The video for the title track of Karmin's debut full-length Pulses makes it hard to imagine that Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan were ever anything but polished, FM pop prodigies. Of course, anyone who knows their work is well aware of their days bombarding YouTube with sweet, disarmingly talented covers of Top 40 and hip-hop covers like Lil Wayne's "6-Foot, 7-Foot" that generated an endless hailstorm of clicks. They wound up eliciting the attention of Epic label head L.A. Reid and made their first stab at original music on a major label with the Hello EP back in 2012.
After a number of agonizing delays, Karmin's first full-length effort sees the group opening up both lyrically and musically to perfect their left-of-center hip-hop/pop hybrid. Since the release last spring, the group has gotten heaps of support from fans and some hate from pop critics over their new direction. But one thing that the album does supply along with it's catchy hooks is a slightly better sense of who Heidemann and Noonan are as both a duo and a romantic couple through their lyrics. That includes some of the personal and professional obstacles they're overcoming in the face of newfound fame. Before they headline the Pacific Amphitheatre this Friday, we got a change to talk with Karmin about the shifting musical dynamics of their new album and live sound, the key to maintaining their relationship while on tour, and their undying love for No Doubt and perpetual OC queen Gwen Stefani.
OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): Since making the jump from YouTube sensations to the original artists we got a taste of on the Hello EP, How does it feel to be seen in the context of original artists with your first full-length project?
Amy Heidemann: We feel extremely blessed. And when we think back on all the stuff that's happened, the most exciting thing is that it's only been three years since we started Karmin. We still feel like we're at the very beginning, like fetuses in the music industry. There's a lot more we want to do and we can't wait to see what happens next.
Nick Noonan: It is kind of remarkable the way it happened so quickly with YouTube. We're not looking back, we don't really feel like it was an accident so we're really excited and ready to go.
You've talked about wanting your performances to feel more like a rock show than a pop show when it comes to using a full band. What was the process of adapting the beats and compositions on your album to fit that model?
Noonan: That was our performance style going to everything. So coming off of YouTube everyone thought we were plucked cold off of YouTube, but we actually have a lot of performance experience. But doing it as Karmin, we had to learn what our roles were and everyone kept saying that this is a rock show with a couple of pop tunes in it. There's so much energy in what we do. So that came across with the writing to have the album be the same thing.
You've also talked about getting inspiration from Gwen Stefani and from the early No Doubt days. Since you're about to perform in OC, does that make you draw from that even more?
Heidemann: Absolutely, I think what they did when they came onto the scene was so amazing. And Tragic Kingdom is one of my top five albums of all time. We were really trying to capture their energy when we first came out because they were so raw at a time when most female performers were all high heels and minidresses. And Gwen came out in suspenders and all she had that was girly was some red lipstick. I just love how iconic she is and a little bit tomboyish. When they performed it was sweaty and our show is really high energy like that.
How has this most recent tour affected you guys as a couple, aside from just being bandmates?
Noonan: We have to practice that different mindset, there's the home couple and the tour couple. Because it's really easy to be out of balance, but as long as we admit that, it'll help you get back to where we want to be. We just try to have couple nights here and there and usual couple time.
You address a lot of what you guys are going through in your relationship and careers in the new album. Is that something you feel like you needed to do as all this newfound fame unfolds?
Heidemann: Some of the best songs are some of the most honest ones. So when we'resharing this information about ourselves through our songs, we're hoping that it's resonating with someone out there. And I think it's working so far. We're always trying to be more and more honest. We've got bulletin boards with keywords written on them all over our studio and our house. It's hard to share personal stuff sometimes, we have a song on the album called "Tidal Wave" that speaks to what we go through on a daily basis. It's complicated, as Facebook would say.
Has blowing up through social media and YouTube given you a unique perspective on the industry now that you have a major record deal with Epic?
Noonan: Oh, 100 percent. Part of it is ego and the other part is that it's the wild west for the music industry. And that's awesome. There's times where people are pissed and frustrated with the industry today, and of course, that's true too. At the same time, for us, we're go-getter people and right now the fact that there's no model is amazing. We're one of the first groups to really come out of the YouTube model and we want to continue to add to that and create new things.
Nick, what are some of the biggest things you learned about yourself as you shared more vocal duties on this new album?
Noonan: I learned that when I perform I get extremely aggressive, I don't even realize it sometimes. I channel a lot of energy. If I'm playing a show and I'm just trying to get through it, I'll actually stop and get pissed at myself, I'm just like "what the hell is wrong with you? people are paying to watch you perform, you better get into it." So I have a lot of movement and I'm trying to get the feel right on stage. I've come a very long way since we first started.
Talk about the genesis of the song "Pulses," the title track of the record.
Noonan: We were working with Jon Jon [Traxx], who is an amazing talented producer. He had this basic idea for synth line and we came in and filled everything out and it kind of wrote itself. It was pretty quick. We had an idea for this big gang vocal that would explode after the pre-chorus and we had Amy rap over the chorus.
Heidemann: It was the first song that we wrote for the album and it really set the tone sonically for what the rest of it would be.
Any music that you were listening to outside the studio that influenced you during the writing of the album?
Noonan: From a production standpoint, Pharrell is one of my all time favorites. I listen to a lot of early '00s and late '90s Pharrell production and Missy Elliot, a lot of No Doubt.
Heidemann: Nick grew up loving classic rock and I grew up loving R&B and we both came together when it came to hip-hop. So we have no problem listening to the same playlists.
What excites you and scares you the most about the coming months as you continue on this album cycle?
Heidemann:We want to keep evolving and keeping the music more and more honest. And we've worked some of the best writers and producers in the game so it's almost like we've been in school the last couple of years.
Noonan: And more independent creatively. If we didn't know how to do something the first time, like how to produce or engineer, we're learning that now so we can do it ourselves.
Would you consider doing more cover songs in the near future?
Noonan: There are a couple that we were just playing with the other day actually that work very well. We'll see how that works out.