In many ways, Nina Nesbitt is a typical teen. She thinks about boys and growing up, mistakes made and lessons learnt, while watching the world change around her. She is adamant about an issue one day and changes her mind the next. She is both bold and daring and on the shy side.
But behind the bright blonde mane and the soft Scottish brogue is an 18 year old with extraordinary talent and a rare determination. Nesbitt doesn’t just brood about typical teen issues, she sets them, bewitchingly, to song. That she got her first guitar just three years ago, couldn’t begin gigging until she reached 16 and only finished school last summer makes her achievements to date remarkable.
Born and brought up in Edinburgh by pop-loving parents – her Swedish mother loves Abba and Christina Aguilera and introduced her only child to Eva Cassidy; her dad is obsessed with Roxy Music – Nesbitt initially wanted to be an author.
“I was an extremely shy kid,” she says. “But from the age of 6, I wrote short stories, which I started putting to music when I got a keyboard at ten.”
Nesbitt first sang in public in her final year at primary school, when she took part in a talent show, singing Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful. She entered other talent contests, began playing acoustic nights at Edinburgh’s Electric Circus (when Scottish licensing law allowed) and posted covers of early idols Kelly Clarkson, Ellie Goulding and Taylor Swift songs on YouTube. She used Ultimate Guitar to teach herself chords and continued to confront her emotions by turning them in to storytelling lyrics about love lost and friendships formed.
Nesbitt composed on her keyboard until she got an acoustic guitar. Overnight, she found a blueprint of her sound. One of the first songs she wrote on guitar, Standing On One Leg, about growing up, broke her in to the music business after a chance meeting with Ed Sheeran at a radio gig in Edinburgh last summer.
“I was chatting to him and asked for tips on becoming a singer,” says Nesbitt. “He handed me his guitar and told me to play something. I sang Standing On One Leg, nervously, but I must have done okay because Ed immediately offered me a gig in Glasgow.”
That gig led to an invitation to support Sheeran on tour and a guest spot at his show at Shepherds Bush Empire, where the pair sang Hallelujah after only an hour’s rehearsal. Example became another famous fan when he stumbled across Nesbitt’s striking, stripped-down cover of his song Stay Awake on YouTube and, after exchanging tweets, booked her as support on three arena dates last September.
For nine months, Nesbitt turned down offers from labels to sign her. Determined first to build her own fan base and develop her sound, she ignored advice not to post original songs on YouTube and saw interest in her sweet, feisty folk-pop soar.
By the end of 2011, BBC Introducing had picked up on Nesbitt’s independently released, debut EP, Live Take, and broadcast a session with the singer/songwriter on Radio 1. At the start of this year, she toured Europe with Ed Sheeran. In April, she released her second EP, The Apple Tree, comprised of five self-penned songs about growing up, recorded in Surrey with producer Jake Gosling (Ed Sheeran, Paloma Faith).
Nesbitt’s pure voice, intriguing way with a melody and heartfelt, simile-strewn lyrics about past relationships, learning to be honest and days spent dreaming about what might have been proved her potential when it shot in to the iTunes Top 10, peaking at No.6, and topped the iTunes singer/songwriter chart. Fearne Cotton fell for the EP’s infectious, upbeat title track, The Apple Tree, playing it every day for a week, before it was placed on a Radio 1 playlist.
Since then, Nesbitt has wowed a packed tent at T In The Park, written or co-written twice as many songs as she needs for her debut album, due out early next year, and finally signed a record deal, with Island – on her own terms, exactly as she intended.
Which brings us to Boy, Nesbitt’s first major label single, out in October. A significant step on from her early songs, Boy boasts a fuller, poppier sound with beats, percussion, electric guitar and layered vocals, but retains the singer’s trademark breezy melodies, storytelling lyrics and sing-song vocal style on verses on which she barely has time to draw breath.
“Musically, it’s definitely a departure,” says Nesbitt. “And it's indicative of what's to come on my album. I actually wrote Boy 18 months ago, but I’ve learnt quite a bit about production from recording in a real studio, which has made a difference to what I can do with my music.”
Nesbitt recently relocated to London to begin recording her debut album, which she is co-producing with Gosling.
“I met Jake backstage at a show last year,” says Nesbitt. “I’d never recorded in a real studio and I didn’t want to go in to one of those expensive, intimidating places. The moment I saw his studio, I loved it. It’s a wooden hut in a field in the countryside. It’s so chilled, it’s the perfect place for me to record. Now I just can’t wait to get started.”