Karmin Talk Debut Album ‘Hello,’ Rapping + Their Hopes for the Future
Karmin are on the brink of dropping 'Hello,' their first-ever album on a major label, and PopCrush was able to catch up with the duo prior to its release on May 8, 2012.
En route to a show in Missouri, Ill., real-life couple Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan discussed how they met, balancing their relationship with their professional careers, the music they grew up on, and their hopes for the future.
Amy and Nick also go into detail about the overall sound of the album, rapping and alter egos, as well as the inspiration behind their latest hit single 'Brokenhearted.' Check out our exclusive interview with Karmin, who are some of the nicest, most down-to-earth people we've had the pleasure of talking with.
How did you two meet at Berklee?
Amy: I'm from Nebraska and Nick is from Maine, and I think we both got scholarships to go to Boston for college. So we ended up meeting freshman year. I think we met at a concert we did together -- Nick was a jazz trombone player and I was just one of the string artists at the school. We kind of spoke to each other, but we didn't start dating until sophomore year.
How did you come up with the name Karmin?
A: Karmin is actually a name that we sort of invented. We were trying to figure out something other than just the regular, you know, Sonny and Cher, like Nick and Amy. We thought that was a little boring, so we went for something [else]. So "carmen" with a "c" in Latin means "song," and then we found the word "karma" and we kind of fused the two of those together.
Is it ever difficult balancing your relationship with your professional life?
A: Absolutely. A lot of people said we were crazy at the start for having a relationship and trying to have a band together, as well, but we feel really lucky that it's worked out. It's definitely not perfect 100% of the time, but we've been able to grow together. Nick and I happen to be very similar people. We were actually born a few days apart and we're both left-handed, so we're both very creative and [it's] something about the stars aligning.
As a whole, how would you describe the sound of 'Hello'?
Nick: So we took from a lot of different influences when we were writing it, but it's definitely very hip-hop influenced -- like big drums up front. Even though 'Brokenhearted' is more on the pop side, we still made sure it was very bottom heavy and the drums are really in your face. Everything kind of has a strong hip-hop vibe, you know, very strong pop forces and then usually a lot of rap in the verse or in the bridge. We just kind of wanted to sonically grab your attention.
Did you guys co-write a lot of the songs?
N: Absolutely. We touched every single one of the songs. A couple songs we wrote completely by ourselves and a couple of the other ones we co-wrote with Claude Kelly, who actually also graduated from Berklee. He's co-written 'Grenade' by Bruno Mars, 'Party in the U.S.A.' by Miley Cyrus -- some big songs.
How did you first discover that you can rap?
A: Oh my goodness, rapping has always been a muse for me. I grew up in Nebraska with a conservative family and I was not allowed to listen to music with a parental advisory sticker on it, so I was always just really hungry to hear rap music but I wasn't allowed to listen to it until pretty much college. Going to Berklee, we got a lot of culture. I mean, Nebraska doesn't really have a whole lot of hip-hop, so I learned a lot at college but never really had the guts to rap myself until after we graduated and started doing the YouTube stuff.
Our thing was we were covering all these songs off the radio and rap and hip-hop are such a big part of Top 40 music now, and eventually we had to rap. So somehow, I found my rap voice and people enjoyed it thankfully. But it was really scary the first time!
Your inner rap star seems almost like an alter ego, which a lot of female pop stars have nowadays. Have you named yours yet?
A: We definitely will. I think it's something that we'll be revealing on the second album, because the first one is just so much of telling our story, I think we're just gonna stick to just the regular identities of Nick and Amy. But I have a feeling that alter ego might surface in an album in the future.
What other kinds of music did you grow up on?
A: Oh my gosh. Anything rhythm and blues, R&B, that I could get my hands on. I remember watching 'Ricki Lake,' which I also was not allowed to watch but somehow I was able to watch it this one day, and I saw this girl group on there called SWV -- it means Sisters With Voices, and they were this girl group under Puff Daddy back in '90s, when he still was Puff Daddy -- and I was totally, totally amazed by their singing style and their fashion and I went out with my allowance and I bought SWV.
And in the same kind of genre was Bryan McKnight and Mariah Carey, who I had obviously heard of, so I bought as many [albums as I could of hers]. And I got a bunch of Whitney Houston that day. But I just became obsessed with rhythm and blues, and I think Brandy, who was one of my favorite singers growing up, I used to imitate her a lot. 'The Boy Is Mine' might be the best song ever made.
N: There was always music on in our house, especially when we had to do chores, which was all the time. So there was a lot of classic rock, actually a lot of musicals too. I actually had the entire musical 'Les Miserables' memorized by the time I was 8 years old. It's so good. I loved it! A lot of Billy Joel, a lot of Elton John, a lot of Beatles, a lot of Doors. I pretty much listened to a lot of classic rock through high school, and then was also studying jazz trombone, so [I listened to] jazz all the time. And then [Amy and I] both really got into hip-hop around the same time.
Do you play any other instruments on album? You're usually seen playing keys...
N: Absolutely. Like I was saying, I studied trombone and that's what I was playing when we met. So there is trombone all over the album, and then there's that drum thing called the cajon that's on there as well, which we're going to incorporate into our live performances eventually. So yeah, those and the keys.
A: I actually play guitar. I started playing a couple of years ago, so I'm not very good at it. We actually have an awesome guitar player that we bring to our shows and have play in our band. What I do, I love playing guitar -- that's how I write a lot of music. And I took piano lessons for many years as a child, but I'm the worst piano player you'll ever meet. For some reasons I just could never figure it out.
Are you collaborating with any other artists on the album?
A: No collabs on this album! L.A. Reid was like, 'You know what guys? Your music is so strong and it's your first big big release, so why don't we just keep it down to Nick and Amy?' We did talk about having features, but we have a feeling the second album will have some really fun features. Like, we love Busta Rhymes, we love Nicki Minaj, but we'll just have to see where that goes.
The 'Brokenhearted' video has such a sad ending, and the song is deceptively happy. Can you talk about the concept behind the clip and the song?
A: So we were in the studio with Claude Kelly, who co-wrote some of the songs with us on the album, and he said, 'You know, Nick and Amy, you need a song about you guys and about your relationship in real life.' And we were like, 'Well, that's boring. Who wants to hear about that?' And he asked us to tell our story, and we started talking about how we met, and it's really funny. We met at a party and basically nobody called the other person the next day. It was horrible. Like we were both too proud to call and ask one another out. So we wanted to write a song about that and kind of how vulnerable we felt the next day. So, you know, the next day [thinking], "Why isn't the other person calling? This is horrible." And you sort of start over-thinking it. You're always checking for texts and stuff.
Watch the Karmin 'Brokenhearted' Video
I was in the vocal booth singing the chorus and I was like, 'This is so sad, but there's something uncomfortable happy about it too.' That's where the "cheerio" came from. It just sort of popped out when you're just like by yourself and second guessing everything and you have to do something to kind of break the tension. So "cheerio" just kind of popped out as a joke like if you were in your room alone totally embarrassing yourself.
So, where do you guys see yourself in five years?
A: We celebrated our one year anniversary on April 12 of uploading the 'Look at Me Now' cover. It was really fun to try and think back on all of the things that happened this year. We feel very spoiled and grateful for everything. I think if that was one year and you know things continue to get crazier, five years from now could be quite the adventure. I think our goals are to keep putting out music that we love and that our fans love and try to tour the world. That's the big goal. We're hitting a lot of American cities this year, but we'd love to go abroad to Japan and pretty much all of Asia and Europe and try to meet some of the fans out there too.
Do you guys plan on recording any more YouTube covers?
A: Yeah a lot of people have been asking that and it's awesome. The only reason we haven't been posting cover videos is because we have to focus on these songs. There's so much with the record label now and touring and visiting radio stations. It gets crazy but I think we're going to be posting more covers in the future when things start to get more regular. And we also plan on covering ourselves... if that makes sense. You know [the] living room, webcam-style, acoustic performances of all the songs on the album. I think it would be a fun way to show people we can still do that too as well as the big full band stuff.
You have such a signature style, Amy. Who are some of your style icons?
A: I would say pretty much any of the vintage babes. The '40s, '50s and '60s. And then there are some current people who are rocking the vintage-inspired looks. Gwen Stefani is such a strong female figure because she has a lot of masculine aspects to her style but she has all the vintage stuff and she can also be girly in a super sexy '40s way. I think she's one of my favorites.
And then I also love Janelle Monae because she's so classy. My hairstyle is actually partly inspired by the pompadour she rocks. I mean, Bruno Mars too, he's got a cool retro hairstyle. I saw the suicide roll on a poster at a store on Newberry Street in Boston a few years ago, and I thought, 'I really want to do that to my hair.' It's gone through an evolution. It started off really small and it keeps getting bigger, and luckily now we have hair stylists that can teach me how to really do it the right way. I don't know, I just like rocking it and we get a lot of compliments on it too!