From selling Ray Bans to signing with Columbia – an interview with Nimmo
I meet Nimmo in a small room at the backstage of the O2 Academy Liverpool. The band seem to be flourishing in a state of controlled chaos: kneeling on inside-out brown sofas, surrounded by jackets, towels and tour paraphernalia, they seem to be at home. As some of the other members of the five-piece indie/dance act scramble out of the room, I’m left alone with Sarah Nimmo (from whom the band takes its name) and Reva Gauntlett – the band’s primary song writing duo. I’m told that this kind of enthusiastic disarray is indicative of the group’s experience over last few months: having just signed a major deal with the omnipotent Columbia records. ‘It’s the first time we’ve been out of our studio room in a couple of weeks,’ explains Reva. ‘We’re a bit giddy’.
And giddy they should be. With an ever increasing online hype and a debut album in the works, this year has seen Nimmo rise from indie-curiosity to major up-and-comer. ‘We didn’t expect to sign our record deal as fast as we did,’ Sarah admits ‘and suddenly we were all doing our day jobs and doing these showcases at ridiculous hours. I remember one day on the shop floor [at the Ray Ban store in Covent Garden] I was getting changed into my stage clothes whilst serving a customer, and being like ‘Yeah those glasses look great, definitely buy them!’
So how long have you been writing together?
Reva: We started about eight years ago I think, when we were in school.
Sarah: We’ve always been doing stupid shit together – rapping over jungle tapes or whatever we were doing when we were really young. We’ve always been creating projects together and going through all sorts of little identities. Then we kind of progressed from listening to shit-loads of hip-hop and electronic music into song writing, and then that went on to become quite-guitar based since that was what we were centring our songs around – finding the chords on guitar and going from there. We stayed like that for a while but now we’re moving into more electronic music – with members who can actually play their instruments.
I wanted to ask about your influences. It’s been mentioned that you have a very eclectic group of influences but that the things that you both really like are Motown and hip-hop – which is quite interesting considering your current style.
Sarah: I mean that’s what we we’re raised on.
Reva: And yeah when we first met in our school years, hip-hop was one of the main genres we were both listening to at the time, just like most London kids I guess.
Sarah: I think that sparked the first feelings of punk within us – even though we didn’t listen to punk at the time: there was something hard and aggressive about what we wanted to do with music and getting those feelings out as teenagers. That vein has run throughout our music.
So you talk about being inspired by ‘punk’, but less as a style of music and as more of an ideology?
Sarah: Yeah and I suppose more in terms of the way we approach the song writing and the subjects we write about. We don’t tend to sing about things that make us that happy, the way we enjoy ourselves is in a more aggressive manner.
So how do you approach your song writing?
Sarah: From all manner of angles. We’re writing our album at the moment, which is really crazy and amazing.
Reva: But it’s changed our song writing process so much.
Sarah: Yeah songs are kind of occurring and then getting put through the meat grinder of the producers mind and all of our minds and then coming out with something completely different – played on a different instrument somewhere by a different person kind of thing. The original songs come from mine and Reva’s experiences but now they’re becoming completely different things. I don’t know if that will change the way we write music from now on – at the moment it’s just kind of a complete mish-mash.
Reva: It used to be a lot more predominantly Sarah with her guitar – she’d get the initial melody and then would write together for a while, and then Josh on bass would get some more melody going and we’d take it to the rest of the band like that.
Sarah: But writing an album together – being in the same studio room with each other for 5 months has completely changed that. It’s 100% more collaborative now.
How have you found relinquishing some of your creative control? Has it ever been frustrating?
Sarah: Not really. I think the problem is though that since we’re so collaborative everyone in the band has an idea of how the song will sound in their head and it’s really hard to find that meeting point. Sometimes you get to a meeting point and it’s a complete car crash, but sometimes you find that moment and it’s like euphoria in a tiny little box room in Dalston.
Reva: I feel like it takes a bit longer. It’s a longer process but it’s much more rewarding in the end… it’d be easy enough just to take the songs and bring it to the band and be like ‘this is what it is’, but I think that what we’d get is a much more diluted version of who we are.
“Our A&R guy always comes into our studio and says ‘Can you just leave soon? Have you been here every day?’ and we’re like ‘Yeah, every day. Since April…'”
Your most recent single ‘Others’ deals with paranoid love and a dysfunctional relationship. Is that based on either of your own experiences?
Sarah: Yeah it is. I think it came towards the end of a long paranoid kind of relationship, but it was something I was aware of in other people’s relationships – like probably in my parent’s relationship. It wasn’t solely based on that one experience though.
Reva: I think it was also at the adolescent time when loads of people could have identified with it. It was around that sort of time in our lives.
Sarah: It definitely stemmed from one particular experience. But I’m sure everyone thinks about whether their partner is thinking about fucking someone else.
Reva: Yeah maybe not so much now, but when you’re eighteen t’s a lot more standard.
Where did you go to school?
Sarah: We went to Hampstead School in Kilburn, which is a comprehensive school. Quite rough. Quite fun.
Reva: Really fun. Huge.
Sarah: We all met there – we all went to school together apart from Jack (the drummer) who we met at university. But the rest of us have all known each other since we were ten or eleven years old.
What’s it like touring together when you’ve known each other for so long?
Reva: It’s the best. It’s probably something I take for granted: how relaxed we are the whole time when we’re together.
Sarah: When our producer came to work with us on the first day he said he couldn’t understand a word we were saying. Apparently we all speak in this mumbled dialect.
Reva: I guess you would when you’ve spent this amount of time playing music together. This little language has developed over the years: we’ve made up words along the way. Not even things I can give you an example of now – I’ll just be around someone and say something and be like ‘Shit, that’s not a word’, but everyone in here understands me.
You’ve recently signed to Columbia, how have your lives changed since signing to a major label?
Reva: We literally left our jobs on the spot. We were just like ‘no, that’s it.’ I’m sure someone was literally calling during that evening of being signed.
Sarah: It just feels natural now.
Reva: Yeah, it’s weird because we’re all such close friends and all we do all day is write music together. But we’re all just hanging out: It’s feels like we’re on school holidays, because of the people I’m working with. Obviously I’m not and I’m actually working my arse off, but it does feel a bit like ‘when’s the school holiday over?’
Sarah: It is mad. We were in the band today and I had a friend with me who I haven’t seen in a while – we don’t get to see our friends as much as we’d like to since we’re writing so much – and he was like ‘Oh my god I can’t believe this is your life, like, this is your job’. And I guess it’s crazy, just sitting in this van. It’s nice to see it like that.
Reva: It’s good to stay on top of it though. It’s something that can be taken away so easily…the competition to do this job is so high that you never chill out.
Sarah: Our A&R guy always comes into our studio and says ‘Can you just leave soon? Have you been here every day?’ and we’re like ‘Yeah, every day. Since April…’
Any crazy gig stories?
Sarah: We have gig stories that will make you fucking cry. Or at least they’ll make me cry first! But it’s a privilege to have played loads and loads of shows when we were younger. It’s character building, it really is.
Reva: Me and Sarah have been heckled; people shouting ‘Get off!’ and that kind of shit when we were playing in pubs on acoustic guitars.
Sarah: But it was fun though: we played so much stuff out front and made all of our mistakes out in public, which was really fun. I swear to god that we wouldn’t perform the way we do, write the way we do if we hadn’t done those shows. I know we’d be up there shitting ourselves and have no vibe on stage if we hadn’t had those experiences.
Reva: Yeah, we’ve kind of seen it all.