She has endured an interesting career to date that has spanned four albums, working with big name labels and setting up her own independent label, Idaho. Having collaborated and worked with several big name acts, she is well known for her song writing and producing skills as well as her singing. Now, the proud mother of son, Wolfie, inspiration has taken a different direction as she quickly finished her latest album, ‘Year of the Wolf’, providing an enriching tone motivated by the pleasure of giving birth. Tonight’s show at The Academy in Manchester nears the end of a UK tour that has consisted of big city dates promoting the album. It was an honour to talk such a humble and grounded figure, and I was able to conduct an interview, finding out what the most memorable part of her ten year journey has been, her views on the reality TV shows that surround the music industry, how her degree came about and why she decided to cover one of Manchester’s national anthems, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’.
NIGE: You’re approaching the end of a tour promoting your latest album, ‘Year of the Wolf’, how has the album been received?
NERINA: It’s been good actually. I’m four albums in and I decided to do something a bit different this time and work with a different producer, trying new stuff so it’s been really good fun.
NIGE: What’s been the inspiration for the album and what are the songs generally about?
NERINA: Just things that I’ve always been interesting in writing about, but I was pregnant when I was writing the record so that had an influence on the subject matter, making me feel a bit more emotional.
NIGE: It’s been noted that you changed style between the album, ‘Fires’ and ‘The Graduate’. Have you changed again in your approach to this one?
NERINA: Yes I think so. For me, the thing that stays the same is always the song writing, that’s the core of it. I like to have a new challenge and we had quite an old school approach to this record. We rehearsed and cut it live with the band, doing a lot of it on analogue take, so it had to be right. With modern and digital recording, you do that many takes of songs that it’s hard to make a decision and sometimes you can lose your way. But, I cut this album really fast; I had to really because I was heavily pregnant. I really enjoyed it because it was closer to what I do live and for years I’ve always wanted to record something that has aspects of me live, without doing a full live album.
NIGE: Do you find that you’re maturing as a musician, I know in your own life you’re now married, with a son, which is a maturing experience in itself, but has that spilled over to a more creative satisfaction with your work, felt more so now than with previous albums?
NERINA: I think so. Music has always been important to me, but not the most important thing in my life, which is quite a relief. In a way I enjoy it a lot more now as I think I’m a better song writer and it helps me to put things into perspective; maybe that is a maturity in itself by being able to put my priorities straight.
NIGE: You’ve had quite a career to date, being privileged to work with several big names, in production, song writing or supporting, setting up Idaho records and working with Warner Bros and Universal, but what period has been the most memorable for you so far and why?
NERINA: Good question. I think they are all memorable in their own way for different reasons. It’s hard to say but I think in some ways the most memorable is first signing a record deal ten years ago. I didn’t have a clue what was going to happen and it was so exciting. I didn’t know very much, but the great thing about knowing nothing is that it’s like being a child towards everything. Looking back now, I was so green.
Another memorable night was the night before my son was born and I was recording a song called, ‘Grace’, in the studio, sat there with this big tummy. It was just magic, I can’t explain it. There were about 20 musicians in the room and I just felt like I was on another planet. I was doing the thing I loved most, singing a song that meant so much to me and I could feel my little baby kicking inside of me, and the next day he was born, so that was a really wild twenty four hours. I haven’t got words that could describe that experience.
NIGE: You’re quite involved in producing and song writing, and there have been gaps between albums. Do you see yourself as someone who likes to be associated in all aspects of music, rather than just being the artist, or would you like to have spent a bit more time in the studio?
NERINA: I think it’s down to the fact that I never really have a plan and I’m a bit of a faffer. There was a gap of four years between my first and second albums and the same gap between the second and third, but I’ve got this one out really quickly, for me. I had a lot of songs coming through between the third and fourth album, but I had terrible writer’s block between my second and third, so I went back to University. I never really have a plan thinking, “oh I’ll do it like this,” I just sort of amble through life.
NIGE: Staying on your producing and song writing work, you’ve worked with Diana Vickers from XFactor. How did you become involved in that?
NERINA: When Diana Vickers auditioned for XFactor she sang one of my songs. When she got signed by RCA Records my name came up and it just so happened that her A and R man was a fan of mine and thought it could be a really good combination, so they contacted me asking if I’d be up for it. I don’t really watch XFactor so I wasn’t really aware of her, but it was so cool If I had been watching, she would certainly have been one of my favourites because she’s got an unusual style and is such a lovely person. She came over to the studio where I worked and we had a little chat, I played her a song that I’d written and she loved it, then we put it back together again for her album.
NIGE: What do you make of the reality TV influence as a whole? Do you think it helps or hinders the industry?
NERINA: I think it helps the industry because it’s the only thing that’s really propelling the mainstream. People aren’t buying records like they used to and if it wasn’t for XFactor then the industry would be in a worse place. Having said that, it’s not particularly my type of music that they seem to bring out from these shows. But then again if you’re a kid not growing up in London, and don’t know anyone in the media, it becomes very hard to think of ways to get to London and start a music career, so it does open the door to a lot of people. But I don’t think it attracts genuine talent, just people who want to be famous and there’s a big difference between them two things. I’m glad it exists because it is keeping the music on TV; it’s the only prime time TV show with music.
NIGE: I read your article in the Guardian about the DIY vs the major label debate. What I found interesting was you mentioned that being on your own label helped you to be steadily creative? Why do you think that is?
NERINA: Because you can make up your own timetable. With major labels it’s all geared towards the album and you have to promote that as much as you can until the label think that there’s hardly any legs left. Whereas on my own I was making loads of EP’s, so rather than focus on an album, I’d record a few songs, put them out and then go on tour and that’s always been fine for me to do that. it’s always worked and I really like doing it that way. It can be more cost and time effective to do it that way, by recording a bunch of songs on an EP, tour it, sell it on the road, make a bit of money to fund the next EP, tour again and build it up steadily. For me, that’s definitely worked.
NIGE: I’ve heard your version of, ‘Joy Division’s’, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, which gives a very interesting and different mood to the original. What made you decide to cover this song in particular?
NERINA: I just really love that song and I don’t know anybody who doesn’t think it’s incredible. It’s so dark and the lyrics are haunting. I was just playing around on the piano and came up with a different version and no one could accuse me of making a version like the original, which you can’t do anyway. I started singing it around the time I was going through a breakup so it really made a lot of sense to me. I couldn’t play it in Manchester, no way, it’s too risky!! It’s like the Holy Grail of Manchester.
NIGE: You mentioned it earlier about completing a degree in English Literature. Why did you decide to do that and do you have any plans to take that further in any way by writing literature yourself.
NERINA: I started that degree shortly after putting out my first album and it didn’t do anything. I was thinking long term in case it didn’t work out. I just happened to walk past a London University Open Day and thought I’d see what it’s all about. There were two stands, one for Philosophy and one for English. I walked to the first stand I saw, which was the English stand, and the woman there looked liked a complete lunatic and I liked the look of her so thought I’d go and study English. She told me that there were still a couple of places left for that term, so literally within a week, I’d got a place and started my degree. I did that for a couple of years and made ‘Fires’ whilst studying, but then that album started to get radio play. I was about to start my third year but didn’t have time because I was going on tour. I decided to defer for another year and then another. Once I finished promoting ‘Fires’ I didn’t have any idea what to do, but my degree was so inspiring I decided to go back, and when I was making my third album ‘The Graduate’, that was when I finished my degree at the same time. I do like to write and have done a few features, but I don’t know about fiction, it’s not my driving passion.
NIGE: What next for the future, resurrect Idaho, another album or more song writing and producing?
NERINA: At the moment I’m still touring, but I’m going to be working on a German TV Show, which an English version will be made called, ‘The Voice’, in January, but I’m on the German version. I’m going back in a few weeks time, and in the New Year I’ll be in Berlin for a little while. I’ll promote the album a bit more in the UK too. That’s what’s happening in the near future and then I have to think about song writing for me because I’ve not had chance with all the gigs and promoting, it’s been non stop. So hopefully I can get back into that again soon.