Nive Nielsen of Nive and the Deer Children released her latest album ‘Feet First’ this month via Glitterhouse Records, you can read our review here. The album is inspired by travel and shifting environments and was recorded between 2012 and 2015 in various countries all over the world, namely Greenland, where she grew up in an Inuit community, Denmark, Belgium and England in Europe, as well as various locations across the USA. It was in the latter country that we caught up with Nive to talk about her album, she was in the middle of trying to make arrangements to get her drummer from Tucson Arizona to Brussels.
So, how are you doing today and where are you at the moment?
Hi, I am doing great, thank you! Right now I am sitting in a cafe in downtown Athens, Georgia USA. Booking -well, trying to book- a ticket from Tucson Arizona to Brussels. We need to get our drummer to Europe for our upcoming tour though Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Denmark. Today is one of those planning days see, before all the fun starts… I just spent almost 4 hours talking to about 7 representatives of a Russian airline trying to pay for this ticket. Still no luck haha. But it will work!!
First off, how did you get into making music?
I started by chance really. I was studying political science at a university in Ottawa, Canada, and it honestly was the wrong major for me, but I was too stubborn to quit or change majors so I stuck with it, and finished it! But it was tough, mostly because I wasn’t that interested. So my good friend Jan De Vroede, who was my boyfriend at the time, gave me a little guitar and told me to write songs, and I laughed at him because I couldn’t play, sing or much less write songs. Strangely enough I did start writing songs and playing that little guitar almost immediately after he left. And once that happened, making music slowly took over everything.
The music scene in Greenland seems quite small. Were there any Greenlandic artists that particularly inspired you to make music?
The music scene in Greenland is pretty small indeed, but people are very interested in music, and lots of people know how to play guitar or sing; its a social thing. After-parties are often long sing along nights haha. So there’s that. And then there’s some really good music from Greenland – my favourite Greenlandic musician when growing up was Ole Kristiansen (on “feet First” I cover/pay tribute through the song “ole”). Nowadays there’s a whole bunch of music being made, from wild underground metal to weird electronic stuff… it’s fun! The scene is super small still, but intensely followed by everyone.
You’ve played and travelled a lot since Nive Sings! came out. Are there any particular experiences that have influenced Feet First?
Surroundings all over will inspire or remind me of things in rather unpredictable ways. I remember being in Tucson and having very vivid dreams about my grandmother, and there is pretty much nothing linking her to a hot summer day in the dessert. So maybe strange juxtapositions of various events and experiences can spark some ideas into creating something new and different. so yes, it is during all our travels and adventures new songs pop up.
The album was recorded in a number of different countries over a few years. Did that prove difficult?
yes and no. It is definitely not the easiest way to go about recording an album. It’s a bit expensive in the long run and there is a lot of parts and versions of each song to keep track of. At the same time it is what makes most sense to us, I have a hard time imagining recording an album in a relatively short period of time and being completely satisfied with how every song comes out. I think most of us in the band like to be surprised with the outcome in the end, at least I know I do – me & Jan, who does most of the editing and arrangement of the instruments, are not big fans of predictability.
Which is your favourite song on the album and what does it mean to you?
I think “Still the same” is one of my favorites for sure, it’s about change, and there has been a lot of that in my life, well I guess in everybody’s lives, but at least I feel like I have had a lot of different lives already, and I always seem to be seeking it.
How did you end up meeting and recording with Howe Gelb?
It pretty munch started with me being a regular fan writing emails and sending demos to my hero, never actually expecting him to respond. But he did in the end, and I met him in Denmark in his backyard and ate watermelon. He was the one to introduce me to John Parish and that is how we ended up recording our first album.
You’ve also worked with quite a few other internationally acclaimed musicians, Ralph Carney and John Parish to name but two. Has working with them made you differently think about the way you play and have they offered you any advice?
Yes absolutely, they were actually some of the first people I recorded with and I was still completely green. I didn’t really know if I were any good at all, but there I found myself working with these amazing guys – that actually meant a lot to me, I got a huge boost and encouragement from them, and I must say they are some of the kindest sweet people I know!
What’s your process when it comes to songwriting with the band?
I write all of the songs, and then we record the new songs at the earliest convenience where ever we are, on the go. Vocals and guitar – just to get the freshness and the spontaneity of a first run. The structure of the song will hardly ever change after that – I tend to stick with the first draft. Then (mostly) Jan comes up with ideas for instrumentation. He is also very good at feeling which direction I would like it to go, he seems to be one of the few people who understand my rather loose descriptions of the feel of the songs. After that we sit together and work on the sound and arrangements until it’s done .
One of the things that impressed me when listening to Feet First is how your songs often start off in one place, and then naturally end up in a completely different place. Was that a conscious effort when writing, or is that just how the songs came out with the band?
Well it’s both conscious (we get bored fast hehe) and a result of the band working like it does. Usually that is a combination of 1) me changing the feel or the rhythm in a section of a song and then us struggling a little to make the change feel natural for the instruments; 2) making room for awesome ideas from one or a group of the deer children stuff that just has to go on the song, know, and 3) me having a short attention span :)
Whichever the starting point, it is very important to us that these changes or transitions are natural and feel effortless and not forced. They are not gimmicky but they follow naturally out of the personality song. And I really like that!
Your band, The Deer Children, has a changing lineup apart from a few mainstay members. Do you find that keeps things fresh and interesting when recording or playing live?
Yes, these days we try to keep the band a little more stable, but whenever we are in the areas with more deer children, we like to invite them on stage to play with us and it does add a surprise element and keeps us all up on our toes, makes the night more fun. It has to do with predictability again, and with the fact that a song (or a show) can have many versions, many ways of being played and experienced – it seems so boring to me to play the same songs the same exact manner over and over?
Most of your songs are in English, but a few of them are sung in Greenlandic. Is it important for you to sing in your own language occasionally?
Yes it is! Greenlandic is my first language and I think it’s a beautiful language to sing in, so whenever I write a song in Greenlandic that I like enough, I will always include that in an album.
You also wrote the theme song for Nummioq, which was the first film to be produced entirely in Greenland and was premiered at Sundance Film Festival. Do you think artistically Greenland is gradually becoming more established internationally?
I think so, even though we are very few people (56.000), I think people in Greenland in general are very creative and with technology changing (we all have the world in our palms now, with internet and smartphones) it has become easier to make movies and record music and find inspiration outside our little big island. And every year someone raises the bar a little, and ambitions grow more out from that.
Last question, when are you planning to come over to the UK next?
We would love to come tomorrow!! But we don’t have any specific dates yet. Somebody bring us over!
Interview by: James MacKinnon
Premiere Album Stream: Feet First
Feet First is released in the UK on 5th Feb 2016 via Glitterhouse Records