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Love Unlimited: Nina Nesbitt Explores the Heart on 'Älskar'

Tuesday, 30 August 2022 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Natalie Sakstrup 

They say it’s what makes life worth living, and what makes the world go round. Yet, unless your name is Richard Curtis, it can also be seen as a scourge that exists to torment. Unravelling all the complex threads of love’s bittersweet tapestry, Nina Nesbitt’s ‘Älskar’ is a beautifully balanced album that, flush with contagious pop songs, delicate balladry and nuanced storytelling, paints a relatable portrait of her most important relationships.

Nesbitt’s third album is the latest chapter in a very modern story that has, to date, taken in more than a billion streams, hundreds of thousands of TikTok followers, a creative back-and-forth with ex boyfriend Ed Sheeran and a co-sign from Taylor Swift, who used her speech after winning Woman Of The Decade at the Billboard Women in Music Awards in 2019 to share her admiration for the Scottish singer-songwriter’s work. 

And much like her musical idol, Nesbitt’s determination and resilience has allowed her to overcome some early setbacks to take charge of her art and go from strength to strength. The title of the follow up to 2019’s ‘The Sun will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change’ references her Swedish heritage and simply translates as ‘love’.  

Matters of the heart have always driven Nesbitt’s songwriting, but ‘Älskar’ is deeper while retaining her infectious, attitude-heavy melodic sweetness. We caught up with the singer to discuss all the colours and shades of love, while also learning where she was when Swift rocked her world and why writing a really honest song kind of stokes her anger.

You began writing for ‘Älskar’ more than three years ago and then the world  changed. How did the record evolve during that period?

It would have been a completely different album had there not been Covid. I originally wanted to write a really upbeat album to develop the live set. I’d just come off the back of three years touring and wanted to get it out within a year and get back out on tour. And then everything stopped. You can hear the ones that were written pre-Covid: Teenage Chemistry, Pressure Makes Diamonds, No Time (For My Life To Suck). Then, more mature songs like Heirlooms etc, have been post-Covid. You can definitely hear the growth in the album over a few years, but I like that.     

Why did you choose to focus on love as a particular theme, deconstructing it in the way you have done?

I hit 25 and started viewing all my relationships differently, whether it be romantic relationships getting deeper and more serious or friendships becoming harder to keep up because everyone’s left uni and is living their life.  Just trying to find time. That and family. Seeing your parents in a different light. Self. Becoming a bit more sure of yourself and learning to accept who you are. So there’s definitely a bit of a shift I found interesting and wanted to write about it.

What was it about the songs and their lyrical focus that made you create the specific sound palette you’ve employed on ‘Älskar?’

I originally wanted it to be more upbeat for the live set, so you’ve definitely got Swedish pop in there. I grew up listening to Max Martin. I love Robyn.  There’s so many great Swedish artists I look up to. That was a big influence.  But I also have Scottish, folky storytelling. Even if it’s a pop song you still have the story. So it’s a combination of two different countries, in a way, and also different music I listen to. I’m always wrestling between pop and sad guitar songs and think ‘why can’t you do both?’ There’s definitely a mixture, but it’s also more live than the last album, in terms of having more guitars and stuff, which was a conscious decision.   

At what point in the creative process do you get a sense for how you’d like to record the songs after they’ve been written?

There’s 11 songs on the album and pretty much nine are writing demos.  There’s something about the first vocal take you do. It has a different energy and sometimes, when you recreate it, it doesn’t have the same magic. But some songs had a few different arrangements. Limited Edition’s the first song I wrote for the album in 2019, if not earlier, and by the time I heard it this year it felt a bit dated so we changed the production in a few sections. Colours Of You, I produced that at home in the studio and wasn’t fully happy with it.  When I was in LA we recorded it in the studio live. A couple had a few different versions but the rest are writing demos with a bit of polishing. 

There’s a distinct cadence to your delivery on Pressure Makes Diamonds. How tricky was it to get the right lyrics to fit that rhyming scheme and then deliver them in a way that’s kind of the mid-point between singing and rapping?

Well, that one we literally just got the loop, set up a vocal mic and I kept singing until I had the song. It was almost a stream of consciousness, like a freestyle, and it all came out. I was like ‘Where did that come from?’ The key is to not overthink it, not worry about what you’re saying. It’s like you shut off the front part of your mind, let the subconscious take over and just say whatever you feel. A lot of the album was written that way. I don’t sit with a guitar and a notebook, it’s more like I’ll set up a mic, hit record and stop when I feel like I’ve got the sections. Then maybe just tweak a few lyrics here and there.

Colours Of You is about a specific person but also sums up all the different shades of love you’ve captured on the album, which includes truly appreciating who you are. How important is it to love yourself before you can make any other kind of relationship work?

It’s an interesting one because people say you’ve got to love yourself before you can love someone else. But I also feel, like, does anyone truly, truly love themselves? Not a self deprecating artist, that’s for sure. It’s a process and I think, yeah, you can love someone if you don’t love yourself. You have to continue to work on yourself and not seek validation from that other person.  That’s when it’s a bit toxic. But no one loves themself everyday, surely?  Unless you’re a complete narcissist. So, you can do both. You can work on your relationship and yourself at the same time.      

On both Heirloom and Dinner Table you explore generational relationships and lineage. Was that also brought to the surface by Covid?

Definitely. I’ve always been able to jump on a flight and see my gran in Sweden if I wanted to. But because I got rid of my Swedish passport when I was 18 I couldn’t get into the country for a year and a half. She was unwell during Covid and I was thinking ‘Oh god, when am I next going to see her?’  When I eventually did I experienced it in a whole different light. Before, I’d been so career-focused and busy that I’d not been able to just put my phone down and appreciate the little moments I talk about on Dinner Table.  Literally sitting and having a chat. Learning the language and being able to speak to her and understand her stories more has been interesting. So it was definitely a lockdown inspired song, for sure.                 

During Heirloom you sing about not wanting your future children to inherit anything from your darker side.

It’s interesting because, obviously, you are going to pass things on that maybe you don’t want to. Growing older and seeing my parents from a different point of view, and who they are as humans instead of this kind of heroic character you see them as when you’re a kid, I was thinking, ‘I have got a bit of that in me…if I have a kid will they be like that?’ So I’m curious, before I’ve met them, and wonder what they’ll be like. But I guess the main thing for me is, our generation, a lot of us have gone through therapy and worked on ourselves. It brings things to light. I’ve a lot of anxiety and it makes me think ‘I wouldn’t want to pass that on.’ But I guess I’d be well equipped to deal with it, in a way. So mostly the worrying, which is an issue.

You’ve spoken a lot about anxiety. Is songwriting a way of releasing it?

It’s weird because it’s like the cure for my anxiety but, also, the root of my anxiety. So I’ll write the song to get it out and feel great afterwards. Usually, if it’s written from the heart, it’s a good one, and my team will be like, ‘We want this to come out.’ Then I’ll literally ruminate on it for five months until it comes out because I’m nervous to share it with people. I get annoyed when I write a song that’s really honest because it’s gonna be very stressful to release.  So, yes and no I guess.     

When You Lose Someone is particularly honest because you reveal that dealing with loss was the hardest thing you’ve ever had to learn.

It’s a song about grief but not necessarily a song about death. Grief has so many different forms, so everyone’s situation is different. It’s more about the feeling, because the feeling can be quite similar, no matter what your situation. The feeling of loss. I assumed feeling like that would just be for a few months, or whatever, but it’s definitely something that comes and goes.  One day you feel great and the next you can be floored. That is the process, the ups and downs, so be patient and kind to yourself. Your body and mind knows what they’re doing so you have to trust they’re doing their thing.      

As a songwriter you have to reveal a lot. Where do you draw the line between knowing how much to put out there and what to keep back? 

I really really struggled with that for this album. There are definitely a few songs I’m annoyed didn’t make the record because they’re great songs and would have been perfect, but it just felt a bit too exposing. You’ve got to remember the people you’re writing about are private people that don’t want to have their stuff released to the world. Sometimes you’ve got to think about that. And putting something out and then it’s there forever, what if I change my mind? So I have to be pretty sure how I feel about something if I want to put it out.  

I have to ask about Taylor Swift’s declaration of admiration.  Where were you the moment you found out?       

I was in bed. I was woken up at 6am by my boyfriend who said ‘GET UP, GET UP!’ I honestly thought there was a house fire. I was so shaken up by it. He was like ‘Taylor Swift’s given you a shout out’ and I was like ‘Whaaaat?’ I was half asleep and couldn’t even make sense of it. And then I came to, went on Twitter, and it was so surreal. I’m still not over it. She’s sent me a cardigan and a scarf since. She’s been so supportive. It feels great because she’s the reason I picked up a guitar when I was younger.     

And finally, in the spirit of ‘Älskar’, what is the greatest love song of all time and why?

The greatest love song ever written is Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You.  Also sung by Whitney Houston, obviously. It’s one of those songs you listen to and think, ‘Fuck, I wish I’d written that.’ It’s so simple but so powerful and relates to so many different situations.  It’s been sung by so many different people. I didn’t even know it was originally by Dolly. I heard Whitney’s version and then listened to Dolly’s and was like ‘Wow.’ I was in Nashville and someone did it on karaoke and was like ‘Oh my god, please don’t sing this song. No one should sing this but Whitney.’ Then, the girl was amazing and I was like ‘Wait, was this a country song originally?’ 

Nina Nesbitt Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sun November 13 2022 - LEEDS Leeds University Stylus
Mon November 14 2022 - BRIGHTON Chalk
Tue November 15 2022 - LONDON Electric Brixton
Thu November 17 2022 - BRISTOL Bristol Trinity
Fri November 18 2022 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute2
Sun November 20 2022 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz
Tue November 22 2022 - GLASGOW SWG3 Galvanizers
Wed November 23 2022 - EDINBURGH Liquid Rooms

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