You were first introduced to me as a DIY popstar. Could you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you picked up that term, “DIY popstar”?
DIY popstar means exactly what it stands for: I do it all myself. I think the mythology (and more often than not, the reality) of the pop star is that they have a massive team of people behind them engineering their every move. In my case, I didn’t have any of that starting out and being a bullheaded Capricorn took on all the work myself, from writing songs to producing to mixing and mastering, and eventually doing my own music videos and photoshoots. Nowadays I have learned the value of collaboration and delegation and I do have trusted people that I work with, but the DIY spirit is definitely still there.
You were born and raised in Minnesota. Would you call yourself a Midwest gal? How has that identity evolved or waned for you over the years?
Great question. I think I used to be a lot more ashamed of being from the Midwest, especially when I first moved to New York, because I didn’t want to seem like a naive country girl or something. But as time wears on I do appreciate where I come from a lot more. I think the culture of where I’m from is to work hard and not take anything for granted. I’m grateful for that mentality. Although the flip side of that is the whole “Minnesota Nice” thing which drives me insane but that’s a different story.
What is the origin story of your popstar birth? How does one become Softee?
I knew I wanted to do a pop project but also knew there was no way I could go by my actual name. I needed a persona to build confidence, especially at first. It was a way to shield myself if I “failed.” It didn’t matter as much to fall on my face because it’s not me, it’s Softee. At first my whole aesthetic was camp and fun and larger than life because that was the kind of music I was listening to. I think that’s evolved as I’ve gained confidence in my taste and experience. Nowadays it’s harder to tell the difference between me and Softee, which is cool and also complicated.
When you were growing up, you did theater and later on went to Juilliard for drama. What was one of your favorite characters that you played during that time?
I would have to say I really enjoyed playing Titania in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Especially since that production had a grunge glam rock aesthetic. I played her as the sexiest doped up rock star and it was really fun to embody that.
How has your theatrical background prepared you for your experience as Softee?
This ties in quite beautifully with the previous question, actually. I think performing is just in my blood and I don’t think I really can do anything else. When I’m Softee onstage, I do slip into a character, someone who’s a bit more sexy and confident and uninhibited than me in real life. I treat it like a role.
Is there a specific idea you keep coming back to throughout your music, a theme you continue exploring?
Love, heartbreak, and getting older is always going to be part of my work.
How has Softee’s look evolved since her debut?
In the Slow Melt Era, my looks gravitated towards an 80s pastel high camp vibe. Now the Softee aesthetic is grounded in the joy of the masculine and feminine colliding in a field of flowers. This new look is about contrast: mixing reference points from medieval iconography to structured suits. It’s playful and organic.
What pieces of clothing do you own that feel like an extension of yourself as Nina—clothing you feel at home in?
I feel very comfortable in big ass suits. I think they’re sexy and fun and comfortable and powerful. I also love silky slip dresses. I like to traverse the gender spectrum with clothing but the bottom line is everything has to be comfortable and danceable.
What clothing do you own that really aligns with the persona that is Softee? Are there certain pieces you’ve incorporated or disincluded as Softee has grown?
I’ve outgrown a lot of the 80s pieces, but it might come back in the future. I love 80s fashion because of the boldness and the gender playfulness, but right now it’s a little overwhelming for me. Currently my favorite Softee item of clothing is this puffy sleeve, intricately embroidered leotard that I wore at my last live show. I found it while thrifting in Berlin over the summer (ok brag). It’s got a Renaissance-y vibe to it and its colors also feel very aligned with the Natural era.
What sources do you draw from that shape your aesthetic and style?
Currently I love medieval shapes and I think that’s coming into mainstream fashion- puffy sleeves and decolletages are so sensual. Men’s fashion from the Rococo period is also sexy and fun to me. I’ve been obsessed with medieval art and religious iconography, and I’ve been inspired by the silhouettes I see in the medieval paintings at the Met.
Your music video “Oh No” showcases some of the most amazing pastel 80s fits. What was the inspiration for the wardrobe in this video?
This was a very special collaboration with my good friend Alex Dorschner, who is an amazing stylist, actor, and model. We knew we wanted to lean into a campy 80s teen movie vibe and we went to a consignment store called Screaming Mimi’s and rented some period dresses. We knew we wanted the pallet to sit in a pastel world, and the rest of the pieces were a combination of Alex’s and my closet. Our main inspiration came from classic 80s movies and Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.”
You are, and I quote, a self-described, “candle whore”. You recently did a collaboration with Queer Candle Co. to produce their CRUSH scent. Can you tell me more about that experience?
Candles are so sensual/important to me. They can enhance any mood by combining sensual lighting with an olfactory experience. I truly believe the right candle is an aphrodisiac. When I found out about Queer Candle Co. (QCC) I knew what they were doing was special and it was just the perfect opportunity for a brand collaboration. The Crush Candle is (and I’m admittedly biased), the best candle I’ve ever smelled. In our initial meeting, Ab and Al (the amazing creators of QCC) asked me what my favorite scents were. I described a collision of subtle floral notes with a muskier, smokier scent. The next time we met they gave me samples and I was BLOWN AWAY. They nailed it. We landed on an equal combination of Desert Cactus and Sandalwood, which smells like absolute heaven and it’s one of the best things my name is attached to. It really does smell like a crush.
Your most recent album, “Keep On”, came out nearly a year ago in the midst of a pandemic. What was it like to work on a project during lock-down? How did the 2020 experience inform your work/the finished product?
Keep On was a really bizarre mix of songs pre-pandemic and songs written during the pandemic. Funnily enough, though, the title track "Keep On" was written pre-pandemic but feels very quarantine to me. It’s about things changing so rapidly there’s no time to process it and the anxiety that accompanies that whirlwind experience. It felt like the perfect title for what the experience of making the album was. Some of the club songs were written in total isolation, I think as a form of escape. I wanted to go dancing so badly I just made house music in my room. Because I had so much time on my hands, I taught myself how to engineer my own songs and, though I’m not sure I’d do it again, I am very grateful for that experience. I just basically did a lot of the album completely alone and it very much shows, whereas my new stuff is a lot more collaborative. I think both are very cool, valuable experiences.
Looking back on that album, is there a specific song you’ve grown fonder of or more aligned with since it was released?
I think I lost sight of what I liked about "Crazy Bitch" because there have been so many iterations of it and the mixing process was brutal. My perspective was totally warped and I needed time and space away from it to appreciate it. Now I can dance to it again and playing it live is the greatest reward.
How do you stoke the embers of creativity when you feel disconnected from yourself?
I’m still working on that one. I definitely don’t have it figured out. Right now I’m actually feeling a bit of an ebb creatively and what I keep telling myself is to trust that it’s not going to last forever. I think it’s good to think of creative disconnects as “gathering periods”; a time when you actually need to live life and have faith that somewhere down the line it will synthesize and you will come out of it and be able to create again. But in the moment it’s definitely hard to see that perspective.
Picture this: your music is playing in the background of any made-up movie scene you wish. What would your dream sequence be? (Ex: Cher delivers pizza to Hopper in small town Indiana in her Stranger Things cameo, Keenau Reeves explores Italy by Vespa travel montage, etc. Dream big.)
I love this. Ummm maybe like Tilda Swinton in a car chase to “Crazy Bitch”? Or honestly like I’d love for “Rebecca” to play during a makeout scene at a club. Or… “I Believe In Ghosts” could be a great track to back up the bad bitch character being introduced and walking down the hallway in slow motion.
What is a piece of advice, word from the wise if you will, that you have been hanging onto lately?
Trust your intuition and be kind to yourself. <3