Over the last year, pop duo Karmin released their debut full length album on Epic records, left Epic records, and have readied a new non-pop album for release. The moves left a lot of questions unanswered for fans. With the release of their first major independent single, “Along the Road” some of those question started being answered. Nick Noonan and Amy Heidemann were nice enough to sit down with me and discuss their career path from YouTube sensations to major label hit makers to their new label-less endeavors.
When you first started your YouTube channel, did you have established goals for the project?
Nick Noonan Kind of. The biggest established goal was to create a spotlight to let people know that Karmin is a band that exists. Beyond that it changed week to week what we thought we could do or what we could accomplish.
At what point did you realize you could do the music thing as a living?
Amy Heidemann Well, we did go to Berkeley School of Music and we graduated too. So we were sitting there with these bachelor’s degrees and thinking “well, how do we make money?” We both knew we wanted to do this as a job but it was 2008 when we graduated and the recession was pretty intense. Nick was working at a boxing gym and I was a wedding singer. So I was making money doing music but I think that’s why we wanted to start the YouTube channel. It wasn’t as big as it is now but we knew we could access all these people without having to pay our life savings to go on tour.
Once you achieved success, you signed with Epic Records. What made you want to sign with Epic?
Nick Well a few things we did got us some attention with the covers–the biggest being “Look at Me Now” which got us on Ellen. So we started getting attentions of major labels but it was LA Reid more or less. He was just coming over from Def Jam to run Epic.
Amy And its like Michael Jackson‘s legacy label so we thought that’s two good things. I loved LA Reid growing up. He was responsible for Outkast and P!nk and TLC who was one of my favorite groups. So we met with him and we had a lot of meetings; it was a chaotic two months. In the end, he offered us the best deal like he let us keep the rights to a lot of our stuff. But in the end, its always a bit of a battle for creative control.
So you recently left Epic, do you feel you accomplished everything you wanted to from being on a major label?
Nick Oh, that’s a good question. Yes and no. I feel like we hit a lot of milestones: we played SNL, we did the Thanksgiving day parade…
Amy They put a lot of money into us and we learned a lot about how the industry works and how its changing.
Nick We’ve done radio. We know everyone in radio now. There’s a lot of priceless stuff that we wouldn’t have right now if not for Epic.
Amy Yeah, no regrets. We do still think there is a future for Karmin with a label, we’re just not sure how.
What was the hardest part about leaving Epic?
Amy We actually went to see an astrologer because we had run out of ideas. We had asked to be released a few different times and they weren’t really interested in talking about that. We had some success and we had a lot of good friends over there. It was tough. It was like a divorce. So we saw an astrologer who gave us some pointers on when to ask and how to ask. It was a surreal experience because what he told us actually worked. That’s why this new album is so important to us because it is based on the zodiac and things we were going through at the time.
“Along the Road” is the first major single you’re releasing since leaving Epic. Do you think the single could have been released on a major label?
Amy What do you think?
You know I checked your wikipedia page and the first line says “Karmin is an American hip-hop duo”
Nick -laughs- That’s awesome
You listen to “Along the Road” and you would have no idea why someone would call you a hip-hop duo. I understand you’re trying to break out of a box that’s why I’m wondering if you think a major label would have given you the creativity to release a guitar-based song with no rapping in it?
Amy Yeah, and no drums!
Nick The short answer is probably not. The long answer would take too much time.
Amy Too much time! We might have to go to Bed, Bath, & Beyond, I don’t know, I don’t know if we’ll have enough time. -laughter-
Nick Most definitely not and that is one of the biggest reasons we started thinking about life after Epic. It more than just the super autotuned, abrasive, overproduced pop. We got all our attention from doing extremely stripped down, live, one take things and we wanted to get back to that. So far from the diehards, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
So getting back to being an American hip-hop duo, how would you like to see that description changed? Do you even bother categorizing yourselves?
Nick We used to. Because everyone told us we had to. I personally think its great that is says we’re a hip hop duo and you listen to the new song and think “WHAT?” But it’s kind of like the new Kanye and Rihanna single. I love the idea of going in a new direction and changing it up because I think that’s the name of the game. We are a bit of genre whores because we grew up listening to a wide variety of music. So to us its just all music. With this new album, we just wanted everything streamlined. Even if we dabble in different genres, we want it all to feel Karmin.
Amy It definitely is the most Karmin. I don’t know if everyone in the world knows what that sounds like yet but we definitely found it. There were a lot of cooks in the kitchen. We worked with a lot of amazing producers. But when it comes down to me writing the lyrics and Nick producing the music, there is something so special and unique that I don’t know if anyone was willing to take a risk on it before, so we’re going to do it.
So what has the recording process been like for this album?
Nick Its been kind of interesting. Usually it starts with me making a ton of different very rough tracks, four to eight bar loops or if I’m really feeling it, it may be a formed out to a complete song already. At the end of the day or every couple of days, I’ll show Amy and she’ll say yes or no. I collect all the yes ones and then she writes to them pretty much on her own. The ones that don’t work we dump and the ones that work we flush out into a song. We narrow it down that way. Then what we do is we build up the song until its almost fully produced and we get rid of the track and start over again. That is how “Along the Road” happened. We had this fully produced track with big indie drums and gang vocals and everything but it still wasn’t feeling like it made perfect sense.
Amy It didn’t feel honest.
Nick We brought in this friend of ours, an incredible guitarist and we said “don’t think just play” and Amy will sing. So the song was done, we just retuned it.
Amy We also found this cool house out in Hollywood that was actually built by a jazz trumpet player back in the 40s. It has this amazing vibe and the energy of this house has really contributed a lot to the album because we’ve been recording here too.
So the new album is called Leo Rising and you touch on a bit of how it is based on the zodiac.
Amy Yeah, its like how the last album was called Pulses and it was based on monochrome and everything was a color. Leo Rising has 12 tracks and every track is a sign. There’s an aries track and a sagittarius track, and they all fit the archetype. Then there is going to be an art film that we are going to be filming that is scored by the album. It’s going to be crazy, trippy adventure film. It’s very Tarantino-esque. Its basically Nick and I going on this adventure of making the album. The whole zodiac concept just worked so perfectly and I’m finding it really interesting because the more people I’m meeting, I find more and more people are into it.
Nick What’s your sign?
I’m a libra.
Amy We’re a taurus so we get along with you.
So as far as the album goes, should fans expect many more songs like “Along the Road” or more an eclectic mix of hip hop, pop, rock?
Amy There’s not too much rapping. I’m actually surprised with how little rapping is on the album.
Nick Three or four songs have rapping on them.
Amy There are a couple others like “Along the Road” that are super simple production wise and then the rest of them sort of fall in the world of Fleetwood Mac.
Nick We’ve heard a lot of people comparing it to Eurythmics and Fleetwood Mac.
Amy Which is cool because we like both of those bands a lot.
So you guys have a new app coming out and its an innovative concept. Do you want to describe it a little bit and how it came about?
Amy We were like “how are we going to launch this new indie phase?” And we thought “well, its all still about the internet!” So our fans are going to be the ones supporting us through this app. It is basically this beautiful music player where fans will be getting all the latest Karmin songs early. Its not just music, there is going to a lot of exclusives. But the music player is really cool and you can swipe around and you have lyrics and everything right there for you. Its free to download and there is just one of those little ads at the bottom, like if you were playing Fruit Ninja or whatever. The longer you spend in it, you earn rewards like you can buy concert tickets and other things. So its really rewarding fans and helping us to fund our music videos.
So the little ad at the bottom is how you’re making money off of this?
Amy Exactly! And the fans are earning “hearts” which is a form of currency on the app so we’re going to be selling merch and even custom art pieces out of living room. It has a lot of cool features.
So after Leo Rising is released, what’s next for Karmin?
Nick We’re just going to keep creating. We’re in a really good head space right now. We want to start shooting the film in June or July, slating it to come out in the fall. We’re just going to keep going. We want to create videos for all these songs and put them out through the app or our YouTube channel. And just keep the truck going.
Amy We’re probably going to hop on some sort of a tour either this summer or fall, just to promote the album. We’re excited to see everybody. Our live show is probably our favorite part of this job, getting on stage and getting to play this music live.