is more musical than it is literary. I love listening to music and watching it live. I studied it at college and I get so much joy from it every time I listen to a great album on a great soundsystrem. I used to write exclusively to beats, but now I dont do that so much anymore, but still, the music is there in the background. I’ve found out so much about life through being on stage gigging with bands and DJs, and music is massively important in my friendships and in how I’ve met some of my closest collaborators.
Listening to an amazing record is one of the most inspiring things anyone can do, and a few times I’ve found myself listening to a singer or a rapper on a song, and having to go straight for the notebook to write a poem from the feeling. As cheesy as it sounds my work comes from my life and music is such an important part of my life it has to be an important part of my work too. Being at gigs or watching bands at festivals or at raves or wherever is like a constant education in the art of expressing yourself and taking the crowd with you, and I have spent near eough half my life being a rapper and a vocalist and getting up and playing with musicians, it’s a huge part of my character and my experience and gave me the guts to say this is who I am and this is what I want and thats ok.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a new record, with an amazing producer, which is a bit of a departure from the Sound of Rum record that came out last year. This one is much dirtier and electronic, and much more adventurous lyrically. Also, a novel, which I’ve never felt ready to do before, but I have a strong sense of this one, and it’s going really well so far, which will work in tandem with the new record.
Also, my first play Wasted is going back on tour next Spring so I will probably want to have a look at that again, and my first solo show, which is a spoken story, with live orchestral and electronic score, Brand New Ancients, is opening at the Battersea Arts Centre on the 4th of September so I’m finshing the script and learning all the words for that. Lastly, I’m launching my poetry book/cd/dvd package, Everything Speaks in its Own Way on the 23rd August at The Old Vic theatre in London, so I’m getting ready for that and trying as hard as I can to let people know that it’s happening.
What drives you to keep writing and performing?
It’s so difficult to answer a question like this without sounding completely up your own arse, but it is like a compulsion. I am desperate to get better. Everything I read or watch or listen to relates somehow back to how I need to improve and develop my work. I’m obsessed with my writing and perfroming. Which sounds unhealthy. Dont get me wrong, I do have a life and a wonderful relationship and a family and friends I love to hang out with but my work is always happening, it’s always there. The drive is about knowing there is something I am desperate to say, that I I’m not yet able to say, becuase I’m not skilled enough, lucid enough, brave enough to say it. And so I keep going. I’m inspired by other artists, living and dead, the city I live in, everything I see and feel and think about, and there is so much more I want to be able to do.
1/ The Pledge – Jay Electronica
When I heard Jay Electronica for the first time, I was speechless. Literally just sat there struck dumb by hearing his flow, his content, the way he threads his lines together. I think this song is so refreshing and so humbling, it’s 9 minutes long and completely out of this world. I love it.
2/ Can You Get To That – Funkadelic
I love the guitar line on this song, and the vocal harmonies. Especially the low voice in the chorus. And the lyric is wicked too.
3/ Gabriel – Joe Godard feat. Valentina
There’s another tune called Gabriel by Roy Davis Jr feat Peven Everett, (go listen to it) which was my favourite tune for years when I was younger, me and my pal used to play it out of our homemade soundsystem out the front of my parents house when we was kids – I heard this by accident looking for that tune on youtube, and I love it. I absolutely love it. Joe Godard’s an amazing producer, and this tune is just wicked. I love the lyric too. Amazing.
4/ It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) – Bob Dylan
My Dad loves Dylan and used to play him all the time when I was growing up. When I got a little older, I found out I loved him too, and I bought this album (bringing it all back home) becasue I liked the picture on the front. I love this song. I love the complexity and the simplicity of what he’s saying, the way he sings it, it’s like rapping, I love the way the vocal is so present and demanding.
5/ The Look – Metronomy
When I was in Berlin with Sound of Rum doing some shows, we were listening to this album loads loads in the van, it’s an incredible album, and then we went out one night to this bar and we were all having a dance, then our soundman went over to the DJ to ask her to play this song, and as he approaced to ask her, she played it. That’s maybe not so much of an interesting anecdote but at the time it was like fate, and we all had such a good night that night. This song reminds me of a wonderful summer of gigging and enjoying ourselves, and I really love the whole album, think it’s a great piece of work.
6/ The Carpenter – Homeboy Sandman
First track I heard from this guy was called ‘illuminati’ and it blew my head off. This is completely faultless in my eyes as far as flow goes. This guy is the most compelling rapper I’ve heard in so long. I love him. Listen to Illuminati too.
7/ Famous Blue Raincoat – Leonard Cohen
I saw Leonard Cohen at Glastonbury a few years ago and was astounded by him. I’d never really listened to him before, but now I listen to him a lot. This song in particular I think is amazing, becasue of the honesty in the sentiment he expresses.
8/ Lost Ones – Lauryn Hill
The miseducation changed everything when I heard it. I was about 14 I think when it came out, and me and a friend of mine used to spend hours in school rapping it to each other. Lauryn’s amazing, and this track and another track from that record ‘Final Hour’ taught me so much about what a lyric could do. She is awe inspiring to listen to.
9/ 12 Jewelz – Gravediggaz
RZA is a hero of mine. When I was 15 or so, I loved hiphop so much I couldnt bare to listen to anything else. I worked in a record shop from 14 to 19 and spent every day listening to rappers. When I found Gravediggaz it was like finding religion or something, it sounds far fetched, but honestly, I was blown away. I was lucky enough to see RZA play a few years ago, and after his show I was shouting from the front of the crowd for this track.
He looked at me, and the at the crowd, and was like, “there’s some crazy white chick at the front asking for 12 jewelz”. And then he looked straight into my face and rapped the whole verse acapella. It was like nothing else I’ve ever expereinced. The lyric on this tune is pure poetry for me. And to hear it straight from him like that was just immense. A friend of mine was in the back of the show and told me later, ‘I knew he was talking to you, I just knew it.’
Kate will be performing along with special guests at the launch of Everything Speaks In Its Own Way at the Old Vic on August 23. Tickets are on sale now.
Listen to her Twin Playlist here