Nina Herzog is a singer/songwriter from Los Angeles California. Nina first stepped into the spotlight as the speaking and singing voice of Odette, The Swan Princess, in Sony Animation’s “The Swan Princess” series. She has also done an extensive amount of session and voice over work along with various performances with symphonies around the country including the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C.
Nina will be releasing her EP Together Away on March 12. She has just recently released her version of the Elvis Presley Classic, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in February. I had the opportunity to chat with Nina about making her own music after performing and recording other people’s songs for so long. Enjoy!
UCR: You recently released the Elvis classic “Can’t Help Falling in Love”as a single. What inspired you to want to do that song?
Nina: Well, I really love Elvis Presley’s tunes. The first one I ever sang was when I was in second grade in the talent contest. That was my first time singing for an audience (other than my stuffed animals), and I sang his version of “Blue Moon”. I actually just recently put a concert together that we’ve been calling Music by Moonlight– because the show has been done outdoors, under the moon–and we put “Blue Moon” in the set. It was so fun to revisit the song and sing it again, years later.
This Elvis tune, though, “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, is another one of his that I have always just loved, and so many people I know and love in my family, in my friend circle, and in my community have a special connection to this song, too. They’ve danced to it at their wedding, or it was the song they had their first kiss to when they were in the car at age 17. Just so many people have a connection to it. I love the song. There are already so many beautiful versions of it, and Elvis’s version is great.
The song was requested, actually. My cousin wanted me to sing it when they had their first dance at their wedding, and then I was contacted by a friend of hers. Her friend said, “We loved that version you sang at the wedding. Will you record a version for us to dance to at our wedding as well?” So it was a commission piece, which was fun. Artists have been commissioned to create since way back, and some of my favorite Renaissance paintings are commissioned pieces, so I feel that commissions are important. I said, “Yeah, that would be fun”. They had a few ideas.
They wanted strings, and we already had an arrangement for strings in mind. We added a guitar that sounds a lot like a pedal steel, which I love. The song turned out lush, dreamy, and romantic. Like the song–about the tides of love taking you and sweeping you in, and you just can’t help it but to give in to the journey–the strings have a dreamy, lush, sweeping feel.
UCR: Definitely. Well, you’re right, there are a lot of covers. But I am always excited to hear somebody’s take on that song. There are some songs around that you can’t cover. But this song, I think is one of those where you really can do some interesting things. And I feel like you did. The arrangement is awesome. You sound excellent.
Nina: Thank you.
UCR: It still holds true to some of the classic elements of the song and I was really, really excited to hear it. And I really enjoyed it. So, it sounds like it came from a really special place too. So, that’s so cool. That now it’s out there.
Nina: I think that’s cool about standards too. I love jazz standards, tunes from Broadway where there’s been a 50th revival of the show so it’s been done again and again, or a song where 900 people have recorded it. Like, take a song like “Fly Me to The Moon”, for instance. Everyone has done that song! But I totally want to sing it… Everybody gets their own take on it, and it means something different to each person that sings it, just like it means something different to each listener.
UCR: It seems the standard or general thought is when somebody is trying to make it in music is, they go to open mics, they go to clubs, and they work and work, they get discovered, get signed, put out an album, but your story is very different from that. So, please share your story of how you got to where you are now with music.
Nina: I started singing at a very young age. My first voice lessons were around age 5. My first professional gig was when I did some singing around age 12 on our local cable TV station. They’d let me have influence on what songs I chose which was great.
UCR: So, it wasn’t like a show that they would have you on? or just you had your own?
Nina: I got to sing a lot. I chose songs about being a good person, feeling like you want to spread light in the world, or about being kind to others. It was fun. Then I went on to do some theater. I studied singing, acting, and dance in college as well. I’ve done some musicals, and I’ve done a good amount of studio singing. I did the voice of an animated princess, The Swan Princess, Odette, for Sony Animation’s “The Swan Princess” series. That was so fun. The Swan Princess, Odette, sings, and she’s just a sweet character all around, so it was really fun voicing that! I’ve done jingles, writing music for film and TV projects, stuff like that. This EP that’s coming out on March 12–Together Away, as I’ve named it–is the first EP of all songs that I’ve written though.
I’ve spent a good amount of time singing and using my voice during my lifetime, but never have I written my own songs, recorded them, polished them in the studio, fully brought them to life so that they are ready to share–until now. Maybe I haven’t been brave enough to share my own songs in this way, until now.
I think, as a kid, writing songs was just a form of play. I grew up in the mountains as a kid. We were always creating music and doing shows for anyone who would watch, as our favorite form of play. In that way, I feel like I’ve been writing songs for forever. But I don’t remember those songs, because they never got recorded, and they were just silly, fun tunes.
This is different though. The writing of this EP was about recording the songs fully, bringing the songs to life, painting the canvas–and now showing it to people. It’s very different to have people hear your voice singing your own story and songs, without a director or producer telling you what to do, as many other projects have entailed. Well, not “telling you what to do”, but having significant input. Sure my collaborators on this EP had input, but it was just different than playing a role or singing a certain part where someone else has a creative vision and it’s just your job to fulfill it. With this EP, I got to fully bring my creative vision to the table–which included selecting my collaborators for the project.
UCR: Which I’m sure is amazing. But also, I would imagine there’s a real sense of vulnerability because you’re really showing yourself in this.
Nina: Yes, it’s a different kind of vulnerability for sure: to show your voice, and your heart, and your story, and your vision, and what you’ve been hearing and seeing and doing–authentically painting on each “canvas”, or track, to tell the story that’s inside of you.
UCR: Yeah, but at the same time, and I’ve never released my own album of originals, but I’m sure in some way, it’s got to be very liberating because like you said, you’ve performed a lot, recorded a lot, had a lot of opportunities for people to hear you. But you have a musical director in a show, or you have a producer on a show, you’re basically an extension of their vision, even though you might have input and try things and collaborate. This must have just felt so nice to be like, this is what I want to do not in a selfish or egotistical way. But more of just, it’s your album, your name is on the title of the album. So, it’s got to be liberating in a way to just say this is how to do it.
Nina: It has to feel like me because it’s my name… Actually, the subject of my name has been such a journey, too. I think that’s partly why I didn’t release my own music sooner, as well. I couldn’t figure out what name I was gonna go with for my music. And I finally went, “Oh, my goodness, just go with your name! I am Nina Herzog!”.
UCR: That’s such showbiz, isn’t it?
Nina: Yes. I’m starting to get it. Just be who you are. Just do you. And trust that if you are yourself, then you’ll connect to some people. I thought about the name Nitzah, which means “to blossom, or to be in bloom”. Instead, I started a publishing entity, which I’ve released my own songs under, called In Bloom Publishing– a BMI publishing company. I like to be inspired by the name, to remember to blossom and continually bloom, each time I say it.
UCR: Is that something that was suggested to you?
Nina: All the time. Picking a new name has been suggested to me since I was a kid. Oh, yeah. I’ve played with different ones because of that. Yeah. But now I’m just me. I’m Nina Herzog
UCR: Such a different world in there when it comes down to it. Let me ask you then along those lines, you’ve been doing this for a little while now. And even now we’re talking about your name, that’s a great name, a name that I think will stand out to people. That seems like that would be enough. But I would imagine, just throughout your career, there have been efforts to change you, shift you in certain ways, and you’ve probably had to stay true to who you are. How do you do that? What’s something you would advise somebody getting into this, to stay true to yourself?
Nina: Just breathe very low in your body, and relax your shoulders. As you inhale and exhale, tell yourself, “I got this. I’m enough. This matters. My vision and who I am is important. I know what my truth is. I’m going to keep going.” Just keep breathing nice and low while you say that to yourself, and let it go. And sometimes leave the room.
UCR: That’s awesome.
Nina: Yeah, sometimes you have to leave the room. Your presence is important, and you need to be with people who can embrace who you are.
UCR: Definitely! That’s great. That’s awesome advice. So. I’m curious, you piqued my interest. You don’t have to give me your entire resume. So, just give me your top three favorite musicals that you’ve been in and the roles?
Nina: Oh, how fun! Okay. Let’s see. I loved playing Adelaide in Guys and Dolls.
UCR: That’s a great role.
Nina: Yeah, that’s such a good show. There are so many good songs in it. It’s funny, a lot of jazz singers sing songs from that show and don’t even realize the songs are from that show! Such a good show. Wow.
UCR: I think they’re due for another revival.
Nina: Okay, we’ll let Broadway know when it reopens! Which I’m hopeful about. Other shows I’ve loved… Well, I just love singing! The thing is, there are dream roles that I’m still after.
Nina: Can we talk about dreams?
UCR Okay tell me this. One more of one of your favorites you’ve played and then give me your dream roles.
Nina: Okay. Well, I really enjoyed playing the role of Destiny in the musical Salvage. We actually just got a text last week that we were nominated for an Ovation award for best production, which was exciting for all of us in the cast and for the creative team!
Nina: I was very excited about it. That role, Destiny, which I played last year, was the last live theater show I did. That role is on the list of really moving experiences, where playing a role just changes you, shows you yourself, and is inspiring. It was really a fun journey.
UCR: Okay, dream role time.
Nina: Fun. I would love to play Carole King in her show, Beautiful. I think she is just so inspiring. Her life story is really moving. I just thought that musical was terrific! Jessie Mueller starred in it, and I love her. She won the Tony Award for it! Yeah, so good. Speaking of, I’d also love to play Jessie Mueller’s role in Waitress. Gosh, those songs! That Show! Sara Bareilles! She also started in musical theater…
UCR: Yeah, that’s right.
Nina: And now she wrote a musical! It is just so beautiful, so well done.
UCR: Well let’s hope theater gets back up and running soon so we can get you into one of those roles!
Nina: Sounds good! Yeah. Just trying to just figure out how to keep making during these times, trying to be smart about what is possible now, staying creative.
UCR: Yeah. Well, it sounds like you’ve done a good job, live stream shows and still being out there. How’s that? What’s that experience, like?
Nina: Live Stream is a trip. It’s so strange. We just did this virtual concert where we were in a big theater, with so many seats…and then just two or three cameras, with two or three camera operators as our only audience. You finish the song as if you just performed in front of 2000 people or whatever, and then you’re like…”ah, right, there’s no one actually in here…”. But the live stream is way bigger than the number of seats in the theatre, mind you. You can have more people “present” than the venue even fits–but it’s harder to feel the audience watching.
UCR: Just don’t get that immediate feeling …
Nina: Can’t get that feeling in the room. And it’s like… you gotta just imagine. I know a couple artists I’ve watched streams of have done a button that was the applause sound, or a laugh button, for when you need a reaction.
UCR: Well, that’s the weirdest part. I watched a stand-up comedian, and you need that response. And I guess they just assume that this is where people will laugh, they take the break when they’re doing their thing, but it’s just like that. It just didn’t feel the same for obvious reasons. But yeah, I watched a lot of the live streams and I want to be there to just applaud. And I guess you just hit the heart a bunch of times or something.
Nina: (Laughing) That is equivalent.
UCR: So, hopefully soon when things get back to normal, do you have plans to tour this EP? Or what do you think the post quarantine pandemic time has in store for you?
Nina: I am just taking it one day at a time right now, honestly. I still have some traveling I’d like to do in this world, yes, so that leads me to say that it would be fun to be sharing my music along the way during my travels. Although, you know what? I like what I see right now out my window, too. In some ways, I’ve come to love my neighborhood in a new way, as I spend a lot of time here now and going on walks. For now, I’m just trying to stay focused on enjoying the moment, where I am, and continuing to sing, and share in the ways we still can– through this technology medium that we have here, which I think is really cool in a lot of ways, though different. Trying to just keep learning, staying open-minded, and trusting the journey.
UCR: Sure. Social media can be such a negative thing in so many ways. But in just trying to look at the positives, I mean, think about so many other artists that wouldn’t have a way to showcase or just connect, if we didn’t have it and it’s just such a cool thing that we have not only just the instant access of putting up stories or posts but when there are performances we still get to connect with each other. And that’s really nice.
Nina Yeah. I think so too.
UCR: Do you remember the first concert you went to?
Nina: Yes. Well, now I do. I just learned that I had it completely wrong for years, though. I thought I saw Charlie Daniels as my first concert. It turns out, we were in Las Vegas… and it was an impersonator!
UCR: They must have been good. If you thought that was really him
Nina: For so long, when I was asked that question, I would tell the story, “Yeah, we saw Charlie Daniels, and he was playing, ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’, and I remember he had his fiddle, and he played right to me. I stood up, one foot on each armrest, my mom holding me.”
My mom heard me telling that story once, and she went, “You know he was an impersonator, right?” Turns out, my family was in Vegas, and what else was there to do in Vegas with a toddler than to see a Charlie Daniels impersonator, I guess. He was a good one though.
UCR: Must have been. That’s pretty great. Do you have a concert that you’ve been to that was the best show or concert you’ve ever seen?
Nina: Oh, goodness. That’s a difficult question! I think my last show was Heart at the Hollywood Bowl. I live within walking distance from Hollywood Bowl, so that was so fun.
UCR: I could not be more jealous right now.
Nina: It’s so nice to walk there. The traffic was always so bad when there were shows though. That part I don’t miss. I saw Natalia Lafourcade there too. Wow. That show changed me. She is an angelic songbird, and she played with Gustavo Dudamel, and with the LA Phil. It took my breath away.
UCR: There’s just nothing better than a night at that venue.
Nina: Outdoors, with the perfect weather, and the sun setting all around you, and the symphony playing this beautiful song coming towards you.
UCR: It’s so nice.
Nina: So, special. Yeah. Just right to the heart.
UCR: That’s great. That sounds so nice. I can’t wait to get back to that. Last question. Do you have experience of your own performing live that just stands out above any other? Maybe it was your best performance? Maybe it was just the situation? The people you’re with? Do you have a favorite performance of yours?
Nina: There was a moment when I was working with an arranger named Patrick Williams. His arrangements were just like a hug that you could sail away on with your voice. He did an arrangement of a song that I had written. I had to work really hard to get my song in the show and had to really press him to let me sing my own tune. He agreed and ended up doing an arrangement of my song for the entire symphony.
When they started playing my song, it was like riding a wave in Hawaii… but there’s no fear at all. (I get freaked out by actual ocean waves because I don’t surf, so, that would actually bring me a lot of anxiety if it were a real ocean wave.) But, I guess it feels like you’re just coasting on this perfect hammock or the perfect bed of flowers. I don’t even know how to find the words… but that was a really special moment.
Also, when I was 16, I sang with the National Symphony. That was a memorable moment. When I got off stage that night, I went down to my dressing room and was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I have to go into music. I have to keep exploring this. Can’t go to medical school or something like that. I need to see what is going on here because this is amazing.’
UCR: What did you sing?
Nina: I remember that the energy of the room was that everyone was so thrilled to be there. Everyone in the audience and on stage was so connected and so invigorated, and I was on stage with people that I so looked up to. I sang something from Dream Girls. It was at Wolf Trap, so thousands of people were all together with this energy of connecting and wanting to be there. You could just feel it: everyone there had all had a workweek of who knows what, but it was an excitement in the air like now it’s the weekend, and we are all with the symphony, at this show, enjoying these songs we all know, everyone connecting through this experience.
It was so invigorating, so enticing as a young artist drawn to music, and so inspiring in my journey. It felt so tribal in a way. I think when people come together, gathering to connect through songs, it’s clear that it’s in our DNA. It’s deeply in our DNA as humans to do so. We’ve been doing it probably since the beginning of human civilization.
UCR: Totally. Wow, what a memory. That’s so cool. You got to do that. Well, I could ask you a million questions, but I’m gonna let you go with that.
Thank you so much for your time. I got to hear the Together Away and it’s very good. And I’m really excited for it to be released. And I wish you the best of luck with all of it.
Nina Thank you. Thanks so much. I’m glad I got to meet you and thanks for your time and the opportunity to share and connect.
You can stream or buy the Nina Herzog cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” anywhere you buy or stream music. And don’t forget to keep your eye out for here new EP Together Away which will be released on March 12.
For information on Nina Herzog live stream concerts or to follow her on social media head over to iamninaherzog.com