German born NINA took the synthpop world by storm, releasing her debut ‘Sleepwalking’ in 2018 and lending one of her early songs ‘My Mistake’ to a Mercedes-Benz advert, alongside landing support slots with DE/VISION, ERASURE and others.
Clubbing together with Canada’s PARALLELS, she toured America, creating a wild audience eager to hear more from the gifted Berliner.
And so comes ‘Synthian’, not only superbly titled but also delivering a more mature, darker tone to NINA’s repertoire.
The songstress shares the achievement with her collaborator, Laura Fares aka LAU and producers of note such as Oscillian, Richard X, Till Wild and Ricky Wilde. As described by NINA, “‘Synthian’ is the bigger and bolder sister of ‘Sleepwalking’. It’s more mature and daring”.
Indeed the title track is very deep and brooding, with catchy poppy synth line, eloquently dispersed with acute guitar and a longing vocal, preparing the listener to be taken onto a retro journey with a difference. The following ‘Automatic Call’ picks up the tempo quite stunningly, arpeggiating away while carrying the wonderfully produced vocals, to achieve a perfect synth gem.
‘Runaway’ glides over the scales, entering the retro world with ease, showcasing that NINA at her best with some gentle help from Ricky Wilde. A big fan of Wilde’s sister, NINA loved collaborating with her talented brother: “Ricky comes up with the most beautiful melodies and harmonies. I loved working with him. He’s humble and patient”.
‘Unnoticed’ is a romantic cry for love from a lost soul, wrapped in a cosy electronic blanket of greatness, showcasing the German synthpop queen as the owner of the most incredible voice as well as one that can write mesmerising tunes.
‘The Calm Before The Storm’ continues the serene tempo, while ‘The Wire’ brings out those darker, harsher tones; it’s deliciously deep and expresses deeper thoughts.
“It’s about feeling disconnected from the world” she said, “Losing a sense of being human and having a deep desire for the human touch”. One may say the track was written to describe the world of today, where that loss of connection has become more apparent than ever; the synthy pandemic anthem, you could say.
The cute ‘Love Is Blind’ meanders around the retro musicality and layered vocals, while ‘Never Enough’ ushers further nostalgia leading into ‘Gave Up On Us’, whose mesmerising arpeggios are deliciously uplifting; it’s like going back in time, roller-skating along the promenade with a Walkman and pink bubble gum.
The closing and very apt ‘The Distance’, delves into NINA’s personal life, describing her experiences with a long distance relationship. “‘The Distance’ is about a long distance relationship and how true love can span miles and beyond. It has a more cinematic approach; heavily inspired by the likes of M83 and WOODKID. It’s a very personal song. A lot of people are being apart from their loved ones right now and can probably relate”.
Indeed the later than anticipated release of the opus, couldn’t have landed at a better time. More placed than it ever would be, NINA wishes to bring some light and hope into the uncertainty of current situation, so difficult for many.
And if your wish was to “make people feel better through music and offer some kind of hope”, then you certainly did just that. A superb album.
From her early single ‘My Mistake’ and its use on an advertisement for Mercedes-Benz to support slots with DE/VISION and ERASURE to her own joint headlining tours of North America with Canada’s PARALLELS, the rise of NINA to become The Queen Of Synthwave has been remarkable.
The German-born songstress has successfully straddled the line between synthwave and synthpop, thanks to her exquisite retro-fusion of New Wave and electronic pop
As with her debut album ‘Sleepwalking’, NINA has created its eagerly awaited follow-up ‘Synthian’ with silent partner Laura Fares aka LAU, while producers Oscillian, Richard X, Till Wild and Ricky Wilde have also put their stamp on a number of tracks.
Although NINA’s popwave is still more than evident, this new record unveils a darker aesthetic and an air of cyber-expressionism. NINA spoke to The Electricity Club from her home city of Berlin about her continuing musical adventures.
Guessing by the title ‘Synthian’, it doesn’t sound like you’ve gone rockabilly or anything, how would you describe the album? It is a natural progression from ‘Sleepwalking’?
I see ‘Synthian’ as the bigger and bolder sister of ‘Sleepwalking’. It’s more mature and daring.
‘Synthian’ also explores the depths of love, desire, spirituality, the duality of the human condition. Unity vs Isolation.
‘Sleepwalking’ was a long time coming for many reasons but if you include the touring you’ve been doing, ‘Synthian’ has been a comparatively swift follow-up?
Yes, we’ve been super busy touring the US and Canada twice and playing shows all over the world, so I guess two years isn’t all that long. We actually wanted to release ‘Synthian’ early in 2020, but had to keep pushing it back for various reasons, which was a little frustrating but we’re finally getting it out there.
They often say that a debut album documents a whole life while a second album is sometimes a snapshot of less than a year?
I feel like ‘Sleepwalking’ was definitely a reflection of a lot experiences I’ve made in my younger years, while ‘Synthian’ took all those memories, shook hands with it and created a new Universe.
‘The Calm Before The Storm’ could be described as being quintessential NINA, the title almost seems to be capturing your anxieties before the making of a new album, was it like that for you?
Yes, it’s like I knew what was coming before it happened. ‘The Calm Before The Storm’ is about feeling lost. Wanting to start over. ‘Synthian’ is definitely the beginning of new ‘uncharted’ ideas.
What is the creative dynamic with Laura Fares aka LAU when you are writing?
We usually listen to a beat (mostly by the incredibly talented Oscillian) and throw out some ideas. It’s usually a lot of “blah blah’s” and “bluh bluh’s” before words start to unfold 😉
We often take words from my poems and turn them into lyrics. I then start recording the idea. I feel like something magical happens when you first record a song.
It’s that fresh and undeniable emotional connection with a song you sometimes have; it can never be replicated. So we often stick with the original vocal takes.
You’re working with Oscillian and Richard X again, how do their methods differ for you that provide enough creative incentive while also being comfortable in their environment?
Working with Richard X is super inspiring. He’s so focussed and I’ve always been a fan of his well-known collaborations with ERASURE, GOLDFRAPP, PET SHOP BOYS and NEW ORDER etc. I have huge respect for him and his “Black Melody”. He works very fast and is very easy to work with. I’ve written ‘Unnoticed’ with him in his home studio in London.
With Oscillian, I feel like I’ve found a friend. We really get each other. It’s like we circle around the same Celestial sphere. So writing and recording ‘Synthian’, ‘The Wire’ and ‘The Distance’ in his home studio in Sweden was comfortable and familiar.
How did Ricky Wilde become interested in working with you? Are you pleased with the end result?
This is actually a very sweet story. I was at THE MIDNIGHT’s gig in London and Ricky’s friend Lee approached me and said “You’re NINA right. My friend Ricky is a producer and loves your music. I think you should get together and write songs”. That’s it! We met up for a writing session just a few days after our first encounter.
Ricky comes up with the most beautiful melodies and harmonies. I loved working with him. He’s humble and patient. I’m very proud of the two songs we’ve written together with LAU, ‘Runaway’ and ‘Gave Up On Us’. They’re very catchy and uplifting. I’d love to meet his sister Kim one day and tell her what a huge inspiration she’s been for me growing up.
The opening title song has a real widescreen atmosphere that sets the scene, what is the song about?
‘Synthian’ is a love note to my fans for being so incredibly supportive. I gave them the nickname a while back and mentioned to Oscillian that we should write a song about / for them.
‘Automatic Call’ is a great uptempo tune that has got a lot of positive reaction?
Yes, ‘Automatic Call’ has been a very popular track. I really enjoy performing it live. I like how upbeat it is while the lyrics are rather gloomy in contrary.
‘The Distance’ is quite an apt title in these strange times?
‘The Distance’ is about a long distance relationship and how true love can span miles and beyond. It has a more cinematic approach; heavily inspired by the likes of M83 and WOODKID. It’s a very personal song. A lot of people are being apart from their loved ones right now and can probably relate.
What are your own favourite songs on the album?
It’s impossible to choose! I love them equally. I will say that there are standout moments. ‘The Distance’ is clearly very romantic, while ‘Synthian’ has a joyous spirit to it.
‘The Wire’ touches a darker side. It’s about feeling disconnected from the world. Losing a sense of being human and having a deep desire for the human touch. I really enjoy the darker synthwave vibes.
You’ve opted to make a bonus instrumental version of the album available again like you did with ‘Sleepwalking’? Are they reworked or the backing tracks that you vocalised over?
They’re the original instrumentals without my vocals.
Do you feel aggrieved that some listeners want your music but not necessarily your vocals?
Well, it’s all part of my creativity. All aspects of the songs honour my musical cosmos. It’s a mood thing. Either way, you’re hearing me. I love instrumental music and am particularly proud of the producers I work with. So, it’s cool to shed light on the intricate details of their arrangements. There’s allot of teamwork going on.
You’ve continued your collaborations with other artists like FUTURECOP! and MOONRUNNER83, are there any more on the way you can tell us about? Is there less pressure for these productions or more?
I’m working with a few different producers and artists right now, all to be revealed soon. And I’ve recently started to collaborate with RADIO WOLF, who I became friends with while on tour with PARALLELS in 2018 and 2019. He’s a very talented producer, songwriter and musician and I’m so excited to share our creation with everyone soon. It’s very New Wave / Rock ’n’ Roll.
I’m always exploring new territories in music, I like thinking big and beyond. Collaborations are definitely something I really enjoy. I am also working on material that is very personal and individual. There may be a ‘lone wolf’ NINA record down the road. Anything is possible, that’s how I roll!
At this point in time, you are due to open for OLLIE WRIDE in London, surely you two are destined to duet together sometime in the future? 😉
How do you know we haven’t already? 😉
Ollie is great! I have so much respect for him. Truly a one of a kind artist and all around human being.
So has the lockdown made you more creative or more reflective? What are your hopes for the future?
It’s made me both! I’m making use of the time I have and being very productive. My heart goes out to everyone who is going through a tough time. I hope I can make people feel better through music and offer some kind of hope. Uncertainty is always scary, but we will prevail if we stick together in spirit. Until then, we have ‘The Distance’. We’ll make it through and it won’t break our hearts!
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to NINA
While it appears to have been a comparatively quiet 2019 for NINA, she has been busy touring the US and Canada with PARALLELS as well as recording.
At the start of the year, there was a brand new song called ‘The Calm Before The Storm’ which was coincidentally released during one of the coldest wettest spells in England. Then in the Autumn, she teamed up with FUTURECOP! for a collaboration entitled ‘Against The Tide’. But with the year almost up, the London-based Berliner has unleashed the vibrantly appealing magenta splash of ‘Automatic Call’.
Developing further her bridge between synthpop and synthwave, NINA told The Electricity Club of her new creation: “’Automatic Call’ is about the challenges we encounter when going through a break up and how hard it is to let go and finally move on.”
Uplifting but melancholic, the song is the result of another collaboration with Oscillian who produced seven songs on NINA’s 2018 debut long player ‘Sleepwalking’. The producer was also responsible for the song’s ‘Grand Theft Auto’ inspired cityscape video.
“Oscillian filmed, directed and edited the video as well as producing the music” NINA said, “We were inspired by synthwave aesthetics, late night driving, highways, LED lights, and we used a vintage Dodge Challenger car in the video. As soon as we started to film, torrential rain started and didn’t stop all night. Luckily we did have cover and in the end, it all played in our favour, as the light reflecting on the puddles on the ground tied in really well with the overall feel of the video.”
But getting intimate with her romantic leading man provoked some unintended amusement as “there was a scene where I had to get really close to Tommy, the other actor in the video, and we just kept giggling. It was very hard to keep a straight face.”
While it appears to have been filmed is Los Angeles, the location of the video was actually a bit closer to home; “We filmed ‘Automatic Call’ in Sweden over 2 days. We discovered Tommy, the actor in a club in Malmö when we played a show there and he looked like he just came out of an 80s movie” NINA remembered, “so we approached him there and then and asked him if he wanted to be part of my music video. He loved the idea right away, even though he didn’t have any previous acting experience, so he flew from his home in Finland just to do the shoot.”
‘Automatic Call’ comes from NINA’s upcoming second album ‘Synthian’ due sometime in 2020.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to NINA
‘Sleepwalking’ is the long-awaited debut album from the classically trained German songstress NINA.
With a musical palette shaped by a love of QUEEN, DEPECHE MODE, DAVID BOWIE, ALPHAVILLE, KRAFTWERK, NENA, CHROMATICS and LADYHAWKE, it contains some of her most personal work yet; “I think it’s important to keep your work personal and evolve as an artist” she told The Electricity Club.
Since her second single ‘We Are The Wild Ones’ in 2013, Berlin-born songstress NINA has grown in profile and stature.
Support slots with ERASURE and DE/VISION followed in 2014 but it was her third single ‘My Mistake’ that became her breakthrough song.
Beginning the long player, nocturnal warmth exudes from ‘Beyond Memory’, demonstrating how NINA’s own brand of pulsating electronic pop acts as a bridge between synthwave and synthpop. With her vocals deliciously slicing the moonlit atmosphere with a superbly breathy chorus, ‘Beyond Memory’ is about past relationships. A close relative of the Mercedes-Benz endorsing ‘My Mistake’, ‘Beyond Memory’ more than makes up for its absence on the album.
Meanwhile, ‘Born To Live’ is embroiled in confidence with a soaring chorus recalling AVEC SANS, sweetened with a highly alluring almost spoken middle eight à la KID MOXIE, while the synth line recalls the rather obscure ‘There Goes the Cure’ by ONE DOVE.
Full of arpeggiators and pulsating synths, ‘Sleepwalking’ is a vibrant number that paces the mood to a gallop, with a delightful keyboard cascade finish. Bubbling electronics over a sparse intro lead into the nocturnal synth AOR of ‘It Kills Me’. With piano also entering the fray, it’s not unlike Toronto’s very own electronic pop combo PARALLELS.
The previously issued B-side ‘Purple Sun’ does what it says on the tin, is it a love letter to PRINCE or something else entirely? The layers of backing vocals might provide a clue…
The drive-friendly ‘Empire Of Love’ lifts the tempo again with a glorious whirring ULTRAVOX-styled synth solo to buoy up proceedings, but at the opposite end of the album’s colourful spectrum, ‘Diamonds In The Rough’ is a perfect Brat Pack movie ballad, while also emulating some of the best in Scandinavian pop overtures and allowing NINA’s soprano to shine. And although “everybody’s here, they’re having fun”, a forlorn NINA reflects on not fitting in… cut from a similar cloth, the cinematic Nordic pop of One Of Us’ is heartfelt, Fraulein Boldt’s musical catharsis about school bullying.
And when she is ‘Counting Stars’, the song utilises vintage synth sounds to the max, both rich and retro-futuristic with “a mission on our own” like classic PET SHOP BOYS. ‘Your Truth’ is more compelling neon-lit synth AOR, with another rousing chorus and some guitar inflections combining with those vintage love theme Emulator voices as she confirms “I’ll be there for you”.
For a fabulously optimistic conclusion to the album, ‘80s Girl’ comes beaming over like the missing theme song from the film ‘Mannequin’. With big Simmons drums, sampled orchestra stabs and driving synthbass triplets, it is however delivered with subtlety and restraint so that it doesn’t turn into a HEART or STARSHIP pastiche. Dedicated to her mother, it’s great song that sums up the best in NINA. And in a telling message to everyone, she declares “don’t let the past hold you back”.
Yes, it all does sound like a John Hughes film soundtrack but that’s not a bad thing. A highly enjoyable musical journey that’s strong on melody, Richard X, Oscillian and Sunglasses Kid have each done a very good job working with NINA to produce a cohesive body of work.
A positive album for outsiders and individuals, NINA is a songstress who speaks for the lonely and disenchanted without going all Emo. It’s been many years in the making, but NINA’s ‘Sleepwalking’ has been well worth the wait.
In modern electronic music terms, London-based Berliner NINA is the crucial link between synthpop and synthwave.
With a musical palette shaped by a love of QUEEN, DEPECHE MODE, DAVID BOWIE, ALPHAVILLE, KRAFTWERK, NENA, CHROMATICS and LADYHAWKE, she released her first single ‘Take Me Away’ in September 2011 on Aztec Records.
After a second single ‘We Are The Wild Ones’, NINA achieved her breakthrough with ‘My Mistake’ in 2014; the song was picked up by Mercedes-Benz the following year for a worldwide TV and radio advertisement campaign. Meanwhile, opening slots on tours for acts like DE/VISION and ERASURE gained her further momentum.
After a long gestation period, with the singles ‘Beyond Memory’ and ‘One Of Us’ acting as tantalising teasers, NINA’s debut long player ‘Sleepwalking’ is finally about to be unleashed.
Trailed by the album’s title track, it is a wonderfully moonlit pop number with a Eurocentric sensibility that will also act as perfect to soundtrack a West Coast night drive.
NINA kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about the making of her ‘Sleepwalking’ album and how she has applied various life experiences into her evolving artistic expression.
Your debut album has been a long journey, but you’re there at last…
I know it’s been a long time coming but I’m a perfectionist and I didn’t want to release something that was only halfway there. The whole songwriting / recording process takes time. And Oscillian, who is our main producer, is based in Sweden, so it does slow things down a little. But we’re all very proud of the finished product.
Previously released songs ‘Beyond Memory’, ‘One Of Us’ and ‘Counting Stars’ are on the album while ‘My Mistake’ and ‘We Are The Wild Ones’ are not; was it a difficult process to decide which of the older songs to include to provide a familiarity point for those who are curious, while keeping it fresh for your loyal following which you’ve gained over the years?
Absolutely, some tracks are quite old now and I feel like I’ve matured and moved on since then. Those singles are still available in digital stores worldwide. But our team has changed, so we tried to focus on the newer tracks we wrote, which fans love just as much.
It’s a very melodic album, both vocally and instrumentally…
Yes, it’s all about the melodies for me. We like strong harmonies for most sections of the songs. Lots of dynamics, and interesting arrangements too, and it needs to be something you can sing along to and remember. I guess this is where my love for pop comes into the equation!
The album features four different producers but you’ve managed to get a continuity running throughout…
We were very adamant about the sounds and the vibe we wanted for this album. It had to all sound coherent and I’m glad we achieved that. All producers involved have that strong 80s synth influence that I was after.
How would you describe each of the creative dynamics when working with Oscillian, Richard X and Sunglasses Kid?
For this album, we mainly worked with Oscillian. He’s based in Sweden, so he flew to London and I went to Sweden to record vocals over the years, but a lot of it was done over the distance, on long skype calls! It’s a very organic process with him, and we inspire each other a lot. We’re already working on my second album.
Richard X is a legend and really understands how to make a great song, he’s had so many commercial worldwide hits, and the quality of his production is world-class.
Sunglasses Kid used to be my neighbour in North London and we’re both signed to the same label / publisher, so we met a few times. We also tend to play a lot of the same synthwave festivals. A collaboration seemed like the natural thing to do! Two great songs came out of that, ‘Beyond Memory’ and ‘80’s Girl’.
The atmosphere is very filmic, how much have you been influenced by film soundtracks, in particular by say Giorgio Moroder and Vangelis?
Yes, I think that’s because of the dynamics in my songs. In some way I think both Moroder and Vangelis influenced my music, as they were pioneers in this genre. We’re looking at releasing the album instrumentals as a deluxe digital version, as a lot of fans have been asking for them.
Did you have any particular go to synths to get the colours and textures you desired for this?
Oscillian mainly used soft synths like the Oberheim OB-X and Korg PolySix for the album. And I used my Roland Gaia.
I’m also a big fan of detuned analogue synth sounds, so we included some of those sounds too.
You’ve described the album as being more personal than your past work?
It certainly is. ‘One Of Us’ is about me being bullied in High school, ‘80s Girl’ is about my mum and her struggle of being a single mum in Berlin in the 80s and ‘Beyond Memory’ is about one of my past relationships and how I got my heart broken. I think it’s important to keep your work personal and evolve as an artist. I do love writing narratives too but it always comes back to something I can relate and connect to.
The ‘Sleepwalking’ title track is vibrantly neon lit but there’s real emotion in there.
Yes, the beat is pretty uplifting but when we wrote the lyrics, we were thinking about how we subconsciously become protectors of the ones we love and care about, almost as if we were a hunter in a trance, or sleepwalking. It also talks about how people can dramatically change throughout a relationship.
The serene ballad ‘Diamonds In The Rough’ is very heartfelt, that could have come from a Brat Pack movie, in fact you can visualise Rob Lowe and Demi Moore 😉
It’s my favourite track of the album. A very good friend of mine wrote most of the lyrics. It’s about falling in love for the first time. I actually played this track at my mum’s wedding in Las Vegas a couple of years ago. Those were a very emotional few days, as we’re very close and this song represents the true essence of happiness you can find with someone.
Which were your favourite Brat Pack movies and was there a particular actor or actress you could relate to the most?
My favourites are ‘The Breakfast Club’ and ‘Mannequin’. I’m a huge Andrew McCarthy fan. I can mostly relate to Molly Ringwald in ‘Sixteen Candles’. I get all shy and awkward when I like someone. That movie is hilarious.
What’s next for you?
I have a few shows lined up this year to promote the album, which I’m very excited about. We’ve also started to work on my second album, which we’re hoping to release early next year. I won’t take 5 years this time! Promise 🙂
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to NINA
She also appears at Retro Future Fest II on SATURDAY 28TH JULY 2018 at 229 in London alongside VINCENZO SALVIA, VHS DREAMS, WAVESHAPER, PLAYER ONE, THE DEPARTMENT and many more, tickets available from http://www.wegottickets.com/f/11337