Nova Twins are the most exciting young band in the UK. Combining rap, punk, R&B and metal, they also have the filthiest synth sounds a stringed instrument has ever produced.
They’re the first band since Muse to have tones on their album that we genuinely don’t know how to make. They’re influenced by music many guitar bands don’t even consider. And most importantly, their current album Supernova is stuffed with great songs.
The Twins, guitarist/vocalist Amy Love and bassist Georgia South, have been a band since 2014 and are finally catching a buzz thanks to the support of Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. Georgia says Rage’s support has been invaluable.
“With them being a diverse band, they can kind of understand some of our experiences being women of colour. The success that they’ve had was really encouraging because there’s so many times we’d hit a wall with people not getting it. Seeing a band like Rage Against the Machine, one of the biggest bands in the world, being fully diverse – it’s inspiring.”
In 2019 Nova Twins supported Prophets of Rage, Morello’s rap metal supergroup with members of Cypress Hill and Public Enemy, and were booked to open RATM’s sadly cancelled 2022 UK dates. “People wouldn’t know about us if we didn’t have big bands helping us,” Georgia says, “because the industry at first weren’t getting it. It was two girls playing heavy music looking the way we do, and it was a bit like, ‘We don’t know where to put you.’”
The answer, for anyone still wondering where to put Nova Twins, is on big stages. They impressed at festivals across Europe this summer. Audiences, not worried about how to categorise the band, responded to their fat riffs and relentless energy.
The Rage parallels are inevitable for bands combining riffs and rap, but Nova Twins also caught favourable comparisons to The Prodigy, Missy Elliott and even No Doubt. “They’re incredible artists, so we always feel happy when we hear that,” Amy says.
Although they’ve grown to make heavy music, their first influences weren’t remotely rock. Like most kids, that began with their parents’ record collections: Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway for Georgia, Toni Braxton and Whitney Houston for Amy. “Then the mainstream hits you,” Amy continues. “People like Destiny’s Child who were saying to us: you’re beautiful, strong Black women.”
The heavy part of their sound came not primarily from their record collections, but from the bands they gigged with.
“Playing on the rock scene from 13, sneaking into clubs, that’s how I got into heavier music, playing with bands in my local area and experiencing it firsthand,” remembers Georgia.
Part of the reason the band sounds so exciting is that they are utterly steeped in live music. They didn’t listen to a record and then try to copy it – they learned by doing it.
“It was amazing being on that live circuit,” Amy says. “We came up through the punk scene really. That’s where a lot of the punk aspect comes from, because we were surrounded by it, playing pit parties and Wonk Unit [DIY] festivals.”
With that kind of upbringing, performing is their natural habitat, and the heavy music they inhaled mixed with their early influences. “I moved from Essex to London which was dramatically different,” Amy says, “and that’s when I got introduced to bands like The MC5, New York Dolls, Kiss, The Sweet and Led Zeppelin. That’s when I was like, ‘Fuck! I love the feeling of live musicianship.’”
Georgia, meanwhile, namechecks Skrillex, Pharrell Williams’ rock side project N.E.R.D. and R&B super-producer Timbaland. “I love Timbaland’s beats and how he manipulates sounds. That was a big inspiration for me, not making it sound like a bass guitar but more electronic, how hip-hop producers would use their synths.”
Thus began the journey to the unique sounds on Supernova, with Georgia experimenting until she found ways to recreate her favourite synth sounds. “I used to go to Denmark Street all the time with my dad and pick out pedals. I didn’t know what I was looking for so I’d be that annoying person trying out the pedals in the corner and then I’d take one home with my savings.
“Towards the end of our first album when we wrote Vortex, that was a kind of lightbulb moment. It shifted when the bass sounded really electronic. We were like ‘This is sick!’ I think Supernova is the evolution of that.”
TG only realised the centrality of South’s bass to Nova Twins’ sound when we caught their album launch show at Bristol’s Rough Trade, where due to space restrictions Amy wasn’t playing guitar. Georgia carried the entire show; we barely even missed the guitar for most of it.
“When we first started the band, the core element was bass and vocals,” Georgia muses. “Bass would be a lot of the track, then the guitar weaves into it. It’s a dance. Before we had our own sound engineer, people used to mix us with the bass turned down so quietly. We’re actually flipping it on its head. It’s more like electronic music where the bass is so loud. Guitar is the texture in between.”
Normally at this point, TG would reveal the gear behind the tones. On this occasion we can’t, because Georgia and Amy are giving nothing away. Amy has previously told us their secrecy began when a rival band photographed their gear without even talking to them first, so we can thank ill-mannered London guitarists for depriving us of this knowledge.
The Twins’ reluctance to divulge their gear secrets reminds us of the young Eddie Van Halen turning his back to audiences and lying about modifications to his amp. In both cases, we find the secrecy understandable but unnecessary.
Van Halen’s tricks are now common knowledge but no-one has come close to being EVH, and we doubt anyone else could be Nova Twins regardless of gear. We put this to the band, but they are not convinced.
“Tom Morello revealed his secrets a lot later in his career,” Georgia points out. “Maybe when we’re his age then we’ll do it. If people come around and have dinner at your Nan’s you don’t ask for the recipe! I haven’t looked up how Tom Morello gets his sound. I don’t want to know the magic. You have to find your own route because there’s already a Tom Morello. When somebody idolises someone too much, you end up being like them but you’ll never be as good as them.”
Here’s what we do know about the Nova Twins’ sounds. We still wouldn’t know where to start with some of them, but hearing Amy and Georgia playing in isolation makes it a little clearer what’s going on. The synth-like bass sounds have a generous helping of analogue phaser with the rate set fairly low, usually in combination with a huge fuzz sound.
Amy and Georgia wouldn’t show us their pedalboards up close, but the clicking sounds when triggering octave up Whammy effects suggest they’re using momentary footswitches rather than rocker pedals. That allows them to fix the rate of the Whammy sweep for a precise, mechanical effect.
They always use combinations of pedals to create bespoke sounds; there’s never just one pedal on at a time. “My feet are as important as my hands,” says Georgia. “It’s more like driving a car than playing bass. If I broke my leg it would be a disaster.”
Both visually and sonically, Georgia’s most visible gadget is The Ring, a MIDI controller she wears on her index finger to control effect parameters with gestures, a little like Matt Bellamy’s use of a Kaoss Pad with his guitar. On the song Toolbox she rhythmically controls octave-up synth stabs by moving her hands away from the strings. “I don’t know what it’s intended for! I use it for a dubstep drop kind of vibe,” she smiles.
Amy’s guitar tone is a little more conventional, with less low-end than usual to make space for those gargantuan basslines. Her main amp is Fender’s perennial workhorse, the Hot Rod Deluxe, sometimes supplemented by a Marshall Origin, although the dirt is from pedals. Her guitar, a P-90-equipped Mustang, also emphasises mids over bass frequencies.
Meanwhile Georgia’s Westone Thunder 1 bass is split between a Gallien-Krueger bass head and a Marshall Valvestate guitar amp set slightly dirty. Between them, they can cover all the Supernova sounds.
“We are obsessed with being able to play everything live,” Amy says. “We always felt we have to prove ourselves 10 times harder. Even now they’ll be like, ‘Oh there’s so much on track, there’s a laptop.’ There isn’t any guitar or bass on track at all.”
Amy points to Jack White and St. Vincent as references for her approach to solos. “Their style of playing was really interesting because it wasn’t always a blues lick. I just love being a bit in your face and untamed. If a pedal glitches or something, we don’t try and take out all that noise. It’s part of it. Sometimes we’ll loop a glitch – that’s fucking sick!”
Supernova could only be made by a British band, so it’s surprising that Nova Twins’ influences are almost entirely American. When asked, Georgia says she was into the grime scene while she was at Lewisham College, but most attempts to relate them to other British acts are doomed.
Reviewers have likened them to Skunk Anansie’s frontwoman Skin, which Amy dismisses: “They’re incredible live, and we’ve played with them, but as two bands we’re completely different,” she says. “The only association is obviously we’re Black women.”
Instead, they put the British sound down to being unapologetically themselves. “When you hear an American record, it sounds incredible sonically, but it’s so perfect. We allow things to be how they are and that reflects in the mixes,” Amy says. Georgia agrees: “Amy’s doesn’t try and twang into American. She keeps the British accent, which is cool.”
Although the innovative sounds are what you notice first about Supernova, there is enough substance to the songs that you can easily imagine them working with stripped-down production.
At Rough Trade, Amy joked that no-one would want to hear Nova Twins unplugged, but we could get behind Nova Twins plugged straight into their amps. Although they’ve got no plans to try it, Georgia agrees it could work “because the riffs are so melodic”.
In fact, in the comparisons to rap metal, the importance of melody to Nova Twins’ sound is sometimes overlooked. “When we first started it was way more melodic,” remembers Amy. “As we were on the punk scene, we wanted to be more angular and jagged. With this new album there’s more melody in there.”
The source of that melody may surprise you. “A lot of the Supernova riffs were actually written on a keyboard,” Georgia admits. “Part of it was laziness. I got a MIDI keyboard which is tiny, so you can literally have this in bed and write riffs on it. It ends up being more melodic that way. I find it takes you out of your comfort zone as well.”
Leaving their comfort zones is a theme the Twins keep returning to, and they’re keen for other bands to do the same.
“Don’t listen to people you love for two weeks and your ideas will come through and that’ll be totally original,” suggests Georgia. “I think when bands are struggling to find their sound, they often run to play songs that they’re influenced by, but you can hear it straight away. I think it’s good to take yourself in the woods somewhere and see what comes out.”
Amy says that it was in some ways easier for Nova Twins to find their own sound because as Black women there were few obvious role models in rock and metal for them to follow. “Because we didn’t have anyone easy to latch on to, it was all a mix of everything. That’s why we went on our own journey discovering music and experimenting.”
- Supernova (opens in new tab) is out now via Marshall Records.
Leave a Reply