You’ll know the voice, and probably the name, but it’s likely Nina Nesbitt will also soon be a familiar face – and not just in the tabloids.
Yet the Scots singer-songwriter could almost have vanished from the public eye, following a spell in the glare of publicity five years ago. Aged 17, she released her debut album following a well-publicised career-launching tour (and “love-hate” relationship) with Ed Sheeran, as well as providing the soundtrack for a John Lewis ad campaign. However, following “issues” with her record label she retreated behind her songs, writing for other people.
“I guess I didn’t love the music I was making any more,” she says of that time after the release of ‘Peroxide’.
Speaking from a Utrecht hotel room, where she’s preparing for a European tour with drum and bass outfit Rudimental, the Livingston-born singer recalls her early career.
“It all happened so fast, which is good and bad I guess, but I wanted to really find my sound and find what I liked doing.” Unfortunately, what Nesbitt liked wasn’t what her label wanted, so despite the success of her debut, its follow-up was shelved.
“People think I was chilling out!” she says of that two year ‘career gap’. “I was making albums but they didn’t come out.”
That lost second long-player – which “just kind of went away,” is unlikely to ever see the light of day. “I was making music for the wrong reasons,” she says. Instead she ventured into the world of songwriting for other people.
“I really enjoyed that and thought I might just do that for the rest of my life, but started writing songs which made the new album – they’re obviously quite personal and I didn’t want to give them away.”
Since leaving her label, the music industry had changed, and with streaming on the rise she was able to release her music to the world via Spotify, Taylor Swift favourite ‘The Best You Had’ being streamed well over 30 million times. Which confirmed that taking her original DIY approach – where she recorded songs at home – could work.
“I thought ‘what do I need a major for right now?’ I want to do what I like, and I knew Spotify were loving the tracks.”
As were her fans. ‘The Sun Will Come Out, The Seasons Will Change’ is a bold and honest collection of largely autobiographical songs which her loyal army of ‘Nesbians’ have already streamed 150 million times – showing how relatable her work is.
“It’s about being in your early 20s, with lots of different stories – relationships, friendships, one of my friends is having a baby, the end of adolescence, mental health as well as career stuff – it’s about everything.”
However, Nesbitt still appreciates the value of an album as a collection of songs.
“The new album’s definitely a body of work for me – I think since day one I’ve made EPs and given the fans a story.”
Happily there was a record label – Cooking Vinyl – seemingly made for her needs. “I don’t want to go down that whole major label route again, and at that time they didn’t have another young pop artist, but I know they’re really passionate.” She cites labelmates like Billy Bragg who have made multiple albums with her new label. “With a lot of the majors you get one album and if that doesn’t blow up then you’re out.”
No such worries at her new home. “It’s a modern ‘label services deal’, you sign over the album and you get to remain in control of everything else. I’m a very DIY artist so it’s good they let me do my thing.”
And this freedom fits in with Nesbitt’s whole way of working. “‘The Moments I’m Missing’ I produced, ‘Sacred’ and ‘Things I Say When You Sleep’ and ‘Empire’ I wrote those in my bedroom.”
But the new album is a mix of self-penned tunes and co-written efforts, including the likes of Fraser T Smith, whose credit appears on tracks by Adele, Britney Spears and Stormzy.
“I love collaborating as much as I do writing myself,” says Nesbitt. “I like working with new people who are passionate and have fresh new ideas. And I like people who are really good at working with chords because I’m interested in the melody and lyrics”.
Musically the new album is far-removed from her debut. “At the time I really liked it but was 17 or 18 when I wrote it, so didn’t know exactly what I wanted, or who I was, I’d only been doing it for two years, and so I look back it was definitely a representation of who I was, but I didn’t know who I was, so it’s a totally different style.”
And that change in style extends to her own image – from the bleach blonde of her debut to her natural colour – “it takes 4 hours (to go blonde) and couldn’t be bothered any more!” to the shocking pink on the new album cover. “I’ve grown up a bit and feel that everyone has that coming of age, but I wanted to make a change.
“Also, the lotus is the logo for the campaign, showing that nice beautiful things can come from dark places, as a lotus grows in dark muddy waters – that’s all quite deep!” she laughs.
“Dying your hair changes the way you feel for a while, a fresh start.”
As does songwriting. ”I like to get out of my own head, and pretend to be someone else in sessions.” Including “pretending to be a country artist for a day,” as she did for a session for The Shires. “It does help you’re imagining you’re someone else”. Indeed, alongside ‘The Moments I’m Missing’ being considered by Rhianna, ‘Loyal to Me’ was written while “thinking of a girl band like Little Mix.” She laughs. “I like being in a bit of a fantasy world!”
‘The Sun Will Come Out, The Seasons Will Change’ is out on February 1. More at ninanesbittmusic.com