Call us naive, but the casual observer could be forgiven for expecting a conversation with Nadine Shah to be, well, somewhat weighty. After all, the North East songwriter's debut album 'Love Your Dum And Mad' – though it had moments of splendid light – was more readily associated with pensive candour.
However artistic appearances are, thankfully, wide of the mark. Simply put: she's a riot. On the phone to Clash following a showcase at Rough Trade East, she mocks herself and others around her – this may not come across on screen, but Nadine Shah is a wonderful mimic.
At one point, Clash marvels at her sense of humour when crafting such austere works. “You've got to!” she exclaims, before laughing and aiming a jibe at her band: “especially with these miserable sods.”
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Eventually, though, the conversation settles down. New album 'Fast Food' – the recent for this phone call in the first place – is wonderful, a savage, poignant, sweet and heartbreaking dissection of relationships gone wrong. Referring throughout to “a certain incident” it's clear that this material has its roots in the singer's own life – moreover, though, it's an attempt to create something a little more impactful than her debut.
“I was really frustrated by how long the first album took,” she sighs. “I was really aware of wanting to make a coherent body of work. And so, it was a kind of... maybe a reaction to a certain event that happened.”
Continually creative, Nadine pushes herself to write everyday. “I'm quite regimented with it, I'm quite strict with myself,” she insists. “I think you've got to be. One of my biggest worries – and a lot of musicians have this – is writer's block. I think if I'm constantly in the habit of writing then it comes easier to me now and obviously the more you do it the better you get.”
Finding herself writing everyday with the backdrop of this “certain incident” in her mind, Nadine returned to themes of a romantic nature. “One thing that was quite odd was that there were recurring themes,” she says. “In regards to me in relationships, there were re-occurring themes so it was almost like I was analysing how I am in relationships, which was really interesting. So I was able to then have an outsiders viewpoint, which was very strange. Almost like I was my own form of therapy, almost.”
“It was much easier for me to then pinpoint what had gone wrong, previously. Years ago. So in fact, I was kind of writing about the past ten years. So the songs are a collection of portraits of lots of different people. But just from a much calmer woman's perspective.”
The old adage about songwriting as a form of therapy, of emotional release, seems to hold true. “I suppose it's a bit like reading through diary extracts over the past ten years, going through all these songs. And for me, it's been really useful”, she muses. “I've learned a lot.”
“I think as a result I would probably make a much better girlfriend now, a much better partner, because I was able to analyse what had gone wrong previously,” the singer continues. “It's quite odd. I don't keep a diary but I suppose songs kind of serve that purpose.”
Obviously, though, 'Fast Food' isn't entirely autographical. Facts have been altered, identities changes and incidents concocted – all within wider themes, of course. So where does Nadine Shah draw the line between storyteller and soul-bearer?
“On the first album, storyteller and on this one, probably more soul-bearing,” she responds immediately. “I was much more comfortable discussing the first album than I am with this one. I find it really embarrassing. What the bloody hell did I expect, though, if you go and write these songs? People are going to ask you about it, and then you get all coy and shy.”
“These are universal themes, though, this time round. Love and all that,” she says. “I will exaggerate – I do write from personal experience but I think you can use artistic license to sound less mundane or dull for the sake of the song. Slightly more dramatic.”
Working once again with producer Ben Hillier, the songs were presented live to Nadine Shah's band a few moments before recording began. Working live in the studio, the freshness of those sessions adds a palpable urgency to the recordings.
“We played them to them on the day. I thought, a bit cruel,” she laughs. “But it was really interesting seeing how they reacted to it on first listen. It was a really fun way of working and I think there's a sense of urgency in the songs. We recorded them all live. So I think we do take on a different character again in that process.”
A fresh, vital record, 'Fast Food' takes one of pop's central tropes – the love song, the break up song – and adds a hefty dose of reality, of North East wit. “One of the things that I love in any art form is when somebody takes a subject and puts their own slant on it,” Nadine explains. “Making the mundane a little bit more interesting. It's the same with love songs, as well. It's almost more of a challenge to write about it in a way that hasn't been done before. I've really enjoyed writing these love songs. I guess I'm writing from personal experience, so it's always going to be unique.”
Ultimately, Nadine Shah is unafraid to present these songs as a snapshot of her own life – or at least, her ongoing artistic development. “I think albums should be like little snapshots of time. I love that. It's a snapshot in an artist's life, almost, at one particular point. Ideally I'd like to make – this is not possible – but I'd like to make an album a year. We'll see!”
And with that, she's off – to harangue her band, to pick apart past relationships and to continue writing, writing, writing new material. We'll see.
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'Fast Food' is out now. Nadine Shah is set to play London's Union Chapel on October 1st.