Let’s be honest: between his good looks and her diva-like vocals, the pop duo Karmin seem almost tailor-made for gay audiences. And while Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan are engaged to each other, they certainly don’t mind the attention.
After breaking through on YouTube thanks to a series of covers, including Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now” and Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass,” Karmin was signed to Epic Records and released their first EP of original material, Hello, back in 2012. With a smash single in “Brokenhearted” and a dance club hit in “Hello,” Karmin spent 2013 putting the finishing touches on their debut full-length album, Pulses, which drops March 25.
David Atlanta spoke with Amy and Nick recently about the making of Pulses, their connection to gay audiences, and what Atlantans can expect when their Pulses Tour comes to Atlanta on April 12.
David Atlanta: What can you tell us about your new album, Pulses?
Nick Noonan: First of all, this is our first actual full-length album. The other release was an EP, Hello, which had “Brokenhearted” and everything on it. So this has been a labor of love. We’ve been recording for over a year. Sonically, and kind of vibe-wise, it was called Pulses because we’re experiencing a little more of real life, not so much, you know, just honeymoon, just having success off of YouTube. So there’s more highs and lows. There are still some party songs, but there’s also a darker, edgier feel to the whole album. And it has a lot more of both of us, both Amy and me, on it.
Amy Heidemann: Yeah, it feels more like a duo, and it’s definitely got a bit more darkness and aggression in there, probably because that’s what we were going through when we were recording it.
DA: You touched on this already, but what was different about recording Pulses vs. Hello? You had some success with Hello, so I’m sure the pressure was on to sustain or build upon that momentum.
NN: Kind of, yes and no. I feel like this one was more… Hello was kind of a collection of singles, almost. This is more an actual –
AH: A body of work.
NN: – body of work, and I think it says a lot more and represents a lot more.
AH: Yeah. I think, when we were originally signed with Epic Records, it was like, everyone was super excited, because there was a lot of hype, and that can be really amazing. It was amazing for us, obviously. It was a jumping-off platform for us. But it was nice to go in and really just take full creative control over our sound, and we’re so proud of it, we’re not really worried about outdoing something that we did in the past. We’re just trying to be as honest as we possibly can.
DA: You’ve released a few singles from the album already, and the current one, “I Want It All,” seems like a bit of a departure for you compared to your previous singles. How did the song come about, then get selected as a single?
NN: It’s funny – people always say it’s good to get everyone’s opinion, because we don’t really hear it as that different. But some people hear the song, and say, “Oh, that song is so different!” And we’re like, “Oh, I had no idea.” (Laughs)
We definitely loved that kind of old funk feel – you know, like with the guitar line and all that stuff – and putting modern sounds on that. Obviously, those are all real drums and real guitars; everything’s really being played.
AH: And horns!
NN: And horns, yes.
AH: We wanted horns on a single so bad, since the beginning of time. Nick is an amazing trombone player, and it’s something we’ve just been wanting, so it worked out. We tried to keep the melody super-simple and catchy, which is kind of the Karmin thing to do, but it was a departure from “Acapella,” which was a departure from the previous singles. We definitely want to make sure people are surprised when a Karmin single comes out.
DA: I definitely think this single surprised people a little bit. Amy, you tend to rap on so many of your released songs, so hearing a Karmin song without a rap was a surprise.
AH: Absolutely, yeah. We thought it was appropriate. We were like, what is this song about? Well, it’s a greedy song, right? We want everything. It’s not just material things. But we thought, why don’t we put out a single where we’re not necessarily giving them the rap, or whatever, and we’re doing a totally different thing.
DA: What can Atlantans expect on the Pulses Tour?
AH: First of all, we love Atlanta. We love coming to perform there. The taste in music there is right up our alley. We have that hybrid blend of hip-hop and pop music, and there’s definitely some tinges of… Well, there’s a song on the album that has a reggae vibe, and a lot of R&B in my vocal, I think, and… the show goes pretty hard. I would say it’s worth coming to see us, because a lot of people think one thing about Karmin – they may know us from our YouTube covers or the radio singles, but the live show is almost like a 90s No Doubt show. There’s a lot of sweating and jumping around. It’s very audience-interactive, so I think that’s the best part. And it’s the best way to experience the new album: hearing us play it. We’ve actually designed the album after the live show. Like, “What would be awesome here? A guitar solo!” That’s what makes the tour special.
DA: You mentioned fans who know you from YouTube. When it comes to the set list for the tour, do you have any challenges balancing out your original material with covers?
NN: No, yeah. We do actually do a couple of new covers intertwined in the middle of an original song. We’ll just go into “Thrift Shop” for a minute. But we also still try to do a couple of old-school Karmin covers.
DA: Karmin has a strong following in the LGBT community. You’ve played at numerous Pride events in the past. Why do you think the LGBT community has connected with Karmin?
NN: That is a good question. I think it’s because of our performance style, kinda. We really don’t hold anything back. It’s not very safe. I know some people tend to associate radio acts with “safe,” sonically or content-wise, but when you come to a show, it’s very unsafe – very free. Like Amy was saying, in comments we get afterwards, it’s like, “Holy shit, that was a rock show!” We’re running around, and as we were developing our style, we did notice that it was the Pride events and all these other things where we got the most interaction with the audience. We got the most interaction with the stuff where we were kinda just going for it. It was more like a total, all-out energy rock show. And that was very relieving. We were like, “Oh, that’s awesome, because that’s what we naturally do anyway.” So it’s good to have people react to that. And in a way, it helped us develop our style.
DA: The two of you have been engaged for a while now. Do you plan on making things “official” any time soon?
NN: We do. The problem is, we’ve had plans for a very, very long time, but we still haven’t been able to come to fruition. But yeah. At this point, it’s just…we’re thinking about the whole “run off to Vegas” scenario, but we’ll see. We’re still planning on it. We were hoping to do it at the end of 2013, but it didn’t happen.
AH: Yeah. Right now, we’re just domestic partners. (Laughs)
DA: Now, you two are involved both professionally and personally. How do you maintain a healthy relationship with that kind of dynamic?
AH: Well, it is tough. It’s a blessing, but it’s also very difficult. I mean, yesterday, we had to be like, “Okay, have a good day, see you tomorrow.” You have to have your personal time and space, and it’s difficult when you’re on a tour bus all the time.
DA: Is there anything you’d like to add for our readers?
NN: The album comes out the 25th, and we can’t wait for you guys to hear it. And then, we’re obviously going to come by and play the whole thing live for you.
AH: Follow us on Twitter, @karminmusic. We’re always on there, so that’s the best way to keep in touch with us. And we can’t wait to see you guys in April!
Karmin’s Pulses drops March 25, and the duo will bring their Pulses Tour to Atlanta’s Center Stage Theatre on April 12.