Nina Nesbitt plays the Concert in the Gardens on 31 December. Somebody Special is released by Cooking Vinyl on 12 January
“I was 17 when I officially entered the music industry,” reflects Nesbitt – or as near as she can get to reflection while walking her very active Pomeranian, Prince Timmy, around her London neighbourhood. “I’d just left school and I didn’t really have a clue about anything. Coming from a village outside Edinburgh, there wasn’t a music scene, although there were great venues to play in Edinburgh. I always thought you just sing songs and that was it but then there’s the whole business side – label, publisher, lawyer, agent – so I took a good year figuring all that out. A lot my friends have just left uni now and I feel that I’ve left music uni in a way, and I finally know what to do.”
Inevitably though, there have been bumps along the way, and it transpires that 2016 was one long, continuous bump. Nesbitt had recorded an ultra-pop follow-up to Peroxide but, in the end, parted ways with Island Records, feeling uncomfortable with the direction in which she was being funnelled.
“The minute I started singing heavily produced pop music and not playing an instrument on stage, everyone was saying ‘Oh, she doesn’t write her own songs anymore’ and I thought ‘Nah, not for me’. I was in between record labels and didn’t know if I wanted to make another album. I just found myself quite depressed through the year.”
However, her sassy if generic dance pop single Chewing Gum did open up songwriting doors for her and for a while Nesbitt concentrated on writing songs for other artists, from country duo The Shires to Disney popster Olivia Holt.
“I used to want to be an author when I was younger,” she says. “I would write ten-page books and think I’d written a novel. Then I got bored and thought ‘This is too long’ so I decided that putting it to music would be better. Short and sweet, isn’t it?
“Now I get the same satisfaction of having somebody else sing my song as having me sing it. I guess I just figured out what my strengths and weaknesses are. Now it’s just get in a room, write the best song you can write and if it’s for me, great, and if not, pitch it to other people. I just don’t have any boundaries when I write now.”
Nesbitt has since spent time in Nashville, the songwriting capital of the world, though its country roots have yet to rub off on her style. She describes the process of collaborative pop writing as “kind of like speed dating – you tell everyone everything about your life and just hope that it works. It’s hit and miss but I’ve found so many good people.”
However, there are some things which are just between her and her home studio, where she wrote The Moments I’m Missing, released this summer. “If I’m sitting in a room with a 40-year-old man who I’ve just met and I don’t really want to tell him about my secrets, it’s nice to have a space to at least try things out,” she says.
Nesbitt has always been happy to share with her fans though, and last year they shared in return, supplying her with a batch of personal stories from which she crafted five new songs, each titled after their city or region of provenance, from Manchester to Brisbane, which were together became the independently released Life In Colour EP.
She is also about to reactivate her Nightwatch forum, named after her home studio, which allows loner fans to connect with each other not just virtually but to chum up at her gigs. “I feel like we have a lot in common because I’ve not come from LA or London or have loads of money or have famous parents. I come from a very normal place and I guess that’s relatable to people.”
Nesbitt has lived in London for the past five years. It’s where her new label, Cooking Vinyl, is based and she has noted the city’s melting pot influence on the sound of her new material, which splices 90s R&B and Brit-hop production techniques with her storytelling singer/songwriter instincts to create a fusion she calls “suburban pop”. We won’t hear the full extent of her suburban sprawl until the spring, when she releases her second album, to be preceded in January by a single, “Somebody Special”, which Nesbitt declares to be “the happiest song on the album”.
Before then, there is the not insignificant matter of a certain Hogmanay homecoming gig on a bill with relative newbies Rag’n’Bone Man and Declan McKenna. Nesbitt played the Concert in the Gardens four years ago with the Pet Shop Boys – and a chest infection. “So I thought I need to come back and do this properly,” she says. “My friends are all very pleased that we’ve got a New Year plan now.”
Nesbitt’s New Year resolutions extend to releasing her album and touring in Asia – which is handy, as both are on the 2018 schedule, in much the same way that her 2017 resolutions – go to LA, New York and Nashville and make another album – were all dutifully ticked off the list.
There is one perennial sticking point though: her pledge to eat more vegetables. “I have been doing that, in soups,” she insists, “so we’re getting there with the veg. But I tried to go vegan last month and I lasted five hours.” Fortunately, Nesbitt has demonstrated more stickability when it comes to making the music she wants to make.