Tuesday 6 November 2012

Vote Obama! And Nina Baker!

If you're American hopefully you've voted once today already, and in the right way. Either way, stick around, maybe I can convince you to cast another vote too...

Beguiling songstress Nina Baker - a Kate Bush without the leotard [Photo (c) NinaBakerMusic.co.uk 2012]Earlier in the year I went along to the small but perfectly formed Reepham Festival where I saw, amongst others, a certain Nina Baker. She was performing in the church, an atmospheric venue well suited to her soaring vocal style. Nina is a singer-songwriting pianist, so comparisons with Kate Bush and Tori Amos are, naturally, obligatory. Personally, I think there's a touch of Aimee Mann in there too, and that can only be a good thing.

As I write this, Nina is on the shortlist for MTV's Brand New Unsigned 2013 competition, and needs your votes to win (hence the somewhat shameless Barack-referencing headline, in an attempt to attract more readers). If the Bush/Amos/Mann comparisons aren't enough reasons to vote Nina, let me add that she is a beguiling performer and, in an age of identikit, Cowell-moulded, X-Factor bland fly-by-nights, her talent and songwriting are both original, honest and refreshing. An on top of that, she seems like a lovely person too, being kind enough to grant this humble blogger an interview. And here it is...

New Amusements: Hi Nina. Let's start with a bit about you - the bio, if you like. Where are you from, how old are you, when did you start singing/playing, and how long have you been performing?

Nina: I am 25, born and bred Norwich girl who resides in sleepy Wymondham and not so sleepy Leamington Spa. I have been performing on stage from a fairly young age, but only started playing the piano when I was 14 when my grandmother bought me one for my birthday. I was a singer in a few function bands after university, but in 2010 I thought that I would get up there with my piano and perform solo. Not looked back since!

NA: Being a female, piano-playing singer-songwriter with a soaring vocal range, I bet you get compared to Kate Bush a lot (not least by me). What other comparisons do you get?

N: I get a whole number of comparisons – Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Regina Spector, Alicia Keys, Ellie Goulding, Alannis Morrisette, Adele, even Leona Lewis – it depends what I am singing, when and where I am singing, sometimes my sets are very mellow, sometimes they are very peppy, other times they are just belting from start to finish! Depends when you catch me!

NA: Are such comparison flattering or can they be obstructive?

N: Fantastic to be compared to such wonderful artists. Though in many ways I do not want to be compared to others as my voice is certainly not the norm and stylistically I like to think that I am a little different. Sue Marchant of BBC Radio, who I respect immensely as an oracle of all music, often refers to the "Nina Baker sound", which is as high a compliment as you can pay me.

NA: And what of your musical influences? Who do you listen to in the car? What do you belt out in the shower?

N: I was brought up to the East-End singing of my Grandmother and the Motown collections of my parents. This has clearly influenced my song writing which despite the genre switches has roots in the soul and blues camps. I don't tend to sing in the shower, I do enough of that on an evening! I'm proud to say that in the car I don't listen to music, I am a big fan of Radio 4 - their plays are brilliant!

NA: You're currently nominated in MTV's Brand New for 2013 poll. How did that come about, and how have you found the experience?

N: My manager has contacts at MTV Europe and they made him aware of this competition, so we talked about it and decided to enter it with hours left till the deadline. We put up a video that we recorded with the band at EPIC Studios only days before and we were not were not expecting anything to come of it. Was shocked to make the list and since then it has been an utter rollercoaster of emotions. Excitement at being selected, appearing in the press, on tv and radio coupled with absolute terror wondering what will happen! On top of this I have been touring with my band, so we have been travelling lots, promoting the MTV vote during the day and playing hard at night - I'm exhausted quite frankly!

NA: Has being in the MTV poll led you to think differently, or try anything new, in how you market yourself and your music?

N: I have certainly changed my way of thinking, I have been more of a marketeer than a musician over the past few weeks. I have never been one for self-promotion, I like to let the music and others do that. But in a competition so tight, with the rewards so potentially high, everyone you meet can be an influence on your destiny. This competition will come down to individual votes I am sure, so getting individuals to vote has been all I have been focussed on. Very hard when you are a solo performer and you do not have other people to spread the load. Fortunately the response I have received from the community and on social media has been brilliant and they have really kept me in this competition when at the beginning many didn't think that I had a chance.

NA: What can we expect from your forthcoming album "Quite Frankly"?

N: The best album of 2013! No, in all seriousness it will be a fantastic album, we wanted to create the 2013 version of "Jagged Little Pill" and I am confident that we have done that, in no small part due to the tireless efforts, creativity and vision of the band (Simon Dring, Fredy Solstice, Adam Moore, Owen Morgan), my management and I. From start to eventual finish it has taken two years, it has 13 tracks of all shapes and flavours from the upbeat stuff that will make you want to dance to the haunting anthems that will leave you stunned and feeling empty. We have a cross-pollinated rock, jazz, skiffle, pop, blues, classical, swing, it sounds like a recipe for disaster, but please trust me, it works! Listening from the album from beginning to end you are taken on a real journey and we have aligned the tracks to take you by the hand on this path of highs and lows. We have over 300 people who have featured on the album, we have brass sections, string sections (supplied by Bellowhead), the Voxettes, the Ebbw Vale Male Voice Choir, The Kings Gospel Choir and even my producer Nick Brine (Artic Monkeys, The Darkness) with some leg-slapping. It's an epic production and a really good listen - no fillers!

NA: My first experience of you playing live was at this summer's Reepham Festival. What have been your most memorable live performance experiences?

N: Reepham festival was a highlight in many ways as I played in a beautiful church as a duo with my guitarist Adam Moore, that will certainly be one of my memories of the year. But in terms of best live performance of the year it certainly has to be at The Jam House in Birmingham, the music venue owned by Jools Holland. I was already fairly nervous being asked to play there as I know how particular they are with their artists. I was also playing solo which ratchets up the pressure that much more as there is nowhere to hide and no room for error. But what really set the stage was that I was part of a night for female singer-songwriters and the standard was just out of this world.......and I was the headline act! No pressure there then! As a performance it was the most perfect and most complete show I had ever done, in that moment I managed to capture the years of practising & performing hundreds of times and my stage craft was as polished as it could be. The crowd loved it, I gained a lot of fans that day and in the coming weeks I was invited back to perform, with my band, and again we delivered our best performance to date.

NA: Talking of playing live, according to your Twitter feed your rider is tea and scones. And in "Single Bed" you sing "I'm happy just me, with my bourbons and tea." There's a definite theme emerging here! So if you could meet anyone, from any time, for tea and cake, who would it be, and why?

N: I am a huge fan of Rowan Atkinson and John Cleese, to have either of these round for a cuppa would be the greatest day ever. There is a little old lady in my village that makes cake and sells them in the local shop - I would buy one of these, most probably the banoffee sponge, which provides the most incredible attack on the senses!

NA: And finally... anything you want to add? Any message to the readers of this blog?

N: Basically.....Please vote for me! I am just a humble girl from Norwich with a piano. I don't have a huge marketing machine behind me, nor a wealthy benefactor, everything I have done has been self-funded and I have reached this level through sheer hard work and undying determination over three years. Not had a day off in that time, it has been all work. I would love to have that big break to make the lives of my band and manager that little bit easier and the album is dedicated to someone very special to me and so it needs to succeed. This competition could be life changing for many people, so please vote and please tell your friends! Xx

You can find out more about Nina at NinaBakerMusic.co.uk and, more importantly, you can vote for her at MTV's Brand New Unsigned 2013 competition right here. Please make sure you do, before voting closes on the 12th of November. You'll be doing a favour for a real talent, and taking a stand against the homogenisation of the charts too, so exercise your right to vote... exercise is good for you, after all. Your reward is this fine video...

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