Q&A With Nina Baker

The one thing I always try to do when I’ve discovered a brand spanking new artist, is letting ‘m know how much I’ve enjoyed their music (video). ‘Cause lets face it, everybody likes to hear a compliment, right? So I did the same with UK based singer/songwriter Nina Baker, after I discovered her music video for ‘Single Bed‘ on Youtube.

Of course I asked if I could hear more of her and boy, was I in for a surprise! She sent me a preview copy of her in June scheduled album release ‘Quite Frankly‘ and let me tell ya, this piano-driven album is one you really should pre-order on iTunes!

So after checking the impressive album, for me it was just a must to get to know Nina a little bit better:

The Dutch Guy (TDG): Can I borrow 20 bucks?

Nina Baker (NB): Of course you can! You seem like a trustworthy fellow, I won’t even charge you interest!

TDG: Can you describe yourself in one sentence?

NB: Softly spoken, tea-drinking, ginger pianist who becomes an angry warbler on stage.

TDG: What are your roots?

NB: I am from a family of Londoners, but just before I was born my parents moved to Norwich where I grew up in the countryside and near the sea. I started off in musical theatre from a very early age, from 7 years old and I was with the same theatre group for 8 years.

During this time I started learning the piano that my grandmother (a.k.a Teapot) bought me and I progressed through all the grades, before studying drama at university.

I never really set out to become a recording artist, my first real gigs were as a singer in function bands, but during the day I would be writing songs. One morning back in 2010 I thought that I would take centre-stage with my piano, and the rest as they say is history. This tale is very similar to the route Lady Gaga took, so here’s hoping!

TDG: How long have you been working on your debut album?

NB: If you include writing time, 2 years. The writing and rehearsing took 6 months – Never underestimate the importance of rehearsing. An important tip for all musicians, do your song development outside of the studio as there is a big difference between rehearsal room and studio rates! We first went to Rockfield Studios for 13 days and laid down 14 tracks, so it was fairly intensive. Three months later I went to record vocals, then there was 6 months of arranging and recording brass, strings, choirs, followed by another 4 months at The Church Studios adding more instruments and mixing and then of course Abbey Road.

So yes, it was a big project and I will be honest, much bigger than I ever anticipated. Another top tip for musicians – Plan how long you are going to spend recording an album and then double it, as that is what will almost definitely happen. I am immensely proud of this album, not because of the reviews (and believe me, these are GREAT – Keep them coming!) but because this is a self-funded album which I co-produced. If someone was to ask me what I have been up to for the past 2 years I would just say ‘The Album’, as it has consumed every minute and every ounce of energy that I have.

TDG: How would you describe your sound?

NB: Piano-lead, blues-influenced, jazz-skiffle-rock-o-pop! I have now given up trying to describe my sound, there are artists that I (sort of), sound like, such as Kate Bush, Amy Winehouse, Alanis Morisette, but I think my unique selling point is my merger of styles. Much like the album when you come to see a Nina Baker show you are taken on a little journey – we take you up, we bring you down and at the end you remember the places you have been.

Most importantly the piano is always up front, not tucked away in the mix. I want people to feel every note, hear every progression. In the past 10 to 15 years the piano has gone out of vogue as an exciting lead instrument – It’s time we brought it back! I was recently likened to a female Matt Bellamy – Which is lovely!

TDG: What’s involved in your songwriting process?

NB: For me the starting point in writing a song is the music. I tend to spend a lot of time tucked away in my room playing the piano & working out chord structures. I never set out specifically to write a song though, I think like most creative things you’ll have moments when everything just fits into place and for me, 2am seems to be the perfect time for inspiration.

A lot of my material comes from my personal experiences/emotions, but I am also influenced by my surroundings and observations. I’ll always have a notepad with me so I can jot down lines and ideas, but mainly the lyrics come to me when I am playing through the chords and humming along with the melody. I’ve had fairly random moments of inspiration though and not at the most convenient times so a trusty voice recorder to make a note when I’m out and about can work a treat. So if you see a ginger-haired girl singing into a phone in the shopping mall lift, it’s likely to be me!

TDG: Which aspect did you enjoy the most while working on your album?

NB: In terms of enjoyment, I think my time working with the Kings Gospel Choir was the most fun. Arranging a gospel choir is very much different to doing backing vocals, so it took 3 months to arrange the parts with them so I was up and down to central London a lot. They are lovely, lovely girls, just great to work with and have MASSIVE voices.

But in terms of highlights, the time working with Tristan Ivemy and John Themis were the best times on the album. Tristan is a music machine, very quiet and humble, but so creative and so meticulous. We had an awful lot of smiles working in the Church Studios and probably tried every restaurant in the Crouch End area! John is one of the loveliest men I have met in the industry, he has unwavering enthusiasm and warmth like I have never seen. He also introduced me to putting cinnamon bark in a cup of tea – It’s good, you should try it!

TDG: Who or what inspires you the most?

NB: One of my all time musical heroes is concert pianist and composer Lang-Lang. Technically his skills are outstanding and I have always been in awe watching him perform. As a pianist he certainly inspired me to push myself to the limit whilst I was training through the grades, but as a performer he also demonstrates wonderful skills in how to capture the audience and keep them engaged – quite an art when you are fronting a concert sitting at the piano! This is something that I am very conscious of when I perform. It is a technique that I have had to work really hard to craft so I have always taken notes intently when watching other artists like Alicia Keys and Kate Bush perform.

I am always driven by artists that have worked their way up from scratch and put in the hard graft, that have experienced the very much ‘non-glamorous’ life of a musician and focused purely on the music, understanding the importance of their fans and sending out a good message to their audience. An artist that I have a great respect for is Frank Turner who has and does work incredibly hard. A brilliant songwriter, performer and all round honest talent.

TDG: How important is connecting with fans for you? What kind of connection do you have or do you like to have with them?

NB: I think it is massively important. This is a very difficult industry, especially as an independent. I could never contemplate not acknowledging and thanking those that buy the music or come and see a show. After every gig I go out into the crowd to say hello, have photos taken, sign CDs….I’m usually the last person to leave. I know that my music is enjoyed by a lot of people, has inspired many and in some cases given individuals hope – I don’t ever think there will be a time when I will stop being grateful for this.

TDG: And social media is a big help in your opinion?

NB: Social media in my opinion has only enhanced the experience for fans and also for artists. Now anybody can talk to anybody so it is a way for me to interact with the world, to correspond with media and of course to get information out there quickly and easily. I am an avid user of Twitter which I use predominantly to speak with people during the day and I try (try) to reply to every tweet that people send me.

I use Facebook primarily to give information such as performances, interviews, radio plays and the occasional photo from shows or something ‘behind the scenes’ that people do not normally see. I try to keep it interesting, without clogging people’s streams with pointless posts – Nobody wants to see a daily video diary from me – Nobody!

I haven’t really got my head around Instagram and Snapchat yet!

TDG: What do you do to stand out from all the rest on social media?

NB: I always try to strike a balance between self-promotion and giving others praise, especially on Twitter. If I see or hear something that I like I will tweet about it, especially other music and other bands. I have no problem whatsoever in promoting and helping others, we are all trying to achieve the same thing, but I do not believe that you need to step over people to get it. Certainly in my experience good karma goes a long way in this industry.

I also try and be positive, and where I can….Funny! I definitely do not use it as a platform to complain or to comment on current affairs, there are enough people out there doing that!

TDG: What is the biggest misconception people have about you?

NB: That I am just a vocalist! The usual comment is ‘Oh you have a lovely voice’, I don’t think the majority understand that I play the piano at the same time, I wrote the songs, arranged the tracks and there is not an hour in the day where I am not doing something for my music. I think in this world of the modern pop star & talent shows, the modern consumer believes that most artists have everything done for them and that they are just the figurehead of a big machine, but I assure you this is not the case!

TDG: Who is currently on repeat on your iPod?

NB: Metallica S&M – The best musical experience I have ever seen. More bands should play with orchestras!

TDG: What’s the best piece of advice you ever got when you started out and you think it would help other aspiring artists/bands?

NB: ‘The more you practise, the luckier you get’ – This is so true, everything you do, writing, recording, playing, singing, stage-craft, interviews, photos & videos, the more you practise and rehearse these the more instinctive it all becomes and the better you will be.

Also – ‘This is a marathon not a sprint’ – Play the long game, don’t expect overnight success. Just build things up incrementally, little steps at a time, and success will come organically and will be built on a much better foundation than those who are looking for shortcuts.

And finally – ‘It’s not about when you do well, it’s how you bounce back from a set-back’ – And there will be setbacks, lots of them. You will miss out on things you really wanted, you will have the gig from hell, you will mess up an interview……Don’t worry, keep calm and keep going.

TDG: 2014 is funky fresh, but what do you have in store for us this year?

NB: After being locked away in darkened rooms for so long, 2014 is ALL about performing and I am looking forward to getting out on the road across the UK and Europe this year, to all audiences, big, small and especially at festivals. This should keep me very busy this year, but I also have a second single release called ‘Bruising’ on 31st March and the full album release on 16th June. There is likely to be a third single release in the autumn and a few music videos thrown in as well – So yes, I will certainly be keeping busy. But mostly looking forward to getting out there and seeing you all!

TDG: Got any last words of wisdom you wanna lay down on us before we wrap this up?

NB: If you would like to know more about what I am up to please head to my Facebook page and give me a LIKE. Thank you for interviewing me!

Check in with Nina Baker on:
Twitter: @NinaBakerMusic
Facebook: facebook.com/NinaBakerMusic
Website: ninabakermusic.co.uk
iTunes: Single ‘Single Bed’
This was presented by The Dutch Guy
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