The pop duo Karmin broke big last year with a string of clever, immensely sassy covers of hits by acts such as Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Foster the People, Katy Perry, Chris Brown, Lady Antebellum and LMFAO. Their videos became viral smashes on YouTube, which led to several television appearances and a contract with Epic Records, who will release the band’s first album of original material this spring. This weekend they’ll make their debut appearance on Saturday Night Live. Rolling Stone chatted with the duo about playing on that show, their desire to keep connected to their YouTube audience and what it’s like to plan their wedding – yes, they are an actual couple! – while working hard to establish themselves as pop stars.
You’re going to be on Saturday Night Live this weekend, which is a pretty big break for you, especially since you made your name mainly on the internet. Do you think you’re opening a door for other acts who are making music on YouTube?
Nick Noonan: That would be absolutely phenomenal. We’re just going to try to just do the best we possibly can do with every situation, and we feel like we have something really really special and unique, and if this creates a new model then that’s unbelievable, but we’re just trying to do what we do, you know?
Amy Heidemann: And we also are giant fans of the show, you know, and I think it’s safe to say that recently SNL has been doing a lot of stuff on the internet, kind of like we do. They’ve got the Lonely Island songs that are just really super viral all over YouTube so our worlds aren’t too far apart, but we’re honored to be one of the first to kind of have gotten our start on the internet then landed on SNL before our album is even out!
So are you going to be focusing on original material from your album on the show, or will you do a cover?
NN: No, they will both be originals.
After getting on the pop cultural radar for playing other people’s hits, what has it been like drawing attention to your own songs?
AH: It’s been really exciting for us, a lot of people don’t know we actually started out doing original songs on YouTube, but nobody was really searching for Karmin original songs. It was our friend at the time and now manager who recommended we start doing covers. I know we got a lot of attention for those, but we’re so excited about the originals. “Crash Your Party” came out this past year that got a lot of radio play, and people are definitely digging the original stuff, but these two songs that we’re premiering on SNL are actually brand spanking new and we’re super excited.
What was your strategy in selecting songs with the intention of getting people’s attention?
NN: It’s a combination of different things. We definitely want to look for a song that a lot of people are searching for, right? We’re looking at what’s on the charts or what’s coming up and whats going to be released soon. We also think about what we can really change up a lot. Once we select it then it takes about two days to turn it around and put it up on YouTube. But for the most part we just look at charts and then we take maybe three or four different ones in, try them out on guitar and piano and see what works.
AH: I wish we had videos of that because not every cover is good for us. Sometimes we make up our own rap verses and throw them in there to make them really fit our sound.
What are some songs you tried that really didn’t work?
NN: Nothing is coming to mind right now, but there were definitely a few that didn’t translate.
AH: It used to be “Rolling in the Deep,” because we were like, “It’s perfect, we don’t want to change it at all!” And then we came up with a really cool arrangement when we were on tour last year, so we were like, “Okay, maybe we could’ve covered this…”
What kind of impact has the rapid build up of your career momentum had on your engagement?
NN: It’s definitely its a tough balance, dude. Planning a wedding takes a lot of time. And at this point, our whole take on it is – this is a crazy ride, and we really don’t want to put that pressure on our marriage, but if we take a certain amount of time, a month or two now to plan it, then maybe that’s the time.
AH: We had a date set for last year and we postponed because we got invited to perform at Lollapalooza and the iHeartRadio Festival, and we were shooting a video for our single. It just got crazy. If we have a wedding this year we would want to do it the right way, but I don’t know if we’re going to have time.
NN: I’m definitely still down. Are you still wanting to get married this year?
AH: I’m still down!
NN: I want to get married this year probably.
How did you meet?
NN: We met in Boston at Berklee College of Music.
AH: Yeah, six years ago. It feels like it was yesterday but it was a long time ago.
Were you playing together before you were romantically involved?
NN: Yes and no.
AH: We weren’t a group but we were students at the time, and Nick was studying jazz trombone – the school had him on stage with Herbie Hancock at one point, he’s really amazing at trombone – and he was in a Stevie Wonder tribute concert, and they called me in to sing vocals on a couple of songs. So, I first caught him staring at me in that environment.
NN: I don’t know if that happened.
AH: You were definitely staring at me at the rehearsal!
Is there going to be trombone on the record?
NN: There actually is a little bit of trombone.
AH: He won’t be playing live on Saturday Night Live, but the second song we’re doing that night has the trombone all over it.
You’re working with a major label now. Will you keep doing stuff on YouTube?
NN: Well, the Internet is where we came from and that’s where everything’s going. We’re absolutely not going to abandon that in any way, shape or form. They do definitely want us to slow down on the covers for now, just to make sure we can establish ourselves, and then we can go back and do the covers too.
AH: It’s funny, there are so many different worlds when you jump into the major label situations. There’s radio, and there’s obviously live shows and then there’s the social media stuff. I mean, we’re on Twitter all day every day and we definitely keep that connection with our fans. We’re trying to focus on building up our Vevo channel with all that original music video content, so that’s been an exciting thing, but were definitely not abandoning the YouTube thing, that’s our family.
Have you had much contact with the artists that you’ve covered, like Lil Wayne, or Nicki Minaj?
NN: We haven’t met with Wayne yet. We would love to meet Wayne, dude. But we did get to meet Kanye, we did get to meet Nicki, we met Busta, we met Chris [Brown]. We met a lot of people.
AH: A lot of the artists, they really dig it. I remember when Lady Antebellum put us in their newsletter. That was pretty dope. We haven’t actually met them in person but it’s just really flattering. Kanye West is one of our heroes, and we got to sit with him for a couple of hours and talk about how we create music and it was just really amazing. We always start it out by apologizing for ruining their song, so I think that helps.