An Interview with NINA
Returning with yet another EP release to entice us before her (hopefully imminent) full-length release, UK pop singer NINA unveils what may very well be her most intimate, personal work to date. Veiled in a sweet, comforting haze of 80s’ synth nostalgia and catchy melodies, the German-born artist guides us through her experience with high-school bullying, taking a firm stance and reaching her hand out to its victims through her cathartic performance and hope-filled lyrics. For those who’ve yet to have NINA’s music on their musical radar, we seized the occasion to catch up with the artist, who was kind enough to give new listeners a formal introduction to her music as well as some context for her latest release One of Us, all the while putting us under the spell of her bubbly character and irresistibly radiant vibe.
To start things simply: for those who don’t know you yet. Who are you?
My name is Nina. I’m originally from Berlin but I’m now based in London since 2004. I make Synthwave/Synthpop music and I’m really into the eighties!
How did you first get into music?
I’ve always been really interested in singing. I got a bit more serious when I was about 18, when I had a chance to go on tour with a famous German singer. I toured Europe as a backing singer. That’s when I started to get a first feel for concerts, live sessions and performing for large audiences. That’s when I realized that this was it; this was going to be what I would to do for the rest of my life. From then on, my focus was always on music: writing, collaborating, meeting people in the music industry, going to shows, meeting other artists…
Now you’re cited as being a singer and songwriter. Do you write exclusively your own music or does this mean you also write for other artists?
At the moment I only write my own material. I’m open to writing for other artists as well but right now I don’t feel like I would have the time or focus to work for other artists. I am solely writing for myself. I’m still relatively new on the scene with this project and it’s also the first time that I’m the lead singer. Obviously, before that I was hidden away safely in the background, so this is all still relatively new for me. With that being said, I really enjoy it and I’m very lucky to have a great team around me. We work really well together. Along with my drummer Laura, we write a lot together with different worldwide producers, including Oscillian, Sunglasses Kid and Richard X.
Having worked as a musician based in Germany and the UK, how would you compare both scenes?
I actually get asked that question a lot. It’s a good question, because both scenes are tremendously influential. Berlin is mostly known for the deep electronic techno scene and London has a very distinctive UK sound that everyone instantly recognizes. It was nice growing up in Berlin, with iconic bands like Alphaville and Kraftwerk before moving to London in my late teens, as it allowed to me develop a feel for both sides, which enables me to mix it all together in my music.
One thing I find quite interesting about your project is how the 80s’ touch in your music has a distinct American feel. What drew you towards the American 80s’ popular culture as opposed to German or British 80s’ references?
I don’t think it was necessarily something that we were planning, we just go with the flow and whatever feels natural. I am a huge fan of American 80’s acts like Blondie and Michael Jackson and of course American movies from that time. It just naturally merged and evolved that way I guess.
I was namely referring to the Drive references on your album sleeve - namely the pastel-pink font - and with the Jacket you wear your latest music video. The whole 80s’ “palm trees and neon lights” imagery feels quite distinct from the typically British strain of 80s’ culture.
I grew up watching Miami Vice and I’m a big fan of Jan Hammer, his song ‘Crockett’s Theme’ was huge. When I think of Synthwave, I think about longing for sunsets, palm trees, nostalgia… and I think it all comes form there. Drive was a huge inspiration for me getting into the Synthwave scene. The scene is still quite small but growing very quickly.
Next I want to talk about your new EP/Single release “One of Us”. First off, who or what does the title refer to?
The single ‘One of Us’ is about a personal story that I’ve gone through when I was in High-School, something I wanted to share with my fans and people who might have gone through the same ordeals. I was bullied in High-School, and I went through a really rough time. I isolated myself and I didn’t want to speak to anyone about it because I was embarrassed. The message of the song is to reach out, to not be afraid to ask somebody for help.
The B side, ‘Counting Stars’, is a narrative about two lovers making a pact. It’s about eternal love beyond time and space and it’s a bit more of a slower Synthwave track.
We’ve got four remixes as well, all very different from one another. We’ve got one by Angger Dimas which is pretty hardcore, I hope people will like it as much as I do. We’ve also got a ‘disco’-like remix from Douglas Holmqvist who did the Pinout Game Soundtrack. I’m super excited, it’s been a year since my last release so it was about time to release some new music.
This release was co-written with Oscillian. How did the songwriting process unfold when writing these two tracks?
So we’ve had these tracks for about a year now. It can be a slow process sometimes! It started out with Oscillian sending me a beat that I really loved. We sat down and started writing out ideas for the track, and I had this subject in my head that I wanted to write about, the experience I had in High-school, which ended up becoming ‘One Of Us’. The lyrics flowed and we just went back and forth with Oscillian, updating the track, adding better sounds and working on the arrangement. I’m also always thinking about how I will translate the track to a live situation, and in fact, we tend to play a lot of demos during our live sets, to try them out with our audiences.
We recorded all vocals at the legendary Metropolis studio in London, which was a great experience. It was pretty much the same process for ‘Counting Stars’, except it happened a bit later. Typically, I start out by writing a poem, or something more abstract inspired by a dream or past experiences. Or sometimes it’s purely just a narrative, like ‘Counting Stars’.
This musical project of yours carries a heavy Synthwave sound and aesthetic. What is it that you love about the 80’s aesthetic?
I think it’s all about the sweet memories I have as a child: the long drives, the songs that played on the radio, bands like Depeche Mode and OMD. I’m not sure whether it’s because we have that connection to this era from having lived through it or whether it was just a bloody awesome time period. There’s nothing like it, that’s for sure.
Last month you performed in the Retro Future festival in the UK, a festival dedicated to Synthwave and retro-themed music. One interesting feat of the Synthwave scene it attracts a lot of younger generations, some of whom might not have known the 80s’. What do you think draws these people to this old aesthetic?
That’s very true, it’s a very good question. You’re right, the scene’s young Synthwave producers haven’t necessarily lived through that time. But it doesn’t really matter, I wasn’t born in the 50s or 60s and I still appreciate the amazing songs and aesthetics from those decades. It comes to show that there must be something about it. I think it’s the typically 80s’ sound of analog synths that moves people.
I’ve read that you play the synth. What models of synthesizers are you into?
I own a Roland Gaia SH-01 which sounds amazing and is easy to travel with. It’s very easy to save your own user patches and settings and has a cool D Beam function, which is great for live shows. I’m pretty new to it so I’m still experimenting with new sounds. I can’t dive too deep into the tech-nerd talk, but I love analog sounds in general. I’d love to get a Roland Juno one day.
What are your plans following this release? When can we expect a full-length album?
The album is pretty much ready, we want to try to release it by the end of this year. I’m not sure if there’s going to be another single release beforehand, but all of the songs are recorded and pretty much ready to go.
Touching upon our closing question: could you name one of your favorite albums, movies and books?
I can never pick one single movie so I’ll name a few. I’m a huge fan of Back to the Future, I also love Big with Tom Hanks, The NeverEnding Story, Labyrinth…
In terms of albums, I’m a big fan of The Doors. One of my favorite albums is the The Doors. I also love Violator by Depeche Mode.
I’ve got quite a few favorite books. I’d say Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I really cannot wait for the movie to be released. Hopefully the movie will live up to the actual book.
Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to add?
I hope people will come to the gigs! It’s going to be a really cool party at the Retro Future festival this month. If anyone is based around London, do come over. It’s going to be a dream night for 80s’ fans. Checkout my other tour dates on my website. I also would like to say thank you NewRetroWave for the support over the years!