“I think what happened was electronic music exploded in America. So really, our gigs and fans are what saved us. It was such a beautiful and bizarre feeling to meet fans because when you write for other people, you never have that. Whereas now we have people coming up to us and saying, ‘This song changed my life’ and ‘You know, you got me through a breakup’ or just really incredible things that we never thought we would experience.” – NERVO
The story behind the Australian DJ duo, Miriam (Mim) and Liv NERVO reads like a modern day fairytale; the setting for which occupies the dark corners of an Ibiza night club rather than a queen’s palace. The girls went from working endless hours waiting tables to pay rent, to knocking down production studio doors to get gigs as session musicians, to getting cherry picked by the likes of David Guetta and Ke$ha for collaborations (one of which they ended up winning a Grammy for). From those early days of sharing a room in London and scraping by, the two now jet set around the world, dominating the EDM festival and club circuit, while tirelessly producing music in between. Their good fortune came full circle when EMI records offered them an imprint deal, then decided to scrape it altogether, opting rather to sign the two as their own act. They now perform under their personal moniker and are on the eve of releasing their debut full length.
Mim recently took a break from their packed touring schedule to chat with The Untitled Magazine about growing up playing music, her inspirations as a producer, and getting to share a career with her best friend.
Read Editor-in-chief, Indira Cesarine’s full interview with NERVO below and don’t forget to pick up The Untitled Magazine #GirlPower Issue, in print and online now!
NERVO BEHIND THE SCENES VIDEO – THE #GIRLPOWER ISSUE 8
Photography and Video Direction by Indira Cesarine
Indira Cesarine: So, you recently performed at TomorrowWorld. How did that go?
Miriam Nervo: Incredible. Insane. Last year was the first year the festival was on, and this year, it was like it was on steroids. It was fantastic. The fans were incredible; they knew our songs! We had a later slot, the sunset slot. As the sun went down, we played into the night, which is always nice as well.
IC: How does it feel to play in a festival in front of a hundred thousand people? Do you guys ever get nervous?
MN: Oh, yeah, yeah. We always get nervous before the big live-stream gigs. But it’s within the first three mixes [that] you get a feeling for the crowd, for the music, for the sound system; after that we’re basically having a lot of fun! Especially if we’re well prepared. When we’re not prepared is when we’re arguing behind the decks.
IC: Do you prefer to play at festivals or concert venues?
MN: Aw, look… that’s an impossible question to answer. Honestly, festivals are incredible because of the amount of energy, the amount of fans and people there, and signs, and color–it’s just such an experience. But clubs are a little bit more intimate, so that’s why it’s nice to kind of bounce from one to the next.
IC: After TomorrowWorld, you went to Montreal. Was that also for a festival?
MN: No, it was a club. We had a sold out gig! Canada was one of the first places that supported us. It’s where we started getting a little bit popular. It’s incredible to come back here. We have proper, proper fans.
IC: So do you ever get time off between all your traveling and your gigging?
MN: Ah, we don’t really. I’ll get a random day off here and there in a country when I’m on tour. We live in Ibiza every summer for four months, and play on Mondays at a place called Bushwacka. So it means Tuesdays are normally our Sundays. Then when I take time off, I like to really take time off. Liv and I normally [do so] separately. Break down: she’s going to Peru next week, and I’m going to stay in L.A. to do some studio work, and she’s going to take four days off. So we tag team it, because if we both take time off, it just gets a bit too stressful when we come back to work.
IC: Well it’s great that you guys have a support system going on.
MN: I think it everyday. [I’m] so lucky to have a business partner—a best friend that I work with, that I live with, that I travel with—who is so similar to me; same work ethic. We always work hard, and if one makes mistakes it’s fine. We know our hearts are in the right place, so, it happens.
IC: I know you don’t really like emphasizing being twins. Is there any real reason for that?
MN: Yes, because I think it can come across a bit gimmicky. If you google ‘twins’ or ‘DJ twins,’ what comes up isn’t always…incredible. We wanted our music to speak for itself. If people find out we’re sisters, great! If we’re twins, great! We don’t mind, but we just don’t want to…
IC: Focus on that.
MN: Yeah, creep about it all the time.
IC: Do you feel like it helped your career to be able to work together?
MN: Oh, a hundred percent. We went through a lot of um — we call them the dark years. They were the years in London when we were just really struggling. You know, waitressing during the night and on weekends, and then working in studios during the week. If it wasn’t for us sharing a bedroom, and pooling together our waitressing tips, then we wouldn’t be here right now. So really, two was better than one. We just really supported each other. We owe it to each other, I think. Absolutely.
IC: Now how did you go from waitressing in London to getting your first big break?
MN: The thing is, we had many breaks along the way. And at the time, you think they’re your big break: top ten in the UK, publishing deals, working with a pop star. It’s all stepping stones. But I think the really big break — I think also a lot of it had to do with timing — is when we worked on “When Love Takes Over” with David Guetta. At the same time, we worked a lot with Ke$ha—“Boots and Boys,” “VIP,” “Fuck Him He’s a DJ”… I think electronic music and dance music was just becoming so popular. David Guetta was the first DJ—real DJ—to bring club music to the main stream and the radio. We worked on his project for so many years with his songs, I think that was really lucky for us. We won the Grammy with “When Love Takes Over,” and then we got a record deal! That record deal gave us the confidence. We’d never released records under our own name, we just ended up producing for others, which was our goal. Then our goal shifted a little bit, so we became known artists. We were always Nervo. Our production name was always Nervo, but we just never thought about releasing records under our own name until then.
IC: Nervo is your last name, right? What is that background from?
MN: Yes. Our parents were both born in Italy, from a good working class immigrant family. Haha! Hard work in our blood, I think!
IC: I know you started out modeling with Chadwick, Australia, and then you signed your publishing deal with Sony. How did all of that come up? Is your family in the music industry?
MN: Oh, no, no. Family is definitely not in music, but they always encouraged music. I think because my parents grew up quite poor, because they were immigrants, music was always a luxury that they never had. They never got to learn instruments, so they really encouraged us if we wanted to, to do music. Basically we loved to play piano and sing; it was a form therapy for us. Mum and Dad just said we had an abundance of energy, so they wanted us to come home tired! They would make sure that we were busy. We were part of a performing arts group, and had singing lessons. We would do musicals and big bands. Mum said we were so loud that she needed us to use our volume in different ways. So that was singing lessons, and we really enjoyed it. I think when you enjoy something, they become the subjects you do best at in school. And we did. Music was just our best subject. And back then you couldn’t learn digital music, there was only classical music. There was just no option to go to a production school. You couldn’t just buy a computer and have a program on it and start programming everything yourself. You had to go to a really expensive studio and beg them to book you. We were classically trained, but I think when we were 17 or 18 we found this producer that we really wanted to work with. He first started off with us being demo singers. Writers would come in, play the piano, come in, sing, and then he’d pay us, and then we’d go. There were a couple of records he hadn’t finished, and he was like, ‘Girls, I’m missing the bridge, could you help me write this?’ We wrote it and he loved it. He was like, ‘Girls, let’s start from scratch, let’s do a few records together.’ So we did! Those records got attention overseas, and that’s when we were hooked on pop music—modern music. With classical music you learn what to do, you get marked on your performance, and you get graded. Whereas pop music for us was more free, it was more creative; there were no rules. Do what you feel. It was really inspiring, really exciting. It opened up Pandora’s box for us.
IC: Yeah, I can imagine. So you started out doing a lot of ghostwriting before you were really working and performing.
MN: Yeah, I’d say ghostwriting, but that was the goal. The goal originally was just to be in the studio eight days a week and have different artists come in every day and write for them. I think ghost-producing gets a dirty name now, but it was really what we wanted to do back then.
IC: Moving forward to more current days: your track, ‘When Love Takes Over,’ you view as a game changer. Can you tell me a little bit about after that happened?
MN: I think the one thing to note which was a little bit hard then, was that we were always yes people. We were always like, yes, let’s do this; yes, we can work on this project; yes, we will deliver this by this time. When [the Grammy] happened, we just started to say no, because we didn’t have time. We like to deliver things on time. I always like to finish our productions, because if you don’t finish it, you’re never going to know if it’s good or not. We hate having unfinished ideas out there. So that was one little thing, having to change it from ‘yes, yes, yes,’ to ‘damn, I need to really schedule this, because I don’t have a lot of time now.’ But it was an amazing experience. I think we were a little bit down and out with the music industry when that hit came out; Liv and I were even willing to leave it. We had a top ten in the U.K.; we had quite a bit of what looked to be success before that hit. But everyone was like, ‘no no no, but this is a really big hit, this is gonna change your life.’ And we were a bit like, ‘ah, let’s see…if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. I might go into music management, or A&R, or just something else.’ Then I think what happened was electronic music exploded in America. So really, our gigs and fans are what saved us. It was such a beautiful and bizarre feeling to meet fans, because when you write for other people, you never have that. Whereas now, we have people coming up to us and saying, ‘This song changed my life’ and ‘You know, you got me through a breakup’ or just really incredible things that we never thought we would experience.
IC: It must have been incredibly intense. How did you progress from going from that to then getting a deal to record your own music? Can you tell me about that process and where you went from there?
MN: Well, it’s its own revolution. Originally we got the record deal as an imprint. EMI wanted us to sign artists, develop them, and then sign them under our own record label. At the time, Liv and I used to love finding artists like Ke$ha before they were in our spheres, and even David Guetta. We had our first number one with him, and we really enjoyed the development process. So originally the deal we were offered with EMI was an imprint for our own record label. Then we started DJ-ing for fun, and we just thought, look, let’s give this a whirl, see how it goes. Then EMI were like, ‘Girls, look, let’s put this imprint on hold, because we believe in you and we would like you to release records under your own name. Because you can do it. You write for others, just write for yourself now.’ It was honestly the support we got from our peers, and David Guetta, in particular. I remember we were at his house in Ibiza and I don’t think ‘When Love Takes Over’ had been released yet. We were swapping records, because he had been going to Ibiza for ten years. He was like, ‘Girls, why don’t you become DJs?’ We were like, ‘Oh, just never thought about it.’ And he was like, ‘Look, put together a mix tape so I know what you play, your sound, what you want to stand for musically. If I like it, and it suits my night, you can come play with me at Pacha.’ And we did! We put together our mix tape, we started working on a few productions that we thought were going to be more Nervo-style. We played it all for David, and literally, we went from DJ-ing in our bedroom to warming up for David Guetta. At Pacha. In Ibiza. We had beautiful genuine support from David, which really helped us.
IC: Did you ever feel in any way that it was harder being a female DJ? When you look at the lineup, there’re so few women on the lineup of these big festivals.
MN: Yeah, we get asked this a lot. For us, gender has never been a barrier or an issue. Even when we were just producing everyday, all day, it was still a male orientated world. We would be the only female producers that would come in, and they would be like, ‘ah, cool!’ So we’re a bit used to it. We did get support from the boys, so we never saw it as an issue, but I clearly do see that there is a difference. There are a lot more men being booked than women. DJ life on the road is not glamorous like a pop star.
IC: So maybe being together helped out.
MN: Yes. Oh, absolutely. We always say we need a third Nervo. Or a fourth! If we had a third or fourth Nervo, it would be even better!
IC: You signed the CoverGirl campaign a couple years ago, which was everywhere, and must have dramatically raised your profile in the public arena. How do you feel that impacted your career?
MN: I think it really resonated with young women. I thought that was really nice. I think it was bringing a bit of glamorama to our nightclub and DJ-ing world. Look, we’re girls, we like to get dressed up. We like to wear make-up and wear colorful clothes, so I just love it that there are people like CoverGirl. They are recognizing our industry and glamorizing it a little bit.
IC: I know you also just released your album, Inspired, under your name? Can you tell me about it?
MN: That album was a mix CD, basically. We finished two sides. I was supposed to pick records that really inspired us, and so CD one has nothing that we had written; it just has records that have changed our lives. The second album has records we were playing at the moment. What we found is that we really love soulful house. That’s definitely what started our love for electronic music. It’s obviously in our bones, in our blood. Last year, we released a lot of records, three records, with soul vocals on them: ‘Sunshine Thru Rainclouds‘ (actually that’s this year) and ‘Don’t Break My Heart,’ which was this year as well.
IC: Are there any tracks right now that you just love playing?
MN: There are so many that I’m playing! I’m playing a really good remix at the moment, actually, of a record called “Hideaway” by Kiesza. The original has got quite a deep drop, but we play more of a big room mix of it, so that’s a really nice moment in our set. The original is a deep house record, and I like it because I can see that when we play it, our fans know the words, which is awesome. It means they’re listening to all genres within electronic. It’s not just big room or electro-house.
IC: How do you and your sister sort of divide up the collaboration?
MN: You know, in the jam, when you’re jamming, we like to be together, because we bounce off each other. If she’s doing something, and I’m like, ‘yeah yeah yeah!’ and then I will jam off her idea, and that’s really nice. But the production side of things is what takes hours. It’s the hours of just sitting at the computer just editing, editing, editing, and there’s no quick way around it. The inspirational part is so nice and quick and free. The homework part, the production part, we can generally do on our own, so we tag team it, and then we come together and we’re like, “okay, are you liking the sound of this, is it coming along the right way?” Sometimes, Liv will be working, and she’ll get an idea almost 80 percent ready to where she likes it, and I will come in and I’ll say, ‘no no no, I don’t like it at all, you’ve got to scrap it.’ So that’s why we like to be together.
IC: What do we have to look out for you guys, coming up?
MN: The albuuum!
IC: The album! When is that dropping?
MN: Ah, I mean, it’s done, and now we’re working out which singles we’re going to release first. We’re shooting literally four music videos in the next three months. So we’re going to get the music videos done, get the remix packages out, and then we’re going to decide which singles to go with. Because we write a range of music, we didn’t want every record to be an EDM banger. We really wanted some of them to maybe not work on the dance floor, but work in the living room, at a different kind of setting. Or work on the radio, because not all records on the dance floor work on the radio. So we’ve done a few beautiful record, collaborations with artists like Kylie Minogue and Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters and others.
IC: Are you performing vocally on a lot of the tracks as well?
MN: I think half, well not even half, actually. A good third, Liv and I are vocaling. And then the others, we have male vocalists or female vocalists or bands. When we play our set, we don’t want our set to be all Nervo vocals. We want other sounds and flavors to be in there.
IC: It definitely shows your admiration of music as a whole, the fact that you are happy to have other people come forward to do the vocals that inspire you.
MN: Of course!
IC: What is the title of the album?
MN: We don’t know. We have a few ideas, which I can’t tell you yet. But the album is going to be quite a spiritual moment for us, because it’s been done. It’s our first, I would say, proper, proper album. So it’s going to be a real moment. And we want it to go well, we really do, but at the same time it’s almost going to be a liberating experience to just release it, and see how it goes. Have it out there, you know!?
IC: And are there any tracks in particular that you are really excited about?
MN: Yes. Yes, very. I’m obsessed with quite a few records on there, and they’re actually not the big EDM bangers. But again, they’ve just got a heart to them which I love. There’s one called “It Feels.” It just feels like a summer day to me, this record. A peaceful summer day, not a drinking summer day. Haha! There’s another record I love called “Let It Go,” and that’s again, quite a crunchy record, but good. Very good. And there’s another one, “Rise Early Morning ” that we’ve been playing in our sets, and I feel like that’s working really well.
IC: Are you planning a world tour as Nervo with that album?
MN: I think we’re always on a world tour, aren’t we!
IC: Yes, you are. This is true!
MN: I think, yeah, the touring will continue, and actually I’m going to Australia for a good month, and I’m going to do a lot of work, a lot of studio work actually. I think we’re going to be working for a lot of other artists, because our album’s done. We’re going to concentrate on that, and I do want to stand still for a moment and just get back into the studio vibe, where I’m not gigging very three days. So that will be also another exciting time.
Interview by editor-in-chief Indira Cesarine
NERVO photographed by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine #GirlPower Issue
Fashion Editor: Indira Cesarine
Make-up by Renee Garnes
Hair by Anthony Joseph Hernandez
This article originally appeared in The #GirlPower Issue of The Untitled Magazine (2015). In print and online now!