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Nive and the Deer Children - Interview

  by Owen Peters

published: 10 / 4 / 2016

Nive and the Deer Children - Interview


It's been six years since Nive Nielsen's first album, but her second, 'Feet First' has been worth the wait. Nielsen speaks to Owen Peters about her native Greenland, travelling, her unorthodox route into the music business and overcoming stage fright

There has been a six year gap between Nive Nielsen and The Deer Children's debut album 'Nive Sings' (2010) and current release 'Feet First' (released in the UK February 5th via Glitterhouse Records). It was worth the wait. It’s a thoughtful, reflective, personal album, not hurried. I can imagine the record company or PR folks asking: “Any idea when the album will be ready, Nive?” The answer probably came back along the lines of “When it’s ready.” I catch up with Nive on a Skype call from a less than quiet coffee shop in Georgia, USA. Madonna’s trying to crash our call via the cafe's speaker system. Nielsen is a long way from her homeland Inuk roots of Greenland: “I was born and raised in the capital of Greenland Nuuk. Its population is around 16,000 people. In fact, the whole of Greenland has a total population of 56,000. The landscape, the mountains, the whales, even the ice, it's a very beautiful country. Each community is a little island, most places are accessible only by boat, helicopter or propeller plane. It’s a really nice place. Folks tend to go sailing in the summer and hunt in the winter. It’s a little metropolis mixing old and new,” she explains. Throughout her formative years, the music in and around Nuuk was either mainstream or traditional: "I wanted to hear more of the more unusual indie bands like Nirvana, Metallica, the Doors. But they were hard to find back then.” By the age of seventeen, Nielsen began to travel. With the help of her mother, she had saved up enough money to take a year out in Spain. “Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to travel," she says. "I once saw the title Adventurer and thought it was a cool profession, so I kind of got hooked with moving around." She continued her education by spending two years in Norway, three years in Canada and a spell in London gaining a Masters at Goldsmith University. It was while studying in Ottawa that Nielsen began to write: “I must have been 23-24 years old and was bored with the routine. My boyfriend at the time suggested a diversion. He bought me what I can best describe as a toy guitar, saying: 'There you go, write some songs.'” Much to her surprise, she did write songs and improved on the guitar – mostly self taught as guitar lessons weren't an option on a student's income: “I began to build up more songs, but playing them in front of anyone was a real problem for me. I would be shaking, sweating whispering the words. It was really hard for me. "People who had heard my songs suggested I send them to various record labels and producers. I guess the break came when I sent some of my home recordings to Howe Gelb (Giant Sand). He liked them and suggested I call John Parish who had worked with one of my favourite artists P.J. Harvey. So, as suggested, I sent them to John. He also liked the songs and we set about recording the album 'Nive Sings' in his studio.” Having recorded the album, next came the difficult part: playing to a live audience. “I didn’t have my own band so I asked Giant Sand if they would help me out. So my first gig in Greenland was in front of five hundred people. I found the situation really really tough.” Instead of Nielsen's next gig being to a smaller audience, she played to The Queen of Denmark and all the ministers of Scandinavia, which was broadcast on television throughout the country – talk about a baptism of fire. Nielsen clearly didn’t follow the standard template of how a rookie artist builds a following: start small, gain experience, develop a fanbase and watch the numbers grow. Suddenly she was a recognised face, expected to play her music to audiences while battling her stage fright. “It’s only by playing and playing that I managed to get comfortable on stage. Even now I think I have it under control, I think,” she laughs, nervously. Are Nielsen's problems with performing the reason for the five-year gap between albums? “Oh no; quite the opposite. We have been playing all over the world, from the USA to South Korea, Japan, Canada. As we travel I tend to write, trying to capture the environment and how it makes me feel. All my songs are very personal and I’ve taken my time as I want them be the very best I can make them. These days we travel with a small group of musicians. We get on great together, so it’s really enjoyable. Other times, we have a larger group of Deer Children who come along and get involved with our gigs” Nielsen comes across as very thoughtful during the interview. I can imagine much wresting of ideas and changing of melodies and arrangements before she is satisfied with her work. Nielsen talks about her favourite songs on her album: “I like the opening track 'Still The Same'. It starts with a melancholy feel and ends in a bombastic closure. It kind of surprised me, how it switches up and down. It fits well with the song's theme on how everything changes, always without fail. All the songs are personal, about something or somebody in my life.” I interject, asking for the background on one of my standout tracks from the album, 'Slip'. A slow ballad with simple chord changes, lyrics expressing “I can’t be bothered to tell you I’m leaving.” “Yes, that’s about…” she hesitates. “Actually it’s not about one person or one thing. It’s many things brought together, you know. Experiences." The album has many differing styles. 'In My Head' begins with slow percussion, building into a crescendo of screaming guitars, and a Jethro Tull flute accompaniment. Nielsen's theme of travel and wandering is captured perfectly in 'Happy', with a gentle waltz-like flow to the arrangement. It's as if a cool breeze was spinning and turning in time with the mood and flow of the track. Horns and sax add a wonderful colour to the arrangement. Although Nielsen's vocals range from reedy to adolescent to croaky, she allows the albums to breathe, finding it’s own rhythm and timing which in turn brings an edge and meaning to each track. For such a good album, put together with such care, it’s a surprise and disappointment the lyrics aren’t available either with the CD or online. Some people campaign for world peace, some for free ice cream to all adults over the age of eighteen. My campaign is to get all album lyrics published. A punter takes more ownership and understanding from an album when lyrics are available. The last time Nive Nielsen played in the UK was back in 2009 at The Green Man Festival. While she has been touring throughout February and March, covering Germany, Switzerland and Austria, UK dates are yet to be announced. For now, Nielsen will probably continue what she does best: Eat, Sleep, Travel, Write, Repeat…

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Nive and the Deer Children - Interview

Nive and the Deer Children - Interview

Nive and the Deer Children - Interview

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