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«Learning to communicate my wishes was extremely difficult»

The new EP «Where Do You Wanna Go?» by nothhingspecial is an incredible work of art. A conversation about gut feelings, collaboration, and vulnerability.

There is something magical about a flawless record—one you enjoy on repeat for hours, undisturbed by mediocracy. Although today’s reality is driven by single releases, collecting five outstanding songs in an EP remains a feat rarely accomplished.

In 2021, Cologne-based nothhingspecial gained traction with her self-produced EP somewhere we don’t know, especially with the track find me at the bottom of the ocean. The record is an uncut gem, raw and unpolished in its production but already offering glimpses of potential simmering within the then-20-year-old artist.

nothhingspecial, photo by Max Lange
Photo: Max Lange

We can now hear how this potential would manifest in Where Do You Wanna Go?, nothhingspecial’s sophomore EP released mid-June. It is a far cry from the thin lo-fi sound before. Co-produced by Luis Nussbauer, the record is brazenly good in everything: sound, pacing, variety, and dramaturgy. It is 19 minutes of brilliance.

Nussbauer had a significant influence on the EP—he co-wrote two songs. «I was caught in a creative block. I couldn’t find any inspiration; I didn’t know what to write about. Luis invited me into the studio to experiment without pressure. I’d never experienced that before because I’d always written music on my own before, working for myself in the room,» Chrissie Kühl, aka nothhingspecial, reveals in an interview with Negative White.

The collaboration brought her music closer to the envisioned state. «He was able to realise my wishes and visions better straight away. I used to lack that a bit, for example, with the first EP. I often had a vision of the sound but not yet the ability to realise it. I had never learnt how to produce properly.»

There’s a difference between
Who I am and who I wanna be
I will treat it as a motivation
Not an enemy

The EP’s curtain lifts with the title-giving Where Do You Wanna Go?, and the dark bassline already foreshadows the mood.

Here, she already lets us in on the secret of what gives her songs an edge: a seamless blend of captivating melodies and thoughtful lyrics. The title track boasts a subdued vibe, à la bad guy by Billie Eilish, but repeatedly explodes in a guitar-driven fever.

The second song, howling, roams further into indie-rock territory. Again, the verses remain reduced, almost depressingly sombre, but then—like the first rays of sunshine after a grey day—the composition opens up, full of colours and anticipation. It is pure liberation.

This seems even further than it might,
Even further than it might be.
But don’t you miss it,
’Cause it’s always by your side
And it’s always gonna be.

As the EP’s centre point, catacombs pushes the indie-rock ambience even further: a pressing and urging rhythm, paired with a velvety voice. The song perfectly amalgamates the lyrical melancholy and pop-esque euphoria.

After the crescendo of catacombs, we get a slower track to calm down. Here stands I know you, featuring a full sound that is layered and complex but not overwhelming. The sound wraps around you like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night. And we are ready for the reverbing clouds, a beautiful ballad mainly highlighting a guitar and whispering vocals—a perfect landing.

Artwork for Where Do You Wanna Go?

The combination of catchy hooks and a melancholy feel is en vogue. In Germany, an array of artists are amongst a wave branded «Neue Neue Deutsche Welle,» a revival of the country’s equivalent of new wave and post-punk sounds.

However, chasing trends was never Chrissie Kühl’s intention. Instead, she refuses even the notion of calling it a trend: «Music is often a snapshot of the current times, it reflects the state of society. It’s certainly not black and white but multi-layered. Many artists make simple, easy, fun music, which is also justified. At the same time, though, our thoughtfulness has increased due to topics such as war, climate change, and other things that frustrate us as young people. Music is a tool to express yourself, to let off steam.»

But for Kühl, her music primarily mirrors her personality and taste. «My lyrics reflect my thoughts. I’m a thoughtful person; I rack my brains, and you can hear that in the songs.»

Listening to a lot of chart music, she soaked up the simple pop structures and catchy melodies. Bands like OneRepublic or Florence + The Machine shaped her, later came in metalcore and emo rock bands like Fall Out Boy. Then even new wave and post-punk legends like Joy Division. These wide-ranging inspirations leave apparent traces on the second EP.

Photo: Max Lange

Then again, Where Do You Wanna Go? isn’t simply a collection of the artist’s influences but a chapter in an ongoing journey of self-discovery.

Reflecting on a more collaborative approach for the EP, she admits that inviting other people into her creative process was a huge adjustment. «Sitting in the studio with a 30-40-year-old man and learning to communicate my wishes and make compromises was extremely difficult because I had to give up control to a certain extent. Suddenly, I’m working on my song with others; they may have different visions, ideas or tastes. It’s not easy to find a common denominator.»

Initially, other people’s inputs and opinions often unsettled her. Yet, she learned to trust her gut feeling with time: «There were many moments when I had to assert myself, for example, with Where Do You Wanna Go?, the EP’s title track. We produced it four or five times. The first version was by me, then with a producer from Düsseldorf. But this version sounded completely different, and I realised it wasn’t going in the right direction.»

Kühl decided to produce the song again with someone else. «That conversation, saying, ‹I know we’ve put seven days of work into this, recorded everything, produced everything, you mixed it, but I want to do it again›, was tough.»

«Of course, your gut can often be wrong, and then it’s helpful to listen to the opinions of others. They’re not nasty comments or tips, on the contrary. I appreciate the feedback, but when it’s only about taste, I had to say: Hey, this is my song.»

«It’s still strange to share such intimate and personal thoughts, to give others access to your inner self.»

Growing confidence as a musician aside, the songwriting also waited with realisations for Chrissie: «For songs like howling, I dived much deeper into my conscious and subconscious again and discovered my passion for metaphorical writing.»

And even older works like clouds, written at the age of 17, held lessons: «When I decided to record and produce it again, I realised I still feel connected to the song lyrically—maybe a little differently than when I was 17, but that still applies to my life. It was remarkable to see that I’m still dealing with the same issues as back then.»

You can feel the deep honesty in nothhingspecial’s lyrics in every song—an uncompromising openness, even when the message is coded in metaphors. And it all comes with vulnerability.

«It’s still strange to share such intimate and personal thoughts, to give others access to your inner self. These are things that you don’t just tell around. But with my music, I’m creating a place where it’s normal to talk about it and share these thoughts,» nothhingspecial says, but simultaneously admitting that it took a while to get there.

«I first posted my music, videos and cover songs on Instagram when I was 14 and was extremely scared to show people my voice or share who I am. It’s very vulnerable and very private.
But the more I did it, the more my inhibitions faded. I realised that many people resonate with it, giving them and me something. You realise that many people feel the same way, and then you finally have this tool to express yourself. Suddenly, there’s this platform where you can talk about anything.»

With inspiring authenticity, nothhingspecial circumnavigates every imaginable clichée of catchy pop music in Where Do You Wanna Go? and cultivates artistic depth.

So, if asked where nothhingspecial should go, I’d say: On and on and on.

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