The duo, Karmin, consists of real-life couple, Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan. Their first single, “Brokenhearted”, which dropped in 2012, went double platinum, they were a guest on Saturday Night Live, and they opened for the Jonas Brothers over the summer. They also have over 230 million views on their YouTube channel for their covers and original songs, over 89 million for their cover of Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” alone. Why? Because Heidemann is one of the best and fastest rappers out there today. Don’t let the fact that she’s gorgeous and that she’s a classically trained singer fool you. She is incredible live.
Over the summer, they dropped their first single, “Acapella”, off their debut album, Pulses. It’s a lively and upbeat song with both a pop and hip-hop feel and lyrics so clever and funny that they stick in your head for days. Ending the chorus, Heidemann sings, “Now you talkin’ crazy sayin’ that you made me/ Like I was your Cinderella/You and me are through though, watch me hit it solo/I’mma do it acappella, yeah”.
They’ve since released two more singles, “I Want it All” last month, and the title track, “Pulses”, last week. The first being a 70s disco throwback and the latter being a heart-pumping dark pop/hip-hop/reggae track that I loved from the second I heard it. It may sound like they have no idea what genre they are but today’s music is all about fusion. Whether it be pop/rock, country with hip-hop, or even reggae with dance, everybody is trying something new and is being influenced by many different genres. Karmin just happens to be a great example of that because they actually do it well. Before their debut album drops on the 25th, Karmin took the time to sit down with Viva Glam to discuss their songwriting experiences over the past few years and about Pulses.
Q&A WITH AMY HEIDEMANN AND NICK NOONAN OF KARMIN
Your name is a portmanteau of “karma” and “carmen”.
Why did you choose to combine those two words?
Nick: We were trying to find a name that was simple and strong, a name that meant something, [and consolidated to one word] like Coldplay, The Beatles.
We were trying to find something meaningful. We liked [the word] “carmen” as it translates to “song”, and karma is something that means something to us.
At one point, you described your style as
“swag-pop”. Do you still consider that to be your style?
Amy: We can’t really come up with a genre. We’re genre whores. We love pop, urban, rock, funk[iness]. It’s hard to pigeonhole us. We [sometimes call it] retro-future. With fashion, we love the retro stuff, the 1950s silhouettes. But our sound can be [somewhat futuristic].
Amy, you started singing at a young age. How did you make the transition to rapping? And as most people cannot both sing and rap, do you find it’s because of rhythm, diction, or tone? Is it challenging to you?
Amy: I’ve been trying to think about this and how it all happened. I’m from a super conservative Christian family. But in the 6th grade, a friend burned me a copy of a Dr. Dre album. It was a forbidden fruit.
I think of [rapping] in terms of rhythm. Having gone to music school, I’m a cheater. Singing is definitely more difficult, yet I’m not saying [rapping is] easy. It’s terrifying to have enough confidence to do the [right] tone and it’s hard to explain.
What’s the reason behind Karmin dressing monochromatically?
Amy: Well, we just copy the White Stripes. (Laughing) The monochromatic dressing…it’s similar to colorblocking but we wanted to simplify what was happening [even more].
The [suicide roll] hairstyle got more famous than [the music] so we wanted to bring the attention back to the music. It’s made it so much easier to get dressed, too. It’s kind of an artist’s thing. It’s striking and it’s simple and we naturally assign a color to each song.
(Amy has even done a YouTube tutorial on how to do the 1940s suicide roll hairstyle. But in the past year, she ditched the suicide roll, cut her hair, and dyed it blonde.)
Did you have a concept for the album as a whole?
Nick: This is the first full-length album we have ever recorded. We just wanted it to flow and not just have a bunch of singles. Our EP was a coming-out party. This is definitely an archive of what happened to us during the recording process. It’s a lot more honest than we thought (it was going to be).
What song are you most excited to release?
Amy: That changes all the time. We love “Pulses”. We play it live and it plays itself. We haven’t played “What’s In It For Me” yet. “Puppet” is so much fun live. “Drifter”, “Gasoline”, there’s so many [we’re excited to play].
You recently released your second single off Pulses, “I Want It All“. Because of its 70s influence, do you think it falls in best with today’s radio? (It has a similar groove to the music of Justin Timberlake, Fitz and the Tantrums, and Pharrell, to name a few.)
Amy: Yeah for sure! We hope so. We wanted to try to make a pop song that wasn’t a pop song. It was fresh because it [sounded] old. We were listening to a lot of Gloria Estefan and Michael Jackson when we wrote the song.
Nick: We don’t think it’s a perfect radio song but we’re glad that the music is coming back.
Amy: JT and Pharrell are some of our inspirations.
I also noticed that horns are used in most of the tracks. As Nick plays the trombone, was there a strategy to this?
Nick: I would bring it to every recording session and I would say, “Is this a single that we can have a trombone solo?” [What’s funny is that the instrument] sounds likes sh**. You can’t make it sound good.
(Nick is a classically-trained professional trombone player so I’m sure the trombone sounds just fine.)
Your next single, “Pulses” has a really intriguing chorus.
Is it from the perspective of you talking to your audience, hoping to excite them with your music? Or is it more of a universal statement essentially saying, “I want to make you happy when I’m around you,” whether it be emotionally or even sexually? (The lyrics are “I wanna make your heart beat/ I love it when it beats for me.”)
Nick: It’s whatever you want it to be. We have very specific instances when we are writing about ourselves, writing about what our friends are going through. There are very specific things. But when you are listening to it, I want it to be whatever moment you wanted it to be. I want it to wake you up and [make you] full of energy. I wanted it to translate it into the lyrics. It’s a darker [song] not as a pop version.
In one of my favorite tracks, a ballad titled “Neon Love”, you sing about the effects that stardom and life on the road have had on you, how the lows can overshadow the highs, and how the industry can make you numb. I can relate to it on a work level as well. What made you write this track?
Amy: I’m so happy you connected with it on a work level! I was afraid people were going to think it was about us breaking up!
I think the lyrics lend themselves to be relatable, to mean whatever you want it to mean. We didn’t think about it until after the track was done. [Then we realized], wow! It’s about our career.
Nick: The track is about how the grass is always greener [on the other side], be careful what you wish for, etc. It’s never what you expect.
The final track on Pulses utilizes Nick’s love of horns, the themes of stardom, and sounds like a melting pot of genres so I have to bring up the track, “What’s In It For Me.” I can tell you were influenced by artists like House of Pain and Missy Elliot. Tell us more about the track.
(The track sounds like a fusion of House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and Missy Elliot’s “Pass That Dutch”.)
Amy: You’re speaking our language girl! “Drop It Like It’s Hot”, Missy Elliot, Busta Rhymes, [music from the] late 90s early 2000s was on repeat [while we recorded].
Nick: Lyrically, it was [from the perspective of] a creative male singer. Proverbally, what’s going on, we were working our asses off.
It was directed at the label and at politics in general of the music industry.
Amy: It’s overwhelming what you have to do in the music industry.
You get burned and we have definitely had to pull out the bitchy side recently. We’ve had to even fire people.
You have [to develop] an alter-ego.