“We tend to wear the men’s models,’ says Miriam ‘Mim’ Nervo of her favorite TAG Heuer watches. “We like the ones that are more industrial looking.” She, along with her identical twin sister, Olivia “Liv” Nervo, make up the world-famous DJ duo NERVO, are looking at a selection of TAG Heuer timepieces. The sisters have been brand ambassadors for the Swiss watches for the better part of the year, during which the watches have barely left their wrists. No doubt helping get the girls to their endless flights, photo shoots and gigs on time.
Their choice of time pieces runs parallel to both their personal and musical style, which would best be described as techno to older generations, and top-of-the-charts EDM for the younger ones. The night before our shoot, the sister act did a rare private show for TAG Heuer in Miami’s newly remade Design District, during which they toned down their usual act just a tad.
“By our standards, it was a bit commercial,” explains Mim. “We wanted to play big hits with vocals so that people could sing along. We couldn’t play a lot of the really banging tracks we do for larger gigs — but we did end on one of our records.” During the set, the two were joined on stage by fellow TAG Heuer ambassador and Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who got a crash course on DJ skills from the girls in front of the audience. “He was good — he just might be a DJ!” adds Mim.
The small gig for the brand was miles apart from the throbbing oceans of people they are used to performing for at both super clubs and festivals across the globe. As in the art of DJing, there is more than meets the eye to NERVO. These aren’t just two game and good-looking lasses picked from a casting call to spin records for adoring fans. Liv and Mim Nervo have been veterans of the music industry for more than 15 years, are real singer-songwriters and have developed and written for some of the biggest names in the business.
They are so legit, in fact, that they signed themselves to a record deal. How did this happen?
The story begins in the bucolic town of Ivanhoe, an affluent suburb of Melbourne, Australia. The girls were active in all the usual sports and extracurriculars, even as they signed with Chadwick Models, an Australian agency. “We only did about one job a year,” says Liv, who is quick to point out that despite the early contract and the shoots they do to promote their music — they aren’t really models. If the modeling contract wasn’t a pivotal thing for them, it was an article that featured them in a local paper when they were 15 years old. “The reporter asked me what we wanted to do,” recalls Mim, who was interviewed for the piece. “So I said, ‘We’d like to work in music.’”
Not long after the piece came out, a manager with his ear to the ground contacted them, and next thing they knew, they were working for music producers with after-school studio jobs in Melbourne.
“Every weekend and after school, we were in the studio working.,” says Mim. At the time, they didn’t consider themselves “the talent.” Instead, they were writing songs for other people, coming up with hooks and staying behind the scenes. “It really came naturally to us. We hadn’t realized it, but we had been songwriting since we were kids,” recounts Liv. “When we used to walk home from school, instead of talking, we would make up songs and sing them. When we were supposed to be practicing the classics on the piano, we would make stuff up instead.”
After they graduated from high school, a manager invited them to the United Kingdom. Mim laughs, “We thought we’d be back in six months… well, it’s been 10 years!”
The two received a publishing deal, and with it, their first big payday. “When you’re learning to play piano, you really don’t need to buy a baby grand right away. You can get a little keyboard or a smaller upright. Well, we went all-out and bought [the proverbial] baby grand. We spent all this money on top-of-the-line equipment that we didn’t really use,” laments Mim. “That was part of our learning curve. It’s still sitting in my apartment.” Spending as they did, the two went through all of their publishing-deal money in a year, and they wound up waiting tables to make ends meet.
After five years of struggling, something hit. They met a girl named Kesha at a barbecue. “We had a record deal, an imprint deal to sign and develop other artists,” says Liv. So, they developed the then-unsigned artist, wrote songs for her, and eventually her career took off in the states.
Around the same time, they turned their attention to writing songs for EDM artists. “We were working 9 to 5 in the studio and then on weekends were going out raving, and hitting the clubs,” recalls Liv. “Eventually, we figured the best way to get into the clubs would be to work with the DJs, and write their songs for them. Then we could go in, drink for free and know everybody.” So without any motivation greater than free cosmopolitans, the duo wound up in the arena that would propel them to real stardom.
After entering the realm of the DJ, it wasn’t long before they started to DJ themselves. Liv says, “We were doing it for fun, and some promoters were pushing us to do it. If one of our artists was performing in a particular city, we’d go and [perform] a club gig.” Eventually people were (smartly) telling the girls they should just go ahead and sign themselves.
“We had been kind of flirting with record labels during our writing career, but we never signed because we really didn’t want to be pop stars. That never interested us.” The sisters certainly had an inside look at the pop world, having written a top 10 track for British pop singer Rachel Stevens called “Negotiate with Love,” as well as songs for Richard Grey, Miley Cyrus and the Pussycat Dolls. But the success was modest for working with such a label.
So they switched gears when their contract expired and signed with Swedish record executive Fredrik Olsson onto Razor Boy Music Publishing. The move was the right one. It was he who set up a writing session with former Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland, which would result in EDM’s single greatest hit produced by David Guetta, “When Love Takes Over.”
“Things really came together in 2009, Ke$ha’s career was going nuts over here in the states, and at the same time, David [Guetta] was popping in Europe, and so our idea was to develop another artist,,” says Liv. But it didn’t work. “For whatever reason, we couldn’t sign. The deals weren’t right, there was just a disconnect.”
So they moved once again to Virgin EMI Records and signed a joint venture for them to release new artists. They went for it and released “This Kind of Love,” which shot to No. 1 on international dance charts, thereby cementing their status as performers.
The two always strived for bigger and better. One example being that when the two grew frustrated with the way their songs were being finished by others after they left the studio, they took a course at the London School of Sound to learn Logic, a music programming software, in order to gain more control over their final product. Mim explains, “We would go into different people’s studios, work on their computers, and then at the end of the day we would leave, and we were at their mercy to finish the track the way we intended.” But it never was. “We’d have to go back and say, ‘That’s wrong,’ ‘Do this again.’ It was a real learning stage of our lives,” explains Mim.
As the product got better, the names they worked with kept getting bigger as they became hit-makers for Britney Spears, Afrojack, Steve Aoki, Armin Van Buuren and Kylie Minogue.
“The stars were aligning,” says Liv. “The festival scene was popping, and we were genuinely building a fan base.” The addition of a monthly SIRIUS Radio show called NERVO Nation in 2011, which is still going strong, also helped their brand.
With success comes movement. NERVO’s intense touring schedule leaves them rarely in one city for more than a day or two, and they’re on the road more often than not. At first, this got in the way of making new music. “Some mornings you just wake up and have so much more creative juice flowing, so what we do now, instead of waiting to be back at home in the studio, we put the ideas right onto the computer and develop them as we’re on the road. Then when we get back into the studio, we can just knock them down,” says Mim proudly.
Do they have to wait for the wind to be just right for inspiration to strike? “The thing with creativity is that as long as you’re focused, and have had enough sleep the night before, [and maybe a good cup of coffee], you can sit down in front of your computer and just start jamming… you’ll always come up with something. Maybe the first hour isn’t going to be great, but all of a sudden something will happen and you’ll just know you’ve got a great rhythm or a great lyric.” Of course, that’s just the beginning.
“A record needs a lot more than just a great hook or lyric, it has to have a beginning, a middle and an end,” adds Liv. “It needs to be complete. That said, for me, the creative magic happens rather quickly, and there is a lot of editing work, and from that, comes even more magic.”
Work is where the identical-twin thing really works in their favor. “We never argue because we’re very similar, we have the same work ethic, and both always give our best,” says Mim. “It’s very nice to have a business partner — a buddy. Life is so much better with a twin, I don’t want to be normal, I want to be a twin!”
It also comes in handy for the radio show. It must be produced monthly, regardless of where they are in the world. “It takes proper brain power, and sometimes, when we’re really tired, we need to tag-team it,” says Mim, pointing to Liv, “She can play and I rest, and then we switch.”
“We’re not precious,” says Mim of creating their schedule around their needs. They take sleep whenever they can and make it work in a way that might wreak havoc on less-hearty souls.
In fact, most people with a grueling travel schedule for work express some level of misery on the road. They miss their families, loathe the schedules and obligations that come with fame. Not NERVO. They enjoy it, because at the end of the day, they are family, love being together and are incredibly grateful for their success. “Of course we are exhausted, but who cares?” says Mim. “Every day we have little moments where we just love our job, from getting our nails done, to traveling to awesome cities, getting taken to beautiful meals, and we get to play the music we love.” Plus, the two have friends around the world, so they never feel isolated. “When we’re in Tokyo, we see our Japanese friends; in Miami, we’ll see our Miami friends. We have buddies in every city,” explains Mim with a big smile. “For us, spending time with our friends is luxury.”