Interview with NoMBe
NoMBe is back – and this time, he’s brighter than ever.
It’s been nearly two years since German-born, L.A.-based Noah McBeth’s debut album, ‘They Might’ve Even Loved Me’, which explored stories of women in his life from being in love, to flings, to even his relationship with his mom. Since then, he’s been on a journey to bring color into his life.
“We’re tapping into this idea that dating or love is like a color spectrum,” he relates. “This new album [CHROMATOPIA] is the conceptual breakup album. It’s about my girlfriend who I’ve been with for the last six, almost seven years. We’ve been on and off – we’ve been in an open relationship the last three years, seeing other people here and there. When you’re with someone for so long, you have so many ups and downs that you go through, and you grow a lot, and you become different people. It’s kind of about the inner monologues I have – the idea of ‘I wish I were better’, ‘I wish I could be with somebody else’, or ‘I want you back’, or ‘I love you’…all of these stages that you go through.”
The video for his first release from the album, “Paint California”, pulls listeners into this concept with psychedelic, off-kilter images of settings straight out of a dream. “In each world you have a different love interest that represents that color, which is kind of a play on having an open relationship and the different personalities you encounter throughout your life,” he explains. The scenes vary from deep blue underwater, to white minimalism, to a lush green atmosphere, with nearly hallucinatory transitions.
Having shown us all of these different worlds, how does he picture the world of CHROMATOPIA as a whole? “It could be a nature setting with a field of grass and trees, or it could be even a desert,” he describes. “But I think there would be a lot of people just hanging out picnicking, dressing colorfully, there might be a rainbow…almost like an idyllic biblical setting.”
Abandoning his former grungy, alternative aesthetic wasn’t a conscious transformation. “I was trying to convince my team of something that the album was going to be, and in the process of actually diving deeper I realized [that it wasn’t that],” Noah reveals. “When we finished the first album, we were like, ‘Oh, the next album we’re going to really solidify this rock sound’, and in actually making it, I realized nothing that I was making actually sounded like what we said it should be. It’s way more upbeat, it’s way more dance-y, it’s way more lighthearted, but also sad, and way more honest in real time – I’m talking about things that I was going through in the last year or so. It sounds way more authentic in that way.”
Part of redefining this authenticity was recalling a feeling from his childhood watching anime. “I’ve been feeling it musically in my head when I start finding chords,” he says. “There are certain chords that do that, and I keep writing with those chords. I sat down last year thinking, ‘What actually does that remind me of?’ And I was like, ‘Oh that reminds me of the intros or the scores to anime like Sailor Moon’.”
“Not-so-quite sadness – kind of like that feeling you get after a breakup a few months in,” is how he would describe the emotion that these sounds evoke in him. And once he recognized Japanese culture as a subconscious influence, he ran with it. “I like the way they do classical music, I like the way they do jazz, the way their electronic music was in the '80s,” he expresses. “They’re very obsessed with whatever they’re into. With music especially, you can tell there’s a lot of attention to detail. They curate things well; the art direction, the vibe.” He references Daft Punk and other French house music as inspirations loosely reminiscent of these Japanese visuals, as well as Hajime Sorayama, an artist known for creating airbrush paintings of cyborg-like females in the '70s.
“Prototype”, NoMBe’s most recent single, even revolves around the idea of being a robot, wanting to improve components to create a better self. “It was really hard to come up with the concept,” he recalls. “I had the music, and basically the production for it, and I knew I wanted it to be on the album for sure, but lyrically I didn’t want it to feel basic. I wrote it with my friend, and we had the [chorus melody]. We were speaking gibberish, and I don’t know if he or I came up with the word ‘prototype’, [but] once we had that word the song kind of wrote itself. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m almost like the prototype to this person that I’m going to be, so have patience with me’. It really sums up the album to me more so than any other song. It’s kind of the idea that ‘Hey, I’m not the best human, or the best person to date all the time, but I’m trying, and I am getting better’.” The track immediately grabs the listener’s attention with warbling synth melodies, unexpected vocoder stutters, and a contagiously eccentric energy.
“I knew coming off the last record that I wanted my band to play on [this album],” he tells us. “Just to make it feel a little different so I’m not making the same record again. So I had a good amount of production done, and then I went into a nice studio with my live band.” After he had the parts recorded, he got away from the noise of everyday life at an animal rescue farm. “It’s the perfect place to get away and write and have some privacy,” he says. “That became my home for about four months.” After that, the last push was a trip to Japan for inspiration.
He picks out a few highlights from the album, including a track called “This is Not a Love Song”, existing in a Frank Ocean-style, moody realm. “It’s [the favorite of] most of my friends that I played [the album] for,” he says. “It’s not the obvious single-y sounding song – it’s not a very loud song.” And then another track called “Heels”, coming later this month, is one of his personal favorites. “I cowrote [it] with my good friend Arthur Johnson, who was Alicia Keys’ creative director up until recently. He’s a brilliant videographer and director, but he also writes songs kind of as a hobby. When he showed me this song in particular, I was like, ‘This is amazing, will you let me sing it?’”
Although Noah produces hundreds of demos per year, the final 20 percent of his creative process is the most difficult for him. So, the caliber of the lyrics has to be high in order for a song to make the cut, despite his love for production-centered music like Tame Impala or deep house. “That’s always been my struggle with how I approach my albums, because I do love music,” he observes. “A lot of the music that I listen to, I actually don’t really care about the lyrics. So part of me wants to make that kind of music more, but I’ve found consistently that I fall out of love when the production becomes the focus. I’ve found it’s a good way to keep things organized, to be like, ‘Okay, well, these are the good songs’, versus ‘These are cool tracks’. I’m a very indecisive person, so narrowing things down like that helps me a lot.”
However, it’s not just about curating the right tracklist, but ensuring that every word is saturated with honesty. “You know, the best writing comes really from the heart,” he remarks. “It’s funny – I just had a session with these DJs, and they kind of wanted me to write about something just plain…just write about whatever. It was so hard for me to do that, and I almost felt like I was a really bad songwriter. Songwriting’s very easy when you just speak what’s on your mind, and try to be eloquent and say the right thing. But when you’re trying to force a story to paper, sometimes that gets really challenging.”
It goes beyond the lyrics, too, with his need for sincerity manifesting in his entire presence as an artist. Many of his descriptions on social media platforms, for instance, read simply “Talk to me” with a phone number (310-455-8484). And he even has a Youtube series called “Ask NoMBe” where fans ask him for relationship advice, sometimes even regarding quite serious topics. “I really just love having an exchange with genuine people,” he expresses. “I think my demographic is pretty smart. They’re either artists, or they’re going to college to get degrees, so I can actually connect with them on a lot of things, especially when it comes to relationships and how complicated this world is.”
He’s pretty good at giving advice, so don’t be afraid to ask. Or when we finally hear all of the colors of CHROMATOPIA, you can tell him which shades speak to you.
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