Ahead of Music & Mental Health Festival, Nancy Kate Discusses How the Theme of Mental Health Persists in Her Solo Folk Work and Her Punk Band, Orchid Feeder

This Sunday Music & Mental Health Festival will return for its second consecutive year at The Workman’s Club. The festival aims to get musicians, industry professionals, and fans into a safe space to discuss their experiences and highlight the industry’s challenges to people’s mental well-being.

Part conference/part gig, the night will begin with a panel featuring former Post-Party frontman Keelan O’Reilly, industry veteran and Minding Creative Minds director Ann Marie Shields, musician and music therapist Jessica Harris, and promoter and Doolittle Presents founder Julie Cooper.

Then attendees will get to enjoy a range of great acts across the Main Room and Cellar, like the indie-pop rising stars modernlove., the experimental electronic artist Emileo, the abrasive and moody rockers Elaphi, the righteous punkers The Amniotics, the indie-pop storyteller anna leah, the earthen fingerpicking-maestro Navya Sharma, and the indie-folk singer-songwriter Nancy Kate.

“I first got involved with the festival, last year on its inaugural day,” Nancy tells Post-Burnout of her involvement. “I was doing tickets on the doors, because I know Zoé [Piater], one of the founders, and she asked me to do the doors, so I said, ‘Absolutely. Of course.’

The line-up for Music & Mental Health Festival
Poster courtesy of Yana Kirkovska

“And, while sitting at the door, I got to listen to everything that was going on and I got to hear some of the panel and, obviously, the artists playing, and it was really lovely and the atmosphere was really wholesome and the workshops all sounded very productive and very interesting and open, and everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves.

“So, I had a positive experience right off the bat, and everybody was very welcoming and the atmosphere was just generally very warm, which was very nice. Then when Zoé and Yana [Kirkovska], the two founders, asked me if I would like to do it as an artist, I was like, ‘Absolutely!’ Because, if the vibes of the last one were anything to go off of, then this one is going to be excellent and the vibes are going to be warm and welcoming, as they were previously.”

As surely anyone familiar with her work will attest, Nancy is a perfect fit for such a bill. Not only does she possess a diverse sonic palate fit for this or any line-up, but her lyrics – which range from superego-driven introspection to id-driven tearaway catharsis – showcase her consideration for the examination and disquisition of her and others’ psyche and her differing avenues of communicating those thoughts to listeners.

As a young child, Nancy began experimenting with the sounds and textures of the piano in her house.  With that interest established, she began focusing on the music around her home. “I started to pay more attention to the music that my parents were playing,” she says. “Because I grew up in an eclectic music household. On the one hand, my mam is very into classic rock, a lot of  Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Huey Lewis, all sorts of fun ’70s, ‘80s rock stuff.

“And then, on the other hand, my dad loves random folk music. Like, he’s very into traditional Irish and English folk music and stuff like that, so I grew up with a mixture of that. Then, my uncle likes a lot of jazz. So, it was all sorts of random stuff, basically. So, it was from the piano that I learnt to really pay attention to and really analyse music, I guess. That’s when the analysis began, anyway.”

Nancy took music lessons throughout primary and secondary school. She began with piano and later incorporated vocals towards the end of primary school. “I wasn’t terribly good at lessons,” she says of this early training. “My piano teachers often got very annoyed at me because, instead of practising the pieces that I was supposed to have practised, I was like, ‘Ohhh! Let’s try and make a song!’”

While Nancy disliked lessons, she did love music theory and became obsessed with the range of time signatures and chord progressions. Then she discovered an album which really resonated with her: KT Tunstall’s 2004 debut album, Eye to the Telescope.

“I found it in a pile of my aunt’s old CDs, I think,” remembers Nancy. “I can’t remember whose pile of old CDs it was; it was a relative’s pile of old CDs. And I was like, ‘Hmmm…this looks interesting,’ and then I listened to the whole album, all the way through, and I was like, ‘This is really good!’

“There was so much interesting texture going on and lots of modal stuff – this is all stuff that I like to use now – and there’s a fun song, halfway through the album, that was in 5/8, some of the way through. It was mixed meters; like 5/8 and 6/8. I was like, ‘That’s really good! I like that! That’s really good! I want to do that!’ So, I definitely [thank] KT Tunstall for that.”

As a teenager, Nancy autodidactically learnt bass to perform in a Green Day cover band, while discovering how much she enjoyed performing with others in the process. After finishing secondary school, she attended BIMM to study Vocals. “Unfortunately, in BIMM, there isn’t a Keyboards Stream, but if there was a Keyboards Stream, I would have done that,” she says. “But I ended up just playing keyboards for people most of the time, anyway.”

Photo by Emily Maguire
Courtesy of Nancy Kate

While music had been a solitary activity for most of Nancy’s life, she soon found herself playing keys and/or singing with a revolving door of artists. “I got stuck in and I went the exact opposite direction, from having almost no ensemble experience to having way too much ensemble experience!” laughs Nancy. “To the point where [people would ask], ‘Nancy, how many rehearsals do you have this week?’ ‘Oh, eight or nine!’”

While still performing as a session musician, Nancy has become more discerning when accepting requests due to past experiences with overcommitment. “It was difficult. It was very difficult, I won’t lie. Because I am bad at saying no to things,” she says of establishing these boundaries. “I enjoyed being a contributing member to bands, and I like playing more original stuff than covers, for example.

“So, if I weigh up the setlists of whatever band I’m in and I’m like, ‘Do I actually like playing this music?’, – because I want to play stuff that I like – and, ‘Is the ensemble that I’m playing with right now nice?’ You don’t have to be mates with them, but you have to get on with them, to a certain extent. So, ‘Do I like the band?’, ‘Do I like the music?’, ‘Is my brain itch being scratched?’

“Because I’m neurodivergent, which means that my nervous system is interest-based, meaning it’s very hard to do stuff that I have no interest in. I wish it weren’t that way, but, alas, here we are.”  Nancy finds that her range of interests in concert with neurodivergence has aided her in morphing with any given style of music that she is contributing to.

“It’s nice, because I love variety, so I really enjoy performing in multiple, different genres,” Nancy says. “And I think that probably comes down to the random, eclectic mix of stuff that I listened to when I was at home, when I was younger, probably. So, I’ve always just liked playing a variety of different genres.

“But, I think it also is me being neurodivergent, as well, because that means I’m very good at mimicry, which means that I can pick out and isolate elements of a style that I’m supposed to be playing in and I can go, ‘OK, well, I’ll apply that to my own style of playing,’ so I can fit in the style, appropriately, I guess.”

On top of her work with the bedroom-pop musician boringbrxwneyes, Nancy is the lead vocalist for the aggressive, indignant and experimental punk band Orchid Feeder, and has recently started a new project called Dux Et Rex (Latin for “Duke and King”), which she describes as a concept band that “cross[es] Cyberpunk 2077 with the Byzantine Empire.” Then, last year, she decided to begin a solo career.

“I had already written a bunch of songs but they were in old notebooks from 2016, and they were just random stuff that were not at all a coherent set of lyrics; it was all just random musings and stuff,” Nancy says of building her catalogue. “Then I started doing the riot grrrl, punk, Orchid Feeder stuff, and then I was like, ‘Well, I like this,’ but, also, I kept coming back to, ‘What do I want my own sound to be like?’ And then I relistened to Eye to the Telescope, the KT Tunstall album, and [that] was the vibe that I wanted to invoke, the vibe I want[ed] to emulate.

“Then I thought, ‘OK, well, what else do I like?’ I’m interested in organic textures, I suppose. I like a lot of wooden instruments, like, you can hear a lot of shakers and stuff but they’re all wooden things. […] So, all of those acoustic-sounding instruments, because I found them kind of calming, and I suppose it was a reaction to the Orchid Feeder stuff because it was just almost the exact opposite. So, it just sort of happened as a result of that.”

Performing and recording as a solo artist was something which Nancy had an antecedent interest in, but it got delayed until the start of 2023. “I was so busy doing other people’s projects that I was kind of putting it on the back foot,” Nancy says. “And, also, I was avoiding doing it because I don’t like vulnerability or failure, so I was kind of avoiding it because I didn’t want to have a result that I was unhappy with, so I was like, ‘Well, I won’t be unhappy if I never do it!’”

But she did do it! In October of last year, Nancy released Above the Water, an unapologetically vulnerable and idiosyncratic five-track EP that explores themes of isolation, uncertainty, stagnation, and disillusionment, but which is punctuated by a promise of succour to others who face what she has faced.

With help from friend and producer Ellen Beamish, who was interning there and mastered the EP, Above the Water was recorded at the iconic Windmill Lane Recording Studios, which Nancy felt helped accentuate every detail of the songs. When reviewing the EP for UCD’s College Observer, the brilliant music journalist, Isabella Ambrosio, wrote,  “An unbelievably polished debut EP, Nancy Kate’s ability to tap into the shared human experience of loving, changing, and processing our connection to others and the world. Above The Water is a heartbreakingly empathetic tale of coming-of-age that all 20-somethings can relate to.”

While, sonically, there is an apparent chasm between Nancy’s solo work and that of Orchid Feeder’s, from Nancy’s perspective as a songwriter, writing for both projects isn’t wholly different. “I almost think they’re two sides of the same coin, I guess,” Nancy says of penning tracks for both projects.

 “Because, obviously, with Orchid Feeder, we also write about personal experience and stuff, but just from a different angle. So, the subject matter is essentially the same, but Orchid Feeder is an outlet for anger and […] the effect and the emotion is more forward, whereas, my solo stuff is more on the introspective side; it’s a little less loud, I guess, for want of a better word, but, essentially, they’re two sides of the same coin because I stick to the principle of ‘Write about what you know’ mostly. So, the lyrical process is kind of the same, it’s just the delivery of it that’s different, depending on what project it is.”

Since the release of Above the Water in October, Nancy followed up the EP with the song “Sticky” the following month and has been gigging since. Whether fronting an angst-ridden hardcore act, aiding other artists with keys and backing vocals, or expressing herself against the world with solitude standing, Nancy is a fully-assured and riveting performer, who injects effortless humour and crowd interaction between songs, and you will see if for yourself this Sunday when you attend Music & Mental Health Festival.

Nancy Kate’s music, social media accounts and live dates can be found on her website. You can catch her live at Music & Mental Health Festival, this Sunday at Workman’s. Tickets cost €12.90 for those who only want to hear the music or €15.90 for those who want to hear the music and would also like to attend the panel and discussion (which you should!) Tickets can be purchased from The Workman’s website.

Tune into our podcast,
POSTBURNOUT.COM Interviews…, today at 18:00 (IST) to hear this interview in full, where we go into further depth about all that is discussed in this article, as well as discuss what it was like to record at Windmill Lane, how Nancy arranged her music for a full band, the meaning behind each track on her EP, and much more. Available on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Amazon Music Podcasts.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly claimed that Music and Mental Health Festival was on Saturday, the 8th, instead of Sunday, the 9th. The article has been updated to correct this.

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