As NERVO, sisters Olivia and Miriam Nervo are the undisputed princesses of contemporary house music, but they are by no means musical “nice girls.” Big-room sound and hard-hitting beats define their take on progressive and electro house, fueled by their commanding vocals and a fashion sense to match. The Nervo girls started out as songwriters, eventually moving to music production and topping the charts with bangers like their collaborative effort with Nicky Romero, “Like Home.” We caught up with Liv Nervo to talk about the girls’ creative force as a duo, their progression in electronic music, inspirations, and what it’s like to be girls in a male-dominated industry.
What originally got you involved with electronic music?
I guess we’ve always kind of been involved, straight out of high school, even during high school. We loved going to clubs and raves in Australia. When we started wanting to make our own music, we just leaned more and more into the world of EDM that we’d become so involved in.
What’s the rave scene like in Australia?
It’s great! It’s really good. When I go home or go to a festival, I’m so in awe of all my Aussie raver buddies who are just so appreciative of the music. You can get quite experimental with your sets in Australia because people respond so well to that kind of thing, which is really great.
So, what is it like working so closely with your sister?
It’s good. We always have a friend around, we never get lonely. We run around the world together and if we didn’t have each other, we wouldn’t have nearly as much fun. It’s also good because we’ve always got someone to bounce ideas off of… If you’re unsure about something or you need advice or you just need another creative mind—we’re very thankful for that.
You definitely think you wouldn’t be as strong creatively without one another?
No, we’ve always done everything together. We bounce ideas off each other in the studio a lot, so creatively, we’re definitely strongest as a pair. We do do things separately, and then come together at the end. If I have a spare couple hours, I’ll work on something and have Mim check it out and we work on it from there. But definitely, we’ve both been equally involved in all of our releases.
What about your inspirations? How do you translate your inspirations into your music?
It depends on what we’re working on. The other week, we pulled out a favorite record of ours from the ’90s called The Night Train, and we were like, “Remember that record? God, it was so awesome!” and it just went off. We pulled it up to have a listen and we were so inspired by it. Generally, though, it’s everyday life that inspires us, life going on around us. Sonically, what turns us on in the club, what we’re hearing—we get inspired by the people around us.
In terms of your productions, you guys have worked with some very big names in the industry. What has that experience been like?
It’s still a trip-out! We’re so proud of everybody and it’s such an honor to play or produce with these guys who have, you know, their own nights in Ibiza or who are playing the biggest festivals and shows. I still trip out, like, last night we played with Nicky [Romero], and David [Guetta] was the unannounced special guest, and it was just crazy to be up on stage with these two guys.
Speaking of Nicky, you two recently collaborated with him for your track “Like Home.” What is it like collaborating with other artists? Do you find it difficult to maintain your voice in production?
We’re constantly collaborating. And a lot of these collabs happen via the internet, so you’ll send something and they’ll send it back and it can go back and forth quite a few times. It’s pretty easy to keep, you know, your “sound,” because you’re sending it in parts. But to be honest, we don’t really worry about whether or not something sounds like “us”—we’re not trying to write another “You’re Gonna Love Again.” We try to be very free and open to the creative process.
What about in-studio collaborative work? What’s that like?
We love getting in the studio with other artists. Actually, that’s what was so great about working with Nicky, is that we got to be in the studio with him.
What was it like making the switch from songwriting to production? What was your initial motivation for making that transition?
It was simply to gain control of our records. We were always playing—Mim plays the keys and I play the guitar really badly—but it was really to gain more control over our music. When we’d first started with the songwriting, you’d record something and send it off and when you heard the finished product, often it was very different from what you’d originally intended. We took this course, and started tinkering around ourselves with GarageBand and Logic… and we just practiced. We’re still learning, but we love being able to create exactly what we had envisioned.
Your debut single, “We’re All No One,” was the first track that included your own vocals. What was that like for you?
We never intended to be singers. We still don’t want to be singers. We were always worried that using our own vocals would kind of box us in to being singers, but we’ve gotten such a great response from the industry, and our friends, and other artists. Back when we were just starting out as songwriters, we’d just record the vocal demos for tracks… and now when we send out demos like that, we have artists who are like, “I love these vocals; I don’t want to hear anyone else on this track.” People just seem to feel it.
What do you think separates your sound from others in the industry?
Well, lately, we’ve been producing a lot of big, 128 bangers, you know, with really big and uplifting drops. That’s kind of become our sound a little. We’re working on our album right now, and it’s so fun to be able to add in some new sounds and new elements—get a few mid-tempos in there, some structures that aren’t so radio—it’s a very new experience for us. We’re really looking forward to this.
Honing your sound is definitely a very progressive growth.
Completely progressive. We’re excited about doing the album, and bringing in some weird stuff. We’ve got this disco idea we’re toying with; it’s so different so we were actually a bit worried about how it would fit on the album, but I think that’s really the point of an album.
Your track “Like Home” in conjunction with Nicky Romero reached #1 on the Beatport charts not too long ago. What was that like? What inspired the track?
It was those chords, actually, that inspired that whole track. It was written all together while we were in Nicky’s studio. We looped those chords and we loved them so much—it was so simple, and we loved that.
And what was it like working with Nicky?
It was amazing, you know—the kid is just so talented, he’s like… borderline genius. He’s part of this generation of producers that we’re just in awe of. Watching him in the studio, it’s like, he would whip out ideas in 20 seconds! He’s a sonic genius. I love watching him mix.
Even though you’ve only started releasing your own productions very recently, you’ve been active in the industry for many years. What are some of the changes you’ve noticed—good or bad?
For the better, everyone can hear music straight away. It’s so much more accessible. For the bad, it’s quite hard to keep up with the volume of demand for music nowadays. Labels, and listeners, too, always want more and more and more releases, and it’s often hard to keep up with that kind of demand. Releases have a shorter shelf-life, generally, as well.
Do you think what you mentioned about musical accessibility can also be construed in a negative sense?
You might have a point, actually. A version of one of our unreleased tracks leaked; someone had ripped it from one of our sets like a year and a half before it was officially released. That definitely affected its actual release because everyone had already heard it and people were definitely less excited. So you’re right, maybe the digital accessibility of music can be a bad thing.
What is it like being girls in a male-dominated industry?
We’ve never known any different [laughs]—we’ve never been boys! I guess we get a little more attention, because we’re girls, which can be cool, but also means that we have to work a little harder to prove ourselves, which is also cool. It really challenges us and keeps us on our toes. We’ve got so much support from the boys… We worked with so many of them prior to coming out under our own names, so that had a massive impact on our career.
Being female, do you feel pressure to portray a certain image in this industry?
No. We’re just ourselves in what we wear and what we produce.
That’s really good to hear. What advice would you give to the younger generation of female producers, DJs and songwriters?
Work hard. Have patience. Have an open mind with your sound, your style, your direction. Have an open heart, too. You have to work really hard to get there, but once it clicks, it’s so much fun.
What advice would you give to your younger selves, if you could sit down together?
When we were writing for other people, we were quite frustrated because a lot of our records or songs wouldn’t turn out the way we’d hoped when they were released. So, I think, if I could tell myself one thing, it would be to get out there and do it yourself.