The Nervo twins have done it all. Modeling from a young age? Check. Trained in piano, violin and accepted into the Opera Academy of Australia? Check. Written and produced music for such pop heavyweights as Kylie Minogue, Kesha, Kelly Rowland, Miley Cyrus, the Pussycat Dolls & Sophie Ellis-Bextor? Check. L’Oreal Fashion Ambassadors? Check. Even offered a place on Australia’s Dancing With The Stars? You betcha.
At age 18, twin sisters Miriam (Mim) and Olivia (Liv) Nervo signed to Sony/ATV Music Publishing as songwriters. Years later, their collaboration with David Guetta and Kelly Rowland, When Love Takes Over, not only bagged a Grammy, but became a euphoric hands-in-the-air anthem and one of 2009s biggest songs. The Melbourne-born beauties, now 26, have never looked back. And they’ll soon be able to add ‘successful solo career’ to their expansive list of achievements, with an album due from Nervo in 2011.
Whilst on tour with Paul Oakenfold and Chuckie before returning home to Australia for Summerdayze, Mim Nervo took time to speak with Glam Adelaide writer Gianni Borrelli.
GB: You’re originally from Melbourne. Where are you based currently?
MN: All over the place, really. Mainly in London and LA, where I am currently. But often it’s a lot of living out of a suitcase. And of course in summer it’s Ibiza, which I’m always quite happy about!
GB: I’ve never been! I’ve heard so much about it, I really have to go one day…
MN: Let me know when you go, I’ll hook you up.
GB: You’re too kind! Now, you began a career in modelling at a young age but in terms of music, where did it all begin for you and your sister?
MN: Well music began for us at an even younger age. I have my parents to thank for that, actually. We started piano lessons when we were 5 years old, I think? And they also got us playing violin, from 5 years old again. With violin we didn’t continue, but with the piano we kind of went in and out. We learnt the bare basics quite early on. Me personally, I always found music to be very therapeutic, after school I would start jamming on the piano just to relax, and I found it to be my drug, really. And Liv, my twin sister, was exactly the same. We were doing modelling from 16 years old, and I think naturally because we were twins there was also that ‘freak factor’ (laughs). We got into a modelling agency and I think that was really good for us because it taught us how to be professional from a young age. But really, when it comes to song writing and producing, if you want to do it, you’ve really got to give it your all and give 100%, so we stopped modelling and concentrated purely on writing. Now I can definitely see that we made the right choice. But believe me, there were many, many dark years when I thought we didn’t make the choice.
GB: And you and your sister were accepted into the Opera Australia Academy too?
MN: You’ve done your homework! Well I mean we love to sing, and my sister and I were so loud as kids, I think mum was just so sick of us screaming all the time that she wanted us to put our vocal chords to good use. She enrolled us in choirs when we were quite young. And because of our musical background and all the training, we had the right pitch. And I loved singing, in choirs, on my own, again it was just therapeutic. Because my parents are born in Italy, we’re of Italian descent, and you know how it is, the Italians love classical music. We started off being classically trained but I feel the second we turned 16, we were listening to pop stars and I really wanted to sound like them and hear more music like that. So it was a natural progression to pop.
GB: And speaking of pop stars, you and your sister worked on a track off Kylie’s album Aphrodite called Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love). Not trying to sugarcoat this interview but just quietly it’s one of my favourite songs on the album…
MN: Ohh you’re lovely! It’s a fun song isn’t it?
GB: It really is! So uplifting and catchy. What was it like actually working with Kylie?
MN: Honestly, Kylie Minogue… There’s a reason why she’s Kylie Minogue and she’s had such a long career; it’s because she’s the kindest, sweetest, most professional yet approachable artist and person. I think she’s beautiful inside and out. I’m just so thankful that we got the opportunity to work with her and record with her, because she is just supreme. She makes me so happy and honoured to be Australian.
GB: She seemed to enjoy working with you too because I saw a lot of Tweets from her about heading into the studio with yourself and your sister, and she even uploaded some photos of you all working in the studio; you all seemed to click quite instantly.
MN: It’s funny isn’t it? We’re both from the UK but we’re both Melbourne girls. I just think it’s really nice when you meet fellow Australians overseas, you do have an instant bond. Kylie is just KING. I can’t speak more highly of her!
GB: You’ve been writing and producing songs for a number of years, but in terms of pop music, the release of When Love Takes Over was really when things became big for you and your sister. How much has your life changed since that song was released?
MN: It’s changed so much. It’s totally done a 180. We’re just thankful. I mean, we had top 10 songs in the UK with Rachel Stevens and a lot of success songwriting-wise in Asia, and even in America, we had songs with Miley Cyrus and the Pussycat Dolls, but this song was so critically acclaimed, and it won a Grammy. It’s just changed our lives. I feel like a broken record but I am just so thankful. We were really at the 11th hour with our career; we had success but we couldn’t pay the bills. And when When Love Takes Over came about, it did change things. Not just money-wise but within the industry, we’re so busy now that we can’t take on everything that comes our way.
GB: Did you anticipate the song having the success it did?
MN: No, and the reason why is as a songwriter and a producer, you write the song and you do your job and the rest of it is really up to the record label and the artist. So a lot of it is left up to the stars. You know, I still feel that I’ve written some of the biggest hits ever that have still not seen the light of day because it just doesn’t have the team of people behind it, and the stars haven’t collided yet. It was just all a pleasant surprise, with When Love Takes Over.
GB: You’ve played some impressive gigs. You played the Ultra Main Stage at the Winter Music Conference, you DJd at the ARIA Awards this year. Are there any performances that stick out for you?
MN: I think Ultra [Main Stage] definitely. I mean, for me it’s a bit of a spiritual homeland because that’s where David Guetta first played When Love Takes Over. That was 2 years ago. And then last year we played before Calvin Harris, who is another hero of ours. So I feel like WMC and the Ultra Main Stage is a dream come true for us. I feel like there’s been a few moments in our career, especially with DJing… I mean with Liv and I, we’re just so excited by it. It’s injected this new energy into our writing and producing. You can feel the reaction of your work so much faster, it’s quicker and it’s instant.
I remember we played at Mardi Gras actually, in Sydney last year. We’d been playing for an hour and 20 minutes and we had 10 minutes left and I thought ‘Come on, we’ve got to play When Love Takes Over.’ And we played it and I kid you not, the whole time during the set people had their hands in the air, fists pumping, screaming, jumping, all that kind of stuff, but when we played When Love Takes Over, I’ve never seen a crowd change so dramatically, and they all stopped and started kissing! (laughs) And Liv and I tapped each other on the shoulder and were just like ‘What on earth is happening here?!’ It was the most beautiful thing that we’d even witnessed. And just to think that is could affect people, a crowd of people like that. I still have those days where I hear a song, and I associate that song with a time and a feeling of happiness. And to make that happen, and to see it happening is just our drug. There’s nothing like it. DJing enabled to us to see that and experience it. And people come up to us and say ‘I love that song’ it just makes me feel so elated. It’s just our drug!
GB: Your Facebook bio reads ‘Art before chart’. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but explain to me how important that kind of methodology is when you’re making music?
MN: I think it’s one of the key rules we go by, because let’s face it, you don’t really want to hear what’s on the charts now, you want to hear what’s going to be on the charts tomorrow. I mean it’s always nice to take influences from certain things, but I feel as a writer and a producer, and a creator, you always want to push the boundaries. The magic comes when you do something different, so we always strive to do that.
GB: You’ve worked with so many diverse artists over the years, who is next for Nervo?
MN: Who is next? Hmm… I mean we’re working heavily on our own album right now. I would love to work with Fergie, because I love strong women. I love pop stars like Gwen Stefani, Fergie of course. I’m really liking Kelis these days.
GB: Kelis’ new stuff is great, she’s taken on a more dance and electronic sound too.
MN: Exactly, she’s fantastic. I love women that have got something to say. And they’re not always the youngest pop stars, yet they’re the ones who really turn me on the most. I guess that’s because I can relate to them. Beyonce would be a dream come true, because she’s just the voice isn’t she? I think people will look back on her for centuries.
GB: I’ve been dying to ask you this… You worked with Kesha on her album Animal. The media portrays her in a certain way, but is she really as big a crazy party animal as we’re all led to believe?
MN: She’s definitely the wildest, most free, love-her-to-pieces artist we’ve worked with. But that’s because we know her on a different level. The way we know Kesha, I mean she used to come to London and she’d stay in my bed with me and it was the same at hers in LA. Normally when you work with big superstars there’s a kind of certain decorum you have, you don’t ask them personal questions and all that jazz, but with Kesha we just had so much fun. I think the media don’t understand her yet. But I feel like with a few more releases and a few more records, she’s going to be the next Pink. I mean her ballads, you must check out her ballads!
GB: I have heard them! They’re quite different to what you would expect from her but nonetheless they’re really great.
MN: They are! She has a lot of depth, whereas I don’t feel that it’s being portrayed just yet. But you know how it is, when you’re an artist and a new artist as well, you need to pick your lane and you need to stamp out something, and she has stamped out the party girl image. But it’s just natural for her to progress and for people to dig more deep. But she’s incredible. She’s actually one of the best writers on the planet.
GB: I guess because she is seen as a party girl, people wouldn’t necessarily assume that she writes her own music but she really does.
MN: She really, really does. She’s so talented. And let me tell you, she really does write. And she’s so talented; I just think she’s going to be around for a long time. Forever!
GB: We all need a party girl in our lives don’t we?
MN: You can say party girl, you can say fun girl. I mean I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a bit of fun. It’s better than being a prude, which I assure you she’s not (laughs).
GB: Who are some other big names that you’d love to collaborate with in the future?
MN: I get really inspired by DJ producers. Like Tocadisco, who I’m working with at the moment. Deadmau5, I mean he’s Deadmau5! He would be incredible to work with. Chris Lake is another person whose work I love. David Guetta will always be one. I mean, I’m very thankful because I do get to work with a lot of my heroes. There are so many DJ producers that I love though. My sister and I worked with David Guetta yesterday and what he was playing us was just the music of tomorrow, it was so inspiring. I’m fortunate that I do get to work with so many of my heroes but there are a lot more I’d love to work with too.
GB: You’re headed to Australia and you’ll be playing at Summerdayze. Are you excited to be coming back home?
MN: It’s always great to go back home, and any excuse to be home and we’ll be there! To see the family and my brother, so yeah, it will be really great.
GB: I’m always a bit surprised when artists perform big events on New Year’s Day. You’d assume they would all be in bed sleeping off a big hangover.
MN: (laughs) Well I’ll tell you, people that party hard on New Year’s Day try not to party much the day before.
GB: You haven’t met some of my friends…
MN: (laughs) Maybe I should! But come on you’re coming to Summerdayze aren’t you? Oh and Summerdayze, that reminds me of someone else I’d love to work with; Dizzee Rascal! And of course Calvin Harris as well. He’s special.
GB: I love Calvin Harris! I saw him at Stereosonic and I survived the hottest, sweatiest and craziest mosh-pit ever just to see him up close. But one gripe I had was that he didn’t actually sing, he played a DJ set instead. He’s apparently retiring from singing on his tracks.
MN: Really?! Well the funny thing with Calvin is that the reason why he sung on his records was because he couldn’t find anyone to sound like he wanted. But I understand where he’s coming from, you want your work to be perfect. And it’s just a means of getting your art done. So I understand it, but I’m like you. I’m a Calvin fan, I want to hear more songs! But the good thing is I’m sure he’ll always be creating music.
GB: You mentioned the solo album before, how is that all coming along?
MN: Very busy! We’ve just been on a 3-week tour with Paul Oakenfold and Chukie, it was incredible! We did the whole East coast of America, gigs every single night on a RV. It was an RV tour so it was just amazing. We’ve based ourselves in L.A for the time being and we’ve been working solidly on that. But the good news is our record label, after a lot of meetings with them, feels like they’ve picked the first and second single! So now it’s all about scheduling, and hopefully it will be out second or third quarter of next year. So in the meantime, we’re going to work on more songs, and who knows? We might beat what we have already but at the moment I think we’re almost there.
GB: It must be a bit daunting though, having record execs already planning what the singles will be?
MN: It can be, but it’s really a team effort. You need to have everyone onboard and everyone believing in it. Thankfully we agree with what they say, I’d hate for the day to come when we don’t (laughs).
GB: Now before we go, I’ve heard rumours of a Britney Spears collaboration…
MN: Well we did a Britney Spears writing camp. Her record label flew a small team of creative people together to write specifically for Britney, so yes we did write a few songs! But again, you never really find out until when they’re cutting the vocals. So fingers crossed, touch wood! She’s incredible though, I mean I grew up on Britney so it would just be a dream come true for us to have a Nervo song on her album.
GB: Well our time is up… It’s been such a pleasure speaking with you, so thank you! And I’ll be seeing you at Summerdayze in Adelaide so I’m really looking forward to that.
MN: Oh anytime! And yes please come and up and say hi! And let me know it was you who interviewed me!
Irresistable (Feat. Ollie James) by Nervo is available now on iTunes. Nervo also headline the Summerdayze Festival, Saturday January 1 2011 at Rymill Park. Tickets available through Future Entertainment.