Hi Nina and James! I’m excited to have the opportunity to interview them before their performance at the Música al Raso festival in Zaragoza. They have released a joint album with The Second Hand Orchestra and are touring.
I’d like to start by asking them about the process of collaborating on this project.
The joint album with The Second Hand Orchestra has been very well received by fans and critics. How did the idea of working together come about and what was the collaboration process like?
JY – We were introduced by Karl-Jonas Winquist, a Swedish music producer and radio presenter who always has the best ideas. Musically, I trust him completely so was very open to working with Nina. The process went very smoothly, after a little bit of initial shyness. Singing on Zoom isn’t ideal!
You each have a unique musical identity, how did you combine your individual styles to create a cohesive musical experience on this album?
JY – Well, I certainly didn’t want to change what I do naturally, and would never ask anyone else to do that, so we just got together to see what we sounded like. It worked, thankfully. A lot of the basics were in our favour – we prefer the same keys to sing in, we like the same music and the same type of voice – this all helped.
The Second Hand Orchestra’s sound is quite distinctive and beautifully orchestrated. What was it like working with them and how did they influence the musical direction of the album?
JY – Of course they are amazing musicians, each of them individual and full of ideas, but I feel their friendship was the main influence. We all felt very comfortable with each other, almost from the very start.
NP – I have never really made records live before, so for me it was a new thing, I’m used to doing overdubs and scrutinizing all tracks. So working with these great musicians is very energizing and it’s amazing to work so in the moment with them.
And did it click with the songs right away?
JY – Almost all of the songs worked right away, yes. I think there were two that we couldn’t get going immediately, but placing people on different instruments, in different rooms, all of that changes the vibe and eventually everything fell into place.
James, please: How did you and how do you feel when Nina sings the songs, either together or solo?
JY – Well, for me, it is a joy when I hear Nina sing. The human voice is my favourite instrument, and Nina is such a lovely vocalist, that of course, I can do nothing but smile. Singing with her is a luxury, really.
For you Nina, please. It’s different on stage than maybe you’re used to, because you’re not in front of the audience all the time. Now there are long solos, improvised every night, how do you handle this new situation?
NP – I love it! I have dreamed about being a backing singer or something, just to get to do music without also having to do the job of fronting and not being able to look at the musicians. And in this setting, I get just that!
For both of you: you also play as a duo, how does it feel?
JY – The duo brings its own pleasures. The soundchecks are shorter, for a start! But the shows are more intimate, we focus more on the lyric and the harmonies, and locking together as a musical couple. With the full band, sometimes it feels as though we are at the top of a hill, rolling downwards very quickly with almost no control. The duo is a more relaxed affair.
NP – Yes, the solo format allows us to really be with the songs, with the full band we’re with… the full band! We can also be more sensitive to the dynamic of the audience when a duo, and have a closer communication.
The album features a mix of original songs and reinterpretations of previous songs, could you tell us about the process of selecting the songs and how you decided what to reinterpret and what to compose from scratch?
JY – All of the songs are original songs, appearing for the first time on this album. Only one, I think, was a little older (The Harmony), but I had been waiting for the right person to sing it with, and that person became Nina. When Nina and I were working on the songs, we would sing through, see what felt best for her, best for me, best as a duet, that sort of thing. We were also aware that the narrative of the songs had to make sense as duets.
James, is it true that these songs came out during the confinement and on the piano, an instrument not so much used by you until then?
JY – Exactly. There was an old piano in my studio, and I would arrive, look out to the sea and play on the piano. After a while, I had written four or five songs, and I thought – Maybe I should finish these and make it an album.
Now, I would like to talk about your live performances and your participation in the Música al Raso festival in Zaragoza.
What can we expect from your live performances, how have you adapted the songs from the album for the stage and how has the audience response been so far?
JY – for these Spanish shows, we will be touring as a duo, it will either be piano and vocals, or guitar and vocals. There is a lot of interaction between Nina and myself, and, sometimes, with the audience. We tour as a duo a lot, and it is something I look forward to.
The Música al Raso festival in Zaragoza is known for its unique and close atmosphere with the artists, what do you enjoy most about performing at this type of festival and how do you connect with the audience during your performances?
JY – Ah well, that sounds great to me. It is always good to communicate with the audience. For us, as performers, the audience and their response is definitely part of the show, and can send us home with a smile.
NP – Yes, festivals are great since there is a natural draw for people and it’s nice to be with other acts and staff.
What do you enjoy most about playing outdoors in contact with nature and the audience?
JY – We had a hoopoe blown off course last week, ending up in my village, here in Scotland, where they are incredibly rare. So, I hoping that one of those will turn up and singalong.
NP – It’s always wonderful to play outdoors, except in Scandinavia where you often end up playing in full daylight, which can make it harder to step into the magic zone, the full view of all surroundings can disturb the focus, I find.
Thank you so much, Nina and James, for taking the time to talk to me. I wish you much success on your tour and look forward to enjoying your performance at the Música al Raso festival in Zaragoza.
Have a great concert!
JY – Thank-you. We are very much looking forward to our time in Spain.
NP – Thanks!! XX