“When I’m onstage, the question I get asked the most is ‘How old are you?’ They think I’m 15, or at the most 18 or 19. Part of me wants to lie and say ‘Yeah, I’m fucking 14′. It’s ridiculous, why does it matter? Just because I look young and I’m not wearing any make-up or anything. There’s a look of disappointment when I say ’24’. There’s a tendency to be impressed by the mythology of something. No-one’s asked my drummer how old he is.“
Recently signed on a three-album deal to Sunday Best Records and touring the country as a solo act and with her band, Sound Of Rum, Kate Tempest is prodigious by any standard, not least because of her hard-earned success in a field generally under-populated by the white, female, cherub-faced sort of artist. A performance poet, a writer and hip-hop rapper, Kate’s passionate performances and acrobatic vocabulary have caught the attentions of everyone from Radio 1’s Scroobius Pip, with whom Sound of Rum recently toured, to poetry legend John Cooper Clarke.
Enamored of hip-hop since she was 11, and having fought to be heard at open mics across London since she was 16, Kate’s extraordinary performances are a battle-cry; battling to be heard, for the content of her work to be valued over the circumstance that surrounds it, the battle of every artist to find their place in the world, to be seen.
As a precocious and gifted artist with no stage-schooling other than throwing herself in at the deep end and swimming hard, Kate, having spent the summer delighting and emotionally slaying audiences at festivals and working hard in the studio with Sound of Rum, is now on the very edge of ‘breaking it’. With Sound of Rum’s first album due out in February we catch up with Kate to see how she’s preparing for stepping out of her squat party backstory and into mainstream public scrutiny.
“I’m glad I didn’t get into this when I was younger. Now that we’ve got a few more people listening and we’ve got the record deal, I’m actually glad everything has taken so long. If I had come out with an album when I was 18 it would have been appalling rubbish. I wouldn’t have been ready as an artist. It’s good the way the universe stepped in a made it all go a lot slower than I wanted to. As an individual I’m now stronger and I know more about the world and the industry and I can take it all on the chin, and just try and make good work.”
Kate’s voice is friendly, she sits outside having a cigarette and visits the corner shop while I interview her, chatting with a South East London accent and a slight huskiness. Kate comes from a community of ‘ musicians, writers, graffiti writers, carpenters and we’re all on each other’s radars from jamming at parties’ and worries that an influx of money and success could cause the band to self-implode. Not one whiff of the Diva emanates from Ms Tempest; an unusual quality in 20-something performers about to make their splash.
” Being on stage as a woman, there are things that are expected of you; to look nice, not challenge anybody too much, not be too vocal about your opinions on certain things.
I did a show a couple of months ago where a couple of girls said that when I’d got on stage they were really pissed off with me because I was just wearing jogging bottoms and a t-shirt, but by the end of the show they really enjoyed it. I get veiled compliments all the time, people saying ‘Oh, I thought you were going to be awful because you didn’t make an effort with your outfit’. People are so used to seeing women on stage in a certain way that when a woman makes it about the content rather than their appearance they don’t fucking have a clue how to deal with it. I’m not making a political statement, it’s just the way I am. When you go into this industry you have to be in magazines and photographs and it’s all about the image, so you have to ask yourself questions about your image and what it means. It’s so fucking weird, I’m just wearing a t-shirt! ”
Failing “an epiphany”, Ms Tempest is unlikely to start playing the media game and get gussied up in a frock and heels, preferring to concentrate on her writing and the thrill of live performance.
” I have as many insecurities about my body as any other woman does but when I’m on stage its all fine, I’m doing something else, and I can just forget about it. If I then have to think about all that in that one safe space it’s just crippling. Why can’t we just have one place where we don’t have to think about it?”
From bedroom scrawlings, “writing before I knew that’s what I was doing” and knocking about Deptford and New Cross Gate to a life touring with bandmates Ferry Lawrenson and Archie Marsh, playing the Eden Project, Glastonbury and everything she touches seemingly turning to cultural gold, what next for the precocious rhymer?
“The first album will be out in February, and we’ve signed up to do three. I’m happy doing the independent thing; I don’t think a major label would have a fucking clue what to do with us. I don’t know what we’d do if we were given loads of money, self-implode probably. This way you still have to call in favours from everyone you know, it’s all hard work, and it’s still about us and not being given loads of money and getting new equipment. We always have to think about how we can get something for free or blag it. It’s the way it works for us.
In the future I want to write some theatre and maybe a novel, and bring out more poetry. I just want to carry on; people might go mad for it or they might fucking hate it.
Through gigging so hard we’ve managed to build up a really nice, cool fan-base of people who come down and have a chat after the show and hopefully that’s a more secure way of starting a reputation than with a big press campaign.”