Danish pop artist, Nabiha, took a moment to chat with us the other night before her show at The Bootleg Theatre in Los Angeles.
High Voltage: So, you flew in from New York last night.
Nabiha: We flew in from New York late last night, yeah.
HV: And you’re flying back out tomorrow?
Nabiha: We’re flying back out tomorrow morning, getting up at 4AM. Flying back to New York to play the Rock Music Hall then we’re flying back to LA the next day, so it’s like, yeah. I flew from Copenhagen to London, London to New York and did a gig there. Las Vegas, LA doing a gig here, back to New York doing a gig there, back to LA, then up to San Francisco to do the San Francisco Pride.
HV: That’s going to be amazing!
Nabiha: I’m so much looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to everything that’s going on right now but it’s the most perfect way to end my trip here. I’m gonna be performing on the main stage and there’s going to be 100,000 people there.
HV: Have you done Pride events before?
Nabiha: I have once, in Germany many years ago. I’ve always attended Pride in Denmark since I was a little girl. My cousin is gay and happily married. I grew up in this lovely little town of Copenhagen. It’s part fairy tale, part hippie. There’s room for that, there needs to be room for that. Love is love and no one should decide who anyone wants to love. I’m really, really excited about going to San Francisco. It doesn’t get any more “Pride” than that. Celebrating love in San Francisco is gonna be amazing.
HV: Why is there so much traveling and hopscotching cross country?
Nabiha: It’s because I also have a summer tour going on right now, in Denmark, as well as in Europe so that’s why I needed to fly back and forth. But I’m quite happy. I’m living my dream right now and for someone like me to come from a very small country up north to actually have something going on over here in the States, it’s been a big dream of mine for as long as I can remember. So I’m just really thankful right now.
HV: You’ve had a lot of success in Europe already. What made you want to come here in particular?
Nabiha: From the very beginning I’ve always wanted to go everywhere. I’ve always wanted to get my music out everywhere. World domination – you have to start in one place. And the United States is of course a territory that, like everywhere else, I’d love to try and see if I can do something here. I just got signed over here recently…
HV: Congratulations, by the way!
Nabiha: Thank you, thank you so much. So now the ball is rolling. I’m ready. I’m hungry. I just want to do the best that I can do.
HV: One of my favorite songs of yours right now is “Ask Yourself.” And I cannot find it in the States.
Nabiha: You have to wait until the EP comes out. It’ll come out soon!
HV: I can’t wait!
Nabiha: It’s really one of those that when we perform it live, it’s the one where everyone moves in closer to each other and really sings along. When you’re sitting in the studio and you write and you’re like “Oh wow, I love this song, we’ve really tapped in to something special,” you don’t know how other people are going to react. But that’s really been the song where you have the girls that go on a girls night out going “Ask yourself…” then you have the kids and the grown up men with the full beard and the beer – so my tour last year was crazy in Europe – the guys were getting really into that. I didn’t see that coming.
HV: Was it a song that meant something more to you while you were writing it?
Nabiha: It’s a song about being in the end of a relationship. I think the reason why it worked so well is that everyone’s tried that situation. It’s over and you know it and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve tried everything. And if you’ve done that, if you’ve really honest to God done everything you could to try to save it, you have to let it go. Maybe the time isn’t right. You can’t force love. You have to let go and move on and wish your partner the best on their own. It’s a sad theme but it’s also an empowering song. That’s what it’s about, ask yourself, “Did you do everything that you could do?” And to let go and be easy on yourself.
I get a lot of emails from people; and when I meet them, fans will come up and say, “That really helped me a lot.” That’s the best thing for me. Something that I created together with Carl Ryden, who’s my producer from Sweden, I’ve worked with him since the beginning actually, and some other amazing songwriters as well. But that’s the most important thing. I get something out of it but if I can also help other people along the way, that makes me really happy.
HV: Are there any other songs that have made an impact on your audience?
Nabiha: “Mind the Gap” gets a lot of smiling faces and dancing and arms and hands in the air. I don’t know what happened. I think we tapped into something. “Mind the Gap” is really about me as a person, not an artist. Really, it’s just a list of all my faults, which is a weird thing to put in a song. It was done in a fun kind of way. That’s what I wanted to do with that song. I wanted to give a little bit of myself, on a personal level, something that only my family and friends know. I’m always a little bit late, I’m such a nerd, things like that. It was a fun thing to write. I think the audience and the fans feel things like that. They know when it comes from the heart. It’s a funny thing with music, it’s a funny thing with art.
HV: What does “Mind the Gap” actually mean? To me it’s the London Underground.
Nabiha: There’s two sides to that. One is that I wrote it while I was in London, commuting on the Underground. Hearing that voice say the same damn thing over and over again. As I wanted to write this song about me, riding the Underground in London had a lot to do with that time, my creativity. But “mind the gap” to me is definitely the gap between my teeth. I just wanted to bring those two ideas together. I didn’t really think about it that much but it’s become such a thing that people ask “That gap between your teeth, what does it mean?” What has also happened is that a lot of people who have gaps between their teeth, kids especially, their parents will come up to me and say, “My daughter has that,” or “My son has that and they were feeling really insecure about that but now all these things with you are happening and they feel so much more confident.” And I’m like “Yay!”
It’s such a big part of me. In Africa where I’m from, it means that you’re a lucky person if you have that. So to me I’m just like, “Can it be any wider please?” So I wanted to take that personal element and gel it with this whole music and travel… I’m thinking in Danish right now.
HV: Is that something that you find difficult? You speak English perfectly well.
Nabiha: Ah, thank you. Too much television. They teach us in school, we have it from 3rd grade or something.
HV: Did you grow up in Denmark or… you said you were from Africa earlier.
Nabiha: I was born and raised in Copenhagen, in Denmark. My mom is half-Danish and half-West African, she’s from Mali. And my father is from Gambia and Morocco. So they’re from West and North Africa. They met each other in Denmark and had me. So I have a large family spread all over Africa and a large family in Denmark as well.
HV: Does your background influence your music?
Nabiha: Sometimes it does. When I go into the studio, I’m not thinking, “I have to show my heritage in my music and that’s really important to me.” It’s much more important to me to just… “How do I feel today? What is important for me today? What do I want to write? What do I want to put into words?” Sometimes there will be musical influences just because Africa has such a big musical history. I’m very curious when it comes to genres. I can’t really settle for one. It’s not straight up pop or R&B or electro or soul. I have to blend everything. So there will be influences from my African background but also my Danish.
HV: What do you consider your music to be?
Nabiha: I consider my music to be pop music because that’s the easiest…
Nabiha: Yeah! I love the pop hooks, I love the whole sing-along. Because that’s how I grew up with my family. From cranking up the radio early morning to get ready and singing along to the songs, if someone couldn’t sing, it wasn’t about that. It was being together and having fun. That’s what music reminds me of. That’s the pop element I love. Bringing everyone together. And then I just mix everything up as I go along.
HV: What is your actual songwriting process like?
Nabiha: I will always record things on my phone, to put down in a document on my phone or my computer when I’m traveling like this. Or if I’m on my bike because I bike in Copenhagen, it’s such a bike city, pull out my phone if I get inspired with a cool word or a cool line, I’ll record a quick melody. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and do that sometimes. I’ll dream something and will want to put that melody down. Wake up in the morning, record it, sometimes it’s just awful. You can’t even hear what I was thinking so I’ll just delete that. So I’ll do that but mainly I write my songs in a studio. Because I’m so busy with the tour and all that, I like to sit down and spend the time that it takes on a song. I love being in the studio and writing with Carl. He lives in LA now so it gives me the perfect opportunity to come back and forth here.
HV: How did you get started in music?
Nabiha: My family always listened to a lot of music. I always remember the radio being on, especially at family parties, people would play the music really loud and just sing along. When I started school, there was the obligatory flute in 1st or 2nd grade. It’s awful for parents. Then I actually started playing the trumpet in 3rd grade, then tuba in 4th. And then puberty hit and it wasn’t cool to play those types of instruments. I wish I had stuck with it because tuba’s fucking cool. I used to have a background singer who played the tuba. She was so fucking hot. Later on, I started in the rhythmical band (the previous was orchestral) and I started playing drums which I was really bad at. My teacher moved me up to keyboards and I sucked even worse. So he was like, “Okay, Nabiha just step away from the instruments.” And that worked and that came natural.
I was trying to find my place in the whole thing at a very early age, just wanting to do something that had something to do with music. And not giving up even though I failed at all the other instruments. Singing just came naturally to me. I remember doing my very first concert, very first time on stage. I was 14 or 15 and I sang a song with my teacher. I remember feeling at home on the stage and feeling like it just made sense. It felt so… “giving” was the word I was thinking in Danish. I felt at ease and I needed to come back and get more of that. After that, I had a little bit of stage fright and it was terrible. I’m a perfectionist. I was dealing with that for a while, being afraid to walk on stage but I still kept at it because nothing beats that feeling of communicating like that for me.
HV: What are your biggest influences as far as music?
Nabiha: It keeps changing. Mostly, it’s more people than music that makes me want to write. Talks with my friends, being with family or traveling. I get a lot from traveling. I like traveling on my own sometimes. At least once a year I go somewhere by myself. When I do that it’s time to tap into myself. I always get a lot from traveling. There are so many amazing people. I love music. I always want to know what’s going on over here. Like if I’m in Portugal, I wanna check out what’s the music scene like there.
HV: Are there any other artists that you’re listening to right now?
Nabiha: There’s a lot of Danish stuff that I’m really into, especially some of the new and upcoming. MØ, she’s also a Danish artist that’s starting to really grow over here in the United States, getting a lot of hype. Robyn, I love her. She’s amazing. There was this guy I saw when we played Austin City Limits. His name was Slow Magic and he has a wolf’s head on. He did an amazing show in a space, about 1/4 the size of where we’re in now [the parking lot of the Bootleg Theatre]. That was amazing. I’m straight up Instagram-following him to see if there’s a show nearby. He’s definitely someone I want to check out more. There’s no vocals. It’s just him, an electro-thing and drums.
HV: If there was someone you could write with, who would it be and why?
Nabiha: Oooh, so many! I can’t just say one person. I would like to work with Macklemore. I think he’s really good at the fun, uptempo stuff but also he’s really deep. And I like redheads. Erykah Badu, she’s just so cool. I’d just love to pick her brain, see what goes on in there and see if I can ever escape out again after. I think she’s awesome. CeeLo Green is one of my favorite songwriters, the whole Gnarls Barkley project. Both albums are amazing. I love the production. I also love how much of the songwriting is very dark if you actually listen to it. Half the music you dance to it but when you listen to it, it actually has a dark twist. I find that very interesting too. And then Grace Jones. Actually, I just want to invite them all to dinner and see what happens.
HV: That would be awesome, wouldn’t it?
Nabiha: You could come too. We could just sit there and watch what happens.
HV: I’ve noticed you have a very colorful fashion style.
Nabiha: What do you mean? Haha. I’m an explosion. I was definitely feeling like that today. Some days I just wanna be all black and “Don’t talk to me.” But I’m out here. The sun is shining and we’re playing. I just found these new earrings yesterday. Cost me like $2 and I’m like, “Gimme four!” It’s just about having fun really. I love style and I love how you can emphasize your mood and express yourself [with it]. It’s the same thing with music and any other art form. I think fashion can do exactly the same thing. There are trends but you have to follow your heart and do whatever you feel like. You just need to keep it fun.
HV: Anything else you want to say to our readers?
Nabiha: I have these gigs in the States coming up and I hope if it’s near you, that you can pop by. Check me out on my websites: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Nabihamusic.com. Thank you for reading to the end and I hope you like what I do. I’m definitely enjoying everything right now and just really thankful for getting the chance to be here. I’m just going to try to enjoy it and have fun.
HV: Thank you!