In April of 2011, Karmin's Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan ignited the blogosphere when they posted a cover of Chris Brown's "Look At Me Now" on YouTube. The clip instantly went viral, racking up millions of views after being Tweeted by such hip-hop heavy hitters as The Roots' Questlove, producers Diplo and Jermaine Dupri, and rapper The Game, each of whom marveled at the astonishing spectacle of Amy spitting Brown's, Lil Wayne's, and Busta Rhymes' raps at warp speed. Her verbal dexterity alone would be jaw-dropping coming from anyone, never mind a young girl from Nebraska looking like the girl next door meets a '40s film star with ruby-red lipstick. One critic, writing on MTV.com, raved: "Homegirl is a master emcee. Seriously. Don't let the Charlotte-from-Sex-And-The-City-façade fool you -- this girl can THROW. IT. DOWN. No offense, Busta Rhymes, but I think this girl just schooled you."
"People look at Amy and expect her to be a straight-up pop singer, but she busts out a rap and she just slays it," Nick says. "I also think the attitude is what throws people, she completely embodies it." "We hoped that people would like our version, but we didn't expect all this," Amy says of the pandemonium that followed. In short order, the Boston-based duo (who met as freshmen at the prestigious Berklee College of Music) were invited to perform with The Roots at Tufts University and appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and On Air With Ryan Seacrest, which led to meetings with several record companies and their subsequent signing with Epic Records now headed by renowned talent executive (and current X Factor judge) L.A. Reid. "We performed several of our original songs for him live, just us and a piano, and we knew right away," Amy says. "it was something about his energy. He feels music the same way we do."
Although they are already beloved by fans around the world for the pop and hip-hop covers they have posted on their YouTube Channel Karmincovers (132 million views and more than 650,000 subscribers as of October), Karmin is ready to show the world what they can do with their own music, which they call "swag pop." "It's got a pop music base with a swag reduction, garnished with sprinkles of hip hop!" Amy says. The duo has been working on songs with such top-notch collaborators as Stargate, Tricky Stewart, Dr. Luke ,Jon Jon, and most recently The Runners, who produced the first single "Crash Your Party" -- a confident urban pop tune with an island-flavored bounce that announces Karmin as a force to be reckoned with. Here's the chorus: "I'm here to crash your party / You think you're the star of the show / I'm about to let you know / I'm here to crash your party / The bigger you are, the harder you fall / You had it all before I crashed your party."
"It's about how we're coming on the scene with a new sound," Amy says. "We like to think of it as our introduction to the music industry," Nick adds. "It lives in the pop world, but it has a lot of urban elements, like dirty-sounding drums." "Crash Your Party" is just a taste of what's to come when Karmin (the name is derived from combining the word "karma" with "carmen," the Latin word for song) release their musical debut. The collection will showcase their versatility and far-reaching talent with tracks that range from the soaring love songs to stark, hard-edged bangers. Through it all, Nick delivers soulful harmonies and consistent balance on piano, and even trombone (he's a trained jazz trombonist) to Amy -- a guitar-playing vocal powerhouse who glides effortlessly from singing to rapping.
"Lauryn Hill's a huge influence as a female that both raps and sings," Amy says. "I also love Brandy, Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera, and Alanis Morissette, although her album had a parental guidance sticker on it, so I wasn't allowed to own it growing up. I would sit there with my tape recorder when Casey Kasem came on with the Top 40 and record her music off the radio."
Both Amy and Nick were raised modestly in small towns, which probably accounts for their down-to-earth friendliness. Amy grew up in Seward, Nebraska (pop. 6,000). Her mother is a first-grade teacher and her father sells fiberglass and storm-damage supplies. "He loves playing guitar and would've loved to be the 5th member of the Beatles," she says. Amy discovered her voice in sixth grade after performing for her classmates who thought she was lip-synching. "I remember when [Swedish singer] Robyn's debut album came out and thinking, 'Oh, white girls can sing soul. It's okay that I sound like this.' Because growing up in Nebraska, everyone listened to country music." Amy was accepted to Berklee on a scholarship to study songwriting, performance, and business, and worked as a wedding singer at night and on the weekend. "My mom was like, 'You're going to make $125 a night singing with a wedding band in Boston?' It was like I'd made it."
Meanwhile, Nick, a chiropractor's son from Old Town, Maine (pop. 7,840), was working his way through his parents' collection of classic rock albums, everyone from Billy Joel and Elton John to The Beatles, Queen, and The Doors. When he was required to learn an instrument in fourth grade, he chose trombone because no one else did. "My big thing was I could play really high, loud, and fast, especially for a little guy," he recalls. After winning several awards, Nick was accepted to Berklee on a scholarship. He performed with such luminaries as Paul Simon and Herbie Hancock and was on track to becoming a professional Jazz trombonist. After the two graduated, Amy tried her luck with a girl group and kept performing as a wedding singer until it finally dawned on her and Nick that they should be making music together.
"We were like, 'We've tried all these different things, we should really just do something ourselves because nobody is ever going to care as much about our music as we do,'" Amy says. With Amy playing a guitar her dad had gotten at a pawn shop and Nick banging out the rhythms on a wooden box because they couldn't afford a drum kit, Karmin began writing their own songs -- acoustic-driven hip-hop originals -- before they decided to try to grab people's attention by re-arranging the biggest hits of the day -- songs by everyone from Adele and Lady Gaga to Kanye West and Eminem -- each week on YouTube. When Karmin's version of Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" earned them their biggest response yet, they thought the time was right to take on "Look At Me Now." "I was drawn to the speed of the rapping, but also the swag," Amy says. "It's not tangible, but there's space in the music that just feels so good."
Now Karmin are bringing that feeling to their own music. "A few months ago, we were sitting in our living room with a wooden box and a guitar just writing raw music, now here we are," Amy marvels. Adds Nick: "I remember Amy's dad once saying that the only CD he'd ever bought and run home from the store to listen to was by The Beatles. We want our music to have that effect on people. We want to shake things up."