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Pop duo, Karmin, gears up for first headlining tour, full-length debut

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Karmin first appeared on the pop radar in early 2011 with Amy Renee Heidemann displaying her vocal chops and catty speed-rap technique on a YouTube cover of Chris Brown's "Look at Me Now" that went viral in a hurry.

Since then, we've seen a few more tricks from the duo, including the dance-pop hits "Acapella" and "Brokenhearted" from the EP "Hello." They've done lots of TV, including "Saturday Night Live" and "New Year's Eve" and a tour opening for the Jonas Brothers.

With: Brycevine.
Where: Mr. Smalls, Millvale.
When: 8 tonight.
Tickets: $22.50;

The only thing missing has been the full-length album and headlining tour.

Here they come.

Karmin is hitting the road in advance of the much-delayed 14-song "Pulses," which will arrive March 25.

Experience shouldn't be a problem. Ms. Heidemann, from Nebraska, cut her teeth as a wedding singer and met Karmin partner and boyfriend Nick Noonan, from Maine, at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where they graduated in 2008.

In a recent interview from LA, at 8:20 a.m. their time, they talked about what to expect from them in the first quarter of 2014.

Thanks for talking to me so early in the morning.

Nick: We haven't gone to bed yet.

Amy: There's a lot happening in two weeks -- we're just gearing up for it all.

What are the preparations like?

Nick: It's a lot. You really want to know?

Amy: We have to essentially teach the band the new songs and get ready to play those for fans for the first time, which is important to us because the live show is basically our favorite part of the job. We're also like buying mannequins for the merch table.

Nick: We gotta get all the outfits lined up and then Stevie's gotta tweezer my unibrow yet.

So, you haven't come through Pittsburgh yet, have you?

Nick: We were there for the radio stations.

Amy: We love it there!

Nick: You guys know Tall Cathy? She's our homegirl.

Amy: She's our girlfriend, yeah.

Yeah. Everyone's like 7-foot-tall at that station. You don't want to stand behind them ... at the Karmin show. So, this record has been quite delayed. Are there pros and cons to that?

Nick: Totally.

Amy: We've been listening to these songs for almost a year now. Some of them have been in our arsenal for a while and after a while you can't hear them for the first time, so we have no idea how the fans are going to react. But we're really proud of it.

Nick: There are pros to it. You have a lot of time to get your ducks in a row and figure everything out.

Amy: And let people discover us. We're not the biggest band in the world, so it's cool that every day there are people still discovering 'Acapella.'

I listened to 'I Want it All.' It's a flat-out disco song, isn't it?

Amy: [Laughs] We broke out the disco ball for this one.

Nick: When we were writing it we were definitely feeling more of like a DJ vibe, but a lot of people are hearing disco. That's rad, too.

With Daft Punk and Bruno Mars, there's a revival going on.

Amy: It's cool because a few years ago with Amy Winehouse there was '60s and '50s sounds and now it's '70s.

Amy, what were your rap inspirations and how did you learn to do it?

Amy: I grew up loving Dr. Dre and Jay Z, and even though I wasn't allowed to listen to it, because it was a very Christian household, I sort of snuck them into my room and listened at night. I didn't ever think people would accept my rapping. I didn't think they would take me seriously for it. And some people don't, which is cool. But it was kind of a mistake. We found 'Look at Me Now' and recorded it and it blew up the next day.

When reviews are critical of your rapping does that discourage you at all?

Amy: No. It's not really discouraging. We just sort of plow forward and do what we want to do. What do you think?

Nick: People react that way because it's something that's actually new. They never had a white girl go this hard without swearing, so they were like 'Whaaaat?' I think it's actually dope. I think it's awesome.

Amy, how did being a wedding singer prepare you for concerts? What are the differences in performances style?

Amy: The weddings were like paid practice for me. I remember showing up for a gig. I would get off the train and try to change into my outfit before I got in the venue. You get in, you sing for like four to six hours in front of people that don't necessarily care about you. They're just there to have a good time and celebrate with their families, so it was a challenge to sort of move people with singing and performing and audience reaction and the whole thing. I was lucky to be in a band with guys who were doing it for a long time and were some of the greatest musicians in the city, so I got trained. It was awesome and it helped pay the rent. It's a big difference now because people are really there for you, which is rewarding.

Are there things about it you try to avoid now in Karmin?

Amy: Other than not having to do 'YMCA'? It's nice not having to wear a full-length evening gown and heels. I can wear combat boots and short shorts and a crop top and be comfortable and be myself, too. My boss always wanted me to look conservative, so that might explain my crazy hair style.

Nick, how do you guys deal with being a couple in a group together? How do you hold that all together?

Nick: We don't half the time.

Amy: [laughs]

Nick: But that's actually what that is. You reach your breaking point and then you know, 'OK cool, there's something we need to change.' I think for us it's a moving target of trying to find what that compromise is, what that balance is. Because we're constantly around each other, but that doesn't mean we're having conversations -- meaningful conversations with each other. So we're kind of always nagging on each other without even knowing it. For us it's great to totally leave Karmin behind sometimes or take a break for us to do things separately for an hour or something. Otherwise we're around each other 365 days a year, so that could be a lot.

Back to the record. What should people expect and what might they be surprised about?

Amy: We're so excited for people to hear it. It is a little bit of a departure from the last EP. It gets darker, for sure. Some of the lyrical topics are darker. Like there's a track called "Neon Love" that's really sad, and "Tidal Wave" that's pretty heartbreaking. But the sounds are still in our lane, though. You've got the hip-hop drums and the violins and the duo vocals. There's a lot more of Nick singing on this record, a lot more harmonies like the YouTube days.

Nick: For sure. And the whole time we just wanted it to be translating into a live performance, so we wanted it to have a lot of crazy energy so we can get on stage and run around and act nuts.

Amy: It's fun to listen to, but I think the melodies are also super dynamic, really catchy. It's really a little inventive for us, which I'm excited for.

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