Musicmuso approached Nina Baker to see if she would be up for an interview on the site, she naturally saw the merit in doing this and was kind enough to set aside some time to answer some questions, here's how it went….
Please tell the readers of Music Muso about yourself…
NB: Hello readers. I’m Nina Baker, I am a pianist (see how I highlighted that first?), singer and songwriter. From Essex stock, raised in Norfolk and live in the Midlands. I have been likened to a young Alanis Morrisette on a piano or a REALLY angry Kate Bush!
Quite Frankly (Debut album) will be released in June this year, what was the process of this to finally get it out there?
NB: It was clear in my mind when we started recording the album 2 years ago (yes, 2 years ago, this has been a very big project) that I wanted to make a proper listeners album, the sort of album that you listen to from start to finish at full blast in a car or quietly in the corner of your sitting room. The fashion at the moment is to bring out EPs, which from a financial and risk perspective makes perfect sense, but I think it is sad that the industry has moved this way as I don’t think you can beat a great long player, even in this world of digital media.
All the songs were written and well rehearsed before we got anywhere near a studio. Being a self-funded album there was no opportunity to mess around and working shifts we probably did 15 hours a day in the studio. The backbone of the 13 songs on the album, including vocals were recorded in 13 days. It was the additions such as strings, brass, choirs that took the time. I was very much part of all of this and spent 12 months up and down the country. This was probably the hardest part of the album, as arranging layers of strings or a gospel choir is very much different to writing songs on the piano at home!
I literally moved to London for the mixing and mastering, taking in most of the coffee shops and restaurants that North London has to offer! That was fairly intense as a lot of the songs are 128-track monsters (and some are just 3) and we were trying to get the sound as Hi-Fi as we could, something that could compete with the big studio albums. It never will, but we tried.
We made the decision to put it out digitally to begin, with physical copies available at shows (it is very hard to sign an MP3!) and we intended to release singles from the album every 3-4 months, which should give at least 2 years worth of activity whilst we get out there and play to new audiences.
You recorded at Abbey Road, what was that like?
NB: Nothing like I expected. Just the name conjures up images - The pelican crossing, graffiti on walls, old microphones, the scent of old teak cabs, the whiff of wood glue holding things together - But it is anything but old and nostalgic. It is very clean and neutral, full of corridors and doors, a bit of a labyrynth. Everything is very regimented and there is clearly a set way of working that the owners insist on. It is not a place you mess about in. Personally, and this may be controversial, I prefered working in some of the "more rustic" studios like The Church and Rockfield Studios - They really did smell of wood glue!
Which song on your album means the most to you?
NB: A tricky question as all of the songs lyrically have a very deep and personal meaning. The album is very much a reflection of my own experiences and it was important to me to create songs which were honest, which the listener can relate to. Creatively I wanted a track on the album which was primarily orchestral, a piece which I knew would be a challenge musically, but as a classically trained pianist I have some experience in. For this reason I am most proud of 'Clown'. The structure and musical content very much bridges the gap between classical music and pop music. The progression througout the song had to be subtle, almost subconscious with layers of instruments gradually building up the intensity. The attention to detail in the arrangement was a key part of this. There are over 150 tracks on this song, so from the strings, to the brass, to every rythmical and instrumental movement within the track, it had to be meticulous. So yes, very proud that we acheived what we have.
What classic song do you wish you recorded and why?
NB: 'Songs Without Words' Op. No.1 by Felix Mendelssohn.
Full of emotion with dynamic contrasts and running broken chords played throughout, this piece conjours up many memories of my youth whilst I was training and performing the piano classically.
You have stated that Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald have influenced you, what is it about them you love?
NB: Stylistically there are subtle elements of jazz and blues in my work and these two greats have definitely influenced me. As performers I hold a great admiration for them, their delivery of songs, unique vocal quality and ability to express so much emotion in just a few lines is such a gift. Still to this day I get goosebumps whenever I listen to them.
When was the moment you realised you wanted to be a musician?
NB: Music has always played an important role in my life. As a child I was highly influenced by my grandparents, on both sides who were all extremily musical. I held a great admiration in particular for my grandmother (a.k.a. Teapot) who had the most amazing operatic voice - still to this day in her 90's she can give me a run for my money. On my 13th birthday my grandmother bought me a piano, a vintage upright, dusty, with tons of character. I would say that this was the turning point for me. From that moment onwards, my days were dedicated completely to music, training classically on the piano, working hard on my music exams, training as a vocalist and developing the artist that I am today.
You were runner up on MTV’s Brand New for 2013 unsigned competition, how did you enter and what has happened since?
NB: It was 23.55 on a Sunday night and I saw something on the internet about the competition and thought that I would enter, under no expectation that I would even have my entry looked at. I was happy to be chosen in the first 300. I was over the moon to make the last 20. I was apoplectic to make the final 10!
Having made it so far it so far, yes I was sad not to win. But when I went to the MTV Brand New event at the HMV Forum in Kentish Town, it opened my eyes to a lot of things and changed forever my perception of this industry. I learned that night that the cream does not rise to the top. We are all subjected to a machine that tells you what to like and each year the machine tells you to like something else.
This changed my perspective on almost everything, how I wanted to make music, how I wanted to be presented and how I wanted to gain a following. I want people to like my music because they listened to the music and formed their conclusion. Call me a traditionalist, but there are still artists out there doing it the old fashioned way and it can lead to greater things, Frank Turner is one I quote often.
I left London extremely glad that I didn’t win.
Name three people alive, dead or fictional who would you choose to have as dinner guests?
NB: The late Norman Wisdom - comedy legend. I love the classic comedies, no matter how often I watch the same sketch I always find myself in fits of laughter. I recently read Mr Wisdom's autobiography and I found it just facinating. what a life he led. I can imagine he had some stories to tell and would be great company around the dinner table.
Lang Lang - pianist extrodinaire. It is no secret that this man is my musical hero. As a young, training pianist I aspired to be as skilled as Lang Lang. His precise and beautiful performances encouraged me to focus on my techniques and practice hard. His ability to engage with the audience provided a great insight into performing, quite a skill to conquer as a pianist where your movements are significantly restricted. I would love to buy this man a drink and thank him for the techniques that he has taught me over the years.
Stephen Sondheim - I owe my love of musical theatre to this man. The work of Sondheim completely transformed my initial opinion of musical theatre. I cannot say that I was a big fan of many of the popular musical theatre scores that I was exposed to at this time though. As a musician I would consciously listen out for interesting rhythms, structures and melodies waiting for something that would grab my attention.
It was by chance that I discovered the work of Stephen Sondheim at an early age. I won tickets to go and see 'A Little Night Music' at the Leicester Theatre after winning a piano bursery for the under 16's at the Norfolk Music Festival. I had no idea what to expect as I sat in the theatre waiting for the show to begin. The opening score reeled me in straight away however and I was facinated by Sondheim's work from this point onwards. The use of syncopation, harmony, and ostinato are cleverly delivered in all of his work and have inspired me as a writer.
Thank you Sondheim - now that's what I call music.
Which movie character would best describe your style of music?
NB: Keyser Söze. You listen to my chirpings thinking s factual and inoffensive. Then you realise something isn’t right, you listen back to the words and realise that they are quite unpleasant and that I have been playing you like a fool!
Tell me Nina, what is your guilty pleasure?
NB: I don't really have any 'guilty' pleasures. As you'll see from my array of photos on social media, I am very happy to share my love of cake and tea with the world. Nothing wrong with a nice slice of carrot cake to brighten up your day. Saying that I do have a slightly 'odd' obsession with cranberry sauce. It is not unusual for me to add a healthy spoon of it to my dinner - pretty much everything has the addition whether its a roast dinner, pie or even fish and chips. It gets some odd looks.
Being ginger like myself, who do you feel is the leader of the ginger movement?
NB: There is undoubtedly DNA proof, together with many ancient texts and early cave drawings that can be referenced on the subject, which clearly suggest that Wilma Flintstone is the leader of all gingers.
How many sugars do you have in your tea and what is your process of making this?
NB: 1/4 of a teaspoon. Purely for energy levels of course.
The standard progess of making tea 'Nina Baker style' is as follows:
Step 1 - Add water to kettle and set to boil
Step 2 - Find a good sized mug (preferably with a comical design on the exterior)
Step 3 - Add teabag to mug - Don't miss
Step 4 - Add boiled water to mug and allow to stew for approx 60 seconds or stir 30 times - Your choice.
Step 5 - Once water/tea combo has turned the colour of Guinness, remove teabag with teaspoon and place in bin - Don't miss
Step 6 - Add a healthy measure of semi-skimmed milk or goats milk (very nice)
Step 7 - Good stir
Step 8 - Add sugar to taste
Step 9 - Another good stir
Step 10 - Smile, sit back and enjoy a nice brew
What is the correct way of putting a fork in the cutlery basket?
NB: Handle facing down every time. Any other way is incorrect.
What can your fans expect from you in 2014?
NB: 2014 is all about performing. After 18 months locked away in a studio recording my debut 'Quite Frankly', this year will be dedicated to showing fans exactly what we have been working on, through the live show and through the released album material. After a busy three months following the release of the album debut track 'Single Bed', along with supporting Henrik Freischlader, Mick Flannery and Ella Eyre on their UK and European tours, further dates are schedualed for 2014. The second single of the album 'Bruising' will be released next month on 2nd June 2014, preceeding the unvealing of the full album later on in the year. Filming is currently taking place for the next music video release and plans are taking shape nicely for our live performance summer schedule. Expect to see lots more interviews, shows and media updates in 2014.
In Ten words what does music mean to you?
NB: Solace for when you are sad & happiness other times
Which lyric you have written leaves you the most emotion?
NB: (Taken from the album 'Quite Frankly', track 4, 'When I'm Not With You')
"How do we recover every time we cross the line, we try searching for a sign"
Very personal lyrics in this track and still now whenever I listen to this song I feel an immense amount of emotion. For everything that it represents and for the loved ones that I lost whilst recording this song.
We left Nina thinking about her tea making process for a few minutes, then, when we were satisfied that no changes were afoot, we ploughed back in with the quick fire questions….
Coffee or Tea? NB: Tea, ALWAYS!
Coke or Pepsi? NB: Coke
Holidays/Vacations - Beach or ski-ing? NB: Skiing. I'm too pastey to tan!
Meat or Vegetables? NB: Meat
CD or Vinyl? NB: Vinyl
Car or Motorbike? NB: Car
Cat or Dog? NB: Dog
Acoustic or Electric? NB: Acoustic
Cooked Breakfast (bacon/eggs/mushrooms/toast etc) or Cereal? NB: You just cannot beat a good full English breakfast.
So there you have it folks, Nina Baker in a nut shell, you've read this much so you may as well stay online and check out her social media channels, they're all listed below for you;
You can catch Nina Baker playing live, click HERE for dates and venues
We would like to thank Nina for sparing her time to complete the interview and we look forward to hearing her debut album 'Quite Frankly' in June.
Interview by Mark Wincott.