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Interview: Nina Nesbitt on new album, UK tour and songwriting

We caught up with the UK singer-songwriter ahead of the release of her second album next month.

Nina Nesbitt
Cooking Vinyl

The last few years have seen significant change for singer-songwriter Nina Nesbitt.

Originally from Scotland, she learnt to play guitar aged 15 and began writing and recording songs in her bedroom and uploading videos to YouTube. Her debut album Peroxide was released in 2014, and she’s also written songs for artists including Jessie Ware and The Shires. Now she’s back with her new record, The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change, which features a radically different sound.

I caught up with Nina to talk about the album, her songwriting process, new single Colder and her experience working in Nashville. Read on to find out more…

Your new album comes out next month – what can you tell us about it?

I’m really excited for it to come out. I feel surprisingly calm about it. It’s a 13-track album called The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change, and it’s basically just an open diary of someone in their early 20s and all the things you experience. Whether it be relationships, career ambitions, mental health, your friend having a baby – there’s all sorts on there.

It’s a very different sound to the last record; there’s a strong 90s pop/RnB and electronic influence. Was that something you’d consciously wanted to move towards?

Yeah, I think it’s just a lot of experimenting. After the first record I actually made a really poppy record that never came out, and I realised after that it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. So I wanted to find a happy medium where I could still write stories that were personal to me and do the whole storytelling thing but do it through pop music. I’ve tried to find a balance with that on the songs. I think it’s still very lyrical and my original style but it’s just a current sound and poppier process.

Were there any songs that were particularly easy or particularly difficult to write?

I was basically just songwriting for other artists for a while, and the album kind of naturally wrote itself. So the writing was actually very easy, but some of the production was a bit tricky. I wrote Loyal To Me originally for somebody else, like a girl band or something, and obviously I’m not a 90s RnB artist so to try and find a way of doing that style was quite difficult. I got the chance to work with an amazing producer called Fraser T Smith, who’s produced Adele and Stormzy and all these big people. Working with him was amazing. I learned a lot from him and I think we managed to include that slight RnB sound into the album.

What was it like going from writing for and with other artists to writing for yourself? Was it quite a smooth transition?

Yeah, basically this album was my passion project at nighttime. So I’d do sessions during the day – kind of like a job – and then I’d get home and from about 10pm til 2am I’d just set up in my home studio and write these songs for enjoyment really. I feel really creative at nighttime. So it was just a bit of fun really. And then I learnt production through that and produced The Moments I’m Missing on the album. I just really enjoyed being in my own space. And then all of a sudden I had an album, and then I continued finishing it off with sessions.

Is there anybody you’ve particularly enjoyed co-writing with?

I loved working with Jessie Ware. I think she’s just such an inspiring woman. She’s an amazing singer, amazing songwriter, and she had literally just given birth and went on tour with her baby around the world. She’s like actual Wonder Woman. So she was an amazing artist to work with. I’m really proud of that one. The Shires were really cool too because that was literally my first cut. It was three country songs, and it was just a new genre and a new thing for me to try out. I really enjoyed that as well. So they’d basically be my favourites.

Has your approach to songwriting changed since the last album?

Oh yeah, definitely. Something that I discovered after the first record was the majority of people listen to melody over lyrics, and I listen to lyrics over melody. I didn’t even think about melodies on the first album – I just made melodies to fit the words. So I was definitely a lot more melody-focused on this album, which is why I think people are saying it sounds a lot poppier. But a lot of people don’t even speak English in the world, so I need them to at least be able to enjoy the melody. So I thought more about that and I think it’s made the song better technically. I think I’ve got two ways, where I enjoy writing the pop songs in studio sessions and collaborating with people but I also enjoy sitting at home and pouring my heart out over a piano [laughs].

Do you ever get writer’s block? And if so how do you deal with it?

Oh my God yeah, all the time. When I’m not writing a lot I just switch off. I can go three months without writing songs. But I think genuinely the best way to write a song is to write every day, because the chances of you writing a good one are obviously quite high if you write every day. It’s something that I think you get better at the more you do it. Sometimes they just arrive out of nowhere but I think the more you do it the better.

You’ve mentioned you produced The Moments I’m Missing – is that production side something you’d like to do more of in future?

Yeah, definitely. A lot of it’s the equipment you have and stuff. I’m just about to buy some vocal amps and stuff – I won’t bore you with the details, but it’s something I’d definitely like to get more into. It’s something that I’ve learnt is a proper science and takes a lot of years of learning that, so it’s something that I’m developing over time. But I definitely enjoyed doing that.

What have been the best and most challenging things about being an independent artist?

I was really apprehensive to do it, because the label that I’m on had never had another young female pop artist. I kind of like to go somewhere where I’m like. ‘OK, I can see you’ve done that with someone similar to me’. But I think you have to take a risk sometimes and I’m really glad that I did because they’re an amazing team to work with. I think the most important thing is being with a team that’s passionate about you, and they all work so hard and they’re genuinely passionate. So I think I’ve been really lucky. And I also think the way the industry’s going, you don’t necessarily need the whole major label thing as much as before. I’d never rule it out but where I am now, I really enjoy working with the team I’ve got and creatively it’s amazing. I just sort of hand the music in and then we figure out how we’re gonna put it out together.

You’re going on tour in the UK in April. What can people who are coming to see you then expect?

Obviously the visuals have been quite a big part of this album, and I’m hoping to bring that to life on the tour somehow. I’m still planning that. Obviously I’ll be playing the album so hopefully people will actually know the songs now, and a couple of old ones of course. It should be a good tour. It’s almost sold out as well, so I’m really excited for it.

What have you learnt from touring and being on the road over the years?

That you will have horrendous breakouts [laughs] and lose any muscle tone and become really lazy, because it’s impossible to be healthy! But you kind of take it in your stride.

You’ve mentioned the visuals for the album – what was the inspiration behind those?

I’ve always felt really creative beside the water for some reason. I wrote the album title lyrics at a pool, actually. I just love water and I love how it looks on camera, so I knew I wanted to include that. And the logo, I wanted it to be a lotus because I think it represents the journey of the album – something that grows in dark muddy waters and then blooms into something beautiful. And I thought, ‘I’ll merge the two together’. I had whole Pinterest boards up, and then one day I was watching TV and I saw the Gucci Bloom advert. I don’t know if you’ve seen the one in the water with the flowers. And I was like, ‘I am gonna steal that!’ [laughs] So the Colder video’s been inspired by that.

The album artwork is basically to remind people that the world is always beautiful around you but you don’t always see it. I was originally actually fully submerged but I decided to be above the water so it was a bit more uplifting. It’s kind of all about that, so it took a while to plan.

Can you tell us a bit more about the Colder video?

It was that video that was inspired by the Gucci Bloom advert. I just wanted to have a music video where I could bring the artwork to life, and I knew that was gonna be the song that came out around the album so it made sense to do it for that. I wanted to set myself a challenge with every video, so that one was like the underwater challenge because I’m terrible under water. The next one was Loyal To Me was the ballet challenge, which was very hard. And then the next video coming out is on a very large animal, so it kind of just set off this trend of doing things that are really difficult which I’ve never done before.

Has there been any reactions to the new music that have surprised you? Are there any songs people have responded to maybe in a way you didn’t expect?

I put out a song called Best You Had last year. The reaction to that song was absolutely crazy. I literally thought ‘this’ll set the tone for the album’ and it’s a ballad. Next thing you know it’s at 50 million streams and on Taylor Swift’s playlist and I was like, ‘what is happening?!’ So now I feel like you just don’t know. You have no idea what’s gonna do well and what’s gonna take off. I think Loyal To Me did well at radio and Best You Had did really well at streaming. It feels like different songs have different purposes.

What was it like being championed by Taylor and Chloe Grace Moretz?

I’m obviously a big fan of both of them. Taylor Swift’s actually the reason I picked up a guitar when I was 15. I learnt her whole Fearless album. So to then come full circle and be on her favourite songs playlist was really surreal and really cool. I think she’s such an amazing artist and writer and businesswoman as well – the way she’s veered her career over the years. It was just really nice.

I know you’ve done a bit of writing in Nashville – would you ever consider doing a country record?

You are literally the second person to ask me that today! [laughs] Yeah, I definitely would be interested in it. I feel like it’s something I’ll do when I’m like 30 though, I don’t know why [laughs].

What’s the one song you wish you’d written?

I Will Always Love You, sung by Whitney Houston and written by Dolly Parton. I wouldn’t like to sing it though, I’d just like to have written it.

What does the rest of 2019 look like for you?

I’m doing a US headline tour pretty much straight after the album comes out for five or six weeks, then the UK tour and then we’re going to Australia and Asia. So basically just a year of touring. But there’s places I haven’t been before so I’m really excited to see them.

Is there anywhere you’re particularly looking forward to visiting?

I’m really excited for America, obviously. I’m really excited to do Australia and Asia because I’ve never done that, and I’m trying desperately to go to Japan because that’s my dream.

Nina Nesbitt’s new album, The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change, is out on 1st February.

See Nina live on tour in the UK this April:

8 April – Thekla, Bristol
9 April – Rescue Rooms, Nottingham
10 April – SWG3, Glasgow
13 April – Manchester Academy, Manchester
14 April – The Wardrobe, Leeds
16 April – O2 Institute3, Birmingham
17 April – Islington Assembly Hall, London

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