Redbrick Meets: Nina Nesbitt | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Redbrick Meets: Nina Nesbitt

Music Writer Madeleine Bourne interviews one of her pop idols, Nina Nesbitt

It isn’t difficult to see why Nina’s music has captured the hearts of millions worldwide (with 4 million monthly listeners on Spotify and 41 million plays alone on her single ‘The Best You Had’); this woman’s journey from Scottish school kid to international musician is striking.

It’s Saturday night in Digbeth. It’s absolutely freezing, and there’s a line of excitable fans queuing up outside the O2 Institute that stretches further than the eye can see. Nina is supporting fellow Scot Lewis Capaldi on his headline tour. An hour later, and Lewis’ fans are swaying like autumn trees in the wind to Nina’s breath-taking acoustic set.

This woman’s journey from Scottish school kid to international musician is striking

There are renditions of old favourites like ‘Stay Out’, an Ariana Grande level of falsetto with a Britney twist, and some tasters of her new record, such as ‘Loyal To Me’.

When I meet Nina, she greets me with a warm smile and extends her arm to shake my hand. At first, I'm nervous about coming across as fanatical, but as soon as we sit down to chat all things music, and as soon as I let slip she’s been one of my idols since my early teens, Nina starts chatting to me like we’re old pals.

Maddie: How’s the tour with Lewis going, then?

Nina: Really good, yeah! I’ve only done three shows so far, but it’s sort of stripped back, chilled out and there’s been some really good crowds!

How did you find the crowd tonight?

Yeah, they were alright! They started off not very loud, but it’s weird because I’ve just come back from a month’s tour in America, which was very much a pop tour. The guy I was supporting was very energetic and I was there with a band, too. There was a lot of interaction, but coming on at this tonight, it’s just a different crowd - more of a listening crowd. I’m like ‘come on!’, but by the end they were good!

Your direction with music has definitely developed through what we’ve seen so far - ‘Loyal To Me’ has that RnB-infused, 90s Britney vibe. What made you choose to change direction with your music?

A lot of people say that with the Britney thing! That song is a one-off though. I wouldn’t say the whole album sounds like that. There are definitely hints of RnB in the album and that’s because I moved to London and I was exposed to more sound than I was in my little village in Scotland. I grew up with mainstream pop and acoustic stuff, and then moving to London there was RnB, rap, so much grime, all sorts of music! I just love how people tell their story through music. I just wanted to tell my story through different sounds! I suppose ‘Loyal To Me’ is the most RnB, but that one I originally wrote in mind for someone else, because I also write for other artists. I kind of imagined Little Mix or some other girl band with this track at first!

We'll hope and pray for a Little Mix collaboration then! So, if you could cite one musician who made you pick up a guitar and sing for the first time, who would it be?

It was actually Taylor Swift, when I was 15. I learnt all her songs and then taught myself song writing through that!

The storytelling aspect of Taylor’s music definitely speaks to a lot of young girls, and I think your music has that same quality. Speaking of getting into music, what was the first ever song you wrote?

The first proper song I wrote was called ‘Standing On One Leg’ - I wrote that a month before I wrote ‘Noserings and Shoestrings’, which was the first song I ever put out to the world. I wrote others when I was ten or eleven, but they weren’t real songs. I mean, I wouldn’t say ‘Standing On One Leg’ and ‘Noserings and Shoestrings’ were my best songs either, but they were real songs!

Taylor Swift was the person who first made me pick up a guitar. I learnt all her songs and then taught myself song writing through that

Working with such a huge creative team, management and record label, has it ever been difficult to stay true to your vision for your image and sound?

Yeah definitely! Definitely during and straight after the first album. I was on a major label so it was a completely different situation. And I was a child as well! It was like ‘oh, we can’t sexualise her because she’s 17, but we also want her to be pop and go out to a mass market’, And although people tried to say, ‘oh, you can do what you want,’ I ended up being shelved for two years. I couldn’t even put music out, let alone make music, so that was a confusing time.

People were like, ‘oh, you should be like this, you should be like that’ or they’d see a sound that was doing well and they’d tell me to jump on it and by the time I left [the label] I was like ‘fuck this’. I’m not a mini-this or a female-this, I’m my own person. But I’m really lucky now, as I’m on an indie label!

By the time I left the label I was like ‘fuck this’. I’m not a mini-this or a female-this, I’m my own person

What would your advice be to someone who’s trying to make something of themselves in music?

I’d say to know what you want, now more than ever. There are so many artists that have a great voice and look great, but they have no idea what they want. There’s so many things you have to think about now, such as branding yourself, writing songs that are somehow unique, the visuals you present… there’s so many things. I just think it’s so important to have a clear sense of who you are.

If you don’t know, that’s fine - just take the time to learn. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get the time to develop because I literally left school and was thrust into the industry! (Nina was scouted by none other than Mr. Ed Sheeran). I had to work out who I was in front of people. So don’t be impatient, go for things at the right time, when you know exactly who you are. Sometimes you only get one shot with labels, and I think first impressions are really important.

I think I know what you’re going to say for this one, but: what is the most important element of a song to you? Is it the storytelling through the lyrics, the catchy melody or something else?

To me, it’s the lyrics! After the first album, I started collaborating with people a lot, and everyone else did the melody first, something that I never had done! It makes sense, though, because a lot of people don’t speak English in the world, so the melody is what they’re going to feel. So now I really do think about melody as equal to lyric, if not more so, sometimes.

Have you had a favourite gig to date?

There’s been so many gigs that have been great in different ways, but recently my favourite was Toronto. This girl ended up lying on the stage, which was strange. We ended up doing karaoke as well! I’d never been to Canada before, and we had a sold-out show in Toronto - I was like, how are these people even here?!

I started collaborating a lot, and everyone did the melody first, something that I never had done! It makes sense, though, because a lot of people don’t speak English in the world, so the melody is what they’re going to feel

I feel like this is asking you to choose between children, but if you could pick a favourite out of all the songs you’ve written, which would it be?

Probably ‘The Best You Had’, because I like the chords, melody and lyrics! Or ‘Is It Really Me You’re Missing’, from the upcoming album.

And finally, can you give me any sneak peeks into the new album?

Yes! So I have a collaboration with Jonas Blue coming out on 9 November, which I’m really excited about. The album itself is featureless; I just wanted to bring out an album that was real and honest. That’s coming out on 1 February. After that, I’ll remix songs off the album with features - I already have some sorted for next year. There’s some more music videos coming out, a US headline tour and a UK headline tour planned. And more stuff will come; we’re already thinking about next autumn!

English & Creative Writing student | Writer for Redbrick & The Tab | Host of The Request Show at BurnFM | Absolutely awful at writing remotely interesting bios (@maddiemae_xo)


19th November 2018 at 9:00 am

Last Updated

19th December 2018 at 6:15 pm

Images from

Justin Higuchi