This interview was originally published in IDOL Magazine #3 "The Insiders Issue"
DJ, presenter, model and manager Mairead Nash is an unquestionable and enduring insider of the music industry. As we discuss the many facets of her career, she chuckles at such an exhaustive CV making her feel old. She may say “old”, we say “prolific”.
Throughout the early ‘00s, Queens of Noize were a recognisable marker of the new rock revolution – partly because of a close friendship with The Libertines. But the party cane to a halt. As the boys in the band disbanded, Mairead and her DJ partner Tabitha Denholm found themselves marginalised by the music industry that once embraced them.
Something of a career chameleon, Mairead has channelled all of her learning-on-the-job expertise into her latest professional status as manager of Florence and the Machine and head of her own record label. The fact that our interview with her had to be rescheduled three times was confirmation enough of this woman’s non-stop, whirlwind working life. And when we got our chance to chat with her about her transition from cooler-than-thou poster girl to her now behind-the-scenes occupation, she proved herself more of an insider than even IDOL had anticipated.
People know you, foremost, for being one half of Queens of Noize. Can you tell us about how you began your career as a DJ?
I started by running a club in London called 333 and I was working there as the booker. It was predominantly dance music, which I wasn’t that keen on when I was 17 or 18 [laughs]. The owner of the club asked me, “If you could do something, what would you want to do?” I think they could tell that I wasn’t really into the nights that I was booking. I said that I would like to put on bands and maybe DJ, and that’s how it all started really.
How did you meet your DJing other half Tabitha Denholm?
I met Tabitha at a party and then, basically, just didn’t leave her house until she agreed to DJ with me.
Was Tabitha an established DJ when you met?
No, that was the funny thing because she was good friends with a lot of DJs like Andy Weatherall and Death in Vegas... It took her minute to get her head around herself actually DJing, but she had very good records. We both started by becoming best friends really and getting our whole style of DJing as if we were in our bedrooms and being in our own little world when we play records. The shambolic-ness is what people like.
DJing brought the two of you success as you went on to do modelling, presenting on MTV, writing a column for NME, hosting shows on BBC 6music. You even released a single (2005’s Indie Boys Don’t Deserve It).
We definitely tried a number of different things, which was great. We had musicians who were friends and then opportunities just kind of came up... Anything is possible and it’s super fun when you’re making up your own rules.
Queens of Noize were very closely related to The Libertines. How do you reflect on that heady period of time? Looking back, did you enjoy it?
Yeah, it was amazing. Even now, looking back, it was a special time in music. At the time I don’t think any of us realised how significant it was, and I think that was the beauty of it. There was nothing planned. We were all very much just in it for a crazy few years but that was generally how it was. Looking back, I’m totally proud of being a part of all that and how much I learnt. It was an amazing way to grow up - DJing and working in my own right whilst being around my friends and doing something that I really enjoy doing. Making fun into a job is what we were good at.
So if you were enjoying your lifestyle and career at that point, what was it that made you change to the more behind-the-scenes role of management?
Well, we used to run a club night, and then we did MTV and NME. Then things turned a funny corner. People didn’t like us as much, and we thought that we just don’t need to put up with this shit, you know? We’re not in it to get slagged off now. So it was time to take a bit of a step back. I moved away to Mexico for nearly a year and lived a bit of a different life. Tabitha came and got me and I came back. I moved to Mexico when I was 23 and moved back when I was 24. That’s when we started to think about how we could use everything we had done and turn it into a job now because we were just in this whirlwind - which was great, but it wasn’t very secure. You never knew what was round the corner. That’s when we decided to do the radio and got the gig on BBC 6music [Queens of Noize began co-hosting a radio show called ‘Sonic Safari’ in 2006] and we attempted to be more professional.
It seems that your strength is rolling with the punches and reacting to what’s happening around you.
It was like we needed to get a bit of respect back so that people would know that we were not just hanging out with boys in bands, you know?
So the story goes that you discovered Florence Welch singing in a public toilet. What exactly happened?
Well, we were running a club night and our friend Jack Peñate who went to school with Florence brought her down to our night. Then we booked her boyfriend at the time as a DJ. She just sang to me in the toilet. So we hung out and chatted a bit and she sang me an Etta James song, and I thought that she was amazing. I booked her the following month to play one of our nights that was our Christmas party and asked her to do some covers. She called me up a week before the gig and told me that she had some of her own songs and asked if she could play some of her own. I was like, “Sure, but maybe do some covers too” [laughs]. And that was it really. That’s when I saw her sing and I knew there and then that I wanted to be her manager...
As time went on from those early stages of you and Florence getting to know each other, how has your role as her manager changed? Is the reality of being a band manager different to what you envisioned?
The bigger it got, it changed each time. You’ve just got bigger boots to fill. But predominantly we still work pretty much in the same way. We come up with things and Florence knows how she wants things - from what outfits she wants to wear or how she wants the stage to look. All the creative stuff comes first.
How would you define your working relationship together? It seems like a cross between a personal and professional relationship.
Yeah. We’re really good friends but we don’t hang out as much as we did. There’s just no time to [laughs]. I’m a lot more behind-the-scenes, and I’m with the record label a lot. I can’t be on tour that much - you know, as much as I would like to be - but that’s the way it is.
Are there any particular events or achievements that you’re particularly proud of in your role as a manager?
I think when Florence and the Machine performed at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2010 in America... It was a real turning point. She became the most Googled person in the world on the day of the performance. It was after a year and a half of hard work that everyone had put into it. You do one big TV appearance and then everything falls into place...
You also manage Blood Orange (AKA Dev Hynes). How did that come about?
I’ve been doing that for about six months. He’s great. I’ve known him a very long time. He’s an old friend of mine, and I just thought that his album was incredible. So I’m just here to help. He’s now talking about making his next record, and he’s really exciting. I’m working with a different record label, and I’m learning something new every day with him, which I really love.
With the ever changing nature of your job and always learning something new, is there such a thing as a typical working day for you?
It depends where a band is at in the record cycle. Setting up a record and making the album, then we’re pretty much just in London. I’ll be in the office most of the time, and I’ll have my doggies with me. Then when we’re travelling or in America, I’ll probably stay in New York because we have an office out there.
Do ever wish there was more strict routine to your job?
Sometimes, but I think the thing that I miss most is the days when we used to be DJing and have one club night a week and then have gigs at other venues like art galleries as well. You had time to ponder and come up with stuff or shop and do whatever like that. I definitely don’t have time for that kind of life anymore. That’s what I definitely miss - the lost weekends. But when I did do it, I did it with style, I think. And then when I’m home resting, I’ll go on big walks with my dogs and it’s all quite relaxed. I’ll be cooking or with that dogs. That’s it really.
You’ve been in the music industry for ten years now...
Yeah, I moved to London in 1999, and it all started in 2000 really. I’m 30 next year so I’ve made the milestone [laughs].
Is there still anything new that you want to pursue professionally?
At the moment I’ve got an imprint through Universal called Luv Luv Luv Records, so I’ve been signing bands. I think I’ve got a really good roster...
Who are your idols?
That’s really difficult. I would say that while growing up my idols were like Patti Smith and Poly Styrene from X-Ray Spex. She really blew my mind and how she worked within punk! I also like icons like Marilyn Monroe. I really admire her style. I’ve always loved having lots of Marilyn Monroe pictures around my house. And lastly, my all-time idol would have to be David Byrne from Talking Heads; I think ‘Stop Making Sense’ taught me so much. Early on I made Florence sit down and watch ‘Stop Making Sense’ over and over again. I think he’s the one man who honed the stage and the art of performance. He’s amazing and always will be an inspiration. Of course, Madonna as well - she’s the queen of reinvention I think that’s running theme with Florence, Tabitha and I. We’re all quite good at coming up with new things that keep us all excited.
Interview by Kate Allen