Following Kate’s Tempest’s new album release The Book of Traps and Lessons, we caught up with her to chat about how her style developed into the innovation it is today and attempted to delve into the creative process behind the album.
The Book of Traps and Lessons takes us through a journey from start to finish, in two halves: an initial process of realisation, followed up by an attempt to put recognition into action, Kate explains. ‘So the songs are in this moment of cognisance about these traps in the first half of the album, and then in the second half of the album they’re desperately trying to put into practice some of these realisations about what these traps are and learn some lessons from them, hoping that these thoughts can manifest themselves in behaviours, rather than just as awareness.’
It would be natural to take from Traps and Lessons the notion that Tempest was in some way offering her listeners some moral guidance, but her own perception of her work is far more introspective, seeing the creative process as a serving a therapeutic purpose.
it’s not about offering guidance to anybody other than myself
‘I think my work is so bound up with my life and my existence, it’s sort of my internal landscape and it’s not about offering guidance to anybody other than myself.’ Taking it further, Tempest describes some of the darker times in her life and the way in which creativity has been her salvation, ‘It’s as though the creative voice is the highest self and it comes to me at my weakest moments, when I need support and guidance of sorts.’
Talking about the role of the musician within the world, Kate becomes profound as she describes the depths of musicality as ‘having contact with a deeper and more truly-felt dimension.’ She goes on to describe the responsibility of the musician: ‘It’s so mysterious and binding and full of real joy and elation. I think if you’re that way inclined, then you are in service to that feeling and that dimension and so I think it should just naturally be the case that those of us who are that way inclined offer something of that world to everyone else.’
It’s so mysterious and binding and full of real joy and elation
Talking more specifically about the musicality of The Book of Traps and Lessons, in which we see the lyrics take centre stage and the music taking on a more minimal role in the sound, Kate says the creative process was at times an arduous one.
‘It took ages. It was really counter intuitive and quite challenging, but we were encouraged in the process by [producer] Rick Rubin; he was encouraging us to break our conventions and try and find something new, musically and lyrically.’
With roots in hip hop, this album pushed Kate’s personal boundaries in terms of musical creativity, she says. ‘It was definitely a hard process because my natural instinct is obviously to lock in rhythmically with beats, but on this album, Mick was encouraging us to find a new way of expressing.’
my natural instinct is obviously to lock in rhythmically with beats
Lyrics are and always have been the crux of Kate Tempest’s music, however, Kate argues the role of the music in the album is no less valuable. ‘Its really important what’s happening musically, it’s just less. It’s that we aren’t locked in with each other, we’re like these two halves going to the same destination, but not locked in with each other.’
With four studio albums, two Mercury prize nominations and poetry awards including the Ted Hughes Award under her belt, the development of Kate’s style has been a gradual process, transitioning from the young rapper she was at 16. At the age of around 19, a friend brought her to a Slam event where Kate publicly performed her lyrics for the first time without music, spurring an enduring interest in the poetry and spoken word scene in London.
spoken word events have something of that feeling to them – everyone getting up and doing their best bars
‘It reminded me somehow of my favourite part of a hip hop event, after the gig, outside there would be big groups of people all standing around on the street or on the bus home, it was just going one rhyme at a time – just 12 bars each, in a big circle. And that was my favourite part of the night, it made me feel so good. Sometimes spoken word events have something of that feeling to them – everyone just getting up and doing their best bars, I found it really exciting.’
As Kate’s career progressed rapidly through the spoken word world, seeing her commissioned by a theatre director to write the play Wasted, her vision of her creative-self began a process of evolution. ‘That was my beginning and a real baptism of fire, because it was through that experience of writing Wasted that showed me that there were other forms available to me and that’s when I started to think of myself as a writer, not just a rapper or lyricist.’
that’s when I started to think of myself as a writer, not just a rapper or lyricist
The distinctions between music and poetry are blurred in Tempest’s album The Book of Traps and Lessons, contributing to its distinctive sound, but where the line lies, Kate argues, is instinctive and dependent on intention. ‘I definitely have a sense, in me, of the difference. I have an awareness of not just form, but environment and I know that also influences how people receive language. I think that it’s about intention, so if you intend for a piece of lyricism to be poetry or if you intend for it to be musical, then it will influence how that piece of work comes about and how you record it.’
Anyone that’s listened to Tempest’s new album will have gained a sense of the lyrical despair at some aspects of modern society, touching on issues that plague the minds of conscientious liberals worldwide, including the state of the environment. Tempest offers some notions of optimism though, seeing the album overall as hopeful. ‘Even if the creativity begins with a felt moment of despair, it ends in creativity, which is always hopeful and positive.’
On society itself though, she remained a little less self-assured – ‘Sometimes I’m much less hopeful than other times about society’s future, as I’m sure most can relate with.’
it ends in creativity, which is always hopeful and positive
With all this in mind, it’s to be expected that Tempest’s live performance this month would offer the audience something fairly unique to a big stage. Reminiscing on previous performances of the album almost wistfully, Tempest describes an emotive and feeling performance that unites both performer and audience.
‘What happens is something mad, we all go on this mad journey together, where something is going on, there’s some conjuring happening and then you get to the end and it feels so beautiful and so positive.’
it’s less hands-in-the-air party and more a place for feeling part of a moment
Describing the progression towards the end of a live performance, you get a sense of the journey Tempest takes you on: ‘We’ve been through such darkness together to get there, so often there are some people with tears in their eyes. For us on stage, as well, sometimes; we really move when we go through it. So, it’s less hands-in-the-air party and more a place for feeling part of a moment, of a performance, of an audience, of a community and yeah, it’s beautiful. I really hope that, and I do feel that people are connecting with it as much as I am. It’s magic really.’