Nina Lee - 10 Questions Music Interview
The W.A M. Awards celebrate the year’s most outstanding independent artists from around the world in multiple genres and categories. "Best Song" and "Best Album" nominations were based on Artistry, Musicianship, Originality, Professionalism, Diversity, and Excellence. W.A.M. stands for We Are the Music Makers.' Nina Lee's song "Lift Me Up' was the 2020 W.A.M. Award Winner for Best Social Justice song. Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it.
There is not a time when I remember not being completely enveloped and mesmerized by music. Some people have the light bulb moment when they realize they were meant to be a songwriter/singer, or creative, but my whole life has been that moment. I have always known with my entire being that music was my purpose in life. I know it sounds cliche, but I sang before I spoke.
When it comes to songwriting, the first songwriter I was exposed to was my dad. He is a talented guitarist and lyricist and has been the biggest supporter of mine from day one. I think he really knew I was destined to be a musician before I even knew what that meant, all I knew was that I loved to put on shows in my living room and sing at all hours of the day. When I was about 6, my dad was working all night recording this guitar composition he had made, and I came in the next morning and as I was listening to it, I started to subconsciously write a song to it. Although it may have lacked structure there was some really solid parts to it. He put a microphone in my hand and I remember feeling an immediate shift in my body, almost a calm that washed over me. I still have the recording. Even though my dad knew from day one that I was meant to be a musician, this may have been a moment where I really knew that I had something special.
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career?
I once went to a salon/small performance with a bunch of other musicians at a friend’s house and while I was singing Debbie Harry walked in. I did a double take… and I thought I must be wrong and it was just a look alike, but it was Debbie Harry. I spoke to her afterwards and we had a full conversation funnily enough about Japanese knives. I don’t know for the life of me how that became the subject of our conversation, but I didn’t care what we were talking about, I was just thunderstruck that I was talking to Debbie Harry!
What has been the high point of your music path?
I don’t think that it is one specific moment, but just the journey as a whole. I look back to where I was a few years ago, where I am today and where I wanna go. With distractions of every day life, I tend to forget to recognize how far I have come. I think that music has allowed me to be more vulnerable, it has allowed me to be more true to myself and has made me a better person. The high point for me always is in the middle of a show when I look up. and I see the glaring lights on my face, I just breathe and I feel at peace. It’s a fleeting feeling, but it definitely happens. I felt it when I wrote a song in 10 minutes to my dad’s guitar composition at six years old, and I felt it last week at my first “live” show. When I see a video of myself during a performance it is so clear to me where that moment happens, something magically unexplainable fills me up. I do something where I look up to the sky and I just smile, and it happens at every show.
So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like?
I sometimes look back at songs, and I don’t know how I was able to get myself into the state to be able to write it. I think about all the great songs that I wish I wrote, and I continue to write and write until one day, the song I wish I wrote will be the song that I actually did write. The beautiful thing for me about songwriting is that there is no complete formula that equals greatness. 2+2=4 but in music someone could be like but 1+3=4, or 2x2=4 or 1x4=4. There are multiple answers, or no answers and that is magic of art. I never feel like there is a right or wrong way to write a song, and honestly it is a very judge free process. Sometimes you find the diamond that you are looking for after sorting through all the coal if that makes sense. So to answer the question more clearly, my songwriting process is very fluid. Inspiration sparks at the weirdest times for me. I’ll be in the shower and I’ll have to run out to get my phone and voice memo something so I don’t forget it- or I will be walking my dog and forget my phone so I am that crazy New Yorker talking to herself and humming until I can get home and record the melody in my head. It always happens when I am not forcing it to happen.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
There are a lot of talented very undervalued artists today because the music industry is searching for very established acts to take on. I always have felt that breaking out into the music world years ago may have proved to be simpler. Today it is amazing that anyone can produce their own songs from home, and can blow up on social media- but in my opinion I think that I was just born in the wrong time. There is a special thing when it comes to music and when someone can see you in your element, they feel that special thing too. If I could ask the music industry to change one thing, it would be to put aside egos and really just focus on the person, the talent, the music and the drive that they have to become successful in the music industry. I believe that many people in high positions would be surprised to see how much talent they are missing that is right under their noses.
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why?
I assume this question is someone alive so I will stick with that. A current artist who I think brings doo woop, old school jazz and contemporary music beautifully to his own music is Leon Bridges. Since I heard his voice, I am always inclined to be remembered of what a current Sam Cooke would be like. I would be honored to one day be able to just sing with him. Not only is his voice incredible, but his lyrics run so deep, and his delivery of them is extremely raw. I really love artists who are schooled on the artists that came before them, and can appreciate it. I feel like there is a lack of artists today who hold onto that classics like he does. To me, that is not just an attractive quality as a musician, but also as a person.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show?
Before Covid rehearsals were very different than they are now… when I am prepping for a live show I usually meet my band at a studio and we jam for a couple of hours. We fine tune anything we need to be tighter for show day, and we do that a couple of times. It’s really fun to just jam out with such talented people and then be able to share that with others when we go on stage. Having the band that I play with now has allowed me to bring my songs to life and reach places I didn’t even know they could go. I also eat very light on the day of a show because I don’t want to feel like I don’t have room to sing, and I drink a lot of water also. After the show I am always starving so my go to is sushi with the band!
Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!
I actually feel like the song that I won the W.A.M. Award this year in the Social Justice category “Lift Up” has probably been one of my more challenging songs. It was not so hard to write but it went through several iterations before I got it right, working with producer David Schoenwetter. Also, the production and release was very difficult due to the circumstances of being in a global pandemic. “Lift Up” started as a much less positive song than what it is now. I was in a place where I was coming from anger, and I wanted my voice to be heard, but I realized that was not what was needed. I needed to come from a place of support and standing up in solidarity for one another. We are facing the repercussions of COVID and tragedies that continue to take place throughout the world. I wanted to bring solace, or comfort to anyone that I could with this song- and I was eager to release it. We are in a time that is arguably one of the biggest in modern history- and marking that is something that was really important to me. Music can create change and if I could participate in that, even if it was in a minute way- I wanted to be a part of it.
What's coming up in the future?
That’s something that right now everyone is questioning. The uncertainty is definitely unnerving, and cause for hesitation. Since we really are not able to know what is coming next I only can count on the things that I do know. I will continue to write music, learn more about music, perform my music in whatever way possible, and release new music. Although right now being a musician is very difficult, we definitely will continue to find unorthodox ways to put ourselves out there and connect with people. For me music is my lifeline and always has been and I will fight tooth and nail to make sure it remains that way.
Tell us where fans can access your music?
My music can be located on all platforms! My website is ninaleemusic.com which has links to all of my socials, upcoming shows and information about me! My instagram is @ninaleeofficial where a bunch of unreleased clips of my music are regularly posted! Facebook and Twitter are also @NinaLeeOfficial. I have some great live performances up on my YouTube page (NinaLee Music as well (www.youtube.com/NinaLeemusic).