Until 2008, Kate Jackson was lead singer of The Long Blondes, a band from Sheffield who became something of a cult favourite thanks to such headrush-inducing indie pop gems as Once and Never Again and Giddy Stratospheres. The Blondes released two well-received albums - Someone to Drive You Home and "Couples" - but sadly split in October '08 after guitarist Dorian Cox suffered a stroke.
Jackson left the music scene for a while after that, throwing herself into visual art instead. Earlier this year, however, she came back with a bang: her debut solo album, British Road Movies, was released in May, and it's been very well-received indeed, both by longtime fans of The Long Blondes and by people who only discovered Kate more recently.
The record was made in collaboration with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, but while he certainly left his mark on British Road Movies (see the deliciously Suedey riffs upon which Homeward Bound and 16 Years are built), it's Jackson's songwriting and her instantly-recognisable voice that really make the album so enjoyable. Kate was kind enough to agree to a quick Q&A for The Album Wall - her answers can be found below. Enjoy!
Kate Jackson: Thanks! I've had such a lovely response to the record. I really couldn't have asked for more considering it's been 8 years since I last released anything with The Long Blondes. The response to the music, the lyrics, and the artwork has been great, and people seem genuinely pleased that I've finally released this album and that I'm back making music.
TAW: Many people - myself included - have fond memories of The Long Blondes. This is your first solo album; do you feel that British Road Movies is any more representative of the real you than, say, Someone to Drive You Home was?
KJ: It is. I wrote all the lyrics and they are much more personal to me than anything on Someone To Drive You Home. They are about real friendships and things that have actually happened in my life, framed by the British landscape. In The Long Blondes I was often playing a caricature of myself, an exaggerated version of the arch female, which was actually Dorian's lyrical creation and my interpretation in performance. It was great, but not necessarily a true representation of me!
TAW: In addition to being the subjects of your wonderful paintings, Britain's roads also serve as the backdrop for many of the songs on the album. Motorways and grimy flyovers aren't the most obviously compelling subjects - what do you see in these things that drives you to use them in your work?
KJ: The normalcy of them. The fact that they are part of our everyday landscape and experience yet for the most part ignored as we pass by in our busy lives.
See more at katejackson.co.uk/art
The trace of people's lives and experience in the everyday landscape is what interests me. Things change quite quickly in appearance, we change quite quickly in appearance, but these things are relatively constant. I see the same road sign on the A14 signalling that I'm home as I did in 1988. The road sign looks the same, I look very different.
TAW: 'Britishness' has been something of a hot topic lately, what with the EU referendum and all. You chose to call your album 'British Road Movies' - do you think these ten tracks paint an accurate picture of Britishness in 2016?
KJ: No, and that's not the point of them. I wrote a lot of these songs back in 2009 and 2010. They are not topical in a political sense; they are more about the things that don't change, the things we all see, experiences we all have, no matter what background we are from or what party is in power.
TAW: I recall watching a YouTube video of you and your band playing a song called The Westerlies. Why was that song not included on British Road Movies?
KJ: That's a more recent song! We haven't even recorded it yet.
TAW: When I hear The End of Reason (the first track on British Road Movies), I picture a pair of Bonnie and Clyde-esque fugitives who travel up and down the UK, staying one step ahead of the law and occasionally murdering people. However, I did see another reviewer who interpreted the song as a criticism of social media and the way it's taken over our existence ("You've wasted another day/We're taking your life away"). Are either of us even close?
KJ: It's the latter. The 'we' in that song refers to state-controlled social media and reality television. It's set in a future dystopia - not so far from reality, some might argue - where our lives are controlled by the desire to record everything we do and broadcast it to the world. By doing so, we are allowing ourselves to be watched and losing our freedom. The hero of the song is the 'fugitive unpredictable' trying to escape being monitored by digital technology.
I'm just as addicted to my phone as everyone else, by the way...
TAW: You've said that Bernard Butler is one of your "musical idols". Was it difficult to take him off that pedestal and view him as a collaborator while you worked on this album together?
KJ: A little. I was really wanting to impress him, obviously, but he's very good at making you feel at ease, and you forget the situation. Once we were working on the tracks it felt like a more equal partnership; he's very encouraging if he likes something...
TAW: What were you listening to while making British Road Movies?
KJ: All sorts! Lots of Bowie (particularly Low and "Heroes"), Eno, Neil Young, Evie Sands, Pet Shop Boys, Nancy and Lee, The Smiths, The Fall, Blondie, Pulp. I was obsessing over Mass Production by Iggy Pop as I recall.
TAW: What's your favourite track on the album?
KJ: It's Homeward Bound. I just love Bernard's guitar riff on that track. I think we'd been talking about Neil Young and he just started playing that riff over and over again, on a guitar that was once owned by Johnny Marr. Doesn't get much cooler than that really.
TAW: What are you planning to do next? Can we expect more Kate Jackson albums in the future?
KJ: I hope so! I have a new band called The Wrong Moves and we are starting to write together now. The plan is to record an EP in the not-too-distant future. So you can expect a Kate Jackson and The Wrong Moves EP.
Huge thanks to Kate Jackson for her illuminating answers. British Road Movies is out now - read my review of the album here.