Video Credit: Karmin’s Official YouTube Channel
On the outside, she’s a badass, 1940’s pin-up model, the object of all girls’ envy, and the girl all the guys want to date. But beneath all that, she is a sincere, down-home, mid-west American sweetheart.
Growing up in Seward, Nebraska — population 6,946 — in a conservative Christian family, Amy Heidemann’s upbringing was sheltered and exposed to traditional ideals. But her mother, a teacher, and her father, a salesman, gave Amy a healthy appreciation for music. When her mother found Amy on the family piano playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star by ear without any instruction, she promptly signed Amy up for piano lessons — which Amy says, she hated. “I did that for eight years. I suffered through it,” Amy remembers.
It wasn’t until Amy got assigned a vocal solo in her middle school choir that she discovered her passion for singing. “People were giving me compliments. And I thought, ‘This might be my thing, I think this is what I should be doing instead of piano.’ So my mom let me quit piano and take voice lessons,” says Amy. But, it turns out, that she didn’t like that, either.
Amy began to teach herself by studying and imitating some of her idols. “I got a little boom box for my birthday, and I used to pull out all the treble from the tracks so it was like there was no singer, and I would imitate Brandi, Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera — any diva at the time that I could get my hands on,” says Amy.
Her favorite genre quickly became R&B, and she would listen to it any way possible. “I always loved rap, but I was not allowed to listen to it because of the Parental Advisory sticker,” she says. But the genre’s style and attitude appealed to her. In sixth grade, Amy’s boyfriend burned her a copy of Dr. Dre’s Chronic 2001. She was hooked. “I was like ‘I don’t know what bitches and hoes are, but I’m really into this’.”
After that, she devoured any new artist or genre that she could. She began singing in contests and talent shows, and eventually ended up with a scholarship to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. “Coming from a really small town to a big city, that’s where I was immersed into all the other genres of music,” Amy says.
It’s not hard to tell that Nick Noonan is a native New Englander. He has a goofy and somewhat crass sense of humor, was raised in a town where everyone knows his name and revels in taking a walk down memory lane.
He grew up in Old Town, Maine as the second oldest of four children. His two younger siblings were adopted from Vietnam by his parents when Nick was about seven years old. Nick lived in a town of just under 8,000 people, boasting the Old Town Canoe Factory as their claim to fame — a company employing a number of the town’s residents.
At one point in time, Old Town Canoe even employed Nick. The summer after his freshman year of college, during an experience he describes as hilarious, Nick worked at the factory from 5 a.m. — 1 p.m. He recalls the hangovers of yore, “You say your going to stop drinking and go home at 11, but that never happens. Then you wake up and 4 a.m. and you’re like ‘fuck!’”
Before college, Nick had planned to become a chiropractor like his dad. He had always enjoyed music, and sports, but was largely the self-proclaimed “weird kid.” Which is probably why in fourth grade, when students in Old Town public schools are mandated to pick an instrument to play, Nick, unlike any other student in his class, chose the trombone. (what did everyone else pick? If they all had to pick instruments idk why this is weird unless you tell us) When he started to get good at it around sixth grade, he began winning awards for his talent and was recognized at a state level.
By his junior year of high school, Nick found himself at the Berklee College of Music summer program where he was awarded lead chair for his skills on trombone. Growing up, music had been a hobby, not really a career plan, but with his talents reaffirmed by a prestigious institution, he began to reevaluate his plans. “So I was like, ‘oh shit, maybe I should actually try to do this.’” As a result, when he applied to Berklee for college, he says “I actually got a solid scholarship there because there weren’t a lot of trombone players.”
Nick and Amy were Nick and Amy long before they were Karmin.
The duo entered Berklee College of Music, both on scholarship, in the fall of 2004.
While they knew of each other from the start, Nick and Amy never met until the last day of freshman year, and were not reunited again until a house part at the beginning of their sophomore year.
“We ended up at the refrigerator joking about cheese,” Amy, who wasn’t much of a partier, remembers, “We realized that we actually had the same sense of humor. And it was a great night. I had a blast. I left the party, and he didn’t call me for like two weeks.”
If you know Karmin’s music, that plot line should sound familiar — Nick says the duo’s hit single Brokenhearted is loosely based on that party.
After a month of friends trying to set them up, and running into each other around campus, Nick and Amy went on their first date. “We went on a walk. And I think I spent like $5 – its college dude,” says Nick. “Down the Chahles Rivah,” Amy says, emphasizing a Boston accent. And from there, they say, the rest is history. They went on to graduate together in 2008, and despite the economic downfall the pair stayed in Boston working odd jobs, and remained a couple.
It wasn’t until a few years later, in a train terminal at the Lowell, MA train station on Thanksgiving, that Nick and Amy had a brain blast. “We were just kind of frustrated. I was working at a boxing club. She was working at Berklee Music online and being a wedding singer on the weekends. I was playing salsa gigs and also, like weddings and stuff on the weekends. So we were like, ‘screw this, man. Let’s do our own thing and start our own group,’” says Nick.
They decided to go for it. Amy learned guitar and sang, Nick learned piano and cajon — a box-like drum — and also started singing. For a year, they practiced and wrote, building up their confidence to play as a duo in front of an audience. They called their act Karmin, a play on the word ‘karma’ and the latin word ‘carmen,’ which means song.
They started playing live on Newbury Street in Boston, a notoriously busy shopping street in the city’s Back Bay. Nick remembers, “We would focus on making eye contact with [the audience] and seeing what songs they would react to and which songs they wouldn’t react to. We would clog the streets.”
When they weren’t busking, or working odd jobs, Nick and Amy began covering other artists on YouTube to attract a larger fan base. “And everything was really singer-songwriter-y at first. We slowly wanted to make it more hip-hop, but we were scared people wouldn’t listen,” says Nick. It was tough for Karmin to build up the confidence to put out something edgier than what their subscribers had been used to, but when they released their cover of “Look at Me Now” by Christ Brown ft. Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes on April 12, 2011, Nick says, “that went apeshit.” (do you have numbers/subscribers to demonstrate this change? Those details will help readers get a sense of this spike in popularity).
“It was like overnight, everything changed,” says Amy. And she’s not kidding. The morning after they uploaded that cover, their inbox had been flooded with over 1400 emails from fans, labels, and record executives who all wanted to know who this white girl, rapping like Busta was.
“We were on Ellen like five days later. It was trial by fire, man,” says Nick. Their appearance on Ellen was their first major performance as Karmin. Not long after that, they signed with major label Epic Records, a step that they were initially hesitant to take. “We weren’t sure if we wanted to get signed. Because you hear all these nightmares about it. Even if you have all these eyeballs from YouTube, you can easily get put on a shelf,” says Nick, “But then we were sitting down with L.A. Reid. He was the one that kind of had the same energy as us. So we seemed to vibe really well.”
The beginning of 2012 brought new excitements and challenges. In February they were asked to play Saturday Night Live, by May they had dropped their seven-song, debut EP Hello, and in September, Amy was awarded the flip-cover of Rolling Stone for their “Women Who Rock” issue.
This year, Karmin is working hard for their professional and personal lives. This summer, they have been on a national tour with The Jonas Brothers, which both Amy and Nick agree has been an awesome experience. “They are just so humble and they’re just nice guys. We’re lucky,” says Amy. To finish off their summer of touring, they are dropping their debut full-length Pulses later this month. And on top of all of that, (because, remember, they are a couple!) they want to get married by the end of the year!
But planning a wedding, touring, press, and maintaining a relationship all at the same time seems like a lot. “So I don’t know if we will be able to pull it off. So we’ll see,” says Amy. As for the immediate future, the couple does want to add to their little family. “We want to get a dog!” Amy exclaims. A furry friend would fit right in to their newly acquired home in LA, which Karmin says they are really excited about.
“We are going totally backwards,” says Nick.
Amy chimes right in, “House, puppy, wedding, number one album, babies,” she says with a laugh. “We are not going to have babies until we have a number one album.”
**A version of this article was published by Naked Magazine in September of 2013 which can be found here