YouTube sensation Karmin stays prepared as record labels loom
YouTube sensations don't have much longevity outside of the site (unless you're Justin Bieber), but Karmin, the No. 8 most-viewed artist this month, seems to be overcoming that tendency.
With appearances on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and a recent onstage collaboration with the Roots, Karmin appears to be on its way. The group blends hip hop with acoustic balladeering to popular effect. We had a chat with the duo that make up Karmin, Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan, on their recent rise in popularity and their plans for the future.
Pop & Hiss: So how did you two meet musically?
Amy: Musically, we came together at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Nick is actually from a small town in Maine called Old Town that has about 6,500 people, and I'm from Seward, Neb., which has about the same population -- so, small-town folks. Nick was a jazz trombone major and I was a vocal performance/songwriting major at Berklee. In 2004, we met each other, did a few songs together -- we did a Stevie Wonder tribute concert -- and, of course, he stared at me in all the rehearsals.
Nick: That's not true!
Amy: Then the year after that we actually started dating. So before the music, we were a couple, and we're still a couple that have been together for six years.
Nick: Yeah, so we met up in '04, started dating in '05. Did some writing of stuff in '08, but nothing too crazy, and then formally started the group in January 2010.
So when did the band concept form?
Amy: We performed in a couple of different groups and realized how difficult it was for everyone to be on the same page. You see bands like U2 that have been together forever, and it's so rare to find that. So, we were like, 'Hey, we make great songs together.' We'd heard that it was a bad idea as a couple to work together, so we were worried about that, but we just decided to jump into it.
Nick: As far as one definitive moment. ... We were in the Lowell train station, and we were around a bunch of other groups selling other people's projects, and we were like, 'Let's just do it ourselves. Let's just be a modern Simon and Garfunkel. This acoustic, hip-hop duo.'
YouTube is a big part of getting you guys out there. You're part of that generation, but what caused it to become the driving force?
Amy: The music industry is so different than how it used to be -- it's not just about records anymore. There's so many other facets that we can dive into, and you never really run out of things to pursue. On YouTube, for example, I've got hair tutorials totally unrelated to music, but it's just part of what we do. It's just part of who I am .... Nick will probably have a sports blog later. But, it was our manager, Nils Gums, that got us onto YouTube. He knows it very well, and it's actually the No. 2 search engine in the world behind Google. He said that we should start doing cover songs on YouTube because that will grab people's attention. For example, if you cover Chris Brown and people are searching for him, yours pops up in the search, so they kind of stumble upon you. You grab people's attention that aren't really searching for you.
Nick: And we try to cover them really creatively and put as much personality as we possibly could.
Amy: No karaoke!
Nick: Yeah, so they see can that there are songs that they're familiar with, but also we were doing it the way we would do it -- so they could still see some uniqueness in the band.
Amy: And it helped us to learn the formula of what makes a hit song because we were forced to do those songs over ourselves.
Nick: And be current on what's going on in today's music scene.
So, you get the YouTube channel going, then, bam, you're suddenly on Ellen, then you're playing with the Roots. What happened there?
Amy: This all kind of exploded at the same time. Literally four weeks ago, we posted the video (the cover of Look At Me Now - Chris Brown ft. Lil Wayne, Busta Rhymes) and it just exploded. One of the first people who contacted us was Jermaine Dupree. He called me on my cellphone and I couldn't believe it was him. All of these opportunities were coming in. I know Nick got a call from one of the producers at the "Ellen" show and we were like, OK!
Nick: Yeah, when they gave us a call they said, 'By the way, we want you on tomorrow's show.' We were like, 'Huh?!' So, it did happen very quickly, and one of the first people to respond when everyone started co-signing it was ?uestlove. So, we kind of established a relationship with him, and one day he texted us and said 'Yeah, we're in town, playing at Tufts University, so why don't you stop by?' You can probably see in the video that we were not expecting to be pulled on stage.
You can kind of see that. He asked if you had 'committed it to memory,' and it seemed kind of shocking. So you really need to be prepared.
Nick: Yep! He asked us once and we said yes. Then he was like, 'Have you committed it to memory?' And we said, 'Yes sir!' ... The whole model of this thing was just to put ourselves in a position to succeed so that when stuff like that comes up, we are prepared and we are ready. I think that performance was that same school of thought.
So the question: Are you album-bound? We've seen a few of your original songs.
Amy: It's nice [that we have original songs] because when we went to meet all of the labels they were like, 'Well, it's good that you're a cover band, but what else do you have?' And we actually have a good amount of original songs. We had time somehow to write two new songs that were killer, and we played them in the meetings. So we are album-bound.
Nick: Our first single is just going to be 3 minutes of space.
Amy: And rooster crows!
Nick: No, we are really excited and ready to start getting creative on this.
Amy. Yes. Very soon, there will be a Karmin album.
Any label info that you can give up?
Amy: We're getting close. We have our choices to pick from.
Nick: Let's just say they're all wonderful companies.
And as for your future on YouTube?
Nick: We plan on continuing to do covers. We like doing covers because it's fun and pushes us creatively, believe it or not, to do a completely different version of a song. And it's good practice. So, we're gonna continue to do that for a little while just because it's also cool for the fans.
Amy: That's how we got most of our original fan base. There's such a strange attitude about people covering other people's music if they don't have their own, but we've really concentrated on some of our own material. So, hey, if you want to hear a cover of a Mariah Carey song Karmin-ized, we want to still be able to do that, too. Just because it's fun.
Here's their newest cover -- Lady Antebellum's 'Just a Kiss':
-- Jevon Phillips
Photo: Karmin members Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan. Credit: Karminmusic.com