This article was first published on CLUAS in January 2008
Interview with Nina Hynes
Aidan catches up with Nina, who is now resident in Berlin...
You live in Berlin: why did you decide to move there?
I came here because I visited in 2003 and it stayed in my mind. It seemed a creative and interesting place, and it is, and it's a much more spacious city than Dublin - and also somewhere much cheaper so the standard of life is higher. Aesthetically it appeals to my sense of beauty and simplicity, and the history is intriguing.
Can you recommend any current Berlin or German acts?
Kraftwerk and Komeda [who are Swedish - Ed.], that's about as current as I can get here as most of the bands I have heard in Berlin are not German! I haven't gone out in a while though; I have been locked inside alone with headphones. I recently wrote a song with the music of a German DJ called Kemo: that album might be released soon.
Do you keep up to date on new Irish music? Anyone in particular that you like?
Hmm, let's see... I did a gig with Jape recently in Vienna and they were great. I talk to Ann Scott on the phone sometimes, I really like her and Miriam Ingram has a new remix album out which I am very interested in hearing. Oh, and I found Little Xs For Eyes on MySpace and really liked them - and I loved this band I played with in Waterford called Katie Kim. A Lazarus Soul and Karl Him touch me emotionally. Robotnik recently sent me his album and I really enjoyed it. I am very interested in hearing what kind of music Nature Boy will make. People I have collaborated with... Super Extra Bonus Party are original and uplifting. I sang a lot on Michael Knight's forthcoming album too and it's an album definitely worth a listen. Jimmy Behan always has a new angle... what are Messiah J up to?... there is quite a lot of new music I like there... I could go on, my memory is coming back. Irish albums that might be great next year: Carol Keogh, Pete Pamf, Margaret Healy, Valerie Francis, Bedbugs, Siobhan Wilmot, Messiah J (I imagine they are working on one?) Humanzi are based here in Berlin too and I am interested in hearing what kind of album they are recording.
You wrote a fascinating post on your MySpace page last November about the difficulties you've encountered in financing your recording and touring. Has there been any improvement in the meantime?
No improvement. I like people to know the reality of life as an artist. They are fed music promotion constantly and it is nearly always the big players with the money/powerful managers behind them who happen to succeed. I don't believe that this is accidental. It doesn't mean that people with money or power behind them have less interesting, more bland or better music. It just means that it is easier for them to reach more people. Most people are not even aware of the marketing that is affecting their taste and spending.
I like being honest and not pretending that I live a glamorous life. I am an artist; I look to the stars. I put a donate option on www.ninahynes.com on the ?Nina? page for people with money who like my music and want to help. Some people helped out with the van trouble scenario [see below - Ed.] which was very sweet and generous - it's still not sorted, though.
Do you think the answer to financial problems such as yours lies with (for example) state intervention like the grant aid available in Canada, structuring/running the music industry differently, or artists thinking more like businesspeople?
Yes, definitely, state intervention/arts council/grants would be of great benefit but unfortunately right now in Ireland, unlike Canada or the Scandinavian countries, there doesn't seem to be much realistic help available for musicians who might be termed alternative rock/pop/indie or who might be seen as possibly commercial. It's strange as Ireland has benefited greatly from this type of music but the arts grant people tend to think it is up to the record companies/music industry to invest and the industry is so narrow and almost non-existent on a supporting level for most artists in Ireland so it is streamlined, insular, very controlled and kind of a stalemate and a Mexican standoff for people like me. The funding available tends to go to extremely experimental/sound/theatre or the visual arts if not to contemporary classical, jazz or traditional composers.
Artists thinking more like business people is an ideal but I am not sure how realistic it can be. I try. I try. Make a cat bark like a dog. Make a monkey talk.
Obviously the internet has changed things dramatically so if one is a little inventive, it is more possible to actually get out in to the world to communicate rather than stay home creating hidden treasure, masturbating or committing hari kari.
There's a lot of talk in the Irish music industry, but as far as I can see most of the action that gets done is drinking or pushing the chosen bands. That MUSO site seems very positive, though.
At the time of writing, you're expecting a baby (due in March). How will parenthood affect your work as a gigging and touring musician, do you reckon?
Well, we are hoping for a drummer to complete the line up so it can be Nina and The Husbands and baby... we'll see. We plan to continue touring as much if not more than before once we have a new record to tour with and the conditions are good enough to bring a baby along and so long as she is enjoying it and we are too. Kimya Dawson from the Moldy Peaches is an inspiration in this way.
Both your recent album 'Really Really Do' (shortlisted as one of CLUAS's top Irish albums of 2007) and your live shows promoting it have enjoyed great reviews. Are you working on new music these days? What are your plans for 2008?
I am always working on new music. For the first time in my life, though, I have permanent access to good recording gear at home and also to a brilliant studio here in Berlin called Studio East that my main Husband, Fabien, has just opened up with someone else so it won't be so expensive in the future for me to get records made to a high quality. I am very excited recording every day on my own at home too with a pretty cool set up. It's addictive and satisfying.
Most of what I seem to be doing in the last few weeks is under the name One Little Rabbit Cat. It's just me being all spaced out in headphones all day. It is more soundtrack material than songs but I have nearly two albums of songs half recorded too which I will finish at some stage. If I never put them out properly, I will at least have them as downloads on www.ninahynes.com or on my MySpace page or on the One Little Rabbit Cat MySpace page.
For now, I have been building my nest. I am cooking and baking a lot. I want to take a sewing class as I got this lovely old sewing machine and I have loads of ideas and I want to learn/remember how to crochet. Who knows, maybe I will create a whole line of cool baby clothes and set up shop on my site. I would love to get my hands on some kind of visual recording device and start making little films. I have been editing photos a lot too which keeps me entertained when I am not making music.
We hate to say it, but you seem to spread bad transport vibes wherever you go: breakdowns, strikes and the like. Could you give our readers a rundown of your recent European tour and the transport problems you had?
Ha! If I took all the barriers that I have had to break down as signs that maybe I shouldn't be doing this, well I would have given up a long time ago and many times over, but until I figure out what else I could do, the music has got me...
The recent transport scenarios were kind of unlucky, you might say. We had this beautiful van that we even lived in for a while and travelled 13,000km in it during the summer, but it just died in Germany on our way to Ireland at 1 a.m. on the highway at the end of October. Packed with gear and a day and a half away from the boat in France with 70 euro on us, we sent out SOS pleas and lots of people helped and we got a loan from someone so we could rent a van and just hung out until the next boat as we missed the first one.
We often live quite on the edge setting out with very little money and no back up and hoping that we will make it to the gig so we can continue on our journey. Otherwise, we just wouldn't get out to tour at all. It is either this way or no way so we chose to take the plunge and go out in to the world.
In that instance, we just didn't have any plan B so we were stuck in this little town with our dead Hannes the van until we were bailed out by nice helpers. I guess it was inevitable as the body of the van was so old (1989) even though the engine was quite new (2003). The body killed the engine in the end by collapsing and breaking it in half, but it was the only van we could afford and we LOVED our van... Oh, and it was lashing rain and freezing and stormy and I was living in one of those school horror stories in my head when Fabien went out in the night to find some help... you know, a man and a woman in a car, middle of nowhere scenarios, man goes out for help, woman hears a noise, crazy farmer, husband's head on pitchfork etc... I wonder how this will affect the baby...
When we went to Paris in November, there was a public transport strike going on so it was quite hard for people to actually come see us, but the French are not lazy and are resistant against the odds when it comes to art and some audience members cycled for an hour in the freezing weather to make it to the gig. Crazy but great.
When we went to Italy in December there was a petrol strike, so we were stuck in Rome with an empty tank for days. The whole city was on hold. It felt like an eerie sci-fi film. Eventually, after a few days of hanging out and being sick we were saved by 'someone in the know', as they say in Italy, who came and brought us some fuel for our rented car!
Looking back on your career and experiences to date, what advice would you give to any aspiring acts hoping to play music full-time?
Music is in you or it's not. You should enjoy and appreciate it. It makes the practical side of life much harder for most who live it full-time. I figure it gets a hold of you and doesn't let go so giving advice is pretty pointless to anybody under its grip but the spell can make for some very magical moments that can't be compared to a life without.
Could you ever see yourself living and working in Ireland again?
Not for now. Maybe someday, if I had a house by the sea and I could put a studio in it but for now, I need a broader world. For me, it is either a big city of variety or the sea. Berlin is great in that it is not money-orientated for now so people tend to be very inventive and at the same time relaxed... There is so much choice.
Interview conducted by Aidan Curran
?Really Really Do? is on Hynes? own Transplant Records label (available from www.ninahynes.com or Nina Hynes on MySpace)