Nadine Carina may be from Switzerland but her music is as much a product of Liverpool as it is of her home country. This exciting experimental musician has come a long way in a short time, but it might have never happened.
“It was only when I first came here that I realised it was possible, doing music. In Switzerland….everybody works in a bank. I studied to be a secretary, actually, and started doing music when I was 20. When I worked as a secretary, I was really depressed. It seemed hopeless.”
Making the move three years ago to complete a degree in music and composition at LIPA, she says that seeing a performance by Stealing Sheep was a seminal moment for her. Seeing people her age playing gigs, releasing records and making music their job gave her the confidence to throw herself in. “I saw that it was possible, living off music.”
Her 2011 album Magic Box showcases a singer-songwriter with a distinctive voice and taste for the quirky. On the infectiously pretty song Some Cigarettes and Chocolate she is at her most conventional, and comparisons could even be made to Feist. It is a great tune, and the accompanying video showing Carina playing guitar and looking gorgeous in a series of vintagey– outfits and hats is impossibly feel-good – only the heartless could resist it. There are other great moments on the record: The Garden, with its eerie whistling section, is a stand-out; whilst the simple but affecting Tomorrow also displays her vocal range, in an almost Joanna Newsom-like manner. A talented young woman, and a welcome addition to the chunky-knits-and-cupcakes folk club. Right?
Wrong. Late last year she released the Little Bits EP. A self-described “continuous experimentation of sounds and ambiences”, it is a fascinating release that shows a shift of direction towards soundscapes, particularly on the two moody instrumental pieces that bookend it. Made in her bedroom studio using “a loop station, a MIDI keyboard, a Monotron Synth, noise of pens, wrenches, a folding ruler and my cat”, it is an at times baffling record that rewards repeat listening.
When Bido Lito! saw Carina perform just before Christmas last year she had a table set up, with a gingham tablecloth and a whole manner of samplers, glocks, trinkets and various different things that she looped and weaved to amazing effect. It was clear: run of the mill girl with guitar she was not.
In person the tiny singer is giggly and shy, apologising for her English, which is in fact very good and most beautifully accented. Indeed it is her distinct accent that is one of her music’s most irresistible qualities, giving words a lovely new sound in much the way Bjork’s Icelandic lilt can. Coming from the small mountain town of Ascona in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, she also grew up with French and German but has always written her songs in English. “I love English and I always listen to music in English; maybe that’s why. I think it sounds better.”
It’s clear that Carina’s time in the UK has allowed her creativity to flourish, and she is bubbling with enthusiasm for many projects that she has in the works. “I feel more free to do what I want here than in Switzerland. Because it’s bigger and there’s more music, I feel like people understand more what I do.”
Writing-wise, she says some pieces come to her lyrics-first, which she then fleshes out into a song. Others are borne out of experimentation with the thousands of midi sounds she has on her computer. She says her obsession with unusual sounds and noises was inspired largely by a group of female Finnish musicians making what they called “lovely noise”.
“I was really inspired by them; they do noises with loop pedals and machines. It’s called lovely noise because it’s like lovely sounds. It’s not noise that is disturbing – it’s more like you are in a forest, dancing… it’s dreamy.”
Dreamy is certainly a word that fits Carina’s sound, and she recalls that she even went through a stage where songs came to her fully formed in dreams. Back in reality, however, it quickly becomes clear that Carina is an enthusiastic music fan who puts a lot of time into seeking out interesting music of all genres. You could call her a music nerd, in the nicest possible way. She enthuses with equal excitement over obscure Icelandic artists Pascal Pinon and Sóley and the new Bowie song (“Omigod! Do you think he’s going to tour? I have to see him once in my life, at least!”), and admits an obsession with buying new musical trinkets. “I love to get new instruments. Well I say new, but really they are vintage toys. But when it’s new to me it makes me inspired to write.”
Unsurprisingly, her primary musical influences are varied. In terms of beats she is most influenced by Japanese artists who use organic sounds in their music, “tiny sounds they record at home, compressed really strong.” Vocals-wise, she cites Lisa Germano, an American violinist and songwriter who has released a slew of honest, intelligent and challenging records.
The good news is that, as well as listening to a helluva lot of music, Carina has been busy making lots of it too. She has a bewildering array of projects in the works, ranging from the cutting edge to the astonishingly lo-fi.
Last year she collaborated with New York composer and producer Kevin Serra on a track for his project called Cloud Seeding, which sees him pairing up with vocalists from around the world. After sending Carina about 20 song sketches to choose from, she added vocals to one and they sent it back and forth – an impressive cross-Atlantic effort achieved entirely online. The Light is a gorgeous, dreamy (there it is again) piece of music, and one that has opened doors for future global collaborations.
She is currently working with New York musician Kidaudra on an EP to be called Space Toys, which is aimed for a summer release date. But, before that, she is waiting on the completion of a music video to accompany another EP, recorded last year, and to be released, hopefully, in the next month or so. She describes the record on which she worked with long-time collaborator and producer Mathieu Bedwani, as “both electronic and acoustic”. The EP is entitled Things That People Like to Remember and consists of four songs that she recorded over four days. “They were really together; I could feel them as one thing.”
Perhaps most intriguingly, however, an American label is releasing a collection of her new songs, recorded on a truly retro Tascam Portastudio 414 recorder and in the unlikely format of cassette. Remember those? Turns out Carina is an enthusiast: “I really like cassettes; I buy lots online. It’s just so low-fi, it’s not really a good quality recording but I just like the format.” The wistful and country-tinged songs are to be released on a limited run and only in the US, but the UK public can be sure that there is plenty of music yet to come from this prolific talent.
One thing is clear – the move to Liverpool was a good one. The secretarial workforce of Switzerland’s loss is most certainly our gain.