Boy meets girl, pop meets the Web and a hit duo emerges
By Larry Gilchrist
Special to MSN Music
Karmin's story is no different than most. Boy (Nick Noon) meets girl (Amy Heidemann). They fall in love and start recording YouTube covers of hit pop songs. One such cover -- Chris Brown's "Look at Me Now" -- makes them internet sensations, thanks in large part to Heidemann's impressive MC skills, and earns them fans in Ellen DeGeneres, hip-hop producer Jermaine Dupri and Ryan Seacrest. It also catches the attention of Epic Records and lands them a record deal. A little over a year later, the duo have released a hit single about their first encounter ("Brokenhearted"), they've put out a debut album ("Hello"), and they're engaged. Pretty standard, right?
MSN Music recently caught up with Heidemann to talk about their rise to stardom, their covers and how it's all been a crazy rush.
MSN Music: What has this year been like?
Amy Heidemann: The best word [to describe it] is a whirlwind. We were posting covers once a week in this miniature Boston apartment with a $99 webcam. And one of them that we posted on the Internet just went crazy. It picked up about 4,000 views the first week and then Ellen had us on her show, which pushed it into the 10 million area.
I think it's close to 70 million now, and that propelled us into a record contract. We met with a lot of the major labels and fell in love with L.A. Reid, who recently moved over to Epic Records, and he signed us as his flagship artist. So, we've been given a priority role over there, which is a really big blessing. A couple of singles and a couple of videos -- and we've got a top 20 Billboard hit [album].
Obviously that video was the turning point in your career, but when did you guys realize it?
We studied music for four years at Berklee [College of Music] in Boston, which is the best contemporary music school in the country, so we knew what we wanted. We went into this with somewhat of a strategy. We said, "Let's do covers once a week and make sure that they're songs that people are searching for."
We learned about tagging stuff on the Internet, so I have to say it was much earlier than our appearance on "Ellen." We were very shut off from the world -- I had my cellphone number on our website that I made by hand, learning from a 14-year-old kid in Germany on YouTube. I designed the website on a $0 budget. So, with Jermaine Dupri calling our cellphone the night the cover went up, we kind of knew then that it was going to be something else [laughs]. Ryan Seacrest posted a widget of all of our covers on his website and asked his listeners what their favorite Karmin cover was. I remember running out into the street in Brookline [Mass.] while I was on the phone with my dad, just bawling. I knew that the world had finally found us and it was really wild. So, that day we posted that video we knew we had something special.
You guys were already creating your own music as well. So, what was the process of going from Internet sensations to signed artists recording your debut album?
It was like, "Oh, we made it!" And then we got the record deal and it was like, "Oh, man! We have so much more to learn." [Laughs] It was such a new adventure, going in and creating "Hello." One of the first things we did was work on finding a single. "Crash Your Party" was the setup single -- it was only released here in the States, which I feel like could have been a huge song if we had released it everywhere -- and went into the studio for about a month with Claude Kelly [co-writer of Bruno Mars' "Grenade"], Stargate, Circuit from Dr. Luke's camp, and John John [our bass player]. It all sort of just came out. We felt very lucky that L.A. Reid and our label were allowing us to write our songs, because I know with a lot of pop artists it's like, "Oh, let's find all the hit songs and put them on the album." There was a battle here and there, and we learned a lot. We're super, super proud of the album and we think our fans are loving it too.
You describe the album's sound as "swag pop." What is swag pop?
There's not a single song or drum groove where we don't want to rap or sing on it. So, it's this new hybrid thing -- and a lot of people are doing it now on mainstream radio. B.O.B is singing and rapping. It's not like a new thing, but we wanted to come up with a name for it. It wasn't exactly pop because it has a lot of hip-hop-inspired drums, super-earthy instruments and rapping, but it's not hip-hop in the purest sense either. So, we coined it as "swag pop" as a joke and it stuck.
Speaking of rapping, have you all ever considered doing something that is more "traditionally" pop?
I think hip-hop is such a big part of who we are. Even when we had a couple of songs that were just singing, they still had huge, earthy drums that were in your face. We like to call them "Kanye drums" -- he's one of our favorites. So, I think that swag or that intangible element that makes you feel like the song goes hard will always be there. Nick has the ballad on the album, and you can already hear the rock influence in his voice. We're talking about putting out some more music, hopefully soon, that gives you some of that edge as well. We even joke about doing a "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" collaboration like OutKast, where one half would be mostly Nick compositions and one half mostly me -- with collaborations on both sides, obviously. There's going to be a lot of musical exploration over our career, for sure.
Social media has played a large part in your success. How important is it for you all to remain directly connected to your fans?
We considered ourselves very normal people, and I know a couple of artists who are not into the whole Twitter thing. It feels so important to us because that's where we came from. We grew [our fan base] over a year and a half basically just tweeting at people, posting videos, commenting and interacting. We love being able to put something out and get feedback on it, or putting up three different album covers and having them vote for the best one. We want them to know that they are such a huge part of Karmin ... and I think that's why the wedding is becoming a challenge now. We don't want to have this little closed-off wedding. First of all, we don't even have time for it right now. We just want to make sure that we're always in direct connection with the fans. I think that's the key -- especially for the new era of the music industry.
What are your summer tour plans?
We're doing a lot of the radio festivals where Pitbull and Nicki Minaj will be performing, so we're honored that they asked us to come and perform. And we're hoping for an opening slot on a bigger tour this fall or we might just be heading out on our own. We might be hitting Asia and Europe later on in the year as well. We just don't expect to be home for a while.
Would you guys ever consider doing more covers?
If we had extra time, we would still be doing covers, for sure. We love doing that. It feels like such a great exercise for us to be able to put our stamp on another song. And the fans enjoy it. We did a cover of [Gotye's] "Somebody That I Used to Know" a couple of weeks ago for something, and obviously it didn't go up on the YouTube channel because we didn't have time to videotape it. I think there are going to be covers on future albums as bonus tracks, like fully produced covers -- maybe some throwback ones rather than the Top 40 covers that we usually hit -- but it's definitely not the end of the covers.
What's it like to see aspiring artists covering your music?
That is really wild. We'll be checking our email or Twitter and someone will send us something that says, "Please watch my cover of 'Brokenhearted'!" And we're like, "Are you kidding me? You covered it?" And then we remember that it's being played all over the country. It's amazing. ... It's like full circle for us