Nina Hynes: In Wim Wenders’ Living Room
Just in time for the kick-off of the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, Nina Hynes spoke to Irish Culture Events about visual inspiration, the movie that brought her to Berlin and supporting long-term friend Glen Hansard for two nights in Admiralspalast on February 20th and 21st.
Q: You were born and raised in Ireland, toured Europe and the U.S. extensively and are now based in Berlin. What brought you here? Is Berlin, even though it’s changing a lot these days, still a good place for creative work?
A: I saw Wings of Desire when I was 15 or 16 and I thought hmm, I will go there. I came for five days in 2003 and really fell in love with the mystery and falling apart feeling here. Bars with no names, paint peeling off walls, a certain not giving a dalm energy. In 2007, I got offered a sublet for a month and decided yes, I’ll go, and I stayed. Berlin is not stagnant. There is a creative drive and hunger not driven by capitalism that still exists, and this is in a permanent flow of osmosis. The space is large here which makes it easy to create mental or emotional depth. The history here still echoes in a strong reverence for the collective community spirit. I don’t think this is going to go away for a while yet. I think I would create anywhere though. I hold it in the same importance as eating when I can.
Q: Tell us a bit about your latest release “Raging Fire” (2017) and the projects you’re working on at the moment!
A: Raging Fire is a song close to my heart. It wrote it in an hour while I was waiting for my brothers to pick me up from a friend’s house as my sister died suddenly. I have been playing it live for a few years now, and people really connect with it. A friend who loves it suggested he would try to get it into a really wonderful TV drama he is acting in, so I recorded it. This got me on a roll of recording my new songs at home on my own. I released two EPs on the same day in September 2017 to coincide with my first proper Berlin solo show (after ten years of being here!). One was the Raging Fire EP and the other is Sanctuary, an EP of my solo home recordings. I often record at home but don’t think of it as good enough to release (i.e. put it up on the internet), but the friends I played them for encouraged me that that kind of intimacy is very appealing. After making Dancing Suns, I felt expressed. I felt that aesthetically, I had achieved what I had set out to do. We made the most beautiful vinyl and a record I felt proud of. Since then, I have not had the financial opportunity to record anything on the grand scale that I wish, so I just kept my head down writing but not making any plans for a new record. Also, I didn’t want to do the whole crowd funding thing again. Now I am fired up with recording plans. The seeds have been planted, so we’ll see how it develops.
Q: You’re playing support to Glen Hansard and his band. You’ve earlier played support to his bands The Frames and The Swell Season as well. Would you tell the concertgoers a bit more about your common history?
A: Glen is an old friend of mine. I met him a century ago when I was busking on Grafton street in Dublin. He stopped and listened and then came over with his big smile and said he would love to bring me into a studio to record my songs. So he did. He brought me along to Dave Murphy’s legendary International Bar songwriters’ night in Dublin, and this kick started my playing under roofs instead of on the street. I would see him there every Tuesday for years. It was kind of like a University degree in live performance for many songwriters. Glen has always reached out to encourage or help me (and has always generously put so many other musicians in the spotlight). I am so happy it is going so well for him. It couldn’t happen to a better person, and nobody plays as well live as Glen. I have brought people to his shows before who don’t really get his music, but they are always blown away by seeing him play.
Q: Would you say there’s anything you have in common musically?
Lots, for sure. Passion, emotion, poetry, voice, songs.
Q: Any other influences or inspirations you’d like to talk about? Some of your songs made me think of Björk, but that’s just me and I hope it’s ok – all in all it’s a very unique style, so we’re curious to learn more about how you developed it!
A: Funny, the first comparison to Björk was when I was 14 and a school friend heard the band I was in.
She said it reminded her of a band called The Sugarcubes. She played me a few songs on her walkman in the back of french class and I could really hear a similarity alright. Years later, I heard her Debut and I listened with a gasp of amazement and disappointment as she was using strings, tablas, saxophones, samples, harp, electronics, all the things I had been experimenting with. I was devastated but in awe. I swiftly forgot about it and moved along in my own sphere, actually going in a very different direction, but yes for sure we are some kind of soul sisters. I love her energy and vision. I am a sucker for atmospheric sounds, and of course Brian Eno would have influenced me there. At one stage after touring with Hector Zazou and Harold Budd, I listened to The Pearl (Brian Eno and Harold Budd) for about a year about four times a day when I was at home. It was the background to my life and nothing else felt right. When the album would end, I would think “something is weird” and put it back on again. Musically, I love Ennio Morricone, Burt Bacharach, Henri Mancini (I loved his style and was subconsciously very influenced without knowing who he was), Nina Simone, Arvo Pärt, Joni Mitchell, Gorecki, Eileen Carpio, The Carpenters, Sade, Lakker, Sufjan Stevens, Grizzly Bear, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Beach House, John Coltrane, Nick Drake, Miles Davis, Don Cherry, Georgia Cusack, Fleet Foxes, Patti Smith, Steve Coleman, Mos def, Tau, Boards of Canada, Add N to X, Broadcast, Bibio, Dustin O’Hallorahan, Miss Kenichi, Laurie Anderson. Brightest Diamond, Laura Mvula, Candice, The Villagers, The Velvet Underground and Nico, John Cale, Sinead O’Connor, Max Eastley, David Toop… oh, I could go on for days. Films, photos, theater and books are even bigger inspirations for my writing though. I tend to imagine things visually.
Q: You’re not only a musician with an impressive track record, but also a sound engineer, and you have your own label. Tell us more about your life in music! How did it all start?
A: Well thank you! I taught myself how to play a song on piano when I was three. Around the same time, I listened to Gary Numan’s Paint Peeling Off The Wall [Are ‘friends’ electric] song with my big cousin about a hundred times in a row. Something happened and it never went away. I am not really a sound engineer. I studied it for two years in college and I can record myself and friends pretty well, edit, make sounds, samples, mess around but that’s about it. My partner Fabien Leseure is a proper sound engineer. I am very impressed with his skills.
Q: From the past to the future: is there anything else you’re dreaming of doing (like producing other artists, starting a music festival etc.)? Or is there something completely different you’d like to do?
A: Funny you mention Music Festival. I am involved in curating an alternative music festival in Berlin this June 22-24. It looks like it will be pretty beautiful. We are developing it right now. Here is the link. Producing artists other than myself… hmm, I don’t now. I have been doing it for friends a bit recently. I did a track for a friend called Eric Eckhart and I really enjoyed it. Life is so busy though. Time is always my enemy. Last year, I finished a soundtrack for a very original as yet unreleased feature film called ‘Glue’. I’ve been playing some harp on another soundtrack. That was a huge learning curve and I really enjoyed the process. More of that. I’de like to get out again and play more too.
Q: You’re saying on your Bandcamp site the internet has freed things up when it comes to releasing and distributing music and “I do like it for that”. The internet has certainly changed the music industry a lot, and not all artists embrace the development. Do you think the positive implications outweigh the negative ones, or is there anything you dislike the internet for?
For me the positives cancel out all the negatives as I never had a proper record company pushing me forward. I never had a big PR company pushing me through the right doors and I have suffered for that. The internet gives me keys to more doors to make contact and put my music out there. It is obviously still restricted but at least it is not me playing to myself in my living room. I get good feedback and that gives me a will to share more.
Q: You’ve also been really successful securing album funding through funding campaigns. Do you have any advice for a young artist or band struggling to raise the funds for their first ever record or EP?
A: I did one funding campaign and to my absolute shock, it worked but the album took way longer to make as it was double the cost of what I asked for in the funding appeal. I am definitely nobody to give money advice. I would say just find a way to do it without the money. Make friends with an engineer (haha) or ask your rich friends for money. Regardless of your limitations, create, create, create so you don’t go all looney.
Explore your own music. Don’t limit yourself to the structures made by others in music or business. As the saying goes, ‘I don’t have music but the music has me’ (is that how it goes?).
Q: Any upcoming tour plans?
A: I will play my second ever solo Berlin show with the best band in the world in Schokoladen on May 7th, and I can’t wait. Then I am going to take over the world.
Q: Where can Berlin fans see you play a live show in the next few months? Any favourite venues in the city or elsewhere in Germany?
A: See above, Schokoladen May 7th. One of my very favourite Berlin venues has been Admiralspalast and this will be my first time to play there. I think I should play in Wim Wenders living room to thank him for bringing me here.
Nina Hynes has released four albums: Creation (1999), Staros (2002), Really Really Do (2007), Goldmine (2013) and various EPs. She is a member of art-music collaborations A=Apple, Sending Letters to the Sea and A Generous Act. In July 2017, she has finished the soundtrack to GLUE, a feature film by artists Oisin Byrne and Gary Farrelly. She is currently working on live show material which she regularly showcases in Berlin and new recordings for 2018. She lives in Berlin with her Dancing Suns/Sending Letters to the Sea collaborator Fabien Leseure and their two children.
Find out more about Nina Hynes and her music