Karmin Told Us So: From Youtube to Epic Records
They don’t wanna brag, but we already know…Karmin has been dominating pop music lately, and kicking manufactured pop to the curb. With my recent article about women in music and the “song machine”, covering Karmin for a week was eye opening.
The press was still rolling after Rethink Music, and I had the pleasure of phoning into a conference call with Karmin and Epic Records, all while sitting in a coffee shop on the street where they started out: Newbury Street.
While it was exciting to speak to Amy and Nick about their success, blooming from Boston, it was really great to discuss their upcoming album, Hello. I was super pumped to join in on the conversation, and a big thank you goes out to Epic Records for including me! Who would’ve thunk that just a few years after taking classes in this area, the two would be where they are today? I think Amy once used the term, ‘amazeballs’ to describe it. I think I will go with that as well.
Here’s the scoop for all Karmin fans…from Karmin’s songwriting skills, Amy Heidemann’s hair and makeup, how Nick and Amy met, and what the future holds for them!
Please note that this was a conference interview, so items not specified by me may have been asked by others.
Some may be skeptical, seeing that the duo became famous covering other artists. But, fear not, Heidemann and Noonan were fully capable of songwriting on their own.
“It was a challenge, we have to say,” Heidemann said. “We started posting original music on YouTube before the covers became a reality and nobody was really searching for a little duo out of Boston with a wooden box and a piano”. She explains that they wrote songs that could then fit into many genres, and by the time they were signed to Epic Records, many of the songs were ready to go with producers. “There were some songs we composed solely for the purpose of the album when we went into the studio. A lot of them were collaborations with some of these amazing producers and (…) Claude Kelly”. Both she and Noonan worked to maintain their originality and songs, while still fitting into the mainstream world.
This is a very daunting topic to many artists, for fear a record label will change their artistic vision, or at least encroach on it.
“We understand our fans and supporters can’t be with us in the studio when we’re deciding to do things, so we’re being really careful,” said Heidemann.
“This is a good example. Sometimes people will show up to a photo shoot with a rack of clothing and they’ll pull something off the rack and I’ll look at it and I’ll say, ‘That’s second album’. I know where we’re headed so we’re able to hold back to a certain extent, to keep it relevant for this stage in our career”.
Both Noonan and Heidemann agree that they are lucky to be working with L.A. Reid, who understands their background as musicians.
Still, many wonder where the rap influence came from. And we’re not talking a little line of rapping here or there. This girl is an incredibly fast rapper. Just watching her rap sent my mind reeling to keep up. I couldn’t.
“I grew up loving rap music but coming from a conservative Christian household, I wasn’t allowed to listen to a lot of what we would consider legit rap music”. She adds that Noonan finally convinced her to post a video of herself rapping on Youtube.
Yet, she has only been rapping for about a year. And on top of the work to keep their music heard via Youtube, it was a challenge to stay afloat in Boston as a duo. (Another one of their very early albums can be found here.)
Heidemann explains, “I have to say, I heard New York is a lot more difficult and Los Angeles, but being in Boston it’s a very large student population so we lost our fans every three or four years. They would move away. After opening for a couple of the larger bands in club scenarios, we realized that a wooden box and an acoustic guitar wasn’t really standing up against the metal rock scene in Boston so we started performing on the street”.
Some of you may remember them performing on Newbury Street, with a guitar case and some CDs. They cite that as their most successful performances in Boston, as tourists would constantly be visiting the street. They also performed for community events and opened for other bands they knew.
Speaking of Newbury Street…
One day, Heidemann found herself walking down Newbury Street and saw an ad campaign for Bebe where the model was wearing this hairstyle.
Of course, this is the suicide roll, a 1940s style. A friend at MTV told her it was a suicide roll, so she made a Youtube tutorial. It turned into something larger than she ever thought.
“It’s a fun style. I’m just very inspired by everything vintage!” Heidemann said.
As for makeup, turns out the girls in her high school dance team would ask her to do their makeup. She was active within the community with the musicals, speech contests, and poetry readings. And now? She cites MAC and NARS lipstick, Lancôme art liner, and amazing eyelashes as the key to her beauty routine.
As to how they met, Noonan answers this one. “[We hadn't] had a conversation until the very end of our freshman year, but we played in a couple of shows together. I was the trombone kid and they asked me to do a bunch of (songs) being the trombone guy in the section. Then they asked Amy to be the singer or the backup singer for a lot of stuff because she was known as being some hotshot singer on campus”. He laughs. “She always hung out with the gospel crowd and everything, and I always just kind of hung out with the weird horn players. I was kind of more like the weird jazzhead”.
The two went away for the summer but hit it off at a party the first week of their sophomore year. As for the wedding? This has been a whirlwind year for them, after all.
Noonan explains, “Well, we were planning on getting married on 9/10/11. Clearly, it has passed 9/10/11 and we are not married, so…it was just a comedy of errors, dude. It was literally ten days before the wedding. I didn’t have a tux yet. We didn’t even know how anything was going to happen”.
My big question for them was about their song “I Told You So”. I was immediately intrigued when I heard them perform it on SNL.
I enjoyed the feel of the song quite a bit..what was that? Harmonic minor? I was curious as to what the influence for the song was, musically, and the lyrics.
Heidemann jumps in. “Oh, that’s so awesome. I’m glad you like that one. We have a music video for that coming out very soon. ‘I Told You So’ (…) Nick and I wrote it completely by ourselves working with a producer (from) Atlanta. We came into the studio and he was kind of working on this beat and we were like, ‘Wow! That kind of reminds us of ‘Look at Me Now’, which was our big viral video hit.”
“We decided to bring in the acoustic guitar and the trombone, which I think are the two main elements of Karmin, at least in the YouTube era, and we just started messing around with different parts. We wanted it to be aggressive and like you said, the Middle Eastern sound, I’ve always been obsessed with that sound. Studying those progressions at Berklee and stuff we (thought) this would be a really cool musical hip hop homage to ‘Look at Me Now’, so we started doing that. Nick put some trombone down and then obviously, the rhymes just started flowing”.
And what is the message in “Hello”? (This is possibly my second favorite song on the album).
Heidemann answers again. “‘Hello’, we wanted it to kind of tell our story. We had gone through a lot of stuff and we can’t bring our fans and supporters with us every step of the way, so we tried to tell the story in the verses. In the choruses, we kind of wanted to get some of our pride out because we were like, ‘You know what’? We actually could be like the next big thing and we want people to know that'”.
“We used to have a joke where we were like, ‘Hey, we’re you’re new favorite duo’. It’s kind of a cocky thing to say, but we were like, ‘Hey, nice to meet you and we’re awesome and (…) that’s kind of the story it tells(…) We think you’re going to love our music”.
Karmin definitely leaned more into the pop music with their album, Hello, and Noonan adds, “Everything is very rhythmical leaning and, of course, there is a lot of rhyming”.
“We were actually lucky enough that L.A. Reid loves our writing. We wrote and recorded like fifty songs for this release and then the ones he ended up picking were I think…three or four of them we wrote 100% just by ourselves. That’s a pretty amazing feeling”.
As for their first single, ‘Brokenhearted’, they explain that they wrote the song because Claude Kelly said they needed a song about them, but they wanted to write songs about fans and motivating people. He wanted them to write a love song, so they wrote about how they met at a party in college. The next day, neither of them called the other, and Heidemann was pacing, checking her phone every five minutes.
“It’s funny, the word ‘cheerio’ kind of popped out when we were just recording it and Claude was like, ‘Hey, Amy, I need you to do a really good end to the song this time’. I’m the kind of person that will just say something really silly to break the tension in the room,” says Heidemann. “So that’s where that came from”. The album talks a lot about the lessons they’ve learned, comments on their supporters, and drives a strong message.
“I think one of the best lessons is to not listen to the critics or the haters. One of the hardest things to deal with when we started uploading YouTube videos was all the people saying nasty things about us or whatnot. As soon as you get over that and stop listening to it, it’s like the entire world opens up to you. It’s really crazy,” says Heidemann. “And there’s the whole bullying thing going on now. I think that’s just another way of saying you really can’t listen to (them). I know there are so many great efforts going on to prevent that in the future. Yes, it’s an important thing…just not letting that stuff get to you and moving beyond it”.
A great message for kids and aspiring musicians!
So, who do they hope to work with in the future?
Amy chimes in that she would love to work with Kanye West, and that Nick would like to work with Chris Martin.
Karmin’s most memorable moments so far:
1: “When the video blew up, we had a two hour sit down with Kanye!”
2-Performing at the iHeartRadio festival, and meeting many other great musicians.
You can also check out their new rendition of ‘Brokenhearted‘, where they perform it as more of a ballad.
The album, Hello, drops on May 8, and I will have a full review of the album then!
What do you think of the ‘Daringest Duo’?