I realised I don’t want things to be perfect, I want it to be real
I had the pleasure of seeing Niine in her element within the first few months of moving to Melbourne, where she performed with a few friends at a jam in Fitzroy as a keyboardist. The music she writes for her personal music project Niine (Nee-nah) is wild and eclectic, a true ‘avant-garde pop musical wizard’- which can only begin to explain the kind of music she and her team get up to.
I met up with her and her partner Tim at the Three Monkeys Place in Doncaster
I hope it okay that Tim is here,
Yeah you can ask me anything if you want
You can also not ask him haha
No it’s great that you’re here! I think the music is so well put together and is built with a lot of passion behind it, so it’s nice to meet the drummer actually because you’re amazing!
Are you performing much as Niine at the moment?
I do! I perform in a number of bands, but at the moment with Niine I’m trying to slow it down a bit so we can work on demos for an album
For a Niine Album?
Yeah! So I’m really excited and I’m really passionate about getting that done and doing things on logic for the first time- writing my own drum beats and then giving them to Tim to like ‘drumafy’
‘This is the skeleton, please make it have muscles and organs!’ I think when you’re writing it’s important to have your fingers in all the pies. I think it can be hard to give it entirely over to a person to figure out
Yeah, I’ve never been like that, I wouldn’t say I’m a ‘control freak’, but I definitely have a vision from the start of a song. My songs are really based on an emotion or a friends emotion- something that’s happened specifically. I kind of try to write a basic bass line and drums- I write the arrangement with Tim and try and make it fit with what I’m trying to say, it’s never like ‘oh I’m saying this and now let’s make the song something else’.
Yeah, I think even with the synths it has to be right– if it’s a pretty and shiny song about being in love then the synths can reflect that, or if it’s like an aggressive song then the sax or the synths are more aggressive. If people can’t hear the lyrics I still want them to feel what I’m trying to make them feel- I want the journey to be shared by all of us
And to be expressed by all the elements
Are you trained as a piano player first?
Yeah, I did classical piano from a young age- I think it was grade one or grade two- and then my dad showed me a little bit of guitar. I ended up doing the advanced diploma on guitar, and the bachelor on the piano so I got to do a bit of both. Tim and I met when we were studying
I feel like some of the best band connections come from studying because it’s a good way to contextualise how they might play in different genres like –oh now we’re gonna do an Ella Fitzgerald song, and now a Snarky Puppy song, and now a Guy Sebastian song- and you can see all the different ways they might approach that
Exactly, and I think for my music as well I needed my musicians to be able to play a number of different genres to pull it off- having just a soul player might end up being a bit useless for me in my other songs
It’s a fraction of your sound- I think also not just someone who can play soul or jazz or whatever, but someone who can blend between those styles. Listening to your songs the full way through, they seem planned and make sense, but going between 30-second sections it seems like I’m listening to totally different songs- even though there are so many changes it still comes across as very seamless
So ‘Dream of Being’ is one of my favourite songs, is that one more recent than other ones?
It’s definitely more recent- when did I write that one? Maybe a year ago? But it’s been kind of slowly developing and-even with the rhythm of the guitar I was just playing it at home and accidentally messed up the fingerpicking style, but Tim liked it and happened to record it so I had to learn how to play it wrong! And then how to sing it with the (1) in the wrong spot. That song means a lot to me and I really love singing it. It feels really good to sing
It’s a good song to listen to as well. If you can have a song that you like to sing, and that people like to listen to then that’s a sweet spot to sit in
I found it interesting – I guess from a marketing perspective – that it’s essentially a voice recording, but you released it as a single, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone do that?
Well… I never saw the song being played with a full band because of the presence of the content- it’s really an internal, dark, black-dog kind of place. I wanted it to always have that raw texture and raw sound. I don’t think I even know how to play it any more- It was a pretty cathartic thing. I had one- no, two rehearsals, and we recorded it straight to tape and filmed it at the same time so it’s completely live. I haven’t played it again because it was me getting it down on the paper and singing it out- and I think it was me overcoming it. I had had people say that it’s too sad and ‘why don’t you write happy songs’ but I really wanted to put this out. A lot of people are gonna have bad times and sometimes you just need to hear a sad song and you feel less lonely knowing that someone else has felt like this
I think it’s really special that you captured that moment and the way that it developed. It wasn’t practiced and rehearsed to death or anything
It was really fresh- like within a month of two was the writing point and then the recording point
Sometimes when a song goes through a long period of writing and recording and producing it can feel a little exhausted at the end, I think this song feels the complete opposite of that
I really wanted to be in that moment and really feel it
When I listened to the song I didn’t know if I should be crying to or having a movie montage moment on a train looking out a window- I guess it depends on what mood you’re in!
I kind of see it as one of the rare songs I could imagine being in a film- like an art house film. It doesn’t have that much depth to how it’s been recorded which could make it feel more real. I always imagined it over some art house kind of scene
Could still do that!
That would be nice
The other word that comes to mind is candid
I think I also did it like that because I realised I didn’t like when someone’s vocals are so perfect when it’s supposed to be an emotional song. Doing it live meant that from start to finish it was how I sung it in that moment. I did the same thing when years ago I recorded a cover of Bjork’s ‘Unravel’. I just sat there and to kind of beat my own perfectionism- made sure I just filmed and recorded it and put it out- and it’s not perfect. I could probably sing it better, I could probably play it better but it’s not about that- the emotion is more important to me than like nailing a vocal performance and then the emotion not being there
I feel like that’s a real power move for yourself
Yeah for me I used to always be a real perfectionist and I never got anything out. I realised I don’t want things to be perfect, I want it to be real. It feels good releasing those things that break down my own barriers
I think for me listening to it, it makes me want to break down my own barriers too because it’s a perfect song- with the performance and the realness It all makes sense, so why can’t I do that for myself!?
Yeah well even with the Beatles if you listen to their recordings there’s a lot of mistakes! I guess in those days they were cutting up tapes- but nobody listens to them and goes ‘oh that little mistake- they didn’t nail that’ people just say ‘what a great track!’ Maybe it’s not about having the perfect takes
Yeah, Joni Mitchell didn’t have Melodyne. It’s really nice to see the way you presented it. It’s not like ‘oh look at all these mistakes’, it’s just the way the song is
Frick Tim, is that about you Tim?
He named it!
Why is it called Frick Tim?
Well because it was about being annoyed at you. Frick Tim…let me think of the words… The song- and I think a lot of people have had moments like this in their lives- I wrote a lot of the lyrics when I was overseas without Tim there, I was traveling alone. It’s kind of about not taking emotional responsibility of other people- not letting people blame you for their own emotions. At the time, we were having a pretty rough time, and I was trying to give him a lot of love and trying to heal things, and I didn’t feel like he was accepting that because I was receiving blame instead. In my aching head I thought ‘I gotta stop giving this all to you and give it to myself now’. But we’re good now!
I sorted it out
Great work Tim!
The song worked!
This song feels really packed from every angle. Packed the rafters musically, and hearing what is felt behind is packed as well. That’s the one with the insane ending right?
The first time I listened to this my jaw was just open like HOW do you get there ‘let’s just let everything explode sonically’
Yeah well, that’s how I felt with the relationship because it starts out with just guitar, and you get to the point in the relationship where things just aren’t working and your heart and your head are just exploding because there’s no resolution. So the end of the song is just that aggression of the overwhelming emotion
It kind of creeps up on you too, about halfway through that part you’re like ‘oh wait holy shit what is happening?? How did I get here??’
I think that’s what just felt right- it’s the way the song needed to end to match where my emotions were at the time. Having Tim’s support in that as well in saying ‘it doesn’t matter, people might think it doesn’t make sense, but if it makes sense to us then we’re gonna enjoy playing it’. That’s all that matters in the end
Is it fun to play live?
It’s really fun! Really fun
The drum part is really hard. I always do that- I have big ideas and I write them out and then they’re way too hard for me to play. But I use it to get better at drums. It’s kind of funny having a song that’s written about you being one of the songs you’re excited to play
I’ve also written really nice songs about you!
What’s the imaginary context that is the perfect listening environment for that song?
I’m not sure but if it was gonna be in a movie, I think it would be a scene where someone is walking sad and then slowly walking faster, and then by the end they are just sprinting
That sounds like a music video to me!
Yeah that would be cool! Maybe I should do that? I’m fit I think? Though it’s a long song- I’d be sprinting for like 2 minutes
Call Me Your Boo- I think this song has definitive sections. It also really sounds like you and your band are all musicians
I feel really lucky to have the band I have. This song was the first song that felt really poppy to me. I wrote it and I sent it to Tim saying ‘how funny is this pop song I wrote!’ – I thought especially with that chorus it was really silly and quirky but maybe I should try and sell it to Beyoncé or something! And then he thought it was actually a really cool song. So I just kind of kept it
Do you like the song?
I really like it. I don’t think I could release anything I didn’t like- I write enough songs that I can dump anything I’m not really in on. When I’m performing I really rarely perform anything that I’m not vibing any more. I dump songs pretty quickly. I’ll be like to the band ‘by the way we’re not playing that song anymore’
Did that song feel straight forward to write?
Yeah that one felt pretty easy to write. That one’s kind of about the juxtaposition I think a lot of people feel where somebody’s bad for you but you still just want them so much! It’s about going between the emotions of this is really awesome! This is really bad…this is really great!!! This is really terrible- you know? That whole confusing scenario that I think a lot of people go through
Do you find songwriting generally easy?
I don’t feel like I intentionally sit down to write a song- I only really write when it is easy. I try and always have a vision. I never really release or write anything that’s really forced. It needs to come out naturally. In songwriting lessons they can be like ‘oh you write the verse and then the chorus and then the blah blah blah’- mine are never like that. If it’s verse-chorus-verse-chorus it’s because it makes sense emotionally to where the song journey is going. I can’t do it any other way because I feel like a liar! I’m not gonna have a double chorus at the end just so it’s catchier. If the end of the song is supposed to explode then it will explode
I think that’s an important thing to stand for in your music- to not worry about the formula
It’s hard isn’t it? They always say ‘oh your song needs to be thing length or your hook never comes back’ yeah because the hook only happened one time in my scenario- I’m just trying to be honest with myself because if I’m dishonest and just try and write songs people like then…
There’ll still be something wrong with them. You can compromise all these things about yourself to make the song popular, but even those songs that exist aren’t liked by the person who wrote them. It’s probably good to be firm with what you want, if people want to hear the chorus again then they will play the song again
There’s one song – Mutual Core by Bjork – and there’s this really cool electronic part but it’s so short so you want to go back and listen to the whole song again so you can get that one part. Everytime I get to the end I’m like noo!!! Keep going!!! I love that though. It’s a great feeling. I think you want people to want more
I don’t think you want people to be sick of your chorus by the end of your song
Only He Knows- this song has got great texture. Your songs all feel related to each other, but not twins
I think because they’re all me- me at different moments. I think I’m an overly emotional person. I think I feel things very strongly, and I feel a lot of emotions in a short amount of time. I think my songs reflect that and all take a different position in my heart in that way. Only He Knows is a bit of a mixture of my life, and Myazaki. I wrote the lyrics around the first time I saw Laputa. It’s like a dream. I feel like Myazaki shows how I envision things in my mind, which is way more explosive then they are in real life- I try and show that in my music. This song is me kind of feeling like I’m in Laputa but also in real life
Laputa is probably my favourite Myazaki movie, I think all of his movies are just so gentle. The experiences that these independent young girls go through are kind of insane, but it’s presented so wholesomely and on familiar turf
Yeah but how much does life actually feel that insane and abstract sometimes? Like when Shit’s going down, it’s going down that hard. I think the only way you can really capture that is through cartoons or music
So Nasturtium Dreams, Nasturtium is what’s on your album cover right?
Yeah, and I have a tattoo of them too!
Oh cool! So what why that flower?
They are a really common flower where I’m from, and they are the kind of flower that dies off in winter and goes dormant and then through spring it starts growing and climbing anywhere it wants. They come in orange and yellow and white flowers that are all edible! They quite a peppery flavour, so you can put it in salads and stuff. I really love the idea of dying back in winter, and then coming from nowhere and reinventing yourself. I love that idea of hibernation. I love everything about them- how beautiful they are, and they taste like pepper! I love pepper!
Flowers in food, it just doesn’t get better than that
When you get a piece of cake and it has like a little violet in it?
Sold. There’s this quote ‘nothing in nature blooms all year round’. We so often expect of ourselves, and those around us, that beautiful blooming spring-self, but the ability to hibernate and shut down can allow you to grow even more when it’s time to
Yeah, definitely. That song is kind of about a house I used to live in and they had so many of these flowers. When I think back to living there and how nice it was, the flowers are so prominent
Do you feel like that when you see those flowers now?
Definitely, I still love them. We have some in our backyard!
So thinking of this new song ‘Dreamer’- you have ‘Dream of Being’, ‘Nasturtium Dreams’, and ‘Dreamer’, what does dreaming mean to you?
It’s not so much actual dreaming, it’s more daydreaming. I’m a real daydreamer. I don’t really see things at face value. Since I was a kid I would kind of make up other stories. I don’t know if it was a distraction technique, but I find it easy to kind of ‘get away’. It’s how I get all my lyrics too, and it’s not logical or like emotional, it’s really visual. I think I didn’t realise that it’s kind of unusual, most people don’t really continue to have that kind of imagination. I don’t know why I’m still like that. I even went to an uptight high school!
That’s a really nice way to live though
Yeah it’s more childish, but it’s interesting. I make it interesting just with my own mind. I don’t need to be entertained!
A line I really like in ‘Dreamer’ is
Can we share unchanging space
And begin our untangling
So I think that’s like, you know how we as humans like to be safe and have a home and a space spot to come home to, and when we’re uprooted that’s a real- it really mucks with your head- well for me especially. Can we share unchanging space, I meant that within relationships, like can we just decide to be happy with each other, and be empathetic to each other. I think there’s a safety in having those friends you know you can say anything to and be really honest with about your life and emotions, knowing they won’t judge you. This is me wanting to help my friends with what they go through- when we have those problems it’s literally bad pathways in our brain, so I imagine our brains are all tangled up and what we need to do is untangle them and rewire ourselves so we can think logically- but doing that in a safe space
I think from seeing you live in your video of this song, it’s so clear that you really love music, like your bursting with energy and passion for the whole craft
Yeah, I try and keep my music really honest- that song is really for my friends and for anything who’s having a bad time. It’s me genuinely trying to feel their heart. I think with Dreamer, it was me being a dreamer- you know when your friends having a really hard time and you can’t do anything, it’s all up to them- it’s that frustration of wishing you could click your fingers and they’d feel better. Dreamer is about not having the ability to do that, so I wrote a song out of the frustration of not being able to do anything but support them emotionally
It’s great that that song exists in that acoustic form, and I’m excited to see how it develops when you go to record it, it could become a whole new song
Yeah, I think it will be a new song, same form but new instruments and production which is exciting!
What’s your favourite part of song writing?
My favourite part is when I first come up with a song, and I write a melody that responds with what I’m trying to say. Sometimes I’ll be jamming and I’ll find something that I actually really like and I try to record it straight away. It always ends up feeling really honest
Do you look for that in the musicians you’re influenced by?
I think so, I don’t think it’s that common to find music that’s very honest. It makes it really special when you find someone and you hear them play and you’re like ‘woah that’s them!’. Then again I really like someone like Kate Bush, and her songs are made up or inspired by things like newspaper articles- she’s really good at conveying and being in a character and telling a story through a song
I think Regina Spektor is kind of like that too
Yeah, I think Bjork as well, she’s really honest with the way she sings and writes too. I like anything that’s really emotive and honest. It’s the story not the hook!
I think you’ve answered this in a few ways, but what do you want to stand for as a musician?
I think honesty and creativity- being genuine. I know I’m trained both classically and in Jazz, but I don’t want to just go out and copy my hero’s, I want to say my own story and hopefully connect with people- and allow people to dream and get out of whatever is going on for them at the time. Connect emotionally and help them feel less alone
You can find Niine on her socials below;