Given their different backgrounds, you wouldn't expect Karmin's Nicholas Louis "Nick" Noonan and Amy Renee Heidemann would have had enough in common to form a band. But the twosome, who started dating about four years before starting the dance pop group Karmin in 2010, distills those disparate influences on the new album, Pulses, a solid collection of pop-driven songs that's going over well on both commercial radio and in the dance clubs.
"I was into classic rock, and I was a jazz guy," says Noonan, who grew up in Bangor, Maine, and then went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston where he met Heidemann. "Amy was super into R&B."
Heidemann says she also got a good dose of classic rock while growing up.
"My dad bought me my first guitar and taught me about the Beatles and the Stones," she says. "I was a weird child who listened to R&B music. I was one of the only kids in my Christian town in Nebraska who was into Brandy and stuff like that in the '90s. I wasn't allowed to hear a lot of hip-hop because those albums had parental advisory stickers on them and my grandfather was a pastor so it was a very conservative household. I was exposed to rap through features in the R&B songs. Brandy would have Mase on her single or Mariah Carey would have Jay-Z. I knew about rapping but didn't ever think I would be rapping."
After they graduated from college, the two worked a variety of odd jobs before they focused their attention on Karmin.
"I was getting work as a jazz player and she was a singer-songwriter and also working as a wedding singer," Noonan explains. "We were doing odd jobs, but we had gone to this great music school and got this amazing music education. We figured we should use it so we figured we'd jump in, quit our jobs and start loading things on YouTube."
They originally thought of YouTube as simply an outlet for their music, and the initial videos they posted aren't even that sophisticated.
"We didn't have really wild dreams and hopes for the YouTube channel," says Heidemann. "It was really just a way to get our music out there. We didn't have money to tour. A lot of the clubs in Boston were for rock bands. We were this acoustic street corner band. We've come a long way. The YouTube thing was a surprise. We were only up there a few months when everything exploded."
In the video for their cover of the Chris Brown tune "Look at Me Now," they sit at a keyboard while Heidemann does her best to deliver the song's tongue-twisting raps. It looks like they filmed in their living room. It's nothing elaborate and yet it quickly went viral after the couple posted it in 2011, attracting the attention of talk show host Ellen DeGeneres in the process.
"We uploaded the 'Look at Me Now' cover on Tuesday and the following Monday we were taping the show," says Noonan. "All her friends were sending the producer the link. They gave us a call and wanted to see that we weren't totally insane and could be on the TV show. We weren't sure we could even remember all the words. It was stressful and intense. But obviously it helped catapult our career."
In November 2012, the group started working on its full-length debut. At first, things were rather rocky, and the album's release was delayed on more than one occasion. The group reportedly was fighting with Epic Records and release dates were regularly shuffled. Last fall, the duo went back into the studio to rework some of the material.
"It's the intersection of creative and business," explains Noonan when asked about the dispute with the label. "Those two never go well together. That's the age-old problem. We thought we could escape it but we couldn't. It's very different when you're with a label, for better or worse."
But after writing the first single, "Pulses," the duo had a template for the rest of the music.
"We never heard anything like it," Heidemann says of the album's title track. "It was like this pop rock chorus with elements of hip-hop and drums and there's some Coldplay elements to it too. It was a cool discovery for us sonically. Every session, we used it to show it was the sound that we had to go for. It was what we wanted to go for. It was later that we realized the whole album would be called Pulses. The tour is even called Pulses. It's the most Karmin of anything we ever put out. The theme of the album was that the honeymoon is over and the real work begins. It was up and down and that's why we called it Pulses. It even has a couple of sad songs on it."
Just released last month, the album certainly seems stocked with hits. The album commences with "Geronimo," an intro of sorts that suggests the group is ready to "jump right into it." Heidemann raps with confidence on the title track, and songs such as the infectious (and tongue-in-cheek) "Acapella" and the jazzy "I Want It All" have already found their way into the dance clubs. The band worked with a wide range of producers so getting the album to sound cohesive was, according to Noonan, the "biggest challenge."
"Whenever you go in, everyone is thinking single," says Noonan, who says he worked as co-producer on many of the tracks. "We just wanted to make something good. We took more of an active role in the production. The producers have to let us provide input. That can be a struggle. That was pretty much that we had to take that by the balls so to speak and make sure that it made sense."
Given that the singles have been so successful, what made the group even want to record a full-length?
"It's the romantic notion of it," says Noonan. "We wanted to be able to put out an album. We thought we weren't a band until we put an album out. We just thought, 'We still have to put out a damn album.'"
According to Noonan and Heidemann, that romantic notion of rock 'n' roll also carries over to the live show.
"We're very old school, and we don't want to have everything choreographed," says Noonan when asked about the live show. "We want to rely a little bit on our instincts and have it be a little raw. It affected a lot of things. We wanted to make sure we have the knowledge and can use it if we want."
Even though the band has toured in the past — it opened for the Jonas Brothers on their outdoor shed tour last summer — this is the first time it's coming to town as headliners with a studio album to promote.
"We encourage crowd participation for sure," Heidemann says of the live show. "It has its ups and downs. You feel like you've been on a ride after the show. We have guitar, bass and drums. Nick plays trombone and drums and all types of keyboards."
Noonan agrees that the live show is a wild ride.
"The live show is way more rock-oriented than what people anticipated," says Noonan. "It's more like a No Doubt show than a Katy Perry show. There's a lot of different instruments and there's sweating."
The two have been so busy promoting the hell out of the new record, they haven't begun to think about what they'll do next.
"It's pretty much been hang on for dear life," says Noonan. "Amy is starting a make-up blog, but we're definitely not focused on recording yet."
Karmin with Bonnie McKee, 8 p.m. Monday, April 21, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $19.50 ADV, $22 DOS, houseofblues.com.
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