Although the Internet has been the bane of many a major record label's existence, it's also turned out to be a great talent scout. Especially YouTube, which has already given us artists like Justin Bieber and Greyson Chance.
Not too long ago, Karmin, made up of boyfriend/girlfriend duo Nick Noonan and Amy Heidemann, was just another act among thousands of others on YouTube performing cover songs on their channel hoping to catch on like Maria Aragon did with her "Born This Way" cover. And it happened, unexpectedly, when Amy decided to step in front of the mic and rap, instead of just singing, for a reworked version of Chris Brown's hit single "Look At Me Now."
The clip quickly went viral and before the two knew it, they were being flown out to perform on Ellen DeGeneres' show and being showered with attention by record label execs and big name recording artists.
Bark + Bite had the pleasure of catching up with Amy and Nick for an interview in which the two shared their rise to fame, their relationship, the next steps in their career and their undying admiration for Kanye West.
Q: How has all this new attention changed your lives?
NICK: Um, not at all. (Laughs)
AMY: We still feel the same as we did before, but we have a lot more work to do.
NICK: As far as, what we want to do with music it’s pretty much put us 15 paces ahead of where we were. It’s kind of a game changer. We’ve been meeting with all of these executives, label shopping trying to find the best home for us. And we’re really excited about writing the album, the original material and getting the train going.
Q: Another recent event is that you guys got a chance to perform with The Roots?
NICK: Yeah, that was crazy. I was like, ‘Oh God, he wants us to play.’
AMY: We had no idea he was going to invite us on stage. We knew that he wanted us to come watch and their show was amazing. They were amazing and that was surreal. I mean, we’re still getting text messages from ?uestlove. We’re trying to keep that relationship and possibly do some work with him in the future.
NICK: He had co-signed us on Twitter. We’ve been tweeting back and forth and we started direct messaging and texting. And he was like, 'We’re playing near Boston. Are you guys around?' And we were like, 'We actually are.' So we showed up.
AMY: It worked out perfectly.
Q: How did you guys find each other? And how long have you been playing together?
NICK: We’ve actually been dating for six years.
AMY: We met at Berklee College of Music in Boston in...what was it? 2004.
NICK: We did a couple of shows together and we started dating in fall ‘05. We kind of started writing together senior year which was like ‘08. You know, nothing serious. Then, finally, we formally started the band in January 2010.
AMY: So the band is actually new. We had our relationship before that. I think a lot of people talk about our chemistry. Some people think we’re brother and sister, which is gross.
NICK: We actually are engaged.
AMY: We’re getting married in September. We’re a couple first and then music came second.
It was actually after we tried to perform with different groups, and I actually had a Kelly Clarkson style pop-rock group for a while. It just wasn’t working. There was something, it’s hard to get everybody on the same page 100 percent so we figured we’re together all the time anyway and we’ve written some great songs. Let’s give what we’re doing an identity.
NICK: It’s so hard to keep a whole band on the same page and the same project for a long time so we were like let’s do it ourselves. Actually, I studied trombone at Berklee. I’m actually a jazz trombone player. Three years ago this time, Amy did not play guitar and I did not play cajon. So we were like let’s do this harmony thing. We’ll use the guitar for chordal stuff. I’ll use my voice as a backup and Amy’ll sing vocals.
Q: Where does YouTube come into this?
NICK: We started an original channel January 2010. We started a covers channel in late August/early September. Actually, our now manager Nils Gums he pretty much came to us like: 'Listen guys, I wanna help you out. I wanna raise awareness about you guys. I think you guys could be huge. I want you to go through a list of songs that people are searching for and you cover songs the way you want to cover them. And we’ll use that to create awareness around the band.’
AMY: When he suggested “Look At Me Now” we fired him because we thought it was the worst idea. But then, we thought about it and I printed out the words and made some adjustments. I took all the curse words out of the Busta, well, actually all of them had curse words. (laughs) And we just thought it sounded really dope so we prepared ourselves for a lot of haters and a lot of controversy and we posted it.
Q: Have you had a lot of controversy?
AMY: We did, yeah. We got quite a bit. I think one of the first big blogs [to post it] was WorldStarHipHop so you can imagine.
NICK: Here’s this little white girl rapping, you know what I mean?
AMY: Not everyone was prepared for that, but a lot of other people loved it.
NICK: The reception has been so amazingly positive. We honestly did not foresee at all. We consider ourselves pretty lucky. We sound pretty good, but I think we’re going to sound a lot better in the future. I mean, being endorsed by people like ?uestlove has been phenomenal.
AMY: The Game has been tweeting us and texting us.
AMY: It’s insane.
Q: I wanted to talk to you Amy about how long it took you to conquer those verses.
AMY: I spent at least two days. I had to literally slow it down a capella by myself to get all the words out. Once you train your mouth to form the words, it’s actually not that hard. You’d be surprised. I know a lot of people that are learning it now and they’re saying ‘I almost have this verse.’ But I think it wasn’t difficult mostly because of my musical training. I thought “6 Foot 7 Foot” was actually harder because it’s hard to keep energy in the track the whole time.
Q: What's your creative process like? How do decide what to cover? How long does it take you to get the music together?
NICK: We decide the song [first], that’s usually the longest process. Once we decide on the song, there’s usually about a 40 hour turnaround to start doing takes. We’ll listen to the song and then we decide what we could change about it. Some songs we don’t cover because they’re already really good.
Not saying that any songs we cover are bad. We cover them because they’re fun and we like them, but we try to do a completely different approach on it. We try to strip it down and I’ll sit down at the piano and we’ll kind of go over the structure and see if we want to put in some different substitutions and things like that. While we’re doing that, we’re learning the words and making sure we try to get everything to work.
As far as takes, it usually takes about an hour. We usually do about four or five takes.
Q: Does popularity play a part?
NICK: Yeah, sometimes. I think the fact that we’re a couple, [means] we don’t have any pressure to really try to be super attractive to the opposite sex. Because of that we feel like we can be more goofy and do what we think is fun and funny.
Q: Have you guys heard from any of the artists that you’ve covered?
NICK: Not directly. They’ve tweeted at us and retweeted some of the videos. Their publicists have reached out. But them personally calling? Not yet.
AMY: Janelle Monae did. Last summer we covered “Tightrope” and so we made friends with her and her crew. Maroon 5 sort of too. They kind of reached out.
Q: Let’s talk about your original music. It's so fun and so happy. A lot of it’s based in a more acoustic sound--
NICK: Everything we’ve done up to this point was because of our limited resources to record everything at home. We wanted to have stripped down versions of everything so if we wanted to go in and re-produce.
It’s so funny because a couple of weeks before the “Look At Me Now” cover, we were writing a bunch of songs with rap in it. So when the “Look At Me Now” cover blew up we were like perfect because that’s what we were going to be doing more of in the future. We were actually having fun with it and Amy was really good at it.
Q: What are your influences?
NICK: Let’s see...Monty Python...
AMY: We have a lot. Oh man. We love Gwen Stefani and Lauryn Hill.
NICK: Kanye is a huge one. Without Kanye’s last album we probably wouldn’t be here right now. The Beatles, of course, for me.
AMY: I was a huge Brandy fan growing up. That was all I listened to as a little girl in Nebraska. We actually met Rodney Jerkins who created most of Brandy’s music and I was so nervous. I freaked out. I was so nervous and Nick was just like talking to him about basketball.
Q: Nick, you said if it hadn't been for Kanye’s last album you guys wouldn’t be here. Can you explain that?
NICK: His album kind of put together all pieces. To us, we’re like strongly so white kids from Nebraska but we love hip hop. We’re the first generation who grew up with it on the radio. [The music is] bigger than anything racial.
We think that’s so cool and so when Kanye’s album came out it was like the next step. Hip hop had evolved and it was so musical. We we like man that guys got so much courage. Listen, if he’s that big and he’s doing that we can do whatever we can do. It was so inspirational for us.
Q: What are you guys listening to now?
NICK: We have Adele’s album, still Kanye’s album.
AMY: I’ve been going back into the Rihanna archives to be honest. Nick loves Coldplay. We’ve been writing so much new music for us that we haven’t done a lot of listening. We need to do more.
Q: When you guys are creating new music, do you listen to yourselves?
NICK: We try to as little as possible, but I think it’s good to see the evolution. We came to this revelation a month ago that our sound isn’t hard enough. We came in with this huge hip hop influence and we need to get back to that.
AMY: We were like, 'Why do we sound so Starbucks right now?'
NICK: So the album’s gonna be a lot more upfront and aggressive. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Q: So is it going to be a complete departure?
AMY: We’re going to be earthy and organic, but it’s going to be bigger, heavier.
NICK: Heavier is kind of a good word. We’re also going to do some big piano ballads and stuff like that.
Q: How important is versatility as artists?
NICK: People like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson have successful but really musical albums in pop culture.
AMY: I think you’re right. It’s so important to [be] versatile [so] then your fans never get bored either.
Q: You said you’ve been meeting with labels. Do you have a time frame for a record deal?
NICK: As soon as possible.
AMY: We’re hoping that we have some real special news for everybody in the next few weeks as far as nailing down some plans and a release schedule. I can tell you that we’ve got probably half an album of stuff already written.
NICK: We have some stuff that we’re really excited about. Stuff that we’ve been playing int he meetings. We play the songs for them and they walk out like OK we want you. We’re excited.
Q: What are your goals and hopes for the future?
NICK: We want to still be relevant in 15, 20, 30 years. Even if we’re not performing. We want to be the new trendsetters.