At only twenty, British singer-songwriter Nina Nesbitt is already developing a rapid following and fervor of critical praise, but if you ask her, she is still in a state of constant transition. “My sound changes every day,” she says, attributing her evolving tastes to both her growing interests and her natural development as an artist. In her teens, Nina was already making a name for herself as a model. She kickstarted her musical career when she attended an intimate show of fellow breakthrough Brit artist Ed Sheeran in her home city of Edinburgh. With aspirations of entering the music world, she approached Sheeran after the show to ask if he had any advice for an aspiring singer-songwriter. According to Nesbitt, Sheeran simply asked her if she played guitar. “I said yes, so he said ‘okay, here’s my guitar. Play me a song.’ I played him a song and then he invited me on tour and that was it, really.”
Before touring with Sheeran at only sixteen, Nesbitt had mostly played small gigs locally, calling the experience “just all really new to me.” During her early performances, her shyness was evident, manifesting itself in a stage presence that has since disappeared entirely. “I would just look down all of the time and not talk to anyone,” she says. “I would just play my songs looking down at my feet.” However, touring with Sheeran, who already had an established following, yet was still experiencing much of the hype for the first time himself, helped calm Nesbitt, forcing her to overcome her fears. “It kind of brought me out of my shell, because you can’t be shy.”
Nesbitt’s debut album, Peroxide, which was released in February 2014, is an exercise in that desire to grow and expand. She is currently working on her second album, which is reportedly a change of style from Peroxide. Writing her own music is more than cathartic: it’s the only way she can grapple with her innermost thoughts and fury of new experiences. “I like to write about anything that means something to me,” she says. For her, Peroxide is “like a diary of what I’ve experienced over the past four years,” taking familiar elements of adolescence—heartbreak, love, youthful ambivalence—and turning them into relatable music. “Growing up, breaking up, falling in love, friendship—anything.” As for the name of the album, Nesbitt finds that it captures the feeling of a notably tumultuous time in her life. “One minute, the best things are happening, and the next minute its like the worst. Peroxide is a very strong word and substance. It can turn light from dark, or it can burn, it can leave marks. It sums up growing up and the relationship that I was in.”
Nesbitt is staying humble in the midst of the excitement of her growing audience. For her, following her dreams is what it’s all about. “I’m just myself, which I think is a good message for other young girls.” Nesbitt is currently recording her second album and recently had her acoustic Christmas show recorded by Abbey Road, Live Here Now, at London’s Union Chapel. As of spring 2015 she was back in the studio recording new music – and we can’t wait to hear.
Indira Cesarine: So, it’s widely known that at sixteen, you met and ended up supporting Ed Sheeran on tour. Can you tell me a little bit about how you met him, and how all of that came about?
Nina Nesbitt: Well, a friend of mine worked at a radio station in Edinburgh, and he was going to do a secret show with like ten people, and he just said ‘Oh his music is amazing.’ I listened, and I absolutely loved it. I’d heard the EP already, so I came along. I just walked up to him and asked him if he had any advice for aspiring singer-songwriters. I already had an online following but I wasn’t playing big gigs or anything, and I wasn’t in the industry at all. He just said ‘Do you play guitar?’ and I said ‘Yeah’ so he said ‘Okay, here’s my guitar, play me a song.” so I was like ‘Okay, then.’ So I played him a song, and then he invited me on tour, and that was it, really!
IC: How was it touring with him? It must have been insane going from playing him a song on your guitar, to being in front of a massive audience?
NN: He was big in the UK two or three years ago, so it was an exciting time for him! It was just cool getting to play for that many people. He’s a really incredible musician as well.
IC: Can you tell me about your first time you performed in front of a crowd?
NN: I had played venues around Edinburgh, and I’d played a few festivals. I’d played one big radio event called Clyde 1 Live. It was like ten thousand people, so I’d done one big gig, but it was all really new to me. It started off quite small, in front of like ten people in Edinburgh, and I would have a little set list. I would just look down at that and not talk to anyone! I would just play my songs, looking down at my feet. I played with Example as well, which is a big UK act. It’s kind of a rave act, so it was me opening with a guitar, for, like, a rave, so it was the weirdest combination ever! But it was really good because that kind of brought me out of my shell. You can’t be shy at something like that. I just had to be confident.
IC: What would you consider to be your musical inspirations as far as your sound is concerned?
NN: I think female singer-songwriters—anything I listen to is inspiring if it’s good. If I like it, if it makes me feel something. I think people like Debbie Harry and Stevie Nicks, Taylor Swift, Ellie Goulding (not so much musically but personality wise and career wise) – people like that really inspire me. Just female singer-songwriters that are great, strong females.
IC: More about their overall presence and presentation?
NN: I absolutely love their music, but I’m still pretty young and I can’t really compare myself to any of them. I think they’re just strong females, and they know what they want, and although they are sexy, it just really shines through that you can still be attractive and dress attractively but it can be done in a tasteful way.
IC: How would you describe your sound in your own words?
NN: My sound changes every day but I would say, acoustic, pop-rock. It’s kind of singer-songwriter with an edge, I think.
IC: How did you end up getting into modeling?
NN: Well, that was when I was about fifteen. An agent saw a picture of me and then contacted me. I did a bit of it, but it wasn’t really something that I enjoyed doing that much. I prefer being a singer because I can be myself more, and there’s not that pressure on me to be a certain weight and all that. I’m just myself, which I think is a good message for other young girls.
IC: Do you often collaborate with other musicians?
NN: I’m quite shy. I’m not a very forward person, so I haven’t really gone about asking anybody to collaborate. But, I got to do one with Kodaline, who is a band from the UK and they’re on my album, which I’m happy with. I would like to collaborate with other people, I just don’t, normally.
IC: If you could collaborate with any musician, who would it be?
IC: If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you’d end up doing? Do you think that you’d just be modeling or you’d be doing something else entirely?
NN: No, I quit modeling before I even started. I’d love to do acting or psychology.
IC: You’ve been performing for just a few years. Have you ever had a performance where you know you got there and it just seemed like “Oh my god, how am I going to get through this?”
NN: Yeah, I had one awful gig. Which was in Ireland, in summer. It was at Electric Picnic, a big festival over there, which I was really excited to play at. The line-up was amazing, I was excited to see the artists who were headlining, I was so excited. And then we arrived, and they changed the stage time, but obviously we couldn’t change our flight time. So, we were like twenty-five minutes late to stage, which was awful, because we missed half the set. We arrived, literally drove onto the stage, on the bus, took my guitar off, opened it up, went on with it only to notice that it had been completely smashed on the flight! So, my guitar was broken, I was twenty-five minutes late, the festival itself had set up the stage for us so I couldn’t reach the piano or anything, and I couldn’t move anything. I had to grab some random guitar and then sing and it was just awful. It was so embarrassing.
IC: Did it turn out okay?
NN: Well, not really. I mean, it wasn’t a massive turnout because there were other artists at the festival. It was rubbish. But afterwards, we all had a few drinks and just had a big party, which was really fun.
IC: So, this is our ‘Legendary’ issue. What, to you, does the word ‘legendary’ mean?
NN: Something that’s quite iconic. Something that’s quite a big deal. Something that’s been around for a while.
IC: Can you name your favorite three legendary musicians?
NN: Debbie Harry, Stevie Nicks, and David Bowie, I think. They’re all pretty cool.
IC: I understand that you have a single that just came out recently called “Selfies;” what was the inspiration behind that?
NN: That was just a bit of a laugh at first, and then I wanted to write a modern day break-up song. It’s about when you get dumped by someone and you feel a bit rubbish about yourself. I know there’s a lot of people who post pictures being like ‘Look what I’m doing, look how much fun I’m having,’ kind of creating this fake reality online, where you can be anyone you want to be, and post anything. That’s kind of what the song is about.
IC: Do you have particular themes you like to pull from for your songwriting?
NN: I like to write about anything that means something to me. I think “Selfies” is quite a fun track, but the album, all the songs are very personal on it. It’s like a diary of what I’ve experienced over the past four years. Just like anything really: growing up, breaking up, falling in love, friendship. Anything.
IC: Do you have a favorite song that you’ve produced?
NN: My favorite one on the album is called “The Hardest Part”, and it’s the last song. That’s probably my favorite.
IC: Are there any artists your own age that you find inspirational? Who are your favorites out of your own contemporary, twenty-something musicians?
IC: What sort of advice would you give to another girl your age who wanted to be a musician?
NN: I’d say, just stay true to what you want to do, and try to ignore the rest and just focus on the music. And post stuff online, and do gigs, no matter how small they are, just for the experience. I think online is giving everybody an opportunity now, because you can get yourself out there! Just get online and just be yourself.
IC: Can you just tell me about your debut album Peroxide?
NN: I’m excited about the title track. I chose that because the word ‘Peroxide’ kind of sums up what I wrote the album about. It sums up that relationship, and it’s kind of a very double-sided relationship, its kind of a love-hate. One minute the best things and the next minute it’s the worst thing ever. It’s a very strong word and substance. It can turn light from dark, it can burn, it can leave marks, and it just sums up growing up and the relationship that I was in. It’s a strong kind of word. And all the tracks kind of relate to that somehow. I think ones like ‘Tough Luck’ and ‘The Hardest Part’ are my favorite ones.
IC: Do you have a personal motto or words of wisdom that you live by?
NN: Just ‘Be yourself.’ It sounds a bit cliché but, do what you want to do and be yourself.
IC: Anything exciting you’ve got coming up?
NN: I’ll be over to America at some point this year! I’m just kind of starting off in the UK just now, but I’ll be announcing the US date soon!
Interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Photography by Iavkovos Kalaitzakis
Fashion Editor: Rebekah Roy
Hair by John Mullan
Make-up by Ruth Warrior @ Lovely Management
This article originally appeared in The Legendary Issue of The Untitled Magazine (2014), be sure to check out the issue here!