Kate Jackson – Wonder Feeling
Kate Jackson is back.
The erstwhile frontwoman of The Long Blondes is ready to launch her solo career, presenting new material co-written and produced by Bernard Butler. The wit and wistfulness she brought to the LBs is present and correct, but there’s a newfound confidence and sheen to her work – once you’ve listened to her solo debut single, ‘Wonder Feeling’/’The Atlantic’, you’ll be unsurprised to learn that she lists Blondie and Roxy Music among her reference points. The singer’s suburban, arched-eyebrow sass has been replaced with a more urbane, glass-hearted glamour, and it suits her very well indeed.
‘Wonder Feeling’/’The Atlantic’ is being issued as a highly limited 7″, housed in a four-panel gatefold sleeve, by The Vinyl Factory. Featuring original artwork by Kate, and screenprinted, numbered and signed. You can listen to the A-side above and the B-side over the page; below is a video of the making of the special edition. For more information and pre-orders, click here.
FACT caught up with Ms Jackson to talk motorway service stations, continent-straddling love affairs and the decline of the English pop lyricist.
“It’s been three years now since The Long Blondes had to split up. That may seem like an age but I still feel like I’ve had a bit of a crash course in songwriting. I came out of that band having only ever written topline melody and lyrics over Dorian’s music. I really had no idea how or where to begin in terms of writing my own material, or collaborating with other writers.
“Fortunately Rough Trade hooked me up with Bernard Butler, but I still had to write the bare bones of a couple of songs on an acoustic guitar to play to him and give him an idea of what I wanted to do with my solo stuff. That was pretty terrifying. He was great though and turned one of those numbers into a song called ‘Lie To Me’ which is still in my live set now. From that song came a whole stream of other co-writes together, including ‘Wonder Feeling’ and ‘The Atlantic’.
What was it like to work with Bernard Butler? Did you have a teenage crush on Suede?
“I learned a lot writing with Bernard. It was a very joyful experience for me ‘cos I was so excited to be there, working with him – I looked up to him a lot but he always treated me as an equal. We wrote everything at West Heath, Edwyn Collins’ studio in West Hampstead, which was a great environment to be in – full of vintage amps, guitars, mics. Edwyn and Grace would pop in occasionally but mostly it was just me and Bernard with tea and biscuits. I tried to watch everything he did as much as possible but he’s so fast. Sometimes we wrote two or three songs in a day. And yes, of course I had a massive teenage crush on Suede. Still do!”
“Of course I had a massive teenage crush on Suede. Still do!”
Can we take it from your working with Butler that you wanted him to turn you into the new Duffy?
“Er, that was not my main motivation for working with him, no. It was funny at the time ‘cos I would go in to write and he’d be finishing off a mix for the Diet Coke advert she did. I laughed a lot about the ridiculousness of it all.”
Tell us about the inspiration for your new single then…
“It was supposed to be like a British Wild At Heart. A mini road movie of teenage lust and rebellion set in England’s motorways and service stations, suburban bedrooms and indie discos, parks and buses. I wanted to write something that was uplifting, something that people would want to dance to and want to drive away listening to…”
And the illustration you’ve done on the gatefold 7″?
“The front cover illustration was inspired by Raymond Pettibon’s cover for Goo by Sonic Youth. I like black and white sleeve art so I drew it by hand with a DVD Sharpie. I wanted it to have a bit of a comic strip feel but still retain the glamour of covers by bands like Roxy Music or Suede, so I used Jerry Hall as the inspiration for the girl.”
Do you have to dress differently now you’re a budding solo popstar?
“I don’t know… do I?”
How do you feel about the contemporary musical landscape, and how do your feelings differ to those you had when first springing Long Blondes upon the world?
“Everything is very different now, that’s for sure. It’s not a great time for guitar music really and probably not a good time to be a band if you’re from the UK. We’re in a pattern that has always gone on and will go on forever, the shifting tide of the musical moment between the UK and the US. At the moment it is firmly with the US whereas six years ago it was here with Arctic Monkeys, Franz, The Kaisers, Bloc Party.
“I think it’s still a great time for women in music though and we have some spectacular talent here in the likes of Anna Calvi and Laura Marling. Truly very talented songwriters and performers. I think that there is a more discerning listener than there was when we first started out. People expect more of you musically and in terms of vocal performace there’s no room for error anymore. The D.I.Y bands are still out there though, just not breaking through so much maybe. I can’t imagine a band like Love Is All getting signed to a major in 2012.”
“There are very few great British lyricists around at the moment.”
Is there still an appetite out there for intelligent, caustic, well-worded pop songcraft or is the golden age over?
“There’s always an appetite for good pop songcraft. Sometimes the music industry just needs reminding what that is. I think there are very few great British lyricists around at the moment, in the way that Jarvis Cocker and Morrissey and Costello and Mark E Smith are great. The sense of humour is missing. Dorian wrote a lot of the lyrics for The Long Blondes and while I may be biased I truly think that he is one of the finest lyricists in the country, able to write caustically and with humour. It’s a difficult thing to do.”
Any there particular conscious influences on the new record – musical or otherwise?
“Yes. Some obvious ones musically: Bowie, Eno, Roxy, Blondie. And some less obvious ones for LBs fans like Patti Smith, Neil Young, Shocking Blue, R.E.M.. Lyrically I am hugely influenced by Neil Young, there are a lot of ‘road songs’ in my repertoire – I’m never still for long.”
“There are a lot of ‘road songs’ in my repertoire – I’m never still for long.”
From the sounds of ‘Wonder Feeling’, the freedoms and frustrations of suburban British life are still your muse; but then ‘The Atlantic’ is very urbane and cosmopolitan, what with its depiction of a transatlantic NY-LON love affair. Which is truer to life?
“They are both true to my life. I grew up in a small town in the East of England, I went to pubs and danced in Chicago Rock Cafe on a school night at the height of Britpop, I had boyfriends who were older than me and who my mum should have banned me from seeing, I made mixtapes and sat in suburban bedrooms drinking vodka with my friends, so I still write about those things ‘cos they formed me.
“The Long Blondes changed my life in that it took me all over the world. I had a NY-LON love affair, I lived out of a suitcase in hotel rooms, I spent hours in airports and on planes, I forgot what time zone I was in. All of those things are my life. I would now edge towards writing from a more adult perspective, simply because that’s where I am at this point in my life. I’m 32 now. I think about family, friends and being close to the people I love more than escaping to the big city in a stolen car with a boot full of booze… although that does sound like fun.”
“We – The Long Blondes – didn’t know what we were doing really. I certainly didn’t.”
Looking back on The Long Blondes, how would you summarise the experience of it all?
“Sometimes exciting, mostly incredibly stressful. We didn’t know what we were doing really. I certainly didn’t. We never really had a proper manager so there was never a proper game plan. Every day something would come up, a new problem or a new offer and we would all e-mail each other and argue about what to do, then Dorian would make a decision. It was always like that.
“I felt like an outsider in that band because the others were in couples. And also there were three girls and three is a crowd. It was hard at times. I regret not being able to see it for the fleeting, special moment in time that it was and I regret not enjoying it more – I think I took it way too seriously! Learned loads though! Too much to mention…”
Is it terrifying to be flying solo, or liberating, or…?
“Bloody terrifying. But one thing I have realised over the last 3 years is that I must want to do this ‘cos I haven’t given up yet!”