Nina Nesbitt: ‘I want people to laugh and cry to this album’
The 24-year-old Scottish artist is back with a second album after a tough four-year break
Nina Nesbitt has released her second album The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change
Nina Nesbitt is late. It’s a cold, grey and blustery day and she’s driving – well, her tour manager is driving her – down the M1 with a plastic sheet covering up the back window of their van after an attempted break-in, trying to make it to RTÉ on time for interviews to promote her second album The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change. Having put in the graft this year with touring, driving halfway across the country in a van with no back window is a nice analogy for her determination to make it as a singer.
She came from Scotland the day before to play a gig in Belfast supporting Lewis Capaldi, and she’s playing the same support slot in Dublin’s The Helix, then driving back to Belfast to catch a ferry to Scotland for a gig in Inverness. Whirlwinds are her permanent state.
“I’ve never been so busy in my life. It’s crazy,” she says, a little bit frazzled. “This year, I have done 167 shows and been away... I can’t even remember. We’ve literally been away the whole year. I feel like I’ve gone a bit insane but it’s all good.”
It’s been four years since Nesbitt released her debut album Peroxide, a cheery folk-pop number that reached number 11 in the UK album charts. Having been the subject matter of songs by her ex Ed Sheeran (Nina, Photograph and Friends) and getting dropped by Island and Universal, the 24-year-old is wary about the music industry. “This – writing an album – I do for my mental health,” she says.
“I had just been dropped by a label. I’d been shelved for two years on a major label and was under the impression that I was making an album – which I wasn’t – and then I went to put out the first single and I got a call the night before it came out saying ‘Oh, it’s not going to come out, you’re being dropped’.”
The single she’s talking about is Chewing Gum. She released the single anyway but behind the scenes, things went dark for the Scottish singer.“It was a really horrible time because I thought that I musn’t be very good. Like, they’ve just sat on me for two years, the songs musn’t be good enough – and maybe they weren’t, I don’t know – but I just felt very low about myself and I had no idea about what I was going to do with my life,” she says, sitting cross-legged in an empty radio studio, with her tour manager Curtis McKenna sitting close by and pitching in to back up the majority of her stories.
“So I just sat in bed for six months – I literally didn’t leave the house – and it was the first time that I’d actually experienced being depressed. I’d be sad on and off but I’d never experienced actual depression. Like, crying for no reason. It was really horrible.”
After six months of hiding away from the world, she bought a notebook and began documenting her feelings, turning them into songs and poems. She went off social media, stopped listening to current music and cut back on using her phone – “I like to get off my phone because when I sit with my phone, I don’t feel creative cos I’m just sitting reading other people’s things” – and her second second album came into being. Sacred, the album’s opening number, is one of the first songs she wrote and it acts a reintroduction to the singer. “[It’s] really saying that I hate the way that people perceive me and I hate the way that I’ve been living my life, like trying to please others and doing things for the short term or making songs that aren’t really what I want to be doing,” she says.
But instead of just writing sad songs, she wanted her album to have a turning point to prove that things can change for people. “I started off just writing in my room and it was really chilled and songs like Sacred, The Moments I’m Missing, The Sun Will Come Up – songs like that – and then I started thinking it’s not enough to have depressing songs on an album,” she says, “I want to have those fun moments too. Like, I want people to laugh and cry to this album. So I wanted to have a mixture. I wanted there to be a point in the album where it turns from sad to empowering and, you know, ‘I’ve got this’ sort of thing.”
Using the philosophy behind the Law of Attraction, she set out goals and, while acknowledging that this might sound a bit “hippy”, she thought them into existence. “Your thoughts are very powerful, I’ve discovered,” she says with a slight laugh. “Of these lists that I’ve written, more or less everything that I’ve thought about has happened. I know it sounds really creepy. It wasn’t like ‘aliens are going to come to the world!’ but it was just like little things like… I want to write five singles that I love. It was like little focus pages that I wrote and that really helped me make the album. I think when you’re doing it by yourself, you need to have plans and logical thinking in there somewhere.”
In between albums, she wrote for artists likes The Shires and Jessie Ware and with the belief that these songs would be going elsewhere, Nesbitt took risks that she may not have taken with her own music. “Writing for other people was key to writing this album because I would just be at home writing or in a session with a collaborator, whether it be Jordan Riley or Lostboy, who I wrote most of the stuff with, and I kind of just went in and wrote a song that I wanted to write,” she explains. “I wasn’t thinking ‘Oh, this is a Nina song’. I would just go in and say ‘I want to write a song that’s influenced by this song today’ or ‘I want to write a R&B song’. That’s how Loyal To Me came about.”
Drawing influence from late 1990s and early 2000s R&B music from the likes of Destiny’s Child, Toni Braxton and Mýa, Loyal To Me is the turning point in the album that Nesbitt wanted. Upbeat and empowering, it’s a liberating break-up anthem and a wake-up call. Following that same vein, Love Letter was written with Little Mix in mind and the big ballad Is It Me You’re Really Missing was meant to go even further afield. Inspired by Whitney Houston’s 1987 cover of The Manhattans’s song Just the Lonely Talking Again, it was sent to Rihanna’s management team. After some back and forth, where Rihanna’s team asked if they could hold the song for her next album, Is It Really Me You’re Missing came back to Nesbitt and it’s now her favourite song on the album, and the strongest one at that.
“Apparently she heard it. I don’t know if she did. I don’t know what’s true and what’s not in this industry,” she says with the laugh of someone who’s learned that you can’t believe everything you’re told. “Apparently she’s making a reggae album so…”
Now signed to the independent label Cooking Vinyl, there’s less pressure to write a certain kind of song but she knows who her audience is – young girls around her own age – and she happily writes the kind of sophisticated and visceral pop music that they want to listen to. “I feel like there’s a lot of albums that are like ‘woo! we’re young, let’s have fun’ and there’s a lot of albums that are abstract, with mature lyrics,” she says, “and I just wanted to try and capture that uncomfortable age of moving from being a teenager – with worries that you think are big worries but aren’t necessarily that big worries – into this sort of new adult world.” Chloe takes on the complexities of motherhood – “I just look at kids and I’m like ‘that’s lovely but it’s not for me’”. Empire fights the idea that chasing success can be seen as arrogance in young women (“People are lying when they say that they don’t want to be successful”) and on The Moments I’m Missing, she mourns her adolescence.
Using her own lows as the starting point for The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change, she’s found a way to redefine who she is. Whether it’s the Laws of Attraction at work or just sheer determination, the kind that finds you zipping down a motorway with no back window in your van, it’s likely that the messages of empowerment in Nesbitt’s songs were just as much for herself as they were for her listeners.
The Sun Will Come Up, the Seasons Will Change is out now through Cooking Vinyl