Blurring the lines between poetry, spoken word and hip-hop, with plays and novels in the locker to boot, Kae Tempest’s new album The Line Is A Curve has proved the best chart performer of their career to date. May’s tour, including a stop in Cardiff, is Kae’s biggest so far too. Sarah-Jane Outten grabbed a word on the way to the Welsh coast.
How are you today, Kae?
Kae Tempest: I feel good! We are currently in Wales, the sun is shining, blue sky. We are on our way to Holyhead to get a ferry over to Ireland on the next leg of the tour.
Back on tour after the last two years…
Kae Tempest: It feels amazing, I’m really enjoying getting back out there and having that connection with the audience again. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do this.
Does it give you a different perspective now?
Kae Tempest: In some ways, yes. But this tour feels different anyway, I don’t know if I can exactly put my finger on it. But it is different from my previous tours. It feels incredible.
That positivity comes through in the album. It’s packed with emotional freedom. It’s full of the emotional depth of previous Kae Tempest releases, still intense, but with a lighter feel. It makes me feel as though my shoulders are leaving my ears for a while and that’s kind of nice.
Kae Tempest: Ahh, I love to hear that! This album does feel free and it’s good to hear that listeners feel that way, so thank you. Putting this album out there has been an incredible experience. I feel so lucky to be able to do it.
The album is very personal to you, but when I listen it feels incredibly personal to me too.
Kae Tempest: Making that connection is what it’s all about. I can’t ask for more than that. I put my music out there and never know what someone else is taking from it. Unless I meet them, and they tell me about the connection they have with my work and sometimes it’s…intense? I’m not sure that’s the right word. But it’s huge.
Do you feel overwhelmed by that?
Kae Tempest: Hmmm, not so much overwhelmed because those connections belong to all of us. We make them and that’s then part of all of us. It’s an incredible thing. And there are so many connections or feelings that people have about my work I’ll never know, until I get an opportunity to meet listeners, at signings for example.
We’re at a time where many are looking to connect so it’s awesome to experience that. Do you think this is your most important album to date?
Kae Tempest: I don’t know, because all my previous albums have taken me here; without them, this album wouldn’t exist. So I’m not sure how important this album is or will be. But it feels so good to have the album out there, it feels amazing. And this album is in the top 10 and that never happens!
In the past, music apps like Spotify never seem to know what category my music is. They don’t know where to place it. But that doesn’t seem the case with this album, which makes me really happy.
One issue some music apps have is not playing the tracks on an album in order. It changes the narrative, the story, and the journey the listener is on. Do you think that’s an issue?
Kae Tempest: It can be. I like to think that any of my tracks can be listened to as a standalone track, so if it comes upon a playlist the listener will still take something from that. But I know that lots of people still appreciate an entire album and listen in a linear form. The Line Is A Curve is a journey for sure. It’s that journey that often gives us that connection that feels so good.
Looking for something to do?
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I want to talk about the artwork that accompanies the album: the photography by Wolfgang Tillmans has captured you beautifully. It feels like we are seeing the real you for the first time.
Kae Tempest: Wolfgang is an incredibly talented artist. I normally hate having my photo taken: I went through a period of not feeling good, and I wasn’t in a good place. For the last couple of records, I wanted to disappear completely from the album covers, the videos, and the front-facing aspects of the industry. I also wanted the work to speak for itself – and I still do, but this time I feel differently. I want people to feel welcomed to this record, by me, the person who made it.
I’ve admired Wolfgang’s work for a long time, there wasn’t anyone else I would have wanted to take my portrait. I don’t know how he does it, but he really captured the real me and I’m so happy with the photographs. [goes quiet for a few seconds] Sorry, my manager is trying to help me, I’m currently trying to talk to you, hold my dog on the lead, and a bowl of cereal!
Multi-tasking at its best! This tour continues until Sun 22 May – and then what’s next?
Kae Tempest: We start the summer tours – the festivals – so this will continue to be a busy year.
And when you aren’t touring, performing, or writing how do you spend your time?
Kae Tempest: I like doing normal things, I spend time with my beautiful partner, my family, and friends. I like to hang out and do everyday things. My sister has a lot of kids, I help her out and spend time with nieces and nephews! The pandemic made me see, more than ever, the joy that everyday things bring. Just hanging out with your family and mates makes you happy. I’ll always look forward to that.
Kae Tempest, St David’s Hall, Cardiff, Sat 14 May. Tickets: £28-£35.50. Info: here
words SARAH-JANE OUTTEN
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