This week's tip on Shell Zenner's Amazing Radio is a song called When I'm Not With You by Nina Baker. We caught up with Nina to have a chat about the variety of styles in her music, her influences and to find out a bit more about her album Quite Frankly.
We first discovered Nina by accident opening for Little Sparrow at the Jackalope in Chorlton last May. We only caught the last few songs of her set but were impressed enough to pick up the album she was selling at the show. One of the songs on that CD When I'm Not With You particularly stood out on album that's diverse in style, but coherent and consistent in its quality. We described it as "Quite Frankly is one of those records that could appeal to everyone. Girls will relate to the stories she tells and emotions she expresses and it's not whiny or whingy enough to drive the boys away"
We had a chat with Nina to find out more.
First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into music.
Hello, my name is Nina Baker (this is my real name, not a stage name!) and I am a pianist, singer and songwriter. I have an unhealthy addiction to tea, and cake if there is any within reaching distance, and a penchant for Columbo. I am from Essex stock but was born and grew up in Norfolk. I now live on a farm in Warwickshire, where I write and record in a former stable block. I started off very young in musical theatre and learnt the piano from the age of fourteen, but my first steps into pop were as a backing singing in a Motown tribute band. It was five years ago, with a fair amount of encouragement from housemates, that I carried my twenty-year old Technics P50 into a bar and sung some songs I had written to about seven people and I have not really stopped since then!
As a classically trained pianist, did you ever see that a musical career route rather than the one you've taken.
I could have quite easily continued on the classical side, there is something very addictive about playing a piece of Rachmaninov or Mendelssohn, but the dedication to maintain concert level is something else, I think at my peak I was rehearsing for 5-6 hours a day. When I was younger I was very shy and music was my way of gaining confidence.
At university, you know how it is, you're young, you meet new people and your eyes get opened to other things, so after playing classical music for so long, you want to try other things, so I started writing a few songs (I still have those demos they are quite funny) if for no other reason to see whether I could. Quite honestly my classical background helps me an awful lot to write contemporary music as I have probably seen a million chord progressions! Once the writing started it never stopped and that's where it brings us today. So study classical music kids, it is not as uncool as you think!
Your songs are quite varied in style across your album Quite Frankly. Who would you class as your musical influences?
My parents were heavily into rock, I would spend evenings flicking through my dad's vinyl collection - Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd - We still have our annual pilgrimmage to see Status Quo that I am not ashamed in admitting! My grandparents were into swing and jazz so I heard a lot of Fitzgerald, Simone and the Ratpack. My grandad loved Sinatra, he would not need an excuse to sing a Sinatra song in public!
Add a splash of classical music and you can start to appreciate where 'Quite Frankly' came from, it is a culmination of the sounds I grew up to. It was never a copy of another artist or what was cool at the time, it is just a blend of the music that I like all packed into 60 mins....With me on a piano. I think that's a good tag line for the album actually!
And what inspires you to write your lyrics? They are often quite dark even though the music is quite positive.
Personal experience. I'm not one to write songs about things that I don't know about or create stories about people who do not exist, it is all from personal experience, these things happened. I will never tell you what happened EXACTLY, I leave that for people to interpret them how they will. Sometimes people are way off the mark but if it ignites emotions in an individual and sets their imagination running then it has fulfilled it's purpose.
I never set out to write lyrics, I always write the music first and then I put myself back into a situation and I use these raw emotions as the catalyst to express how I felt at that time and reach out to the listener. I always have a note pad with me or placed on the bedside table, and most of my songs were probably written between 2am and 4am in the morning as this is when I tend to have my "moments".
A couple of the songs on the album came to me in dreams and I wrote them whilst I was asleep! I just find that when I sit down and say 'Hey, let's write a song' it never flows, I'm much better just letting inspiration take over, I grab my pad, grab my phone, go to the piano and the songs come out naturally. Trouble is I never know when this inspiration is going to happen. I sometimes go months without writing and then some days I can write five songs. I really do put my heart on the line when I write, I don't edit what I tell the world. Call it therapy, but knowing that your experiences move other people is a very profound feeling and very rewarding. To that end I do not mind how exposed I leave myself.
Could you tell us a little about the song we've tipped - When I'm Not With You?
When I'm Not With You is a love song. Plain and simple. It was the song we were recording when my grandfather Frank Baker, who the album is dedicated and named after, passed away. It features the Kings Gospel Choir as well as Sam Sweeney and Andy Bell from Bellowhead. The piano I played on the track is the one used on 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.
What are your plans for writing new material and going out on the road touring?
Well 2015 has started a little later than planned, as I was involved in a car accident in March, so that wiped out all of our plans for the first part of the year. But we are planning to do them 12 months on, so look out for a pretty comprehensive tour of the UK and Europe in Spring 2016.
At the moment I am doing the festival circuit, so please look at my website and see where I am performing near you. Then in the autumn we are putting out some new material, which will involve some pretty cool music videos - One of which in terms of geography we do not believe has ever been attempted before *spoiler*
If we put you on the spot and asked you to describe your music to someone who'd never heard you, where would you start?
Like Regina Spektor, Kate Bush and Alannis Morisette having a fight! Piano-lead pop (very important to highlight that I play the piano) with hints of classical, rock, jazz and swing. Pop for thinking dudes!
Her website can be found here. She is also on Facebook and Twitter.
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