Interview With Nini Fabi Of Brooklyn Upstarts HAERTS
Nini Fabi and Ben Gebert, the principle songwriters in HAERTS, first met in Germany when they wear 15 years old and on the same swim team, and at first Fabi was hesitant to share her music with Gebert. He was a classically trained musician who had been playing piano since he was 3, and writing music since age 10, a fact that intimidated Fabi at the time. “At first I was hesitant to make music with him because he was a little further along and I was secretive”, Fabi says on the band’s website. To Nini, music was a personal, private endeavor and something she did with her sister at home, “It was so important I almost didn’t want to share it with anyone because then I could lose it”.
HAERTS – “Wings” Official Video:
I caught Haerts last fall at the end of their tour opening for Washed Out and was instantly transfixed by both their song-craft and spellbinding live performance. Sounding akin to a more upbeat Beach House, filtered through Rumors-era Fleetwood Mac, Haerts’ intriguing sound features just the right amount of foreboding feelings to go along with their unique take on elctro-pop. Of all the current bands exploring these sounds, Haerts’ is certainly one that has caught my ear, which is impressive given small amount of released material thus far. This is in no small part because of the ability of the band’s live performance to exude such a personal connection. Fabi is especially engaging onstage, easily tranfixing the audience with her modern-day Stevie Nicks vibe.
Nini was kind enough to answer a few questions for me via email after the show, check out our conversation below:
DF: I feel like the best “synth-pop” melds the hopeful and the joyful with melancholic and gloomy feelings. Both Hemiplegia and the live show are fantastic at accomplishing that, is that easier to arrive at with Nini being “more concerned with what we’re saying” and Ben’s thing being “how we’re saying it”? Especially considering the varying backgrounds you two come from, musically speaking.
Nini: Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed the show and songs. I think what you are talking about is contrast and that definitely plays a big role. I am interested in the space of tension or friction that’s created when two opposite emotions collide. Sometimes it’s exactly that intangible space that is carried by the music and it’s hard to put it in words. I feel that writing together is not always easy or smooth but because you create some kind of “collision,” the intensity of it can be higher than writing alone.
DF: I’m interested to know that since you guys obviously have such a varied background, what finally prompted the move to New York, was there any one moment that made you realize it was time? Especially considering you “had nothing lined up”, that’s a pretty ballsy move… I also did that about a year and a half ago and know how intimidating it can be at times.
Nini: My mother took me to New York when I was about 14 years old and while it wasn’t my first time in the city it was the first time I fully realized it and first had the feeling that I needed to be there. There was some kind of friction and electricity that pulled me and never really let go. I made the plan to live here then and it just had to happen like this. Moving here without knowing exactly what was going to happen might seem ballsy, but it really did not feel like a great risk. We might have not had anything lined up but we knew what we had to do and our hearts and heads were in it. And then again I think you’re not really living unless you take risks and always explore. There’s a German saying “you have to jump over your own shadow” and it means that you have to put yourself in unknown situations and do things that are a bit scary sometimes. In order to be an artist or musician or human in general I think this is one of the most important things to keep moving and developing.
HAERTS – “All Of The Days” lyric video:
DF: Speaking of, most bands from NYC obviously cull a lot of influence from the city and Haerts I’d imagine is no different, I’m interested to hear how a band with members of such diverse backgrounds was affected by NYC and Brooklyn in particular. I’ve heard you guys mention that things in the city beyond just the music drew you there for instance.
N: Of course New York is an influence. But so are all places or situations you find yourself in. It’s just that everything influences or inspires you in a different way depending on where you are and how you perceive things in a moment or period of time. I think you can draw from everything and that fact can make location the most and the least important thing at the same time. What inspires me and all of us here is the people, the art, nature/city scapes, conversations, thoughts, music, seasons, the shocking, the comforting, the tragic and comic of life, and really anything that is striking. All of these things would also influence me in any other place in the world. The only difference is that all of these factors would be completely different in another location and thus so would I.
DF: While we’re on the subject of Brooklyn, has Haerts encountered any backlash for your incredibly rapid ascent? Things are happening very fast for you guys as a band, any sour grapes around BK? I know how some folks can be around those parts…
N: Ha, “rapid ascent”…That sounds really good. We have many of our best friends here and are surrounded by a tightly knit community. Everyone who knows us knows that we love what we do and live and give everything for it. No matter how rapid or slow things go, we will always do music because that’s just what we do. The people around us are similar in that respect or understand that, and I have never experienced any bitterness. But I know there’s always going to be people who don’t like what you do and if that wasn’t the case we would be doing something wrong. I personally have not felt it myself and think it’s a waste of time and energy to be concerned with such feelings.
DF: Talk for a moment if you would about Jean Philip Grobler’s (St. Lucia) influence both on getting the project off the ground and also the actual production of the record. It’s pretty amazing what happened with the two of you and both he and Garrett Ienner… very Brooklyn.
N: All of us meeting was very much a matter of being in the right place at the right time for a reason. When we started working with him it felt natural and challenging at the same time. We’ve known each other for almost 3 years now and he has definitely been influential as a producer and friend to us. In some ways I think of Jean as a bit of a teacher. Teacher meaning someone who enables you to be at your best at a certain time in your life. I think we were pulled towards working with each other in part because he knew that we had something that we wanted to push to its best and we felt that he was the one who could help us with it.
MS MR – “Think Of You (HAERTS remix)”:
DF: I was wondering if the writing process changed for both you and Ben once the Haerts project came into fruition and if yes, how so?
N: In a way the writing process changes for every song. We’ve never had or wanted a set way or process of doing it and still don’t have that now. Ben is usually more concerned with the foundation, the initial rhythm and chord structures and I am more so with melody and lyrics. We each spend a lot of time alone to work on ideas. Sometimes we bring those to each other and develop them. Other times we start playing together and just build something together from the beginning. The main thing that has changed with HAERTS is that we started using other tools to write with. It used to be a guitar or piano. Now we added our synths and we write a lot on them. A new sound or instrument can really change your working and give new inspiration as the mood of each instrument can inform the way you will write. The other thing that has changed is that we collaborate more now. Jean has co-written with us on a few songs and “Hemiplegia” was the first song we wrote with Garrett. The three of us are now writing more together.
DF: How many songs does Haerts have in the can right now? Are there plans for a full length here soon? What about upcoming touring plans?
N: That’s top secret… No, it’s hard to say since we’re always writing a lot and have been for most of our lives. Many of the ideas we have and songs we write might never come out, but we are 90% set on the ones that will be on the full length coming in 2014. We are in fact back in the studio this and the following month to finish it. As far as the tour goes we don’t have any specific plans as of now since we are focusing on the album until the end of the year.
DF: Hemiplegia sounds very, very frightening (the physical malady, not the record), you’ve been experiencing it since you were a child? Has it ever struck during or right before a performance? Did the doctors give you something to keep it under control?
N: I don’t suffer from hemiplegia. It’s a very severe and as I understand ongoing condition and I do not have that. I have however been getting hemiplegic migraines ever since I was little and have experienced certain aspects of hemiplegia. It’s a crazy combination of disorientation and muscle weakness that turns into a paralysis of one side or part of the body. For me it also affects speech and it seems like a disconnect between my brain and my mouth, which makes me unable to communicate for a certain amount of time. So while I’m thinking one word a whole other word might come out. It rarely happens but it did happen in the studio when we recorded the first part of our album and we still have a take where the words I’m singing stop making sense completely as a result of Hemiplegia. I’ve never listened to it again and, in case you are wondering, the song was not “Hemiplegia!” “Hemiplegia” the song is not so much about the physical condition, but more the general feeling of being numb or trapped in a situation – a situation you clearly know how to get out of, but for some reason feel unable to do it.
DF: Thanks so much Nini, best of luck, see you down the road!