Nina McSweeney

By Ben Doy

Following a long list of successes to her name, Nina McSweeney has released her highly anticipated debut album 'The Bitter Sea'.  

Nina has previously collaborated with Concord Dawn and performed at the Monterey Jazz festival,Homegrown and Rhythm & Vines festivals.  She's also opened for acts including the likes of the Black CrowesSilverchair and Powderfinger.

We caught up with Nina and found out more about this talented singer, songwriter and Harmonica player.

Where did you grow up?

Well my mother's like a gypsy, so we moved around a lot - Auckland, Waiheke, Christchurch, Hamilton, Havelock North... so I lived all over the place but I consider myself a Waiheke kid essentially.

And you're living in Auckland now?

Yeah, back in Waiheke. It's just lovely, I live in this amazing little cottage with a beautiful garden and it's just his creative haven, which is really nice.

When did you first start performing music?

I picked up the blues harmonica when I was 13. So I was playing that all through my teen years and then I ended up singing... that came second.

Did you know that you could sing beforehand?

Well my Mum is an amazing singer, and I think growing up with her I didn't really want to sing because she's so phenomenal... it was a bit intimidating so I just enjoyed playing blues harp really.

So you taught yourself how to play harmonica?

Yeah I did, I just became obsessed with it at a young age, which was really bizarre. But I've started playing in this dirty, dirty rock n' roll band called ‘Bad Country', so I get to play blues harp all the time now.

How did your collaborations with Concord Dawn come about?

It happened actually at one of the music awards. Callum August, who is now my manager, said to me "Nina I've heard you sing, how about you do some collaborations with Concord Dawn?" And was like "Oh whatever", brushing him off a little bit thinking it's not going to happen. Then in a couple of days I had a track in my inbox that I could write too, that was the track ‘Easy Life' which ended up being their summer single that year and was top of the George FM Top 5 for weeks. It was quite surprising how much people liked it, so we got to collaborate some more.

So they'll be future work with them?

I hope so, it's always fun. I love working with different genres and because drum and bass fans are so dedicated and loyal so hearing their reactions is just wonderful.

You've just released your debut album ‘The Bitter Sea'. How long did the album take to make?

The album was actually finished about this time last year, and I sort of wrote the songs in the previous to that. So this last year I've been writing stuff for the next album, working on the videos, which is a really creative process and also working with my other band ‘Bat Country', and we've just recorded a new EP for that. So luckily I've kept out of mischief while this has been getting ready for release.

Where did you record 'The Bitter Sea'?

We recorded it at The Lab with Olly Harmer. It was amazing at The Lab; I would always work there from now on. We both showed up with vintage microphones and if you listen to the track ‘Bleached Bones' it's got quite a hiss to it. But Olly didn't make anything sound clean or beautiful, he understood that a lot of the character comes from the infections in the microphone. So with all these vintage mics and amps, and getting into the sound in different and interesting ways it was so much fun.

And the album was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo?

Yeah. I was going through a Hitchcock faze at the time. What I really liked about it was when Hitchcock was directing Kim Novak he made her wear this grey suit which she didn't want to wear. He said "I want you to look like a woman who is lost in a fog". I thought that was so profound for a director to be thinking that deeply about the costuming and secondly I thought that whole movie and vibe of being lost in a fog, I thought that was exactly how I wanted the album to sound. And I feel like we got there.


How would you describe your sound?

My album I just call "creep folk" because I think that sums it up. When we were working together as a band I'm often heard to say, "Can you make that a little creepier?" And people get high fives from me in band practice if they achieve a particular creepy solo or something that's beautiful and haunting but creepy at the same time. That is the perfect balance.

What's your role in Bat Country?

Singing and harmonica with Brendan Turner who plays guitar and is on the stomp box, so it's kind of like a dirty old two-piece.

So quite different to your solo stuff?

Yeah, it gets out all the different types of my personality. The Bitter Sea is quite an ethereal album; in my head it's quite melancholic. Where in Bat Country it's quite raw and passionate.

What artists are you currently listening to at the moment?

You know what? Lately I've been getting into early Elvis (laughs). Which isn't new at all, but I've been enjoying early Elvis. I was listening to both Elvis and The Smiths before coming out here this morning so haven't had anything new on my iPod for a little while.

What future plans to do you have?

I'm working on another album and just finished the Bat Country EP, so that will be released soon. So a lot of recording and touring, so it should be a busy year.

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