We approached Nina earlier this year and asked her to take part in our 'Introducing' section, she jumped at the chance (who wouldn't?) and we ran a fabulous piece on her.
Since then, she has released her debut album 'Quite Frankly' and is a few months wiser than when we last spoke.
Our very own Mark Wincott caught up with Nina in a pub called The Globe (on Baker Street....Baker.....Nina Baker?) and spent time chatting about tea drinking venues, Kate Bush's policy on no cameras at her gigs and Wilma Flintstone, here's how he got on....
Please introduce yourself and your music in one sentence....
Hi I’m Nina Baker, I’m a pianist singer and song writer, my music is piano based pop with a classical undertone and elements of jazz, blues and rock mixed in for good measure.
What is your first memory of singing or playing an instrument and when did you know that's what you wanted to focus on?
Earliest memory, singing in the school choir. From the age of about 8 I was involved in national competitions. This definitely kick started my love of performing to an audience and I would say helped to build my musical ear and appreciation for classical music.
My first piano was given to me as a surprise birthday present when I was 13 years old. I had no idea what to expect so you can imagine my shock when the blindfold was removed and I saw a lovely upright ... And slightly battered piano in front of me. From that day I was hooked on playing the piano, completely focused. It has moulded my life.
who photographed/designed the artwork for the Quite Frankly album cover?
The illustration was by Katia Hammond, an Anime artist who did my first EP artwork. I love her work and wanted to incorporate her art with live photography. Many things were going through my mind when designing the cover, I wanted it to be very personal, incorporate the real and imaginative, which reflects the diverse style of the album.
Where is your favourite place to drink tea?
That is such a hard question. One of my favourite pastimes is to find new quirky tea shops whereever I am. I have found some great little places. If there is cream tea on the menu, then all the better! Cannot pin point one favourite place ... there are so many!
Being a pianist have you ever thought about playing the intro to Cheers at the start of a live performance?
Wonderful suggestion, if I could incorporate it in some way I may be up for trying that. It is a classic tune.....
You have worked with some big names in the studios associated with the likes of Stone Roses, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Sarah Brightman. How does that help and what did you learn?
The biggest thing I learnt was studio science - The playing and vocal delivery needs to be very different in a recording environment. The person I would most like to thank is Tristan Ivemy who we worked with during our time at The Church Studios. He was such a joy to work with, amazingly creative and a complete perfectionist. His focus on fine detail pushed 'Quite Frankly' onto a different level.
What was your favourite live performance and do you prefer intimate or large crowds either at your own headline shows or festivals?
This year's Godiva Festival was pretty special. It was a glorious day, great crowd and I got to hang out with The Lightning Seeds - What's not to like!
I don't really have a preference where I play or to how many, I have had some brilliant shows playing to 10 people and others playing to 10,000. I actually feel more comfortable the larger the crowd, which is a very strange thing. But you don't really get much of a say how many people you are going to perform to, you just have to get in the zone and deliver a show that is suitable for the environment. It took me a while to realize that the performer sets the vibe, not the crowd, and it is as much about engaging as it is about performing well. I spend an awful lot of time working on "the show".
How did you feel when you were recognised as part of the BBC Introducing and MTV Brand New, has this helped you become more confident as a musician becoming so highly recognised?
As an independent artist, for names like the BBC and MTV to recognize and appreciate my work it really is an honour and certainly gave me a confidence boost. I have had to gamble everything to be able to do this, it's a 24-7 365 days a year job with very little reward so to gain the positive feedback from such critics really does mean a great deal. I do not have an agent, I do not have a PR machine, for me it is all about the music and being true to my creative vision. Knowing that my work has had such a positive impact on those that have listened to it makes all the hard work worthwhile.
What do you feel about Kate Bush returning to live music, do you agree with her policy on no cameras and phones during gigs?
I’m so psyched that Kate is back, it has been a very long break. As a pianist and songwriter she is someone I idolised when growing up. As to taking footage during the show, I can see it from her point of view that she wants to be fully engaged with the crowd. But as a performer, obtaining live footage can be exceptionally difficult as many music venues do not allow professional recording. So I ENCOURAGE people to whip out their phones during a Nina Baker show!
What is your favourite joke what you have heard?
Horse walks in to a bar...the bar man says why the long face....it is so bad it is good and to be fair that is the only joke that I can think of off the top of my head.
You have achieved so much already as a new artist, what do you still have on the horizon with future projects, shows and music?
We've already started putting plans together for next years tour. Since the album release we have had reviews and interest from all over the world, particularly Europe, so looking to take the live show there.
I have also started writing new material, which I'll be focusing on at the beginning of next year. I have had quite a break from writing this year whilst we've been touring the live show and working on the album release, so I'm excited about the prospect of getting creative again and beginning work on the difficult second album!
What are your thought's on social media?
I like Twitter and Facebook and I vary the content on both of these. It is a wonderful way of building up a relationship with your fan base, it's an informal means of others getting to know the 'true' person rather than the 'created' image - What you see is what you get with me and I do all the updates on Twitter & Facebook. It is very time consuming and often I am glued to my computer screen rather than to my piano. It has certainly helped to open more doors for me though so I cannot grumble too much.
I cannot stand daily blog, vlogs and "If you like my page I will post this.....", no sorry, too much. If you are interested in such things then I am not the artist for you.
There are many good bands and musicians out there, who would you ask the readers of musicmuso to look out for?
There is a band from Rugby called 'Go Primitive' who I met at a festival last year. I was tucking into a hot-dog when what can only be described as an apocalypse was heard. We all flocked to see what was going on, a mix of Megadeth meets Placebo, an incredible stage show, great songs and tight as tight can be. They are flying just below the radar at the moment, but deserve big things, they are that good.
First gig you ever went to?
(laughter).....Status Quo, it is kind of a family tradition to go and see them when they are at Wembley. From a very early age I have been to watch their shows. It always fascinated me seeing such an age range of people. With elderly people trying to head-bang and youngsters trying to understand what’s going on. Always an entertaining night out ... Timeless.
If you could read anyone’s diary alive or dead who’s would it be and why?
David Jason – I am massive fan of Only Fools & Horses, I love the humour, classic comedy, I am sure he has so many stories to tell.
You once stated Wilma Flintstone would make the perfect leader of the ginger movement, what does she bring that others couldn’t?
Oh my god what a question...let’s think about this logically. Great survival skills ... naturally ... she is pristine with her looks so she could teach hair and make up. What's not to like?!!!
Most of the female 'musicians' heavily in the spotlight are criticised for how they look, what they wear, what they do etc. Have you ever struggled with your own personal identity?
That’s not something that has ever been my focus, if I am honest, it has always been the music and to be a upstanding and decent person. People get what they see with me. I don’t put on airs and graces or a front, I tend to go for the English rose look, which is me just being me. I still think it is the 1950s and I cannot tan for love nor money!
Do you feel the likes of Ed Sheeran, Ellie Goulding and Jake Bugg are making it more acceptable for young people to be able to be a fully fledged musician i.e. writing their own music and still becoming successful?
Sheeran was busking outside Habitat in Norwich when I first started out - Look at him now! It's worrying that you use the term "acceptable" as to me this is what it is all about, the old fashioned way, writing, gigging, recording - Call me a traditionalist. It is great that these things have had a resurgence, I find it refreshing that it socially acceptable for youngsters to pick up a guitar, violin, bass or sit at the piano and learn more about what they are listening to. But as long as there are the X-Factors of this world, young people will always be influenced in another direction. I cringe when they say "This is all I have ever wanted, I will do everything it takes". Would you be playing in strangers' living rooms for two years, like Sheeran? Or carry amplifiers & pianos up and down stair cases and through crowds of drunkards at 1am like Nina Baker? I think you miss a great deal of education not playing in pubs and open mics, the music that you write and the way you carry yourself is heavily influenced. A lot of popular artists have no involvement whatsoever with the songs they sing, something that I personally find pretty hard to contemplate. I'm waiting for the day that the bias changes and I hope that I can be part of that change.
Have you ever felt pressure to conform to a certain style in order to be more successful?
No never. I'm not going to turn folk, or put a slamming beat behind my tracks (though I have been asked!). I have always been very individual, I try not to be influenced by trends and basically follow my gut instinct. This sounds daft, but I don't really listen to much music - I'm a Radio 4 kinda girl! My classical roots is where my music comes from, It is the foundation of what I do. I like to hold my own style, the music is very organic to me and I want to keep it that way.
It took you 18 months to write your debut album, did you feel that you could have done it sooner?
It took 18 months to record, write and produce 'Quite Frankly', mainly as it is self-produced and self funded. I had to work with the availability of people, studios and of course when there was money (made through gigging and holding down three jobs). The day to day construction of the album was all in my hands, working and arranging all the parts with the musicians and singers before we recorded and then with the studio folk. I think I notched up around 30k miles travelling all over the country in that time and I have folders and folders full of notes.
With experience, of course it could have been done in less time, cheaper and if I did it now it would have probably sounded different, but as my first ever album I think it is pretty solid. I wanted it to be right for me and right for the listener and I think we achieved that. I did put an awful lot of pressure on myself with a 13 track album (and there is more material that did not make the album), the hours were incredibly long, 16 hours a day not being uncommon. But the much publicised reasons to finish this album, and finish it well, were always much stronger than any amount of fatigue.
Did you struggle and pine to get back on the road and how did you overcome the pressure of such a momentous task writing your own music? How does it feel now it's complete?
Absolutely. I spent so much time in the studio ... I didn't see daylight for weeks at a time! We finished the album in August 2013 and then started focusing on the live show and videos, to show everyone what we had been doing. 2014 has been all about performing, we have had a pretty hefty schedule which has been exhausting, but absolutely brilliant. The musicians I work with are fantastic, very skilled and we have spent a lot of time working on the arrangements of each instrument for the live show to really create a full sound and quite different from the album versions. We generally work as a four piece; myself on piano/vocal, Nick Firth on guitar, Christian Nokes on electric bass and James Randle on drums and percussion. I refuse to use backing tracks! If you like live music, please come and see us. We have had some amazing live show reviews, which along with the response to the album, has been very encouraging.
Do you think we can ever live in a world where a chicken can cross the road without having its motives questioned?
That is a deep question. I think it is in our nature to question situations. In an idyllic world I guess everyone would have freedom do as they wished without motives being questioned. If we did not have chickens crossing roads then we probably would not have internet trolls, this would be a good thing. But which of these came first- Bit of a 'chicken and egg' question this one!
What are your plans for the remainder of 2014 and the start of 2015?
I have just won 'Best Song' in the Best Of British Unsigned Awards for 'Single Bed' and narrowly missed out on 'Best Female', so we have a few weeks of running with that seeing what avenues open. We are on the fence at the moment whether to bring out another single before end of the year, we have one lined up, and a video, but I think we are just going to see what happens in the next few weeks.
Festival submissions have already begun and we are trying to sort out a tour in 2015. I am hoping that my recent appearance on the 'Ones To Watch' bill in association with Live Nation and RCA Records will help facilitate this. So if you would like me to come play in your town, speak up, do not underestimate the power that you the listening public have. Without you, there is no industry.
After they had finished their drinks, Mark took Nina to the Sherlock Holmes museum and whilst searching for some elementary, he thought he'd drop in a few quick fire questions....
Coffee or Tea? Tea
Coke or Pepsi? Coke
Drum machine or the real deal? Real deal
Mac or PC? PC
Fry up or Sunday roast? Sunday Roast
Lemmy (Motorhead) or Ozzy (Black Sabbath)? Ozzy
CD or Vinyl? Vinyl
Car or Motorbike? Car
Acoustic or electric? Acoustic
Shower or Bath? Shower
Tattoos or Piercings? Errmm ... Neither
Robert de Niro or Al Pacino? Robert de Niro
God or Google? God
We'd like to thank Nina for sparing her afternoon to come and meet us and take part in her 2nd 'Introducing' feature, we look forward to catching her live again soon.
Interview by Mark Wincott
You can catch Nina Baker playing live, click HERE for dates and venues