Happy hump day, people! If ya want some necessary procrastination this week, imma grace ya with the utter embarrassment I made of myself when I met my utter pre-teen hero, Nina Nesbitt, and interviewed her for the lovely people at Redbrick Newspaper.
Akin to how some gals get a lil obsessed with Taylor Swift at the exact same time they’re finding out what it’s like to have a crush, I became obsessed with Scottish singer-songwriter, and all round hit-maker, Nina Nesbitt. She wrote songs that explained how I felt when I passed me crush in the school halls, she documented what it’s like trying to find your own identity and a place in the world as a young teen, and she’s the inspiration behind 12-year-old Maddie picking up a guitar for the first time. I learnt practically every single Nina Nesbitt song on guitar, and was practically ready to become an impersonator. If only I could do a convincing Scottish accent, eh?
Well, flash forward to late 2018, and here’s 21-year-old Maddie immediately regressing to the age of 12 the second she meets Nina to interview her. I hope you have a good chuckle on a Wednesday eve. Enjoy!
[If you want to check out the finished article, pls head over to Redbrick Newspaper now!]
On with the interview!!
They always say ‘don’t meet your idols’. I’m pretty sure they also say ‘never make a fool of yourself in front of said idol by coming across too fanatic’. This article comprises of I, interviewer, making a fool of myself in front of interviewee, Nina Nesbitt. But it isn’t difficult to see why Nina’s music has captured the hearts of millions worldwide (with 4 million monthly listeners on Spotify and 41 million plays alone on her single The Best You Had). This woman’s journey from Scottish schoolkid to international musician is striking.
It’s Saturday night, in Digbeth. It’s absolutely freezing, and there’s a line of excitable fans queuing up outside the O2 Institute that stretches further than the eyeline can carry. Nina is supporting fellow Scot Lewis Capaldi on his headline tour. An hour later, and Lewis’ fans are swaying like Autumn trees blowing in the wind to Nina’s breath-taking acoustic set. There are renditions of old favourites like Stay Out, an Ariana Grande level of falsetto with a Britney cover and some tasters of her new record, such as Loyal To Me. And I’m screaming the lyrics to every song in an attempt to stop thinking about how much I’m bricking it to interview the very musician who made me pick up a guitar when I was a young teen.
When I meet Nina, I’m led through the packed crowd, round to the backstage door, escorted through security and brought into Nina’s dressing room by her tour manager. Nina smiles a warm smile and extends her arm to shake my hand. Forgetting I’m supposed to be seen as a journalist here and not a fanatical student, I find this gesture slightly formal. But as soon as we sit down to chat all things music, and as soon as I let slip she’s been one of my idols since my early teens, Nina starts chatting to me like we’re old pals. Whilst all the while the fifteen-year-old in me is glowing with happiness.
Maddie: How’s the tour with Lewis going, then?
Nina: Really good, yeah! I’ve only done three shows so far, but it’s sort of stripped back, chilled out and there’s been some really good crowds!
Maddie: How did you find the crowd tonight?
Nina: Yeah, they were alright! They started off not very loud, but it’s weird because I’ve just come back from a month’s tour in America which was very much a pop tour. The guy I was supporting was very energetic and I was there with a band, too. There was a lot of interaction, but coming on at this tonight, it’s just a different crowd- more of a listening crowd! I’m like ‘come on!!’, but by the end they were good!
[I mentally worry that Nina may have heard me screaming the lyrics mid crowd.]
Maddie: Birmingham crowds are always good crowds! Are there any places in Brum you’re dying to visit seeing as you’re passing by?
Nina: I like the Bullring. It’s probably the most obvious thing to say, but I like the Bullring a lot because it has lots of shops- and lots of food.
Maddie: See that’s the thing! I’m at university in Birmingham and all I do is spend too much money in the Bullring.
Nina: Oh god, I know! I’ve stayed away this time!
[This is when I wonder how awesome it would be to go on a shopping spree with Nina, in Brum. Fan girl status: approved.]
Maddie: Your direction with music has definitely developed from what we’ve seen so far- Loyal To Me has that RnB-infusion, 90’s Britney vibe!
Nina: A lot of people say that with the Britney thing!
Maddie: What made you choose to change direction with your music?
Nina: The song is a one-off. I wouldn’t say the whole album sounds like that. There are definitely hints of RnB in the album and that’s because I moved to London and I was exposed to more sound than I was in my little village in Scotland. I grew up with mainstream pop and acoustic stuff, and then moving to London there was RnB, rap, so much grime, all sorts of music! I just love how people tell their story through music. I just wanted to tell my story through different sounds! I suppose Loyal To Me is the most RnB, but that one I originally wrote in mind for someone else, because I also write for other artists. I kind of imagined Little Mix or some other girl band with this track at first!
[I’m now hoping and praying for a Little Mix/Nina collab.]
Maddie: If you could cite one musician who made you pick up a guitar and sing for the first time, who would it be?
Nina: It was actually Taylor Swift, when I was 15!
Maddie: I think most girls have that phase!
Nina: Yeah, it’s just such a special album at the time and it still is. I learnt all her songs and then taught myself song writing through that!
Maddie: The storytelling aspect of Taylor’s music definitely speaks to a lot of young girls, and I think with your music as well, it has that same quality. This is a bit cringe, but I’ve got to say that you were my Taylor Swift: you made me first pick up a guitar and learn.
Nina: That’s so sweet! Ah, that’s lovely to hear!
[I now worry I’ve gone too far with the ‘you were my Taylor Swift’ comment.]
Maddie: So, speaking of getting into music, what was the first ever song you wrote?
Nina: The first proper song I wrote was called Standing On One Leg- I wrote that a month before I wrote Noserings and Shoestrings which was the first song I ever put out to the world. So yeah, I wrote songs when I was 10/11, but they weren’t real songs. I mean, I wouldn’t say Standing On One Leg and Noserings and Shoestrings were my best songs either, but they were real songs!
[I contemplate telling her Noserings and Shoestrings is one of my favourites, but don’t want to come across too much like an obsessive fan, so keep it quiet on that one.]
Maddie: Well, working in the music industry with a creative team around you, there’s a lot of considerations behind an artist, such as management and the record label. Has it ever been difficult to stay true to your vision of how you want your music to sound or how you want your image to look?
Nina: Yeah definitely! Definitely after and during the first album. I was on a major label so it was a completely different situation. And I was a child as well! It was like ‘oh, we can’t sexaulise her because she’s 17, but we also want her to be pop and go out to a mass market’, and it’s like…
Maddie: It’s almost like, how can you be both?
Nina: Yeah! And although people tried to say, ‘oh, you can do what you want’ I ended up being shelved for two years. I couldn’t even put music out, let alone make music, so that was a confusing time. People were like, ‘oh, you should be like this, you should be like that’ or they’d see a sound that was doing well and they’d tell me to jump on it and by the time I left [the industry] I was like ‘fuck this’. I’m not a mini-this or a female-this, I’m my own person.
Maddie: That’s the thing about creativity. So much of it is about self-expression, and it’s so subjective! How can someone tell you what to be if it’s all opinion?
Nina: Exactly! That was annoying. But I’m really lucky now, as I’m on an indie label!
Maddie: What would your advice be to someone who’s trying to make something of themselves in music?
Nina: I’d say to know what you want, now more than ever. There are so many artists that have a great voice and look great, but they have no idea what they want. There’s so many things you have to think about now, such as branding yourself, writing songs that are somehow unique, the visuals you present… there’s so many things. I just think it’s so important to have a clear sense of who you are. If you don’t know, that’s fine- just take the time to learn. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get the time to develop because I literally left school and was thrust into the industry! [Nina was noticed by none other than Mr. Ed Sheeran]. I had to work out who I was in front of people. So don’t be impatient, go for things at the right time, when you know exactly who you are. Sometimes you only get one shot with labels, and I think first impressions are really important.
[I immediately take a mental note of this advice, for the moment when I ultimately launch my career as a Nina Nesbitt tribute artist, of course…]
Maddie: I think I know what you’re going to say for this one, but: what is the most important element of a song to you? Is it the storytelling through the lyrics, the catchy melody or something else?
Nina: To me, it’s the lyrics!
[Got it right; fan alert.]
Nina: After the first album, I started collaborating with people a lot, and everyone else did the melody first, something that I never had done! It makes sense, though, because a lot of people don’t speak English in the world, so the melody is what they’re going to feel! So now I really do think about melody as equal to lyric, if not more so, sometimes.
Maddie: Have you had a favourite gig to date?
Nina: There’s been so many gigs that have been great in different ways, but recently my favourite was Toronto! This girl ended up lying on the stage, which was strange. We ended up doing karaoke as well! I’d never been to Canada before, and we had a sold-out show in Toronto- I was like, how are these people even here?!
[I immediately wish I was at said gig.]
Maddie: I feel like this is asking you to pick between children, but if you could pick a favourite out of all the songs you’ve written, which would it be?
Nina: Probably The Best You Had, because I like the chords, melody and lyric! Or, Is It Really Me You’re Missing, from the upcoming album!
[The Best You Had is one of my favourites; tell me we’re not practically soul sisters because of this.]
Maddie: And finally, can you give me any sneak peeks about the new album?
Nina: Yes! So I have a collaboration with Jonas Blue coming out on 9th November, which I’m really excited about. The album itself is featureless; I just wanted to bring out an album that was real and honest. That’s coming out on February 1st! And then after that, I’ll remix songs off the album with features- I already have some sorted for next year! There’s some more music videos coming out, a US headline tour and a UK headline tour planned. And more stuff will come!
Maddie: That’s so exciting! You must be constantly thinking ahead?!?
Nina: Yep, we’re already on next Autumn!
I leave Nina’s dressing room after a hug (cementing we’re bezzie mates, clearly) a selfie as a memento and the satisfaction of having met one of the idols. I immediately purchase a t-shirt from the merch stand (a collab with Ellesse, the sports brand, hello) and wander back through the grimy streets of Digbeth with a big old smile on my face.
Thank you to the people at Redbrick Newspaper for this opportunity.
Nina’s album, The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change, is out 1st February! Go listen, peoples!